I rocked up on Friday the 6th at The Newington Armoury amidst crowds of up-for-it punters, sheilas in cowboy hats, and fellas sporting their finest Wolfmother getup. Once beyond the seething horde of frustrated attendees, and after scoping out a suitable tent position I began my wanderings. My preferred mode of experiencing festivals is to wander constantly – the sensual overload ensuring my attention span diminishes to its lower limit of several seconds. I must also issue a small disclaimer by stating that the best moments at any festival don’t seem worth recounting; all the funny stuff in between, exhuberant conversations with acquaintances, off-hand observations.
I’d heard the festival lost quite a bit of money last year, and straightaway I noticed the area had been contracted a little, and the big top which Elefant Traks had hosted was no more, detracting from the local flavour of the event. First act I caught was New York based guitarist Kaki King – it all looked so damn easy, with some sort of loop station device she built up warm textured grooves, and did a bit of showing off in between on one of several beautiful guitars she had lying around, all tied together with an air of perfect nonchalance.
Whilst watching the Hilltop Hoods do their thing I considered their success. Their show is very well honed. They tap into the Australian phenomenon that is the ‘battler syndrome’. That is, the world’ out to get ya, but just keep on keepin on and shit’ll be mad hot in the end. Don’t worry about ya mortgage, just get ‘drunk as fuck’ on Friday. I’m not denying they’ve been on ‘the hard road’ so to speak, they’ve been at it for yonks. They’ve perfected the art of tapping in to the banal, yet wholesome thematic current of mainstream Australian society, all backed by ably produced beats, and the mic skills to bring it to together. Keep your head up, do your best, avoid drugs, love your country, but not too much cause that’s a bit weird – its earthy stuff and the crowd were lapping it up.
In between the mega attractions on the main stage I caught Kush Cabaret in the the Bunker 8 Cabaret venue, which is kind of like a train shed, complete with a platform fronting onto the light rail that carried gunpowder and ammunition around the place in it’s former life. Cabaret seems to me to boil down to a series of party tricks strung together with a fin de siÃ¨cle visual theme and latent sexual undertones. And I love it. Give me hammy facial expressions, hula hoops, fire eating, accordions, violins, clarinets, semi naked girls, aerobics routines and crazy dancing over a boring as shit, self important band any day. The crowd seemed to consistently vote this way with their feet all weekend, ensuring it was often impossible to get in the door, let alone get a seat.
Next up I felt obligated to check out the rock and roll juggernaut that is Wolfmother, so did everyone else apparently. I mean that literally because the show had a solemn air of ritual about it, everyone kind of standing there looking on in expectation. To me it was every stylistic cue and rock clichÃ© I know of rolled into a digestible package, but geez that’s a rock and roll voice. The guy on the keys was getting all intimate with his keyboard freak out style within the first three minutes. I couldn’t stop thinking ‘simulation’, and all those cruel jokes people started making the moment Mr Simulation himself died recently.
The only option from here was to wander, which was fortuitous because I came across one of my festival highlights in the form of ‘Biffo’s Blow-up Bonanza’. Sexed-up zombie slurry dogs prowling around yelling stuff at people. The performers come together for the theme song; a wonderfully atonal rant at tinnitus inducing volume, backed by that weathered looking guy who often busks in Newtown on guitar. Biffo appears in a clown suit, addressing the growing audience, before a scantily clad woman emerges; ‘Honey Suckle’ or ‘Sweet Treat’s or something. She enters the blow up chamber and begins her dance while people peep in the port holes, indulging their voyeuristic urges under the cover of public participation.
I spent most of Saturday morning at the record fair blowing money. I later saw a fat guy from Bankstown deliver his comedy act, punch line was something about his ex-wife Narelle, and how he left her because she loved the NRL too much. Lee Scratch Perry was the Saturday highlight. Next to the water, under a crane, backed by a full band, the geriatric Perry hobbled about on stage. The sound guy had a perfect handle on it, the bass was huge without being muddy or overbearing, and there was space galore in the mix. The tracks had little dynamic, just chugging along perfectly for 6 or 7 minutes each, between which he would of course say things like: ‘I used to eat the fishes, near the sea… but then I journeyed to the mountains and now I feast on the flesh’… cue the band.
Later on I was bemoaning the fact that the stages all closed at about 10pm, except for Cabaret 8 and the Tin Shed. This meant there were several thousand punters inside the gates, and only two small venues capable of holding a couple of hundred each. At first I thought this was a planning disaster, but after seeing Macromantics in the Tin Shed I thought it was a planning masterstroke, I can’t remember seeing a room pulsate with that much energy.
Sunday was the day. First band I saw was Sydney teen outfit Bridezilla; and though not exactly to my tastes, kind of angsty folk rock, they get my vote for ‘band at The Great Escape most likely to blow up in the near future’. Hermitude were fresh from supporting DJ Kentaro around Japan, and delivered a very tight show to a packed, appreciative Tin Shed, complete with the usual Blue Mountains tribe and punters climbing the walls. Alice Russell performed with a live band, producing light digestible tunes – but that voice is incredible, at full volume it filled my ears like nothing else all weekend. Some rather obnoxious friends then buried me in a pile of hay. By the time The Roots came onto the main stage at about 9, I had finally lost all critical faculties and was jumping around like a fool in the middle of the scrum. They were absolutely killer. Suffice to say, the remainder of the night was trashy, right up till the crew was ejected by security come close of proceedings.
All up a weekend well spent, amidst good music, better vibes, and some even better people.