Another Flawless Fairbridge Festival: Celebrating 25 years in style
The sun was shining on the 25th annual Fairbridge Festival. It shone so hard and bright that on the Fourth day, there was no rain (a miracle that was last witnessed in 2009). Aside from a noticeable lack of mud, all other Fairbridgian traditions were maintained; delicious food trucks, numerous workshops, ‘in-conversation’ events, market stalls, busking children and the warm and collegial community atmosphere. You lose a wallet, phone, or any other desperately important item and it will be returned to you within the day. Nothing incites equality and all-round friendliness quite like the levelled playing field of mass camping. A sea of tents is the ultimate equalizer, as artists and punters alike hang-up creature comforts for the weekend. Everyone wakes up a little bit sore, and everyone blows their nose at the end of the day to find a swampy black-mass of snot. I can think of nothing more beautiful.
One tradition, which I find myself gladly doomed to repeat year after year, is coming away from the festival with a long list of new international musicians to be obsessed with. But this year I found myself more blown away by the homegrown talent. In particular, the Westralians who truly stole the show. Here’s a tidy list I whittled down to 10 WA acts I was beyond impressed with.
1. Odette Mercy & Her Soul Atomics broke it down on the Hoopla stage with a rapt audience. Before the first verse had even started, Odette made a call-out, drawing the slowly assembling throng onto the d-floor. The instant response from the crowd in the form of human movement is a testament to the well-earned following Odette has cultivated. Complemented with jazzy guitar licks and a bountiful brass section, she is the cool, funny cousin who you want to be seen to hang around with and hug in public. She can elicit soulful crowd ‘yeahs!’ from the ‘swimsuit region’ about their love of cheese – if that quality alone isn’t deserving of respect, I need to reassess my approach to life. I even witnessed fellow editor Dan Morey saunter down to the stage… and yes, Odette can even make white boys dance.
2. If you haven’t heard of Stella Donnelly you should make it a hard and fast priority to rectify that wrong. You might have seen her floating around the Perth music scene in acts BOAT SHOW or Bells Rapids (or even making a cameo for The Fruity Whites). Her music is a raw exposure of not only some of the societal fuck-ups of our askew cultural approach to gender but also a very bared glimpse of what it is to be a young woman. The warm Kurt Vile-esque tone of her Jazzmaster pumping through a cute Fender amp is the perfect accompaniment to Stella’s crystalline and ranging jazz vocalization. Mechanical Bull (arguably her most popular tune from the new EP, Thrush Metal – a must listen) doesn’t even fully showcase her vocal prowess. Her blunt and clarified lyricism is the blast of concentrated oxygen I didn’t know I needed. Thx 4 bein' u, Stella.
3. Far away from the boot scooting theatrics and huge array of pedals he is known for in RAG ‘n BONE and Hyla is Axel Carrington in his purest form; pared back and acoustic. With steel resonator and a 12 string, Axel looks like a guy at home on the tundra. Under the simple setting of the Solar Stage, it was a pleasure to witness Axel’s no thrills demonstration of his skill as a finger picking machismo.
4. The Fruity Whites are a collection of good-hearted larrikins from Perth (and Melbourne). They're somewhat of a super group, with members plucked for some stellar projects including Shit Narnia, Rag ‘n Bone, Ermine Coat, and Mining Tax. With a rough-round-the-edges charm (as they had never played with that particular lineup), The Fruity Whites stole my heart with their infectious and palatable connection as dear friends. Their undying mantra that “She’ll be right” held true as the Year 11 student who was in charge of the sound at the Solar Stage frantically busted his balls getting everything right (props to you, guy). After one show, I overheard a girl describe The Fruity Whites as “weird Australian country music about goon and IGA led by a crazy bald guy with earrings”... and, well, it’s pretty accurate.
5. Heathcote Blue are the other kind of contemporary Australiana. Led by brother and sister duo, Lyndon and Madeline Blue, Heathcote are beautiful, haunting and polished. They’re so damn good at what they do that I feel ashamed for not having given them the attention they deserve. If you like sea ballads or songs about bodies of water, lap guitar or any kind of some deeply impressive multi-instrumentation, I can’t recommend their album ‘Stray Dog Daily’ enough. There’s also a delicious Duesenburg thrown into the mix (which might be the only similarity they bear to Kirin J Callinan). Heathcote Blue provide a soundscape of blissful melancholia that I could happily fall into for days.
6. POW Negro are so hot right now. At the Backlot stage on a windy Saturday night, they were a fucking revelation and a clear standout in terms of a dazzling live show. MC Nelson Mondlane’s unbridled youthful aggression is flooring. He’s a mix between the frightening intensity of MC Ride and the comical tomfoolery of the Odd Future crew. At times I thought that POW might be bordering on being too big for their britches… but honestly, these guys have the booty to pull it off and have earned their status as being ‘ones to watch’. Mayhaps they will be blasting off into the stratosphere a la Koi Child sometime very soon?
7. The Daniel Susnjar Afro-Peruvian Jazz Group is kind of like the Buena Vista Social Club on steroids, if you'll pardon my clunky simile. You’re not sure where the beat is going to fall from one bar to the next and it is exhilarating. The seemingly random rhythm makes it all the more flooring that the musicians on stage can stay so closely with one another step for step. It was as if we were watching 7 men flawlessly completing an 8-legged race. In describing composing a medley of songs Daniel Susenjar described himself as a ‘meddler’. To extrapolate this metaphor, his jazz group could be described as wonderfully cacophonous meddlers. Dan had some of the best drummer faces of the entire festival, which made for great material for the artists doodling away next to me. (I would call him The Sketchy Sketcher but he seemed really nice and I feel it’s a lovely little moment of art inspiring art which I shouldn’t taint with silly wordplay).
8. It is no secret that I love Lucy Peach. Her fringe show about how to be an optimized woman throughout the monthly ‘biological verge collections’ we endure as women won me over. Peach is unwittingly charming and her backing band offers the perfect blend of folk and rock. In particular, Luke Dux does some very lovely things on lead guitar
Lucy knows how to write a good hook (See Girl, The World and Bomb)
9. Albert Pritchard AKA Drummer of Shit Narnia described his solo project, New Nausea, as “sad white boy music about farms and shitty pubs”. Although I don’t disagree, I think he needs to give himself a little bit more credit. There is bountiful imagery of the Australian bush and some delish little hammer-ons that really tow the contemporary folksy line. In some moments I’m reminded of a happier, funnier Elliot Smith.
10. Soulin’ Wild are new kids on the block, with many members hailing from Albany and Fremantle they have the social conscience to match. With a densely packed stage (including live painting), Soulin’ create an aural landscape which feels warm, safe and hopeful. Playing the ‘last gasp’ of the festival, they injected a healthy dose of psychedelic-tinged world music to the Backlot, but their diehard groupies may have been a bit much for some on a brisk Monday morning as hangovers were compounding.
Sex on Toast represent the small cross-over in the venn diagram of international vs West Aussie acts to remember. Hailing from Victoria, Sex on Toast are a 9 piece spreadable delight who flirt with being a cheesy boy band made up of part Jamiroquai and part George Michael. These guys have an infectious masculine metrosexuality that feels designed to get middle-aged women to dance with no inhibitions. (See Oh Loretta!)
Don’t be fooled thinking my extensive love for the amazing music being produced stateside doesn’t preclude me from acknowledging the awesome talent of the international acts. But when did we collectively decide that the hallmark of world music would be loud shirts? Even if I missed the memo, I support the decision because I knew that I would love Praashekh and his band when they entered the stage, shirts ablaze.
The Praashekh Borkar Quartet were led by a rhythm section of a bass and a tabla drum. I love the table for its distinctive sound, the reverberation reminds me of the steady drip of water in a pond which lends the music a meditative quality. Praashekh’s self-designed ‘Esarod’ (an electric sarod, duh) was something to behold but the really show-stopper for me was the 5-stringed bass work by Roy Martinez. This guy played an insane solo, flitting between slap bass, finger-walking and an almost-strummer-like technique whilst keeping up the groove and momentum for the entire band. It was insane. The music itself is difficult to describe, at times trance-like, at others, how I would imagine Babar, the friendly elephant king, to sound if he played jazz.
Sicilian men, Mario, Valerio and Marco (could you get more Italian?) are Oi Dipnoi. I imagine their music would be perfectly paired with a Chianti, a sardine-based pasta and a faint sea-breeze. Playing a Steinburg bass pulls their very trad-influenced music to the present day. Some bass lines were reminiscent of Colin Greenwood’s earlier stuff with Radiohead. But perhaps it is a Sisyphean task comparing the Oi Boys to anyone else, they are solely unique, 3 guys who are musical outliers in ability and style. When they bust out the jaw harp, they sound like a collective swamp of frogs. But when Valerio starts head banging his way into an accordion solo they seem like self-proclaimed rock gods. With mischievous forethought, Oi Dipnoi cannot be captured in words.
As French-Canadian 5 piece Les Poules a Colin were setting up on the Manja stage with no percussive elements, I was worried their sound would be an onslaught of treble. But it turns out that tap shoes and an amplified stomp box is all you really need. There’s something beguiling about being sung to in French that makes Les Poules lovely to watch. But they don’t rest on their laurels or expect everyone to be a Francophile. The wonderful interplay between strings and multi-vocalists makes you feel warm and fuzzy on the inside. I especially love the lines on the mandolin and violin which are wonderfully textured.
Continuing the love of strings and alternative percussive elements are Harpeth Rising. A femme three-piece consisting of banjo, cello, violin and some awesome three-part harmonies, the Harpeth ladies have mastered the art of multitasking. They can all play strings, percussion and sing simultaneously through their self-proclaimed genre of ‘chamberfolk’. At times they take an edgy, politicized tack, in “535, are you even alive?” – a song referencing the 535 members of congress – I hear a mum-aged woman gasp ‘ooh’ in approval. But the standout to me was when they covered Leonard Cohen’s ‘Dance Me to the End of Love’.
Fairbridge is such a well-organised festival. There is room to breathe, there’s a chance to catch acts in numerous settings due to the ingenious multiple-set programming. It is without doubt, my favourite multi-day festival in WA. Fairbridge doesn’t appeal to youth as much as events like GTM or Southbound, but in many ways this is part of the festival's success. I don’t know of any other festival which is so family friendly. There’s a striking legacy in that. I hope that one day, maybe my kids get to experience it too.