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BIGSOUND Live Review - Denis Semchenko

Wednesday 7.09.11

Clock strikes 8 – that means BigSound Live has arrived. Time to swing those lanyards and wristbands, walk fast, talk loudly and – above all – have fun, fun, fun and observe, observe, observe.


The Valley is already buzzing hard by the time I hop off the train and head down the well-trodden Brunswick St-then-Ann St path towards The Zoo, where local indie-folkers Inland Sea woo the assembled crowd with their patented stunning harmonies. The Arcade Fire-like vibe is strong, yet the lads & lasses' choral assault is unmistakably their own. The Triple J favourite All Fall Down is, as ever, a treat.

Around the corner at The Aviary (aka the notorious Birdee Num Num), Sydney's young shoegaze experts The Laurels rule the room in a far more assured way than in June at The Hi-Fi – where they opened for US psychedelicists The Black Angels. Playing at an eardrum-obliterating volume, the four-piece emanate waves of guitar distortion, reverberating drone and throbbing, primal pulse recalling the best of such early '90s giants as Ride and Chapterhouse. The amount of heads nodding in unison – including my own – leads me to conclude I have indeed caught one of tonight's absolute highlights.

Back at The Zoo, West End's favourite sons Laneous & The Family Yah do what they do best – make people dance. Trimmed down to a four-piece these days, the Brisbane partystarters appear to have undergone a musical change as well: gone are the soaring, Hendrix-y guitar solos, with the focus predominantly shifted towards keyboards and thwacking dance-rock rhythms. Ever the assured frontman, Mr Laneous (sporting a new pink 'do) is playing a lot more guitar than he normally used to. Overall effect: 'Gurge-ous.

The fast-rising Melbournians Redcoats came to BigSound to conquer and further establish themselves in the “drop-D rock” realm so adored in Australia. Perhaps the heaviest band to play at the normally indie/garage/punk-friendly Woodland since The Hard-Ons and the recent Scuzzfest, the four-piece recall earth-shaking bands like Black Sabbath, Kyuss and Black Mountain with their piledriving, fuzzed-out guitar riffs, fat basslines and crashing drums. Music snobs could potentially deride the combo for incorporating a number of “hippie”/stoner-rock cliches into their sound, yet the musicianship is undeniably top-notch and the self-titled EP highlights Kaytrucker, Giants and radio single Dreamshaker thunder and thump.

Back at Woodland, Belles Will Ring bring out the best of the Blue Mountains indie sound. A seasoned live act, the five-piece are in a pin-sharp mode tonight, putting on a spirited, hook-filled display and generating a crowd reaction that would have had the technically “bigger” hometown mates Cloud Control clenching their teeth with envy. Rolling out one '60s-flavoured guitar-pop nugget (with plenty of vintage electric organ stabs) after another, BWR's sheer exuberance marks them as Wednesday night's number-one highlight.

A little further up the road at The Tempo Hotel (also the conference lunch venue), fellow Blue Mountains boys Thundamentals enthusiastically trade rhymes and drop beats (DJ Morgs is on fire) – again with even more confidence than during the recent Big Boi support slot. Aussie hip hop's brightest hope? Quite possibly so.

I dash back to The Zoo for the last time tonight to have a jolly boogie to World's End Press. Essentially Melbourne's funkier answer to Tim & Jean, the young indie-dance collective are in an even better form than at SITG (where they did a great job of filling the Mix Up tent before midday). “The bass player is the biggest hipster I've seen”, my friend observes in deadpan fashion. He plays a pretty mean four-string for a hipster, I note to myself – and the rest of the band aren't too shabby either.

Back to Dooley's... oops, The Tempo. The place is bouncing as the erstwhile Butterfingers leader Eddie Jacobson – backed by Laneous & The Family Yah's rhythm section – channels his Evil Eddie alter ego, making many hips swing to the obnoxiously catchy latest single De-Sex Your Ex and bust out ironic (and non-ironic) moves to calling card Queensland. A dedicated Aussie hip hopper, Eddie makes for a very credible rock frontman, being no slouch on the six-string. He also knows what the crowd wants and he's happy to deliver; the room goes totally apeshit when he triggers F.I.G.J.A.M.'s opening riff – f**k, he's still good, just ask him!

As the clock steadily ticks towards midnight The Drones drummer-cum-solo-troubadour Mike Noga makes the Ric's crowd (mostly seated down and markedly different from the ones at other showcases) hang onto his every word and guitar strum. Besuited and wearing a harmonica harness, the songsmith is in full Bob Dylan mode (certain songs even sounding like Desire outtakes). When Brisbane music stalwart and fellow showcase artist Ben Salter gets up to harmonise on All My Friends Are Alcoholics, it's a moment totally worth savouring – I'm glad I've made it to the showcase in time.

Across the mall at Black Bear Lodge (the venue that reached an iconic status in town during its days as The Troubadour), The Paper Scissors present their own unique take on indie-rock – slinky, slightly jazzy and quite different to other acts I've seen tonight. The trio's grooves are infectious, however my legs are starting to give out and I still have to make it through the second day of the conference and another hectic night of pacing between venues and bumping into fellow 'music people', so I head home for some well-deserved rest, a whole assortment of hooks ringing in my head.

Thursday 8.09.11

Following the completion of the formal part of Big Sound's Day 2 (with a couple energy drinks gulped down in between), the flurry of gigs and parties duly hits and fully consumes me during the next several hours. It ain't over until the circus has left town!

Home-shower-bus-train-Valley. It's only the start of the night, but Ric's is already a no-go zone thanks to the evidently hugely popular Sydneysider Andy Bull. With the line to the bar stretching for nearly 10 metres, I try my best to hear what's going on inside, but ultimately only manage to see the singer-songwriter bash out what sounds like upbeat, catchy guitar-pop ditties to a tightly-packed group of people who look like they're massively enjoying themselves.

The next couple of hours are spent catching up with assorted friends at different location and briefly checking out easily another half-dozen acts (although I still don't manage to beat last night's record) before venturing to Woodland to catch locals Husky. The quartet specialise in what's usually called “traditional” indie-pop: a mix of acoustic guitar, piano, subdued rhythm section and liberal amounts of facial hair and high-pitched male vocals. Not quite groundbreaking, but hardly unlistenable either.

The attendance numbers grow twofold while the local sensations Ball Park Music set up at the Woodland stage – the amount of support for the young sextet is truly remarkable. When frontman Sam Cromack gives everyone a hearty, swearword-peppered welcome, the ensuing roar is deafening; there is a lot of love in the room for his troops and they are feeding off it.

Riding the momentum with gusto, the 'buzzband' are also celebrating the release of their hotly-anticipated debut album Happiness And Surrounding Suburbs – which they air in near-entirety tonight. It doesn't take long to establish that BPM's limitlessly jaunty songs – iFly, Sad Rude Future Dude, Rich People Are Stupid, It's Nice To Be Alive etc – and combination of musical talent, Day-Glo radiance and boundless energy make them Brisbane's current 'it' band. Watch this space for even more exciting things.

Local reggae/dub/dancehall powerhouse Dubmarine may have drawn less people to The Zoo and perhaps don't have the same amount of hype surrounding them as BPM, yet they still know how to put on a riveting show. Covered in white Indigenous bodypaint, the grinding frontman/MC D-Kazman moves around with the primal grace of a tribal dancer, while vocalist Cat Walker is bewitching (and even looks not unlike young Stevie Nicks) in her flowing dress. They dance; we dance – even harder.

Formerly known as Baby Seal Club, up-and-coming Brisbane indie-popsters Seals are a much sharper unit these days after numerous gigs and a UK tour – and even despite playing to a not-exactly-large gathering at Ric's, they make for a great finish to the BigSound Live program for this trooper. With guitarist/bassist/vocalist Euan Bruce expertly fulfilling the 'unassuming ringleader' role, the quartet churn out ringing guitar hooks, tribal drumbeats and sunny keyboard riffs, providing the necessary energy boost.

It's now midnight and I duly line up outside The Aviary for the official afterparty, which ends somewhere in the region of 4am after the consumption of a rather ridiculous amount of industry alcohol. The next morning (having barely gotten 4 hours' sleep), I nurse a massive headache, sound like a cross between a fisherman and Darren Lockyer and have little recollection of getting home. I subsequently make for a very convincing zombie during BigSound's Day 3 – “half-dead with a smile on my face”, as programmer Graham “Asho” Ashton wonderfully puts it later; resolutely worn out I may be, but the sheer scale and excitement of the event is certainly going to leave me beaming for quite some time. Bring on BigSound 2012!


Denis Semchenko – AAA Backstage

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