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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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LOOK: PBS Drive Live featuring Black Cab + GL + Lowtide

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Supporting community radio is one of those things you gotta do, you know. Today’s the last day of the annual PBS Drive Live campaign, so once you’ve done your good deed for the week and signed up for membership – head along to PBS HQ at 6 to catch Primitive Calculators, Table of Dreams and Habits. It’s a free show, just RSVP.For more information on how to become a member, just head here.

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PREMIERE: Gordi – ‘Taken Blame’

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Gordi’s new track ‘Taken Blame’ does its best ‘keep calm’ impression (without the bad spin-offs and aggressive font). Her debut track ‘Nothing’s As It Seems’ made its first appearance here late last year, and her latest single ‘Taken Blame’ is just as gossamer as the first.

It could be nonchalance or just restraint, but Gordi’s delivery treads along in a way that lets in light to an otherwise insular space. Lyrically, the subject matter is a little grim, but she maintains a transformative outlook. ‘Taken Blame’ adopts a beautiful arrangement, with Gordi’s nuances interrupted by the occasional off-beat or elevated vocal harmonies that bookmark the verse.

Whirling production/echo FX in the mixing department are all nice aesthetic flourishes. It sounds like listening to a live performance in a small room with massive ceilings. You get the feeling that without all of it, Gordi’s pastoral vocal would still lend this track the same weight. In this way, she tends to the same patch as Felicity Groom and even Sharon Van Etten, who’ve groomed their alto to the tune of honest post-love songs. There’s many years to go before Gordi could pass with the chutzpah that SVE reveals when she sings about errands and bathroom habits, but she might get there.

I’ve never seen Gordi perform, but I feel like I have many times.

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Gordi is playing Mordialloc Festival on the 28th and touring with Winterbourne throughout March. See below for details.

 

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INTRODUCING: Fonz Whaler

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Fonz-Whaler

Snubbing out lyrics ain’t such a bad thing when you have bands penning medleys about religious icons and shrines to fruit. Tom Kakanis is Fonz Whaler, a Brisbane guy making instrumental music out of his “brain oven” – which I’m sure is how all this fiddly ambient loitering incubates in the first place.

Fonz Whaler’s debut EP is a smoggy recount of solitude – fuelled by playful melodies, bow-legged instrumentals and every weird conversation you’ve probably had with yourself after 2am. This EP reminds me of some of Lalic‘s more downtempo tunes. And like Lalic’s work, there’s something special about lo-fi recordings like this which still cut clean sounds without suffocating in distortion or crying about the suburbs ’cause it can. 

Kakanis does attempt vocals on a few tracks, but it’s his instrumental-only version of events that do best. ‘Milestones’ kicks off with a succession of peppy guitar pluckings, the sort Andrew Bird would mount in his trophy cabinet, maybe on a Christmas album. That glorious treble guitar continues to bubble away in ‘Projections’. ‘Life on the Mandoline’ could be the motion picture soundtrack for a ridiculous coming of age biopic set in Crete, but it’s most definitely a song about a glorified fruit slicer.

You know, whether this is a baked dribble for soundscapes or vita C for the imagination, it’s been a nice way to kick off my leisure time. It’s all yours for $3, right here.

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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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WATCH: The Gooch Palms – ‘Trackside Daze’

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It is a sad, sad day for Australian music indeed. Loveable ruffians/serial nudists/one of Australia’s best bands, The Gooch Palms are relocating from humble Newcastle, to USA. Everyone’s favourite twosome named after the bridge between two genitals are waving goodbye to the home. It’s not that Newcastle has ever been short of amazing acts – Bare Grillz, King Single and a lil’ band called Silverchair all call the ‘Steel City’ home. The Goochies’ relocation means adieu to arguably the best mullet in NSW, no more covers of Twisted Sisters’ ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’, and less of the usual shenanigans that will be spoken of in slack-jawed awe.

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The Gooch Palms have made a huge impact with their sweaty and chaotic bubblegum punk. However, there is always a silver lining – they’ve released a crazy new video for their latest jam, ‘Trackside Daze’. Besides being a funner than a night out with the Kardashians, the clip is a visual smorgasbord that defies rhyme or reason. It’s like Tumblr got hacked by Anonymous. It also contains lots of sexy neon undies. Enjoy.

The Gooch Palms are playing their last Australian shows for a while. The band just played MATES Festival on the weekend, with a tour to follow in February. Make sure to check out the dates here and buy tickets for all the looseness that will inevitably ensue.

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INTRODUCING: Donny Love

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The Gold Coast is producing some quality songs as of late – there must be something in the water. Not to pigeonhole every coastal band as some variation of surf-rock, but many of the quality outfits coming from the GC sound as if the sun and surf were as much a part of the band as any of its members.

Donny Love is an up and coming four-piece that recently nabbed a support slot for The Growlers when they meander through Queensland, so now is as good a time as any to put the word out about ‘em. Take this following track for example: slinky smooth guitars, a shimmying swagger, a freaky funkadelic bounce, a quietly confident attitude – this song has the right elements to make the heat seem a bit tolerable. Donny Love are effortlessly cool in their musical mannerisms, and I’d hazard a guess that they know it. It’s all a part of the charm.

Donny Love will be playing with The Growlers and fellow supprts, The Babe Rainbow, on three of their Queensland dates at the end of January. Catch them at The Cooly Hotel on the 22nd and at The Triffid on the 23rd.

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