On a consistently sunny day — a rarity for Melbourne, even in the height of summer — a few of us at Ripe enjoyed Sugar Mountain Festival 2017. Since St Jerome’s Laneway Festival relocated to Footscray, Sugar Mountain has filled the space left for an alternative one-day festival in the CBD. There are a lot of ways that Sugar and Laneway are spiritually aligned beyond just location. They’re similar in the artfully curated line-ups, one-day festivals founded on a worthy point of difference, and most noticeably the community vibe between both punters and artists. While Laneway grows larger and broader, Sugar has retained an intimate feel. Filled with beautiful people in a mix of high-concept expressive outfits and low-fi casual wear (both with an array of hats), the attitude of the crowd was welcoming, kind and accepting. You could spot musicians, even those not playing the festival, mingling and watching their peers play from the front of stage rather than the side. The most obvious example came late in the day, when someone apologised to me for sitting inconveniently after I had accidentally stomped hard on one of their feet.
Melbourne’s own Hannah Lesser and Julius Dowson make up late neo-soul/groove act Alta, the first I saw on the V Movement stage. It was around 1.30pm and the crowd was still filtering in, but they gave the audience enough energy that those who were walking through the festival getting their bearings couldn’t help but be drawn in. Lesser’s vocals improved further on the stunning strength her voice has on record, and the duo’s easy synchronicity on stage was very cool to witness. Dowson’s skilled production created a cohesive set with smooth transitions between newer tracks and deep cuts from their back catalogue.
The layout of the Victorian College of the Arts allowed for the three stages to be in close proximity, and hefty buildings in between limited the risk of any sound bleeds. The clashes you experience at any festival were there, but because of the spread of the set times the 5,500 strong crowd was never overwhelming.
I caught only the last part of Moses Sumney‘s set, which I quickly realised was a huge misstep on my part. The LA-based solo artist cast a spell over the gathered crowd, switching with ease between loop pedals, guitar, experimental percussion and hand claps, and his soulful, aching vocals. It was probably most mesmerising set of the day, with people moving, feeling and clapping along as he amped up the tempo and bass for his last couple of songs.
A point of pride for Sugar Mountain is being one of the few one-day festivals to incorporate elements past just music, bringing food and art to the forefront. It is undoubtedly a difficult balance to strike, but given its location at the VCA Sugar could improve on the way art is presented. It would be good if the art was more accessible, either from having more going on to interact with or more information on the pieces that are there.
The laser installation alone was surreal and impressive. You entered a room which was lit only by the red strings of laser reaching from one end to the other, enveloped in a mesh of ambient noise. Observing others as they came into the room eased my fears of being too slow on the uptake, because I saw others take almost as long to realise that mesh of noise was made by people interacting with the laser strings, using them as an instrument. It was difficult to get time to experiment with the sounds yourself, however in another example of the lovely patrons of the festival people often moved aside to give everyone else a turn. More installations like this would be amazing for next year, a welcome change of pace from rushing around stages.
CC:DISCO! is such a strong Melbourne fav, and her set on the Boiler Room stage drew a huge crowd in peak afternoon sun. Her set was what you’d expect, which is not meant as an insult at all as her artful mixing of high energy dance and groove is reliable fun. People battled to keep moving despite the heat, but because of a walkway being closed between the Boiler Room and V Movement stages I had to leave early to see KUČKA performing on the latter. The gate was presumably closed to keep from having a huge number of people trying to jam into the tiny space, however the fact that it had been open earlier meant a fair few confused people walked down the path to nowhere before doubling back through others about to do the same thing. The lighter crowd at KUČKA was a result of that, with people committing to CC:DISCO! because there wasn’t the option to quickly dash back and forth between those stages.
KUČKA deserved a few more of those people to see her set, which was filled with fun pop-edged electro and funk. Her voice was faultless live, however because she was performing to backing tracks for the most part there wasn’t a lot to engage with. She was definitely charming though, playing some tracks hot from the oven including one so fresh that even her manager had not heard a full version, prompting KUČKA to explain that she would be somewhere in the crowd “freaking out”. She warned it could be terrible before launching into it but she needn’t have, and I’m looking forward to hearing her explore different elements of her sound in more new music. In the very least, I’m looking forward to seeing her in more incredible pants because the ones she had on were the best piece of clothing on stage all day.
The vast majority of food options were across the other side of the Dodds St stage, with plenty of food trucks and ample seating (even in the shade!) to enjoy their offerings. As at any festival, or really any gathering of thousands of people, there were decent lines throughout the day. The option to have generous fries and burgers from 8-bit outweighed the wait, and it’s excellent to see Sugar embracing the idea that everything down to the food options plays a role in the type of day out you have at a festival.
The indoor theatre stage was contained without being claustrophobic, disconcertingly dark until you remembered to take off your sunglasses. With tiered seating at the back, we had an excellent vantage point of both Rolling Blackouts Costal Fever and of the rowdy crowd enjoying their set. RBCF sit right in a sweet spot between hard and jaunty indie rock, and their up tempo mix of surf- and punk-rock drew out the closest I saw to a mosh. The strength of the stage was in the sound quality and lighting, particularly the view from the back of the seats as a single stream of dusky sunlight from the doorway somehow touched the backs and heads of half of the crowd.
Walking around the VCA campus and dancing on cement all day isn’t easy, which tends to make me want to sit at the indoor stage as much as possible. This year there was another option, an option that was emptier, more lively and frankly a better area for dancing than anywhere else at the festival.
I was a bit skeptical about a room entirely sponsored by a vodka brand, expecting there to be ads scattered around a too-bright room. Whoever designed this secret club, ‘Studio 45’, clearly understood that nobody would stay and dance if that was the case and so they got creative. To enter you walked through about eight neon lights, shaped as a 7”0 vodka bottles, which not only was a fun Instagram opportunity but gave the illusion that you were really walking into a vortex — another world entirely to what was happening outside. Another clever idea was the see-through projection installation between the DJ and the bar on the far opposite corner, which meant if you danced between the installation and the DJ all the bright bar lights were blocked and you could truly immerse yourself.
None of this would’ve mattered if the DJ’s were subpar, but the lineup was stacked from top to bottom with Whiskey Houston, Kate Miller and Andee Frost. The highlight was the two hour back to back sets of Palms Trax and Kornél Kovács. It’s one thing to have individually stellar produced tracks, but the two worked off each other seamlessly, with not one clunky mixing job or a thorn track that was out of place. I think most people just wanted to check out the space, but many spent a very long time inside. It was a more transcendent environment than any of the other stages, and for anyone still coming to Sugar from when it was a projection festival at The Forum, there was a comforting nostalgia to the entire space.
Pantha Du Prince played just before the sun went down on the main stage. He started slow but steady, giving people a chance to catch their breath before settling in to calming chimes and the finer movements of his music. It was one of the most amazingly constructed festival sets I’ve seen, impeccably spaced — starting slow but not without energy, delving into deeper soundscapes without being too heavy. The German producer’s music speaks for itself, his minimalist precision and tonal arrangements are unlike anything else happening at the moment. His set could have worked really in any time slot throughout the day, but it was particularly special that as he subtly worked his way to deeper sounds the sun was setting at the same pace, soft lighting turning slowly to inky velvet in line with his smooth, light techno.
The Avalanches, who were a last minute inclusion to replace Blood Orange (aka Dev Hynes), weren’t the headline act that people had bought tickets to see. Most of the crowd, myself included, were young enough to have missed the huge cultural impact Since I Left You had on its release in 2000, but are old enough now to understand its lasting influence on the evolution of dance music. The feel of the crowd before The Avalanches took to the stage was one of interested curiosity, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but a definite change of pace from excitable hype for the last act of the day. That anticipation was built up pretty quickly by their introduction, and immediate energy — “WE’RE THE AVALANCHES AND WE’RE HERE TO ROCK”.
They kicked off their set with the most divisive song from their new album, the earworm ‘Frankie Sinatra’. It’s a song I still don’t know whether I like or loathe, and I’m not sure the people singing along the loudest could tell you if they were being sarcastic or not. At least when played live it had more of a disjointed circus feel than the semi-irritating repetitive nature it has if you come across it on the radio in the wrong mood. The visuals and lighting on the Dodds St stage had been impressive all day, but now with the sun down the lights truly had the chance to shine through (pun intended and far too obvious), and huge tripped-out animations — including the clip for ‘Subway’ — were projected onto the screen. ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ was the clear crowd favourite, and ‘Since I Left You’ played live was phenomenal.
As soon as the clock struck 10 the cashless system crashed, leaving us Cinderellas without our SM17 stubby holders, dealing with things as mundane as figuring out the fastest route to get home on public transport. The sweet candied jewel on the Australian festival circuit, Sugar Mountain was over for another year. Hordes of people from the festival dispersed back into the hordes of people going about their Saturday evening in the city, and we could have easily believed the whole day had been some kind of heat-stroke fever dream. But every now and then, walking across the Yarra, carried on the welcome breeze clearing away the heat of the day, there was the sound of a stranger softly humming the refrain from ‘Since I Left You’, and the sight of a post-ironic Australiana themed cap bouncing towards Flinders Street Station.
Head here to follow Sugar Mountain on Facebook, for updates on next year and any events that might pop up in the meantime.
28 Oct Trading Tunes with Alta
The Melbourne electronic alt-pop duo Alta have a new five track EP titled Sincere through the label Soothsayer. Alta consists of Hannah Lesser and Julius Dowson, and have become a key staple of the Melbourne live music scene with their energetic and moving sets.
If you’re a fan of acts such as FKA Twigs, Chairlift or Solange, then you’ll be intrigued by the Sincere EP. ALTA have a couple of shows on this weekend in Sydney and Melbourne. Julius has sent us some of his favourite Australian songs with a 145 BPM or higher.
“I love fast tunes. Feels like the world is at 128 BPM most of the time and I love changing it up with something fast. It’s super refreshing and I reckon many of the most inventive artists out there sit happy at 145 plus.”
Bad Ambulance – ‘SSFS’
Locking in at 150 BPM. When I was linked to this, I thought ‘Wow, this is so inventive — I haven’t heard this before, I wonder where they’re from. I’ll just click on their page over here, yep it’s loading, it says Melbourne, that’s not right. Must be my cookies, let me hit F5, yep it’s still Melbourne. OK, that’s weird, let me check Facebook, oh that says Melbourne too.’ That’s when I realised and almost choked on my A1 Zaatar — but Franco Cozzo gave me the Heimlich and I’m still here to tell the tale.
Cassius Select – ‘He Ain’t Worth’
OK, this is technically about 140, but it feels like 145, so who cares. This is some exciting stuff out of Sydney, which we both love. It feels ultra late night vibes. Like it’s 4am, plus daylight savings just switched over, so it feels like 5am… so it’s extra late.
Mark Pritchard – ‘Make A Livin’’
One of my favourite producers of all time happens to be residing in Australia. What are the chances, and on this track he’s clocking in a cheeky 160 BPM. We’ve got amen breaks, we’ve got Roland 505-esque sounds, we’ve got some relentless shakers, we’ve got a life lesson (everyone has got to make a living). It’s true and this song is just all round great.
Friendships – ‘Pedal To The Metal’
As the title suggest this song is pretty quick, ay. You know when you drive an old Kingswood down the highway at like 120 kph and it feels like you’re doing 200, because all the metal is flapping around, and you can feel the wind on your toes as you bounce, and the window seal doesn’t seal properly, and you’ve got this high pitched shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, and you’re holding on like AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.
Corin – ‘Void’
About 160, this stuff. I’m super excited about Corin. She’s the bloody best. I don’t know how to explain it — it’s kinda Venetian Snares IDM vibes, but more nice on the ears and kind of footwork. Totally unique. Please have a listen and let me know.
Asdasfr Bawd – ‘Underpass’
AS DAS FER BAWD is how I pronounce it. I hope that’s right, because I scream it from my bedroom window everyone morning. ‘OI DICKHEADS LISTEN TO AS DAS FAR BAWD!’. I always put this track on and then put it on again, because it’s just the shit and this guy, yeah, it’s up my alley.
Africa Hitech – ‘Out In The Streets’
This is a cheeky pick, because: One, it’s Mark Pritchard again — and two, it’s a duo across the seas — but screw you! It’s kinda like how people claim Russell Crowe is Australian, but he’s from NZ. I am claiming Africa Hitech and you can’t say nothing about it *nanananananana.
|28th Oct – Red Bull Sound Select @ Civic Underground, Sydney||31st Oct – The Toff In Town, Melbourne|
|21st Jan – Sugar Mountain @ VCA, Melbourne|
Photo by Sarah Chavdaroska
Music venues around Melbourne house some of the best local and international acts. We’ve compiled our top five picks for gigs this week so you don’t miss out. Be a part of one of the best live music cities in the world, and check out some of our favourite artists and venues.
|Saturday, 29th October||Buy Tickets|
Sydney band Retiree are coming down to Melbourne to launch their new single ‘Continental‘ on Saturday night.
They’ll be joined by two incredible supports, CORIN and SHOUSE, at Boney on Little Collins St from 8pm.
|Sunday, 30th October||Buy Tickets|
Paradise Music Festival is fast approaching, and this Sunday at The Gaso you can catch a glimpse of what’s in store for later in November.
The lineup includes Lucy Cliche, Tom Moore (Otologic), Simona Castricum, Brooke Powers, Tom Baker, River Yarra and the Paradise DJs. Head down for a huge day of good vibes and great tunes.
|Sunday, 30th October||~Free Event~|
Smooch Records are putting on a special show Sunday afternoon in the Queen Victoria Gardens.
Local favs SMILE will be playing tunes from Californian folk-rock-psychedelia icons The Byrds. They’ll also be joined on the day by Lower Plenty.
|Monday, 31st October||Buy Tickets|
GR!M in collaboration with LISTEN have put together an all-ages event on Cup Eve, showcasing a whole host of female/non-binary centric acts in celebration of the inagural GR!M camp (details on that here).
Featuring The Girl Fridas, Swim Team, LAZERTITS, Huntly, Pillow Pro and many many more playing from late afternoon well into the evening at Thornbury Bowls Club.
|Monday, 31st October||Buy Tickets|
ALTA are back in Melbourne to celebrate the launch of their new EP, Sincere.
They’re playing at The Toff in Town on Cup Eve, with support from the majestic Saatsuma and Christopher Port.
One of Melbourne’s most multi-talented musicians Joshua Delaney and his new solo music endeavour OCDANTAR created a rich and intoxicating sound-scape at the Gasometer Hotel earlier this month as he celebrated the launch of his new EP Time in Flux. Supported by Melbourne greats Couture, Alta, and Queen Magic, with visuals by Brendan Harwood, the spectacular evening of Melbourne music was a great introduction to OCDANTAR and his electronic-ethereal EP that was so well received by the packed out band room.
Couture, the new venture from Melbourne’s Simon Lam and Hamish Mitchell, started off the evening well as they played through their set of sensationally curated electronic beats that got the crowd moving. By the end, we were all craving more and hoping for an online release in future (nudge, nudge). It’s truly a testament to these two and their progression in the music scene that they can make such excellent music non-stop.
Alta duo Hannah Lesser and Julius Dowson were up next, playing through their immaculate set of beats and vocals that had a dance-rippled affect through the crowd… no-one could stand still, it was just that good to dance too. Playing tracks from their Awake for Days EP the pair showcased their production and performance skills which have always been so polished and exciting to experience. The crowds roaring cheers at the end were indication enough of the great admiration Melbourne has for Alta.
Queen Magic‘s soulful set followed Alta, a mix of smooth R’n’B sound and vocals by Melbourne producer and vocalist Nicholas Mulhall‘s that washed over the crowd. His tracks ‘I Don’t Want’ and ‘Said That You Wanted’ were crowd favourites as everyone grooved and swayed along.
OCDANTAR took to the stage to bring the night of Melbourne-music-magic to a close, and he absolutely amazed. Time in Flux is an exciting electronic sound experience that Delaney has created, bringing the crowd up and down as he moved through tracks like ‘Techno 15’ and ‘Sky Sea Client View‘. The visuals he paired his set with as well were a very entertaining touch, setting the mood and vibe of each song well.
This new project from Joshua Delaney has so much beautiful potential. Teaming up with so many great acts in one evening was also a testament to his recognised talent and mark on the music scene. I hope to hear and see more of his performances, and look forward to more material he’ll hopefully release in future as his musical abilities and OCDANTAR keeps growing.
Photos by Sarah Chavdaroska // @sarahchav