Posts By Alan Weedon

FEATURE: Sugar Mountain Festival 2015

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Photography by Bec Capp

 

There are certain things that should be left unsaid in order to avoid conflict. At this year’s Sugar Mountain festival, Nas bulldozed through that rule with charming American gusto: “Man, these buildings – it’s like we’re in the projects”. Hold it there, mate. If you were looking for one sure-fire way to turn Sugar Mountain’s inner- city white kids bright red, this was it. The Victorian College of the Arts isn’t exactly the same place Jenny used to sing about. But you can’t really blame Nas for getting a bit carried away—this year’s Sugar Mountain played itself out like an epic.

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We were made to wait two years. 2014 saw the festival get a much-needed injection of cash from the Mushroom Group. This was like Broad City’s comedy central moment. And boy did they sure deliver the goods—Nas’ Illmatic (in full), Kim Gordon’s art rock experiment Body/Head, and surprise appearances from Neil Finn and Dev Hynes via video link during Kirin J Callinan’s set. Throughout the day, though, you got a sense that this festival wasn’t riding off sheer spectacle. Sugar Mountain bills itself as a “summit of music and art”, but that tagline forgoes the most important assertion of all—this festival does so much to distill and communicate a Melbourne story that’s wholly our own. For some of this city’s inhabitants, our ‘indie’ culture is increasingly bleeding into a mainstream definition of Melbourne. We’re a city that boasts of coffee that’s second-to-none, a music city that bites the hand that feeds it and wins, and a city that “demands some level of civic engagement beyond simply walking the streets.

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From the inner-city’s gentrified masses to the sports-luxe goths roaming Melbourne’s CBD till the early-morn, Sugar Mountain was a summit for Melbourne’s disparate microscenes. If we’re a city defined by villages, then the villagers flocking to Sugar Mountain would all have a link to an ‘alternative’ culture that’s continually eroding into ever more niche divisions. The club kids could’ve stayed with the 2 Bears while Kim Gordon resonated with the crowds old enough to remember Sonic Youth. Melbourne, though, was in fine form: Twerps, Chela, Slum Sociable, Banoffee, NO ZU, Oscar Key Sung, Ash Keating, Leif Podhajsky—if you thought there couldn’t have been a more ‘Melburn’ festival than Paradise, then Sugar Mountain sure blew that out of the water.

Oh yeah, and don’t forget our local craft beer and gourmet food trucks.

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As much as this could’ve devolved into an insular Melbourne love-in, SM felt more like a celebration of local and international artists who have contributed to the city’s broader culture. TwerpsMarty Frawley revealed that his Mum studied painting at VCA. I’llsHamish Mitchell (as Sangkhara) and collaborator, Nicholas Keays did the video art for Oscar Key Sung and Cassius Select. Lauded Melbourne photographer Prue Stent helped to create Sugar Mountain’s art direction. Ash Keating’s multi-storey abstract painting, arguably the festival’s artistic centrepiece, adorned the VCA (of which he’s a graduate). The very fact that Sugar Mountain hosted art reminded us that we’re a city that we do ‘culture’ without tokenism, sometimes.

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People actually went into the VCA’s exhibition spaces and viewed Leif Podhajsky’s mixed- media works—the same could be said of Hisham Baroocha’s sitting next door. If most major galleries are afraid of declining audience numbers (apart from MONA), then Sugar Mountain went on to show that it’s not that hard to re-contextualise visual art’s consumption (despite parts still being shown in a traditional white cube). The idea of mixing a music festival with visual art is a promising one—a decision that lends itself to Melbourne’s inherent thirst for involved civic engagement (ahem, MPavilion, NGV’s Friday Nights).

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So as much as it could’ve been criticised as a festival where privileged inner-city white kids dance to Nas like they’ve been through their fair-share of #struggles, Sugar Mountain is at its best when it lets Melbourne tell its own stories through a mix of local and international artists who have directly or indirectly contributed to our collective identity. For a generation raised on a late-90s definition of pop culture—one where hip hop, R&B, and pop reigned supreme—Sugar Mountain gave everybody the chance to relish a interpretation of popular culture, which made the Johan Rashids of this city sit alongside Body / Head without fear of being caught in their shadows.

It’s these moments which remind us all, that hey, not only have we got one world, but we’re actually making a contribution to it even though we’re stuck at the end of the earth.

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INTRODUCING: Fortunes

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If you’ve ever listened to Usher’s ‘Climax’ you’ll understand the vocal gymnastics involved. For Fortunes’ Conor McCabe, this wasn’t an issue. He hit every single note. That means he hits two full octaves (Usher ranges from Eb3 to a falsetto D5). He did this when Fortunes opened during Oscar Key Sung’s residency at Melbourne’s Hugs & Kisses. It was one of those moments that slaps you in the face—much like discovering Banoffee’s vibrato, or the first time somebody demands you listen to D.D Dumbo. In McCabe’s case, his falsetto will keep ringing in your sleep.

Fortunes are McCabe and Barnaby Matthews, a Melbourne-via-Auckland duo. You can’t really separate these two from their origins once you’ve seen them live a few times. The first thing you notice is McCabe’s Kiwi twang. The Melbourne in them a lot harder to discern, given the subtle cultural differences between these two cities. Melbourne’s a city composed of villages—we let others know who we are and what we’re about.

Fortunes cut through this bullshit. Auckland breeds minimal fuss because (a) there’s not enough of a population base to generate microscenes and (b) its mainstream doesn’t see indie/hipster culture as something exotic to consume.

So enter Fortunes’ Hoodie EP—a ridiculously tight compilation of four tracks, to its last ounce oozing contemporary RnB and highlighting connections between NZ and Melbourne. Auckland’s Louie Knuxx features on ‘Communion’, for example; a steely, stripped-back affair done in the fine tradition of cinematic hip-hop storytelling.

The EP’s narrative is strongest on ‘Paper Thin’, a track rich with metaphorical flourishes. It initially tos-and-fros around the lyrics, “I’m grabbing papers to roll up and light up and spell out and (write up) / the lines they don’t line up”. It’s a slow burn building to a subdued chorus: “the line is paper-thin / it’s rippin’ / it’s rippin’” – a brooding moment where you can almost picture a spliff being stamped out on a bluestone laneway.

Throughout this release Hoodie’s sense of place grips you firmly, whether it’s signposted through McCabe’s Kiwi accent or through its noir-esque imagery. This is an assured, confident record that distils honest memories, not just trends.

Though it clocks out at 16 minutes, rest assured that won’t be long enough to absorb everything Hoodie packs in.

Image: Ben Clement

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INTRODUCING: Slum Sociable

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Mordialloc’s a town that isn’t known for much. It’s got a funny name though: think about it—more-dee-al-oc, (weird hey?) Beyond that, it’s nothing but another blip on the radar of Melbourne’s sand belt. Until now, that is.

For a town which you’d think would induce a certain kind of suburban ennui—the kind where RM Williams reigns supreme—comes Slum Sociable, who have just released new track called ‘Anyway’. They’re certainly not like label mates, Husky, but both acts produce a certain kind of genteel indie-pop. Lush is a word you can’t help but to come back to on listening to ‘Anyway’, but unlike with Husky, you aren’t prompted to run through the woods toting a beard.

In Sociable’s case, lush means chopped-up harps, layered vocals, and a dub-inspired bass line. Together, this makes for an easy listen, to be placed on your lo-fi list somewhere between Toro y Moi’s ‘My Touch’ and Moby’s ‘Porcelain’.

Slum Sociable will be playing their very first show, and previewing their debut EP, at Sugar Mountain Festival on Saturday, 24 January.

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SEQUENCE: Klo

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Klo, a fresh electronic duo out of Melbourne, are kinda a big deal. They’ve had a litany of press, been shot by the right photographers and contacted by major labels the world over. Their debut single, ‘Make Me Wonder’, set the ball rolling, even drawing them attention from BBC Radio One’s Zane Lowe.

This is no small feat for cousins Simon Lam and Chloe Kaul, who recently released their EP, Cusp—and it’s largely thanks to the mothers who brought them together in the first place. For this electronic duo, playdates have given way to rehearsals in Simon’s home studio, which we were lucky enough to be invited to.

Located in Melbourne’s sandbelt, Simon’s shack, tucked behind his parents’ house, is something of an enigma in a region renowned for Alex Perry-laden housewives, Liz Hurley cameos and lads.

Kaul’s voice is also an enigma of sorts, sharing a lineage with the likes of Yukimi Nagano (Little Dragon) and Martha Brown (Banoffee)—artists who have demonstrably shifted R&B vocals into new contexts.

One of the most striking things about Klo is Kaul’s vibrato. It really does hit you like a train. Klo’s minimalist electronic palate aids this to a degree, but even on less vocally oriented tracks like ‘False Calls’ Kaul deploys an understated range with precision.

Their influences are more or less a melange, spanning Fantasia and James Blake to early cuts by the Streets.

Lam’s studies in audio engineering are readily apparent in the EP’s production. The intricacy of Kaul’s layered vocal parts is in no small part thanks to Lam’s experimentation, which you may have previously heard in his work with I’lls.

Next time you chuck on the velveteen textures of ‘Make Me Wonder’, please pay your respects to Mama Lam and Mama Kaul.

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SEQUENCE: D.D Dumbo

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For those of you unacquainted, Castlemaine is a country centre that’s about an hour’s drive west of Melbourne. Situated between Ballarat and the Victorian capital, it once was a town fuelled by gold, then left to fend for itself after the hordes of new money left.In 2014 it still remains as a country centre, but it’s evaded the plastic re-hash of most urban centres. It isn’t mall-i-fied, and nor does it rely upon an antiquated mirage of ‘colonial heritage’ to get tourist dollars in. It is this town that now lays claim to DD Dumbo (aka. Oliver Hugh Perry).

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LISTEN: Sarsha Simone ‘Gold’ EP

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I feel there could be a turf war between Melbourne and Sydney soul soon. Down here, we’ve got a knack for big brass; as Saskwatch, Clairy Browne, and The Cactus Channel have gone on to reflect the city’s penchant for gritty live shows. And in true form, Sydney’s hit back with something slick. That person behind it all is Sarsha Simone.

Previously front woman of Dojo Cuts—a revivalist funk outfit—Simone has brought out the Gold EP: five tracks that serve up a mix of neo-soul, hip-hop, and contemporary RnB. But, Simone’s voice is hard to place.  It’s raspy in part, but it’s smooth as well — almost like Winehouse’s raw voice on her debut Frank. You can her this more clearly on Jazz Soul Scent, Simone’s recent collaboration with French artist DJ Moar. And, in the vein of your neo-RnB revivalists, she can rap to boot.  This could raise ire in others, but she seems to rap in a style that’s akin to spoken word poetry on tracks like ‘All Night’. And of course, you could look to the likes of Candice Monique for further comparisons.

The EP ticks all the boxes of the RnB tragic. Gold presents themes of lust, sensuality, and sultry nights out in language of the genre. You’ve got your usual dose of heavy bass, with Simone directly addressing you on tracks like ‘Move’.  And while it’s safe to say that Hiatus Kaiyote has broken the ceiling for local neo-soul, this EP doesn’t seem to following its direct path. On ‘Gold’, the EP ramps up the electronica, with vocal lines distorted and melodies that break out of RnB’s DNA.

But, ‘Goin On’ seems to be the front-runner. With a bass line that subtly references funk, this track illustrates why future soul has become as big as it is now. This reminds me of ‘Everytime’, a track from British producer Eric Lau, precisely because production takes a back seat to vocal agility. Here, Simone’s voice is allowed to fully branch out as you’re enveloped in her vibrato.

On the whole, Gold is a tight release that knows how to play to its strengths. Considering the sheer amount of acts that have spawned from the neo-soul trip, Simone’s yet another welcome addition to a scene that’s hitting its stride.

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PROFILE: Silo Arts & Records

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Silo Arts seems to fit the bill of a label that seems to be dripping in cultural cool. Being a Brisbane-based, outward looking label that’s pegged to Frenchkiss Records, the Silo Arts collective have managed to make a real mark since their start in 2011.

The likes of Rainbow Chanƒriendships, and Tincture lead the charge for Silo, creating a niche of young, curated electronic music that reaches beyond domestic ears. Tomorrow, they’ll be staging their unofficial Melbourne Music Week showcase at The Workers’ Club.  

In the lead up to this, we asked label founder Hugh Francis to explain Silo’s deal:

Silo Arts started in 2011 as a little artist collective.  We got a bunch of like minded Brisbane producers together and started doing some shows around town, and hosting some internationals. The exact birthday of Silo Arts is unknown, however it’s roughly September, around Bigsound.  We started in 2011 as a little arts collective, doing gallery shows with a bunch of unknown producers. We were lucky enough to be discovered by the peeps at Frenchkiss when I was working for CMJ in New York City in 2012. Those guys are pretty close to the CMJ crew, and I guess someone mentioned that I was running a small label back home.  They had a listen to our sampler, and sent us a contract within a week.  For me, that’s point where I really got my head in the game – up until then it had been a DIY collective. That’s when we decided to really have a go at this whole label thing….

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