Sir Stewart Bovell Park
Southbound was back again for its 11th annual installment, and with all tickets completely sold-out, it promised to be bigger than ever.
For many patrons, it was their first experience lining up in queues of cars with the promise that for the first time ever, they could camp next to their vehicles. Despite the extra effort, it was totally worth the satisfaction of being able to roll the tent out right as you parked in your spot. Hordes of people had obviously made the extra effort to get down to the festival early and score a good parking spot, and as such, Stagebound winners Apache were welcomed by an unusually large crowd over at the Lefty’s stage, given their opening spot on the first day. They didn’t allow the big stage to intimidate them; they worked the audience with their heavier blend of grunge rock and proved themselves well worthy of their slot.
Crooked Colours were also an excellent later addition to the bill and put on one of the best sets of day one at Lefty’s, with blistering electronic hooks and a strong vocal performance that had punters jumping around early. Over at the Mainbreak stage, Tkay Maidza worked the crowd with her outrageous spirit. It was a fine choice to have her open on the main stage, with a healthy crowd spread throughout the clean festival ground. The double-bill of Kim Churchill and Asgeir got the weekend off to a laid-back beginning.
Churchill seemed at home on the stage with a guitar in-hand and harmonica nearby, while Asgeir continued on a folk theme and serenaded the punters with his signature pipes – the European could have gone out his way to perhaps interact with the crowd a little more, but his strong delivery of material more than made up for a live showing which was a little on the manufactured side. Electro indie-pop group SAFIA were encouraging participation as Ben Woolner’s falsetto vocals fell over their slow jam trance. People stacked on people under the giant white tent at Lefty’s during Take Me Over and the performers could not have been more grateful.
Vance Joy was one of the most hyped up artists of the festival, and for someone that really needs to stand alone, with not much more than his song writing abilities to hold strong, he really was a lovely way to break up a summer’s day. He introduced a lot of his songs with a small blurb about why he wrote them; for example, Red Eye was written on the flight from Perth to Melbourne, with the words, ‘Get out while you can,’ and ‘Can we talk in the morning?’ From Afarstood out beautifully, ‘Bite your tongue/That will be the way that we remain.’ There was a gradual build into upbeat songs until he broke into the hit, Play with Fire, and he wished everyone a Happy New Year with the song that he wrote this time last year on New Year’s Day. It was played in half time, with sweet guitar with heart wrenching lyrics, as if anyone expected anything else. It took him all of 30 minutes to play the song everyone was waiting for, Riptide, and finally, Mess is Mine, which rang beautifully over the stadium.
Cold War Kids put on one of the most energetic sets of the day from the get go, opening with Miracle Mile and playing plenty of new material, including Hold My Home and All This Could Be Yours. Older hit Hang Me Up To Dry, was immediately recognisable, and they must have been beside themselves with boredom playing it – it was played to perfection, though. We Used to Vacation, another track from their first album, saw Nathan Willet ferociously shaking his maracas. They will always be a festival favorite. Jagwar Ma was soon up next and fully utilised their electronic edge. In a live setting, their electronica-influenced material was given a punch and ferocity which may have not been fully realised on CD.
The Black Lips were another band who simply commanded the stage and audience with their rowdy blend of punk-rock, and as a testament to their form, a portion of the crowd happily formed a circle pit to throw themselves around in throughout the performance. Final track Bad Kids was unsurprisingly the song that everyone knew the words to, and the crowd went nutty, jumping and running around and chorusing the tune right back at the delighted performers. Unsurprisingly, George Ezra filled out the Lefty’s undercover stage completely, and the echoing of ‘oooohs’ during his smash hit Budapest was a real festival highlight. Over to the Coconut Club, and local prodigy Sable worked his magic with bits and pieces of everything, bleeding track into track and keeping the crowd warm as the sun came down.
Having received a heap of end-of-year accolades for their latest and second full-length album, Run The Jewels was always going to be a hit. Playing hits from both their first and second albums, Killer Mike and El-P were relentless in their approach, only taking small breathers in-between tracks to greet the crowd before continuing their onslaught of hardcore beats and rhymes. The lyricism on display was a sight to behold as they effortlessly backed each other up and spat like it was nothing. Tracks like Blockbuster Night Part I and Close Your Eyes (And Count to F#*&) sounded ridiculously heavy over the sound system and amped up the sheer ferocity of their set.
The Temper Trap gave a truly outstanding performance. Love Lost and Trembling Hands were just a couple of their well-known anthems that even the people that plateaued to the outskirts were chanting along to. The welcoming crowd drunkenly moved with masses of inflatable toys, watching the day draw to a close, and awaiting a mass of amazing music for the evening. “Southbound, you ready to get down?” said vocalist Dougy Mandagi, and thus began Fader, which played into the new song off their latest record, Summer’s Almost Gone. Sweet images and videos played in the background for a truly animated crowd. A festival is, after all, about the people. They closed with Sweet Disposition, and the crowd went wild.
The Presets drew the biggest crowd of the day at the Mainbreak stage, and they took full responsibility, pulling out hit after hit from their now extensive catalogue, including favourites This Boy’s In Love, Ghosts, Youth In Trouble, and My People, which built the crowd up to a collective frenzy. Just A Gent was a huge hit over at the Coconut Club, maintaining his signature image with top hat in tow, and busted out a heap of catchy, relevant tracks spanning across a variety of genres, backing up an awesome live performance earlier in the day with his own remix of SAFIA and Peking Duk’s Take Me Over – the dude’s still in highschool, and it’s great to see he’s killing it so early on in his career.
La Roux was another hugely anticipated act, and she knew how to get the crowd going, opening with Young, Foolish And Free. Her vocals were flawless and moves masculine but ripe with energy. Her first big hit In For the Kill was accompanied by moving moon lighting on the stage. There were sexual references for about three consecutive songs, until they finished with a thank you in those sexy British accents, and closed their set with Bulletproof. Yahtzel closed out the evening at the Coconut Club stage with a classic dub step DJ set that kept everyone partying right up ’til the end, complete with endless alcohol and faux palm branches.
Empire Of The Sun rounded out proceedings at the Mainbreak, and made sure they had something to show for scoring the headline spot with an onstage ensemble of dancers, crazy costumes and an assortment of props, taking many back to The Flaming Lips’ performance the year prior. All the extra gear saved what was a lengthy lull in the middle of the set, but they saved their best ’til last with the very festivally Walking On A Dream andAlive rounding out the evening and sending people back to the campsite on a high.
Activity in Base Camp was high from first light on Day Two, as people sought out anything they thought would ease the tiredness (thank god for the Ice Break carts) and nurse the hangovers. Enthusiasm for the music was still high though, and Methyl Ethel eased those seeking shade at the Lefty’s stage into the second day with their dreamy pop-rock. Over at Mainbreak, Jim Lawrie dedicated his first track to “those who are battling a hangover today,” which clearly nobody was, since there were a total of fifteen people standing before the stage. Laurie slowed it down as the sun was just beginning to blaze on the clean & green oval before a sweltering Sunday really began. His style was ambient soft rock with a hint of Arcade Fire and U2 inspired guitar tones overlapping each chorus.
The crowd was already bulked up 12:30 at the Mainbreak, even while having to compete with DMA’s – no surprises though, The Kite String Tangle sold out his national tour last year, so he was always going to be big in front of a festival crowd. Unsurprisingly, Arcadia had audience at their most responsive, everyone swaying in unison despite the rising mercury levels. Milky Chance drew quite the crowd but could not especially capitalise on that attention. The punters seemed only interested for the hits and there appeared to be sizable lulls in between. Add the searing heat into the mix and it really did not make for an enjoyable set – heading to the tent for respite seemed to be one of the better decisions.
The comedy element allowed those who had gone hard a little too early to sit down and have some laughs in the shade at Lefty’s. “I’m recently a proud father,” announced MC Harley Breen, and everyone applauded. “Sorry,” he continued, “I’m not recently a father… just a proud father. My three year old just swallowed his first two-dollar coin… little fuckwit.” He proceeded to highlight how busy he is as a stand-up comedian, when he spoke of his daily routines with his son as they went to ‘find the fairies’. “Someone’s got to…You’re not gonna go out and find them. Well… By the looks of some of your eyes, I can see you have found the fucking fairies!” A definite highlight from his act was reflecting on his own history of drug use, and the amazing fact of how stoned you have to be to forget how to eat pizza. “It’s shaped like an arrow for fucks sake!” Classic.
Damien Power had his moments. Also using drug references to appeal to his demographic, he talked about humanity working like a mouse on a wheel, round and round until we die. “Give that mouse some magic mushrooms they say, ‘Fuck the wheel, I’m gonna go do yoga with the cat’”. Luke McGregor had little material to match the introduction he was given as a gifted comedian. In fact, it was just plain awkward. His best stuff was his father failing to believe that the dog took a dump one metre from the toilet instead of him and getting feedback from sexual encounters. He also went out of his way to make a point of being straight, by emphasising the dates he had with ‘women.’ There were a few too many awkward silences, and people left in packs due to the music that was starting on the main stage. Breen, got the most response out of everyone, with a special mention to those ‘less evolved’ failing to accept homophobia. Funny and spot on.
Wolf Alice are a loveable pack: they’re a psychedelic alt rock hailing from Britain. They seemed to be known amongst the Southbounders and the crowd was growing by the second. Distilled vocals driven by lead singer Ellie Rowsell on a killer tune, Moaning Lisa Smile, in which it was clear they were influenced by a myriad of former British icons like The Sex Pistols. They have catchy licks that are easy enough to follow, paired with ’90s Brit-pop & dream-pop melodies. They covered a risky hit, Wicked Game by Chris Isaak, and despite their fold-back issues, played extremely well, providing essential festival tunes. These British gut busters deserved a more high profile slot.
US ensemble Tycho took to the stage after a delay to smash out a musically impressive showing. The four musicians are a tight unit and produced a number of exciting moments – from catchy drum breaks to throbbing basslines and synth melodies, it was a patiently layered set. Lefty’s stage then made a complete 180 as rapper Joey Bada$$ got straight into proceedings. The young New Yorkian seemed hungry to impress as he burst out with plenty of energy. The tent set-up did him justice as slick, bassy production completed his on-point vocals. It will be interesting to see where his career goes next – for now, he is deservedly turning heads.
Sticky Fingers only upped the ante and swelled the crowd up even further – as their set continued, so did the continued cycle of punters pouring out of front section of the crowd right in front of stage, only to have their space taken by someone else – this reviewer can only imagine how intense the heat must have been as people threw themselves around to the reggae-rock stylings of Gold Snafu, Caress Your Soul and Australia Street – the band epitomise the festival vibe and were treated as such.
Spiderbait were a hit with every age demographic, and they proved that after eight years apart, the surprise announcement of a new album was entirely justified. They rocked out as if nothing and changed at all, and sounded just as good as ever. The crowd absolutely lapped it up, but nothing compared to when the opening guitar lines came into play for Black Betty – everyone from the crowd right through to the inside of the VIP building were up and about in rousing sing-along, and the roar come the end of the song was near unrivalled for the rest of the day. The Lefty’s tent beefed up as UK disc jockey and The xx memberJamie xx took to the decks. Again, the tent set-up was prime for the low-end sounds. Jamie XX chose a number of melodic yet heavy tunes to display; his bass lines were some of the heaviest this reviewer’s heard in a DJ set, with a real Yeezus-like aggressiveness.
Cloud Control took to Mainbreak at a prime time where the crowd were buzzed and balls were flying, and the band played all the favorites, keeping the standards high. Hands were raised, praising the mighty group who sang in isolated harmony. It was like looking in a mirror; from Cloud to crowd; however, their set did not hit many highs, nor did it stoop to many lows. It was fairly average. The John Butler Trio are what you would call a ‘crowd pleaser.’ Though Butler hasn’t released much more than a blip in the past 18 months, his classics remain golden, and he may have even mellowed over time. However, he continues to be engaging, and for the most part, keep a festival of thousand close knit and intimate. “Y’all ready to do this?” He raced into, Don’t Wanna See Your Face.
Used To Get High was played unusually fast, but his ability to keep those tongue twisting lyrics on point was admirable. He kept everyone present by bringing the old school, then went full throttle with the instrumentals before introducing,Better Than. To everyone’s delight, the band closed with Zebra.
Veteran Coconut Clubbing trio Aquaman’s Lab had the crowd in full summer-groove vibes as the sun began making a descent, the three DJs bringing in their cumulative experience to put on a fab hip-hop and dance mix, before Sydney’sGRMM took things back a notched and eased the crowd into some very chill-sounding trap tunes. It proved to an effective choice for people wanting to exhaust themselves at Bluejuice‘s final performance ever under the big top at Lefty’s and that’s exactly what happened – any worry that they would struggle to compete with the internationally acclaimed SBTRKT was laughed off as the entire room and then some was packed in.
A ‘Blueeeeejuuuiiice’ chant rang around the venue before they made their way onto the stage and worked the crowd into a riot with Recession, before letting those who were unaware know it was their final show ever, which riled everyone up even more. The band had obviously been hard at work using Microsoft Powerpoint for this last string of shows, and we were treated with George Costanza antics during the aptly named George Costanza; a very retro-looking karaoke video forOn My Own; and an even more cringe-worthy version of vocalist Jake Stone making out with that much older woman during Act Your Age. They rounded out the set with Broken Leg, before popping bottles of champagne into the crowd and leaving everyone feeling on the biggest high and biggest low of the festival simultaneously.
While Bluejuice was putting on a festival-best performance, the equally anticipated SBTRKT ended up having an awful time at the Mainbreak with a train-wreck of a gig. The few songs he did get through were initially sounding excellent, but just as crowd-favourite Wildfire was about to drop, their was a technical meltdown – the band tried several times to restart the song but it all got too much. SBTRKT left the stage in a tantrum as roadies were left to frantically deal with the disaster in what was an incredibly awkward and saddening scene. The producer came back to finish a few more tracks before calling it quits, with the crowd ultimately feeling sorry for the guy, and those hoping for something similar to his last Southbound show a couple of years ago leaving with a bad taste in the mouth.
Rounding out Lefty’s stage was synthesiser extraordinaire Todd Terje. With a quirky aesthetic and throwback mentality, Terje crafts music which sits between disco and electronica, and although it’s labelled as a live show, the only instruments Terje utilised were his Korg keyboard and laptop. A full band would have brought the gig to the next level, but what we got did suffice. These were layered compositions which – with the right amount of build and time – grow into something phenomenal. The songs flowed beautifully into one another and yet again the tent provided ample bass and dynamic range to allow the songs to soar. Psychedelic visuals elevated the proceedings into a truly special live experience. The silky stylings of the producer excellently capped off this year’s Southbound instalment at Lefty’s
Watching Alt-J round out the festival at Mainbreak seemed a bit bizarre; anyone who digs their music would’ve had a great time and they sounded as good as their records do – Left Hand Free andHunger Of The Pine were clear set highlights – but they don’t exactly have the best stage presence or charisma in the world: the extent of their banter on stage was a series of ‘thankyous’ before bidding everyone a good night.
No matter, they played well and many still had energy left to burn as those who couldn’t be bothered waiting in line for the silent disco either made their way to the Coconut Club to enjoy KLP, who exuberantly danced to ’80s synth-inspired tracks overlaid with dance party beats, or stayed up talking shit with neighbouring tents across the camp site until the early hours of the morning. Between the fashion, the heckling, the trends, chanting and community of music lovers, Southbound presented the opportunity for a grand escape. No surprises here, the festival continues to try and do the best by its punters, and this year was as big a success as any.