Sugar Mountain comes to us revamped this year, after a 12-month hiatus. It has a new location at the VCA Southbank campus, where the extra space has allowed for a bigger line up than ever before. The festival’s profile is also at its highest level, with a push from the promoters at Mushroom Group, Sugar Mountain’s new partner in crime. This good fortune is well overdue for Sugar Mountain, which for years has been curating the most exciting set of acts of any festival in Australia, whether blockbuster or boutique.
While the Big Day Out flailed around trying to please everyone from Metallica fans to the triple j set and Laneway slavishly booked every band with a ‘Best New Music’ accolade, the closest thing to a ‘white whale’ that Sugar Mountain has bothered with is ESG – a cult act from the no man’s land that was South Bronx in the 1980s. Instead, these guys have displayed an adventurousness and a consistency of vision that’s brought acts like Sun Araw, Prince Rama and John Maus together on the one bill.
This year is no exception, despite the event now catering to a larger audience. As if the promise of Swans, Nas, iceage and a Boiler Room stage weren’t enough, there’s also a huge array of local talent on the bill. These are some of the artists we’ll be going to see.
NO ZU + Sal P (Liquid Liquid)
Melbourne septet NO ZU have been bringing together cowbell, saxophone and happy pants in a frenetic post-disco amalgam for quite a few years now. On Saturday they’ll be joined by spiritual forebear Sal P of no wave legends Liquid Liquid in what’s bound to be an interesting collaboration.
Terrible Love feat. Kirin J Callinan
Kirin J Callinan has already caused his fair share of trouble for Sugar Mountain. A set at the 2012 event saw audience members streaming from the auditorium in confusion and disgust as the boundaries between concert, performance and reality dissolved. It was probably the best thing I saw all day. This time Callinan’s teaming up with Terrible Records, a US imprint founded by Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor. I have no idea what’s going to happen here, but the teaser is promising:
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard
King Gizzard seem to be at their creative peak right now, having released two full-length albums in 2014. It’ll be interesting to see what they draw from all that material in 40 minutes. With two drum kits, three guitars and a sound that ranges from psych and garage to blues and freak folk, it’s going to be one helluva racket.
Chelsea May Wheatley is probably the closest thing Sugar Mountain’s got to a bona fide pop star this year – and the girl has the moves to prove it. Her gold-flecked single ‘Romanticise’, out on Parisian music/fashion label Kitsune, is the real deal. The Perth-born artist is visiting from her LA home, so be sure to catch her here while you can.
In between dropping the ‘Holograms’ EP, embarking on a relentless tour schedule and producing his debut album, Oscar Key Sung has rattled off a good number of guest spots, remixes and collaborations recently, including a whole album with Andras Fox. Last year he put out a one-off single called ‘Wanna’ with Cassius Select, the techno side project of Sydney’s Lavurn Lee (aka Guerre). It’s a tidy little number, Cassius Select’s visceral production offset by Oscar’s slinky vocals. On Saturday, we’ll be treated to an entire set’s worth of this stuff.
These guys have actually been around for a little while now, but (as Tommy points out over on Sound Doctrine) they’ve recently purged their Bandcamp profile to make way for an ‘official’ debut single. ‘Anyway’ is a lush trip-hop jam that augers well for Slum Sociable’s new EP – which they’ll be previewing for the first time this weekend at Sugar Mountain.
Sugar Mountain is also exceptional for its seamless integration of music and the visual arts. Each year the festival commissions a set of stunning installations and projections to enhance the performance spaces and showcase some young up-and-comers. Leif Podhajsky is one of the artists taking part this year. He’s created album art for bands like Tame Impala, Young Magic and Baptism of Uzi. There’ll be work by Johann Rashid, who’s made video clips for artists like Twerps and Parquet Courts, as well as his own bands Eastlink, Home Travel and Promise Land – plus a killer feature film from 2012, starring members of the UV Race, Total Control, Boomgates and heaps more. Oren Ambarchi collaborator and creator of the Giant Theramin Robin Fox will be there too, with a keyboard-operated laser show open to punters from 6.00 to 6.40 p.m. at the Theatre Stage. Illustrations by Perth weirdo Sean Morris will also be on display. Check out the Spotify playlist he made for us, featuring Cloud Nothings, the Smith Street Band, Sharon Van Etten and Twerps.