Southbound Festival 2014 Review
I’ve often thought that forcing people to travel, organise and commit to see music would mean only the true music lovers (and those rare apt dickheads) would bother to make it out; Southbound Festival 2014 reaffirmed this belief. Yet the amount of these music lovers making their way down to pitch up tents or crash in their car exceeded 12,000 each day of the 2 day festival held at Sir Stewart Bovel Park in Busselton. The crowd was one of the friendliest and most colourful groups I’ve seen at a festival, and aided by the wonderful staff and volunteers (thanks to Sunset Events!) the whole event was enjoyable and smooth for Southbound’s 10th Birthday.
Early on the first day the festival featured a raft of Australian bands including The Preatures, Violent Soho, Big Scary and The Rubens. Violent Soho were easily the best of these four, pumping out a high energy set that was also the ‘heaviest’ act of the weekend. The Rubens managed to deliver a solid performance despite being clearly inebriated. Melbourne duo Big Scary gave a reliable performance on the main stage; but their songs seem to be exact duplicates off their 2013 album, Not Art, without providing any live performance ‘magic’. This meant their set would’ve been great for fans of the album (which I am), but probably didn’t garner any new fans through a great live performance. This is contrary to a band on before them, The Preatures, who gave an extremely professional performance that really showcased Gideon’s live chops.
Sometimes technical difficulties and communication issues can ruin a set and I was reminded of this when Brooklyn band Grizzly Bear took to the main stage. While they handled it like professionals, the break in chemistry and energy was obvious as Ed Roste and Daniel Rossen were constantly impeded by technicians and having to try and communicate with the sound engineers to fix a raft of issues. Thankfully, the rest of the first night went off without a noticeable hitch, featuring a super impressive set from Michael Di Francesco aka Touch Sensitive. After 10 years of DJing and working on other projects (like Van She), he’s finally come reached a very popular solo status, but it still didn’t prepare me for just how good he was. His production and disc jockeying was very good, but the single most blistering component of the set was just how good a bass player this guy is. The ability to blend his modern style production with thumping, popping and driving bass-lines was pure gold.
An unfortunate timetable (for my tastes at least) meant that The Roots and RÜFÜS both started at the same time, but rather than jumping on the new-to-fame Sydney band, I ventured to watch the legendary, Grammy award winning, hip-hop neo-soul outfit. I did not regret this decision; easily the best live performance at Southbound and probably one of the best live performances I’ve ever seen. One problem I’ve often seen in hip-hop acts is the MC having to skip lines to maintain the required performance energy, or standing still to make sure they can spit their lines. Black Thought however managed to produce an emphatic performance having no qualms whatsoever. The Roots 70 minute, high energy set included tracks covering most all of their 10 studio albums as well as Black Thought riffing over impressive covers of tracks like ‘Sweet Child ‘o’ Mine’. These guys definitely give a performance you could never quite capture on record and act any music lover should endeavour to see; definitely a solid scalp by the Sunset Events crew.
Vampire Weekend showed why they’ve become one of the biggest bands in the last year; the New York quartet strutting out to some hard spitting hip-hop and frontman Ezra donning a jumpsuit and delivering a stunning performance. The set began frenetically covering the more upbeat songs from Modern Vampires of the City, before rewarding their die-hard with classic songs from 2011’s Contra and 2008’s Vampire Weekend. For live DJ sets, Australia doesn’t deliver much better than duo Flight Facilities; not letting Southbound down, they closed the first night in fine style. Being a couple of our biggest and best producers despite having only released 6 singles in 4 years, speaks volumes about how good the quality of their original songs and live sets are. The extra “wow” in their sets, however, comes from their live vocalists, Brooke Addamo (Owl Eyes) and Kurt Kristen, who work the crowd and move with an insane amount of energy. Addamo does an amazing job of both replicating and bringing her own unique sound to the work laid down by other artists on the original FF tracks (i.e. Giselle Rosselli, Micky Green, Elizabeth Rose etc.).
An early Australian act on day 2 was the 2012 Triple J Unearthed High winner from Tasmania, Asta, who showed that her live performances and her actual vocal ability far exceed what has been captured on her very limited recording experience. One act who I was very interested to see was Solange (Knowles, yes sister of Beyonce); who over the last couple of years moved her music in a direction that has made her very suited to festivals like Southbound. Her performance included attempting to get her large fan-base to grind and ‘drop that booty’.
Some of Perth’s favourite sons, POND, took to the main stage shortly and were of course greeted to a massive, loyal crowd. Nick Allbrook and co. are easily some of Australia’s biggest “true” rock stars, and the wild, erratic yet signature Allbrook live style was, as always, a feature. Other non-musical highlights included a felt-suited Gumby dancing on stage for ‘Xanman’ (but where is the morph-suited Xanman, we wonder?), as well as expected Jay Watson comedy and a ‘friendly’ hello from Shiny Joe Ryan to his brother. The musical performance from these guys was colourful and rich and another of the better performers of the weekend.
The 80’s alt-funk-rock group Violent Femmes who just recently reunited in 2013 to the pleasure of their very wide-ranged fan-base, showing they’ve still got it. Packing way too much energy for people their age, the band opened with their most well-known hit “Blister in the Sun” before testing how well fans knew them by playing tracks from their entire back-catalogue in a 60 minute set.
After the sun set Liverpool-trio The Wombats reminded us why they’re fan-favourites ahead of their third studio album to be released in 2014. Unfortunately they only played October single “Your Body is A Weapon”, otherwise playing their indie-dance-punk hits that make everyone want to groove and sing along from their 2007 and 2011 albums. Fellow English trio, London Grammar surprised with how magical their live performance was. A clear talent to anyone who listens, their debut album came off like “a well-oiled machine”, but the raw emotion live reminded me why I love Hannah Reid’s voice as much as I do.
An epilepsy-inducing video subliminally chanting “M-G-M-T” welcomed the former indie-electro come psychedelic-rock band MGMT, on stage to close the main stage. Their show started fairly average, with Andrew attempting to film him and fellow bandmates on a GoPro before the cord knocked over his drink, knocked over Benjamin’s mic and was pulled out of its socket. The rest of the set involved MGMT playing extended versions of their ‘psychedelic’ album with massive jam sessions in between that lacked substance, but obviously this is why they were given a 70 minute set. They fit their classic indie-pop singles in between these faux-shoegaze jams; seemingly the only time the crowd seemed to be engaged by the band. They were joined at later by Neil Finn, Jay Watson (POND) dressed as Gumby and Kevin Parker (Tame Impala) dancing on stage while Nick Allbrook (POND) crowd-surfed in an inflatable boat to perform a cover of Split Enz’s, Six Months in a Leaky Boat. Finn’s set earlier in the day featured all of the charting singles from his 4 solo albums, as well as popular songs from Crowded House, following in Brother Tim’s appearance at the 2013 Southbound.
Last set of the festival went to Crystal Fighters, the alt-dance group from London appearing with 6 live members to make sure the committed music lovers got one last groove on, however one thing to note is that sometimes having four people singing the hooks and choruses at once doesn’t always work. The effect created was a slight distortion rendering the lyrics hard to decipher if you didn’t already know them.
Southbound 2014 reminded me why live music is so important, after a year in Australian music festivals that were largely mediocre. It hopefully sets the tone for all festivals to come, which we already expect given the lineups for West Coast Blues ‘N’ Roots (see the lineup) and St Jerome’s Laneway festival (see the lineup) which Sunset Events also had a hand in, as well as the massive spectacle of Big Day Out (see the lineup). After 10 years of experience, Southbound is an event everyone needs to give a go, especially because the two-day camping experience is a unique one for WA live music.