02 Feb Thoughts From The Grounds – Sugar Mountain 2018
“A summit of music and art.” Nowadays this tag-line feels like something that all camping or one-day-ers must obligatorily attach to their short form descriptions. There seems to be a need to promise more than just music in order to appeal to the cohorts of millennial punters carefully deciding to how to part with their hard-earned dollars in an over saturated market. And few festivals can actually deliver.
Paradoxically, the music on a line-up is clearly still the main drawcard for many of those attending. The ‘art’ aspect of most festivals is presented as a sad afterthought, often reduced to a bunch of milk crates zip-tied together in the corner as a chill-out lounge #installation. So when an organisation like Sugar Mountain manages to pull off a day that genuinely combines both a considered music offering with a roster of international and local art curated to match, it creates a fantastic festival experience often promised but rarely delivered.
Now in its fourth year, Sugar Mountain has moved to ACCA, down the road from its previous home at the VCA. A new venue, coupled with the sense that SM is no longer the new kid on the scene, raised a few questions about how the festival would continue to outdo itself as it comes of age. But a promising line up and strong brand partnerships (such as that with Boiler Room) certainly put it on a strong footing.
Here are 15 thoughts we had while taking it all in…
ACCA is a very different space to the VCA. Narrow alleys and roads were replaced with large gravel expanses and tall, sloping rusted metal façades. It instantly gave the festival a different vibe, but once the crowds trickled in and found spaces to get moving, it really didn’t matter.
The Boiler Room stage was truly a sight to behold. Thousands of people crowded around the centralised decks, which themselves were between two large tiered slopes, creating a contour of dancing bodies. Check out the live stream of Honey Dijon’s set to get an idea of just how wild things got.
A testament to how Boiler Room has become the coolest live-set brand in the world is watching how many people push and squeeze through the crowd until they’re front and centre on camera. Please ask yourself some hard questions if you feel the need that badly to immortalise your gurn on the internet.
Solid early performances on the main stage pushed a larger music narrative front and centre. The largely female dominated roster all took to the stage wearing Camp Cope tees in solidarity with the band’s stance and comments at the recent Falls Festival regarding unequal booking representation. It’s encouraging to see that what might have originally been a linear conversation confined to one festival has been able to permeate through to others and become a larger topic within the industry.
Hyped Canadian up-and-comer Project Pablo set a perfect tempo for the Boiler Room early in the day. His signature blend of funk house, tech and disco captured the sunny arvo vibes perfectly with tracks like Octo Octa – “Move On (Let Go) (De-stress Mix)” and the pina coladas of mp3s, DJ Tonka’s “Radical Noise (Original Mix)”.
Sample Beer’s ROVER units are a game changer. Having mobile kegs moving through the crowds is the type of innovation the brand and SM have become known for. Head of activation Aaron Ollington told us “We’ve had a great relationship with Sugar Mountain and think we know what works best with this audience and festival… This way you don’t have to leave the bands, or your spot. You can turn around and just get a beer.”
Kegs are pretty neat, but it’s time we actually started partying like it’s 2018 and had our tinnies dropped to us by drones.
The large-scale calligraphy mural by Japanese artists Hiroyasu Tsuri and Jun Inoue in the central walkway created an impressive aesthetic landmark that grew and evolved alongside the festival before being started over again several times. Its ephemeral nature was an intentional analogy of the day. As Jun Inoue explained to us, “we wanted to create something that showed people’s preconceived notions of the day and how things actually change here.”
CTRL + ALT presented by VICE and ALT soft drink was definitely a crowd favorite and great way to combine drinking and interactive art. A giant waterbed rested beneath an overhanging digital display that reflected trippy, distorted versions of the viewers below. If an event is judged by how many insta-stories it creates, CTRL + ALT won best in show.
ALT soft drink’s brand ethos of ‘Keep Doing You’ was put into practice here by taking portraits of punters and printing them onto the drink labels. After looking at some of the faces of Sugar on these bottles it was clear that this probably wasn’t the best advice to be giving.
The move to the ACCA meant they were able to take full advantages of facilities like the Merlyn Theatre. This blacked-out expansive space felt more like The Forum than it did a festival side stage, and it created a surreal environment for dance and experimental techno performances like that of UK’s Actress.
No one commanded the atmosphere afforded by the Merlyn Theatre better than SEVDALIZA. The Iranian – Dutch singer/songwriter has become an art and music icon with her boundary-pushing electro and equally innovative videos. For an artist that is as rich visually as she is audibly, it was a testament to her performance to have a packed out theatre captivated with nothing but a single free-form dancer and the power of her voice.
By the time Gerd Jansen took to the Boiler Room the crowd outnumbered that at the main stage. The biggest name on the stage’s roster wasted no time raising the energy, rolling out disco burners such as Kink’s “Perth“. Rocking a strong high school music-teacher aesthetic from behind the decks, Jansen laid down a dance music education with tunes from Four Tet, Slam, 80’s neon-pop outfit Lime as well as the Daft Punk classic “Burnin”. In front of a huge crowd with huge expectations, Gerd delivered.
It wasn’t hard to understand Joey Bada$$’s widespread critical acclaim and commercial success once he took to the stage. For the most part, the Brooklyn born rapper was in a genre of his own on this year’s line up, but rather than feel at odds with the rest of the festival, a powerful, energetic performance made him feel like the main event. Stand out tracks from his second and third album such as “No. 99” and “Babylon” made up the set before ending on “Devastated” – complete with pyrotechnics. An unexpected highlight came when Joey revealed that the day was, in fact, his birthday and was met with a crowd-sung ‘Happy Birthday’. It was a nice moment until you realise that he’s only just turned 23 and what the fuck have you done with your life, you pleb?
10 years on, “Lights and Music” can still blow the lid off any stage, anytime.