As we know, cows have four stomachs. Well, they actually have one stomach comprising four distinct parts, but that’s nitpicking really. It’s much more fun just to say that they have four stomachs, gurgling away in perfect barbershop harmony before receiving their hit of sweet cud. The great thing about having four stomachs is, of course, the ability to digest four times as much. Saturday comes around and I careen down those long grey and smoky-green highways, past Welcome To signs and squat public sculptures, until I reach Bunbury and a vast stretch of turf blotted with big tops, rides and food carts. As I hop over the external eucalypt-lined fence and trot towards the gates of Groovin’ The Moo, I try to channel the humble bovine – I will need four sonics stomachs today, because I’m about to consume at least four times the amount of music one usually does in a single stint. Wish me luck.
Breakfast is THE BROW HORN ORCHESTRA, and it must be said I played with this band until recently and I don’t know exactly where bias ends and relative objectivity begins in these things, and in any case I don’t make it through the gates in time catch the whole set, so I won’t embark up a mountain of prose right here. But what I catch sounds swell, with horns achieving a bell-like clarity through the hefty PA system and hordes of young fans clustering near the barrier with a view to getting As Loose As Possible. Taking the unusual approach of reversing the dynamic trajectory of the set – placing key party bangers are at the start – works out (mostly) well, with a pseudo-African vocal loop trailing into the sunset at its conclusion.
Torpedo-diving off the established vibes come GOLDFIELDS. It begins in an immense flurry, hulking tropicalia rhythms sweaving through synth swells and El Guincho-esque progressions. One of the biggest disappointments of the day is that Goldfields maintain neither their intensity nor interestingness throughout their set, and the glimmering, booming grooves they sucked us in with soon become diluted with MOR indie and wallpaperish JJJ pop. What began as a fierce shot of cordial has become that piss-weak school-camp keg stuff that’s like barely-sweetened, lukewarm fluid in a plastic cup and to be honest you’d rather just drink water.
Blue Mountains beatmongers HERMITUDE soon atone for Goldfields’ generic floundering. The duo, who’ve been releasing material on the Elefant Traks label for a decade now, have recently enjoyed a surge in popularity which you could see as either sorely overdue or simply well-earned. Their output has spanned textural soundscapes, processed funk jams, classic beats and modern instrumental hip-hop epics, but today it’s all about the party. Pop hooks bordering on cream cheese ooze over plump and brittle rhythms. Not unlike the organic-sounding melody-hop of Ratatat and RJD2, Hermitude make beat compositions that are emphatic and hedonistic, daring you not to grin or nod or squirm a little. The latter half of their show seems them approach the front of the stage with MPC and synth dangling from straps like guitars; but far from being a rock starrish glamorization of electronica and beat performance, it was more like a fun way of saying ‘hey, this is what we actually do back there, in case you were wondering.’ And what ensues is an entirely live electronic jam, all beats, noodling melodies and chord hits sprayed out in real time for all to see. It’s a glorious thing, and helps solidify the growing sense that these guys could be one of Australia’s biggest instrumental hip-hop exports.
I hang around drinking ciders in the sun for a while, not being particularly interested in the sets on offer from Matt Corby or Naysayer & Gilsun. Apologies if you were looking forward to a review of those sets. I find the key to festival enjoyment is pacing yourself, even if you are attempting the four-stomach musical digestion method, and space your listening out with healthy doses of alcohol and Vitamin D.
And now it’s MUTEMATH, who are perhaps the first pleasant surprise of the day for me. I’ve seen their recent Odd Future-esque record cover around the place and otherwise known nothing about them. Looks like I’m way behind the times on this one, as they, too, have been kicking for ten years, releasing six records in that time, and getting nominated for a Grammy in 2007. But my ignorance remains total until they commence today, presenting a pretty luscious mix of psych-rock (complete with Hammond and leslie speaker), straight-up “angular” indie, live electronica, kinda neo-souly vocals and noise textures. Listening back to certain studio recordings later, they sometimes sound a little bit woeful, and it doesn’t help my overall impression to discover they’ve toured with the likes of Matchbox 20. But I hasten to add they don’t resemble the latter – sonically or otherwise – at all, and they put on a mean show, which includes crowdsurfing on a LED-covered inflatable raft, and crowdsurfing WITH a drumkit. If nothing else, they must be one of the most impressive crowd-surfing acts around (giving Bob Log III a run for his money), but the tunes are delivered with aplomb, too. Good job Mutemath. The band clears off and PURPLE SNEAKER DJs fire up; they sound energetic and all that, but ultimately pretty boring so I go for a wander around the fields.
My wander leads me to nachos, and then to PARKWAY DRIVE, who I have also managed to avoid hearing over the course of their ten-year career (I spy a trend emerging). These scraggly surfers are pretty much royalty if you’re into the Australian metalcore scene, which I’m not, but I thought I should stand by and try and educate myself a little. From the get-go it’s loud, unrelenting, straddling death metal and punk, though borrowing glam-rock twin guitar ideas and mid-tempo shifts that devout exponents the latter would rarely allow. There’s no denying why these guys have become huge in their field – they’re unfailingly tight and, to mention the most overused word in metal criticism, pretty brutal. It’s not a sound that does a lot for me personally, though an older tune with more of a traditional hardcore leaning that they whip out nearer the end does pique my interest some more. Still, such is the joy of festivals – getting to experience bands you’d never fork out to see on their own, bands you don’t even necessarily like, but whose “deal” you nevertheless want to suss out.
I hear a little bit of the benign indie-pop of BALL PARK MUSIC, and the daft techno of BENI who is almost like a parody of the festival DJ/producer, though he wins some points in my book for dropping ‘The Next Episode.’ I’ve made peace with WAVVES, who once upon a time I maligned for their dumb and derivative surf pop, and who, since a gig at the Bakery last year, I’ve enjoyed for their dumb and derivative surf pop. They play a solid set as the sun sets; an act once known for its sloppiness and shit-encrusted sound aesthetic in fact playing one of the most musically adept sets of the day. Why not? The crowd is a little tame, but appreciative. I spend the last few songs picking up empty beer cans, after discovering that each one – when returned to the bar – grants the pick-upper a dollar in cash. Ridiculous!
After Wavves it’s over to PUBLIC ENEMY. The hip-hop veterans exude good vibes and deliver a predictable but super enjoyable selection of tunes, focusing on hits like ‘Rebel without a Pause,’ ‘Don’t Believe The Hype,’ ‘Harder Than You Think’ et al. Chuck D still delivers every line with force and conviction, and while these guys certainly aren’t strong contenders for “Public Enemy #1” any more, they’re certainly not making a mockery of the legacy by continuing to tour these well-loved tunes. Flava Flav’s timepiece-bling swings as triumphantly ever as he cries “Yeeeeh boi,” into the chill night sky. A breakdown in which he plays drums while Chuck raps, and a later portion where Flava attempts to play bass to AC/DC’s “Back In Black” does prove a little more embarrassing than impressive. Still, it seems like they’re having fun throughout. And that’s heartwarming to see. Perhaps the highlight of the set though is an immense bit of scratch virtuosity from the group’s resident deck hand, DJ LORD. Splicing ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ into an intricate and brain-pummeling array of vinyl swoops and jerky drum flourishes, he displays a near superhuman degree of skill. And then, just ‘cause he can, he does it facing away from the decks, and then spinning around between each scratch, and then standing on his head, etc. Ridiculous!
Now I’m gonna sacrifice a little bit of my (abundant) music-nerd street cred and confess that recent teen sensation KIMBRA’s is probably the most surprisingly excellent corker of a set that happens all day. The NZ singer, who we Australian culture-vultures will undoubtedly claim as our own if we haven’t already, has a voice and presence far beyond her years, which number 22. Her songs aren’t totally earth-shattering but they are damn well arranged and the delivery tonight is spectacular, with a bunch of world-class musicians disguised as hipster 80’s-tragics flanking Kimbra herself. She commands the tent in garish Bjork-esque outfits, never missing a note, never letting her air of cheery professionalism slip. Those who hold musical innovation in highest esteem will perhaps find little of interest in Kimbra’s music, but if you like exuberant, worldly pop music with integrity, then Kimbra’s got it covered. As far as creativity and talent goes, I can think of few singer-songwriters better equipped to represent the Antipodes on the global commercial pop stage – particularly if she pushes the envelope just a little more as she progresses in her songwriting.
The night ends with HILLTOP HOODS and DIGITALISM – the former I’ve never liked per se, but I do find a new respect for them tonight: the performance is flawless, with prominent Oz-hop figure Plutonic taking on live drumming duties. They also seemed to have pared back the ockerism and are focusing on honing their craft more and more; new track ‘Speaking In Tongues’ (which features Chali 2na on record) expands their style into more contemporary territory, incorporating some impressive double-time flows. Meanwhile, DIGITALISM haven’t changed an ounce since I last listened to them in 2007, but that’s kind of what I was looking forward to – 1980s synth worship via the mid-2000s, a little bit of weird nostalgia from my point of view. It wasn’t entirely a bang to end the whole festival, but it was charming in its slightly ridiculous, deeply Teutonic way.
Yes, it has been a lot to digest, but now is the time of Taurus, and the bovine in us all is at its strongest. Today’s wasn’t a lineup I was had tremendous expectations for, and indeed, nothing on offer blew my mind, but it was an all round good experience, reclining on warm grass with friends, catching up on sounds I’d missed or even deliberately avoided, and getting some pleasant surprises in the process. Including, eventually, falling asleep unexpectedly on some good pals’ hotel room floor in Bunbury proper, getting up at an ungodly hour, and watching the sunrise over the esplanade as I munch on a “Big Breakfast” from Henry’s corner café. That rather ferocious portioned meal actually proved a lot trickier to digest, but I remain a firm advocate of massive morning fry-ups. Bunbury: you’ve done good. Until next time!