WAM FESTIVAL: PROSPECTIVE HIGHLIGHTS FEAT. SWEET OBLIVION ALL AGES SHOWCASE, THURS NOV 5 - SUN NOV 8
Wandering Northbridge streets in the warm white sunshine, colliding with just about anyone who might play music in Perth, drinking the breeze and inhaling refreshing beverages. Scuzzy guitars and wails, clunks and thumps; usually the purview of dark boozy rooms, these sounds suddenly spilling into afternoon air, over blades of grass and heads of children. Motley arrays of musicians and fans intermingling and floating round the block together in a deeply uncommon fashion. Such are my memories of WAM festivals.
The so-called West Australian Music Festival is a time of year that draws the local scene’s relationship with the broader public into sharp focus. Inevitably, there is criticism, frequently in the form of disgruntled Facebook posts: what about the glaring omissions? Who’s been snubbed from award nominations; who’s been “patted on the back” for the umpteenth time, or – at a more fundamental level – who cares what a self-appointed representative body for the WA Music industry wants to recognize and program?
These are all valid questions, and particularly if you’re forking out your hard-earned for membership, a degree of critical dialogue is warranted. In the end, however, it’s impossible to please everyone – and for my money, the line-up associated with this year’s WAM festival does an impressive job of curating a diverse, inclusive lineup. There are 166 acts in any case, so good luck not finding something you like. From Thursday to Sunday there’ll be opportunities to catch the flawless indie pop of ascendants METHYL ETHYL, JACOB DIAMOND and JONI IN THE MOON; the forward-gazing experimental songcraft of KUCKA and BEN WITT; the irreverent garage-rattlings of HAMJAM and PISSEDCOLAS; the deadly Motown/R‘n’B of THE MERINDAS; the diligent beats of SABLE and CATLIPS and EMPTY and so on and so in into the horizon. There are plenty of acts whose names I don’t recognize whatsoever, which is good news: it’s certainly not just the “usual suspects” being wheeled out. More so than ever, this year’s lineup feels less geared towards the old guard of Perth indie rock and draws from a broad spectrum of sounds including folk, dub, rap, punk, doom, jazz, trap, house, pop, country, ska, disco, post-rock, soul and just about any other genre tag you might want to pull out of a hat. Seemingly acknowledging that parochialism helps no one, WAM are also bringing interstate sounds into the mix; Victoria’s excellent dreamy-jangle ensemble THE OCEAN PARTY will headline the Newport on Sunday night.
The supposed drawcards, as with any festival, are those who’ve established a reputation and a following; bands like the much loved LOVE JUNKIES, TIRED LION and COMMAND Q. There’s something to be said for recognizing and bringing together acts that are already successful, but what interests me more is WAM’s capacity to water the garden where seeds are newly sewn. This is particularly crucial with regards to all ages opportunities. Too often, live music is oriented to coincide with alcohol consumption, which means that creative under-eighteens get needlessly sidelined. It was an issue that irked me and my bandmates in our teenage years; most venues are too cautious about licensing laws to let you in their liquor-lined walls, while alchohol-free events are few and far between. Keen to help remedy this situation, WAM’s teamed up with yours trulies at Cool Perth Nights to present Sweet Oblivion #7, which features no less than seven diverse acts born since 1997.
I’m more than happy to spruik the show, ‘cause it’s looking set to be a ripper. Emerging songwriters CARLA, SHANNON, ELLA E and ISLA will offer some of their original tunes; indie-folk singer/guitarist SYDNEE CARTER (who recently floored Danni Minogue and Redfoo on the X-Factor) will follow suit. Guitar-pop prodigies FIGUREHEAD, who recall the likes of Real Estate and – locally speaking – Gunns and San Cisco will represent the rock band contingent. I’ve seen these guys live and they are amazing, with beachy arrangements executed more tightly and tastefully than countless bands their senior.
Thoroughly talented, Denmark-based electronic producer SPIRE will tie things up in a bow. The 17-year old (real name Max Baines) stirs together bright, bubbling beats, pitched-up vocals and post-internet aesthetics to forge tunes that work on your nervous system as fast as adrenaline.
Whether or not any of this sounds like your cup of tea, there’s no doubt that all these “underage” performers are kicking goals in their respective fields. And as much as supporting all ages music is about fostering future talent, it should also be emphasized that there’s plenty of high-quality material emerging from the younger crowd right now. What’s lacking is not motivation, but a platform for these sounds to be heard – Triple J have been good at building that platform with Unearthed, and it’s excellent to see WAM getting more involved with the all-ages agenda. After all, creativity doesn’t begin when the law says you can drink beer; I have no doubt that most of the acts headlining this year’s festival were already well into the journey of making music prior to their eighteenth birthday.
The showcase will be held at HQ, that hallowed skate-park adjoining hall in Leederville in which many of us cut our teeth. The venue hosts all-ages shows every week and Sweet Oblivion nights (geared towards contemporary pop, folk and indie styles) every second Friday. It’s bloody good to see WAM on board with this one. The more we can embrace all corners of the state’s musical offerings, the richer our culture inevitably becomes.