Roses on the dashboard, three cheese platters worth of stinky curd in the boot; borrowed tents, warming cinnamon whisky, a bale of blankets. Oozing down Vasse Highway across a purple sunset, this is our prelude to Frón Voyáge. Although hosted at the same site as the now-legendary Camp Doogs and organized by the same crew, Frón announces itself a little differently. Softer visual tonality, gentler promotion, and a kind of jungle boudoir sensibility. Rolling up to the entry gate, a little out of Nannup, there’s calm in the air. Less so in my personal bubble ‘cause I’m due to perform on stage really soon. But I grab my bags and Sarah helps me carry them down to the familiar yet freshly reinvented amphitheater, and EVANIOLLET is still playing, and it sounds beautiful. Just piano and voice flashing out through the forest.
And we’re encircled by moonlit gums and I see silhouettes of buddies as I get on stage. I play half an hour of music, mainly just trying not to make mistakes, but as I warm up I enjoy myself and look up to see smiling people gathered around, some of them drinking out of tins, some of them snug in scarves, some of them dancing. I feel welcomed, far away from where I live but strangely at home.
BEN WITT follows and I’m glad I don’t have to follow him. His hands are fluent in blues and jazz vernaculars, but it’s his more recent explorations into weird dissonant-pop and reimagined highlife guitar grooves that make his set so thrillingly baffling. His peroxide hair and red jacket paint him as a sort of Ryan-Gosling-in-Drive antihero howling oblique loveliness against a backdrop of projection-mapped vintage pornography, frond foliage and electroluminescent blobs.
DAMON ELIZA PALERMO, all the way from California, follows with a set of ambient outings that are simultaneously chilly and warming… like an affogato. Bush affogato. He looks a bit like an anachronistic Norwegian sailor with his petite black beanie and it’s not hard to imagine that these soothing compositions were dreamed up in the creaking sleeping quarters of a sea vessel. Nautical hammock meditations [in the tradition of the Orb, KLF, The Field etc]
Friday’s main-stage bill is sewn up by NICHOLAS ALLBROOK who seems more relaxed and self-assured than ever. Which is not to say that he’s not putting any effort in. With trademark puckish vivacity he strums, shreds, screeches and flute-puffs his way through a slew of originals, including his scathing new Australian anti-anthem “Advance,” and a beautiful slowed-down, pared-back cover of Kelis and Outkast’s “Millionaire.” We migrate between our campsite and the BUSH FUNNEL(Frón Voyáge dance tent), relishing our first major cheese platter at the former and getting fluid to neon disco nourishment courtesy MAGIC TOUCH (USA) and WILLYSLADE (WA) in the latter. We wander bush paths, meeting orb-weaving spiders eating midnight snacks, and leaves speckled with glow-in-the-dark paint, little hi-vis constellations.
The night drips away, I unzip the tent, rub my eyes and take in the warm light. A carrot for breakfast and I feel great. Today five of us are camp posties, delivering messages in the reception-averse sanctuary, so we get into our khaki uniforms and head to the pit.
Here we find ABACAXUVA, the hard-to-pronounce but easy-to-enjoy rock trio fronted by Rex Monsoon. Their champagne-fueled set dislodges the cobwebs, propelled along by triplet rhythms, howling vocals and fuzzy growling bass. Somehow I miss POOL BOY (sorry Pool Boy), maybe delivering messages, but am back in time for Doogs alumnus Peter Bibby who barks and thrums his debauched homespun ditties for our primed ears. The end of his set is augmented by Nick Allbrook (drums) and Melbourne’s Johnny Baird (bass), two of the long-standing Bottles of Confidence. Johnny battles valiantly against out-of-tune strings and it all comes out a treat, including maybe the best rendition of ‘Work for Arseholes’ I’ve ever heard.
TOURIST KID offers a change of pace, a mid-afternoon reverie. Chopped up synth washes, stuttering tones and the ghosts of beats and melodies fall on us like autumn leaves as sun beams filter through the bush boughs and the Blackwood Cuppa (techno v disco soccer match) rages stage left. Though there isn’t a bustling crowd, everyone in the set’s radius seems quietly engaged, whether they’re taking part in Anna Dunnill’s Embroidery circle, gobbling paella or swanning through the trees. Steven Finch is offering a cosmic foot-bathing service in a teepee. Someone is cooking crumpets down at “Gumnut Bae.”
This peaceful listening arrangement is quickly contrasted by the response toDOCTOPUS, whose 4:20 set is characteristically loud and outrageous but more deftly locked-in than I’ve ever heard them (I guess dank screws tighten with time). Jeremy sits unassumingly with his holy holey socks, John is steadfast and wide-eyed, Stephen stumbles and bellows and exhales smoke like a joyously squiffy dragon. And we thrash and kick up clouds of red-gold dust and Splodge kisses my face before crawling round like a dog and then Jeremy Cope starts riding him like a horse.
The light is fading; I watch some of the derby up at Glenn’s house and make it back in time for the end of the Mei Saraswati a capella group, stunningly quiet and theatrically spaced throughout the pit. This bleeds into the stellar beauty of Rabbit Island, whose reflective sets always take you on a profound inner/outer journey, but never more so than when they’re in nature, crowned by a bright blue milky way.
ELA STILES brings another kind of floating, vocal-driven mellowness to the table, supplanting melancholy optimism with a kind of sinister, nameless unease. That makes it sound pretty grim though. In actual fact the set is an enveloping mist that’s a joy to behold. She handballs to fellow east-siders LOWER PLENTY, a trio formation comprising Al Montford, Jensen Tjhung and Daniel Twomey who play in bands like Dicker Diver, The UV Race and Deaf Wish. Their music is consonant with those other bands’ styles but more acoustic, bare-boned and pensive, like a blurry/spirited campfire strumalong at the end of an eventful night (kind of what it literally is too). Seeing the Magnolia’s boys sling their arms around each other and sway and sing to “Life/Thrills” is one of the great moments of the weekend.
Over to PHIL STROUD and company, whose incredible improv-jazz / eco-house meditations are quickly becoming a local favourite. The set features plenty of simmering dance energy, marshmallow Rhodes, kaleidoscopic nuance and – of course – dense, woody percussion. There’s also autoharp, bonus synth, and Tess Darcey’s unbelievable knack for making bird calls. It’s thick with 4/4 momentum but never quite explodes, which makes it the perfect build up to the reckless abandon of the bush funnel. TONI YOTZI supplies a fierce and gleefully eclectic array; OTOLOGIC gets deep, adrenalized and squelchy; soccer victorCONSULATE aka Alex Campbell takes us on a whirring ride through dark industrial techno with occasional gasps of bright, angelic beatsmithy. Twinkly tones sailing over puffy chords, and over there they’re lighting sparklers. Heaps of sparklers, little handheld fireworks dancing in the dark.
We duck out for some fresh air and spend some quality time with a blue-lit tree.
And everyone’s drinking free Maté cola and smiling and AND it’s now my birthday! What! And we take a break sitting by the fire, talking. And we watch the sun rise through droopy eyelids by the creek. And finally we fade into unconsciousness.
After a few hours’ dawntime nap we get up and dip ourselves in the chilly river water that looks like black tea, and everyone rolls up their tents, disheveled and quieter but still smiling. And we eat another cheese platter and hit the dusty trail. I’m renewed, heartened, unreservedly happy. Frón Voyáge.