14 Dec Definitely Weird, Definitely Worth It – Gizzfest Adelaide 2016
I’m not exactly sure why we decided to drive 10 hours (including a stop for lunch in the Grampians) to check out Gizzfest in Adelaide. All I know is that the Gizzfest in Melbourne the weekend prior clashed with Paradise Music Festival — which I consider an unmissable experience. After all, I thought, Gizzfest is just a showcase of psychedelic bands that I’ve seen before and a couple of new, small, dancey Captured Tracks artists. In fact, it was that contrast of styles and the subsequent crowd responses between the two genres that I found to be potentially fascinating. That, and the fact that Adelaide’s crowd demographic was a mystery to me, led me to believe it would be amazing for people-watching — and it turned out even better than I could’ve imagined.
There are a few reasons why venturing to Adelaide for an evening festival is rather easy and pleasant. For starters, traffic when driving in and around town is never an issue. Despite Adelaide being perhaps not the most exciting city in the world, it’s severely under appreciated when it comes to beauty — leafy parks, and tree-lined streets. Also, Adelaide is always near the top when it comes to ‘most liveable,’ which generally means it’s easy to buy whatever you’ve forgotten, or park your car most places without the fear of it being broken into. You can relax knowing that the city is fairly predictable — things just work. Also, securing a great Air BnB close to the venue was easy.
As for the festival location – the Thebarton Theatre – well, there are positives and negatives.
One positive was the building itself, which is quite beautiful. Think a longer hall version of The Forum. It has a large outside smoking area, plenty of space to move around and the sound is solid from the back of the hall. The negatives were that the outside stage was inside a shipping container — which is awesome if you can manage to squeeze inside, but otherwise it’s limited to 25-30 people. The side stage inside was also kind of awkward. Perhaps because the stage itself was only 50cm off the ground, so unless you were right up the front it was too hard to see from any further distance — meaning most of the crowd either gave up, sat in the stands or went outside between the main stage sets.
While the sound was solid at the back of the hall, if you committed to the front, the wide speaker stacks blew the sound right past you, leaving you to hear more of a muffled sound from the bands fold-back monitors. Overall, the Thebarton Theatre was the right size for the event itself, just the layout needed tweaking.
As for all of the psychedelic bands on the main stage, Mild High Club is always a chilled way to start a festival. Think a slightly more psychedelic version of Real Estate. The Murlocs are a less adventurous version of King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard, with a touch of country harmonica, leaving them middling between the more recent mild sounds of Thee Oh Sees and standard ScotDrakula. Although the last song, which is a new song, carried a little more oomph and felt inspired.
White Fence perhaps had the most diversity out of all the psychedelic bands, with their clearer story telling, something rare in psychedelic music. White Fence also mix up their song structures and arrangement approaches rather tactfully, without straying questionably too far outside of their limitations. Their performance kept you engaged from start to finish, with the highlight being a super tight, large breakout jam in the middle of the set. It’s easy to see why White Fence are well respected around the world. Pond was almost painful to watch, as the lovely guys Nick Allbrook and Jay Watson lived out their ‘80s glam rock, hard riffing fantasies. If I were 13 I may have enjoyed their set. Let’s be honest though, if they weren’t associated with the well respected Tame Impala, they wouldn’t be half as popular.
King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard again proved why they are one of the most impressive live bands in the world right now. After the release of the endlessly looping LP Nonagon Infinity, their sets have developed a more cohesive flow to them in contrast with those of a few years ago. You can see the modest confidence in the faces of each band member — they know they’ve finally nailed the King Gizzard sound with Nonagon Infinity. They closed their set with their newest song, ‘Rattlesnake’, which was followed by a round of ‘one more song!’ for quite a while by the rowdy crowd. Which brings me to the most interesting topic of the Gizzfest Adelaide experience — the crowd. And I’m not referring to the hilarious moment when Boulevards went crowd surfing and somehow managed to kick Joey Walker’s microphone into his face.
On Instagram someone under the hashtag #gizzfest posted the scene from The Simpsons where a nonchalant early ‘90s grunge crowd is swaying to The Smashing Pumpkins, and that almost summed it up perfectly. The clothes were baggy, the crowd was young and restless, and the people were ready to ‘rock’. There were a few who dressed closer to the early ‘70s, but generally the crowd was a time-warp that I have nothing against, but a few other issues did concern me.
One was the general lack of diversity. I’m not sure if that’s just the Adelaide scene in general, but the crowd was 95% white and about 75% male. Which for an Australian city in 2016 – is disappointing. A factor for this could’ve been the fact that there wasn’t one female performing all day, and that’s poor form by King Gizzard. They had a few playing at the Melbourne show, so surely they could’ve found one female artist in Adelaide to join the line-up. The majority male crowd made the heavy moshing during King Gizzard feel aggressive, more like a heavy-metal concert rather than a friendly psychedelic gig. King Gizzard at least tried to add dance music to the line-up with Dinner and Boulevards, but unfortunately that didn’t really add more of a dance party vibe to the festival. More unfortunately, the crowd didn’t react or interact particularly well with those two artists, who by far ranked among the most entertaining.
People stood at the back of the hall with their arms crossed during Boulevards, almost in protest against dancing. Dinner at least managed to draw a slightly larger audience, and that’s because he was by far the most memorable performer I’ve seen in awhile. He’s an unusual and refreshing signing for the Brooklyn label Captured Tracks, who generally sign reverb bands. Boulevards is a one man show artist reminiscent of a funnier John Maus, and he conducted the crowd like a Dan Deacon live set. The highlight was a two minute span where he told the crowd to sit on the floor, then joined them to serenade and sing lying down on his back.
Maybe cross genre appreciation isn’t as big in Adelaide, a city which doesn’t exactly host a myriad of electronic events. One person I spoke to outside said that people in Adelaide drive to Falls Festivals in Victoria for New Years, because they don’t have any options locally.
Props to King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard for attempting a touring semi-festival format that’s a little different. It’s never an easy task to pull together lower income festivals, especially when you’re planning on recording and releasing four albums in 2017. I think Dinner summed up the Adelaide Gizzfest the best, when he stated that it felt like “the world’s weirdest school dance”. It was definitely weird, but definitely worth it!