LIVE REVIEW: Fidelity Festival is a good time, despite some growing pains
Whatever projects we decide to take on in life, we are not guaranteed a smooth-sailing path to success. We stumble. We hit unexpected roadblocks. We make mistakes. All we can do is try our best, and hope that we overcome and learn from those growing pains that we’re bound to experience during that very first venture. Fidelity Festival, newcomer to Perth’s live music festival scene, sure faced their fair share of said growing pains in the lead-up to their maiden voyage at the Red Hill Auditorium on December 2nd, 2017.
We sent a team of Isolated Nation contributors out to get their thoughts on this new festival. In this review, we'll give you a comprehensive deep-dive into our experience of the inaugural festival: The Good, The Not-So-Good, and some suggestions for the (fingers crossed!) future.
Let’s start with that killer line-up. In an age where music festivals are getting bigger and bigger, Fidelity made the ingenious move of shrinking down. By focusing on quality over quantity, the “boutique” music festival managed to curate a remarkably electric international roster of performers: With British juggernaut / Triple J staple ALT-J leading the charge, followed by indie royalty The Shins, synthpop sensations Future Islands, dream-pop favourites Warpaint, rising star Chicago rapper Noname, class dance act Cashmere Cat, and, of course, Perth breakout Ziggy Ramo and his band (well, sort of-- more on that later).
We’d be remiss to not broach the subject of venue change, the main source of ire for the festival prior to the event. Originally slated to be held at the convenient location of Wellington Square (East Perth), eager fans bought tickets with the assumption the venue would remain unchanged. That would not be the case, however. Much to the chagrin of soon-to-be attendees, a few weeks after having sold tickets for the original location, the event poster’s “*subject to council approval” fine print actually took effect and a new venue was announced: Red Hill Auditorium, Toodyay.
For anyone that doesn’t live in the hills, Red Hill Auditorium is undeniably a less convenient location than the city. The venue provided shuttle buses to alleviate some of the inconvenience, although there were whispers that some busses were running well behind schedule. That said, Red Hill Auditorium provided its own distinct atmosphere. It is a beautiful music venue, and watching the sunset from the top of the stairs made it all worthwhile.
On the day of the festival, we asked a few festival goers what they thought of the venue-change:
The general consensus seemed to be: Sure, the sudden location change was inconvenient, but once you make the 30-ish minute drive there, there is no denying how special Red Hill Auditorium is as a live music venue in WA.
Here is our breakdown of each act in the Fidelity Festival lineup (along with audio snippets of live interviews with some fellow attendees who shared their thoughts):
Daniel: Ziggy was a perfect choice for the opening act. His set mixed high energy and groove with 'woke', timely messages that never felt heavy-handed. Can’t wait to hear more from him in the coming years.
Howie: What an eventful year it has been for Ziggy Ramo, am I right? From being tapped as one of Triple J Unearthed's featured artists (they even go as far as to tip him as "One to Watch in 2017"), to signing a bookings deal with Village Sounds, 2017 has no doubt a banner year for the rising WA hip-hop artist. Bolstered by his impeccable live band - often referred to as "The Love" collectively - Ziggy has managed to find this perfect blend of tackling heavy social issues underneath the trojan-horse of catchy, anthemic Aussie hip-hop in his music. Opening the festival by waving a glorious rainbow flag and donning a "Justice for Elijah" shirt, this set was no different - with one exception. For those who have seen Ziggy & The Love perform live, it was quite noticeable that more than half of the 6-piece band were not playing with him on stage this time around. An inadvertent casualty of the venue-change reshuffling, perhaps? Regardless, Ziggy and 50% The Love managed to power through, giving us a poignant and energetic performance that serves as an effective opener to the festival, and a good example of what the WA music scene has to offer.
Daniel: For a band that is so dreamy on record, I wasn’t expecting to dance as much as I did. Warpaint was engaging and well-received. I personally think they would have been better suited to the sunset time, when their magic could really come to life.
Howie: I think I have to agree with you in regards to the timing of their set, Dan. Sometimes the trade-off with seeing a 'dream-pop' band live is that, while their studio-recorded music might sound absolutely delicious to our ears, they might risk coming across as "generic" or bland-sounding live. That was certainly not the case with Warpaint. "Engaging" is the perfect word to describe their performance, which exuded a kind of hypnotic quality that draws you in gradually, and all of a sudden you find yourself right in the middle of the crowd, bobbing your head with pointed interest. That said, it felt quite jarring to switch gears from Ziggy's highly charged set to a more "mellow" atmosphere that Warpaint conjured. In fact, I think the transition could have been perfect had they switch places with:
Howie: Cementing herself as the definitive stand-out of the festival, the Chicago rapper charmed the pants off the audience with her bubbly personality and infectious bars. Interacting with the crowd in-between songs, Noname brings such a wonderful effervescence in her performance and stage presence that you can't help but smile throughout her entire set. I had never heard of Noname before this festival, but you can definitely count me as fan after this.
Daniel: Being a big fan of her mixtape Telefone, I was looking forward to seeing her live, although unsure of just what she would provide. Thankfully, she delivered. She gave a high-energy set, feeding off the audience’s reception and making an effort to involve even crowd members who might be unaware of her music. Her rapping was tight and smooth, saying important things with a casual flare.
Rhys: Not much to say about Cashmere Cat, really. If you were not familiar with the Norwegian DJ/musician, you could have easily mistaken him for the person who keeps the music and 'vibes' warm enough while the big name artists backstage get everything together and whatnot. It was a profoundly lackadaisical performance. I'll grant that it's ridiculous to expect a DJ to steal a festival – no offence to DJs – but it would've been a bit more enjoyable if it didn't feel like Cashmere Cat skyped in his set from somewhere more comfortable. Him constantly sipping his coffee or juice or whatever with one hand and half-heartedly tweaking knobs with the other was the cherry on top. His music didn't sound horrible by any means, but no one there was all that enthused with what he was churning out from his DJ equipment either. It was a bunch of anonymous generic music sounds without much regard to flow. He made a cat-like pose before he left the stage, which was kind of funny and by far the most memorable part of his set.
Howie: I think his lacklustre stage presence turned out to be a positive for me - it was a good time for me to take a break from being in the standing audience and get some drinks from the bar (funnily enough, a friend had texted me, saying "Will be getting food during Cashmere Cat"). As expected, his tracklist, which mostly comprised of Kanye West and his collaborations with pop icons Selena Gomez and Ariana Grande, was pleasant listening. But how different was it from listening to him on the radio or at the club (look at me, falsely implying that I "club")? Probably not much.
Rhys: Though The Shins sound mellow and soft on a Spotify playlist, at Fidelity Fest they sucked in the disparate crowd like a super magnet with the opening notes to one of their all-time classics, Caring is Creepy. Whether we rushed like newly escaped inmates because of “Oh my god this is a song I know! And like!” or because of “Damn, it's the Shins! A band I know! And like!”, who could say, but this shot in the arm was just what Fidelity Fest needed at that point as dusk settled in and the mosquitos were the most enthusiastic attendees. Having been at this for twenty-something years, The Shins commanded the stage and put on a show like nobody else. Sure, alt-J were stranger and artier and Warpaint conjured some deliciously dreamy sonic textures by capturing lucidity and making it melodic, but The Shins simply owned the crowd from beginning to end due to some ineffable quality – call it a mix of sheer stage-presence and raw originality honed to a pleasing sheen over a number of albums and countless live shows. I'm no kind of music critic by any stretch, but guitars, drums, keyboards -- it all just sounded more impressive, more powerful, in their experienced hands. My only complaint is that their song No Way Down from Port of Morrow was nowhere to be heard. It's a great a little track, with its easy-going Beach Boys sound confuting its cutting, political lyrics. Still, these guys were energetic and loads of fun.
Daniel: Very rarely does a band have to pause for so long between songs to allow the crowd to keep cheering. Samuel T Herring is a passionate and engaging frontman, backed by a tight band. His dance moves are unparalleled, as is his penchant for random black metal screams and generally unpretentious performance. This all made for my personal highlight of the festival.
Jacob: Undoubtedly my favourite performance of the night! Samuel’s energy and enthusiasm whilst performing was so contagious it was impossible not to feed off of it. The best example of this would be the crowd’s response to his dancing on stage. With everyone emulating his moves and screaming along to his sudden black metal vocals with such enthusiasm. And with the crowd chanting along during every song, it was obvious that many people were at Fidelity specifically for Future Islands.
Howie: Yeah but how unnerving were those random guttural screams tho???????
Jacob: I am in no way a big alt-J fan. Having only listened to their hit songs that I indulged when being driven by a parent, tuned in to the radio. But if the opportunity to see them live pops up again I might just take it. From their few songs I’ve heard I never would have imagined them to be so dynamic. With an impressive display of talent, Joe Newman took control of guitar, bass and vocals. Recreating the nasally (yet somehow very appealing) voice he has in the albums perfectly. (Or as perfectly as the sound system would allow). Gus Unger-Hamilton assisted with backup vocals, atmospheric keyboard and the usage of sampled. Thom Green stole the show for me though. With a drum kit fitted out with an array of different tools and devices. He absolutely blew my expectations of what alt-J would sound like by drumming in a style that you would expect from a heavier rock band. With intricate and lively drum beats that made me -- someone who went in with the assumption that alt-J would be somewhat dull -- dance along with energy.
Howie: Whether you're a big fan of theirs or not, there is no denying the catchiness and spark of their music as soon as they took to stage, showcasing why they deserve to be the headliner of a music festival. I would like to give a massive shout out to the MVP of this festival, the people responsible for the stage lighting through-out the festival, especially for alt-J's visually-entrancing set, which gave the band 'larger than life' stage presence.
In the end, despite some roadbumps, like the sudden venue change and seemingly limited marketing (as evident by number of "wait, alt-j/ The Shins/ Noname were here??" reactions to social media posts of the event), the festival ended up being a confluence of what makes a music festival enjoyable: a wonderfully diverse line-up, an picture-esque venue, and an intimate crowd. At one point, as we basked in the warm glow of the sunset and good music, it almost felt as if we were let in on a secret no one else knew about - tucked away in not-so-hidden gems of WA.
For a newcomer, Fidelity Festival was a very good festival. Here’s hoping they can deliver a great festival next year, and in years to come.
Editing, introduction and photography by Howie Ng
Contributors: Rhys Tarling, Daniel Morey, Jacob Wootton, and festival attendees Wynand, Mei, Ronan, Jacinta, and Keaton. Special shout out to Laila Nowell for behind-the-scenes commentary.