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Festival Review: Maroochy Music & Visual Arts Festival 2015

Alpine

Maroochydore is the pearl around which the succulent oyster of the Sunshine Coast has flourished. With the chicness of Noosa, the charm of Mooloolaba and a sense of community like Maleny, it is the central spoke in a wheel that represents more than a location but a lifestyle.

Traipsing the rolling fairways, threading through paperbarks and eucalypts to reach the festival proper, there was a Tolkienesque sense of magic in the patchy early afternoon sun. Had the prediction of afternoon showers been a little wrong, and the heavens had truly opened up, the spongy lawn would have wreaked havoc. As it was, it glistened in technicolour with fat dewdrops from a series of light sprinkles.

The idyll of the afternoon helped banish any creeping thoughts I’d had about how cramped the Australian festival calendar has become from July onwards. Both Caloundra and Red Deer Music Festivals are at the start of October, Jungle Love (at Imbil, inland from Noosa Heads) is at the end of November, while the Big Pineapple Music Festival has also established a presence on the Sunshine Coast, not to mention the oxygen sucking twin fires of Splendour and Falls. So, rather than muscle in on occupied ground, Maroochy cherry-picked the best ideas from right around Australia and created something they could be proud of; a no dickheads policy like Meredith; festival food and drink prices that aspire to be not just palatable but outstanding, like Laneway; a home-grown line-up that is both eclectic and relevant, like Triple J’s One Night Stand; and a genuine commitment to arts, like Falls. Though most festivals now claim to incorporate visual arts as part of their programme, Maroochy stayed truer to this claim than most. Enormous, Kodak-like inflatable bunnies dotted the course; the street art cubes had more variety than a box of Cadbury Favourites (my favourite a sloth sipping a martini and using a donut as a beanbag); and, though forecasts of potential rain discouraged some from utilising their Wintercroft masks, there were enough exquisitely decorated foxes, birds, stags, rabbits and owls to turn Horton Park into the 100 Acre Woods. 

It is, of course, on the strength of the music that festivals live and die, and it is on this criterion that Maroochy flexed its muscles. The tone of the acts ebbed and flowed, garage punk following art pop, Australian hip hop and funk-soul all mixed together, culminating in the twin production apexes of Hermitude and Flight Facilities. So many genres were represented that it was hard to draw the common thread between a roster of acts as diverse as WAAX, Marlon Williams, Harts, Hiatus Kaiyote, One Day, Gang of Youths, Alpine, DZ Deathrays, The Kite String Tangle, and the aforementioned headliners. However, I think it’s this: every band or artist here is young, at the peak of their powers and imbued with a charm and spirit that only comes with the eagerness of youth (Hermitude excepted- more on this later). None of them needed stage frills or any cues from the crowd- they were simply revelling in a stunning Queensland afternoon and good company. Such a sunny and uncomplicated outlook was always going to appeal to the Sunshine Coast psyche, and many Briswegians also took the opportunity for a weekend away; it was a cosy fit.

One Day

One Day - View all photos

Horton Park didn’t really fill out until One Day’s set at 2:30 pm for a few reasons; the aforementioned visual art installations, which would be closed later in the evening, and the need for lunch both drew festival goers; plus the fact that many were coming in via public transport and walking in drips and drabs rather than big numbers. When WAAX started at 10 am with their infectious, scuzzy punk, it was a bit like Charlie Sheen crashing a family picnic. The early crowd, instantly forgetting wandering thoughts of a grande latte, were quickly roused by frontwoman Marie DeVita, who somehow managed to be occasionally ghoulish despite the early time. Being locals (Brisbane) helped, and the travelling WAAX fan club lined the front railing thickly, like peanut butter on mouth roofs.

If WAAX was Charlie Sheen at the picnic, then Marlon Williams was the preacher at the party. The image of a red velvet curtain drawn behind his performance matched his eclectic performance that had something of a carnival feel to it; jaunty country strums, soulful acoustic laments and at times all Latino riffs that had many nodding into a wonderful dreamscape in chairs of every shape and size. Though about a third as loud as Harts, who followed him, Marlon Williams lost nothing in the confidence and charm department, and left to generous applause. Harts was an early highlight, and captured many an audience member who was just passing by but stopped for the audacious, swinging rock. The purple lights and Darren Hart’s cocksure swagger couldn’t have made the Prince comparison any clearer, but the multi-instrumentalist’s own overpowering identity was undeniable when he struck up those first swaggering chords of Red & Blue. The crowd hadn’t gotten perceptibly bigger by this stage, but they’d gotten louder- it certainly seemed like there was more.  Hiatus Kaiyote picked up exactly where Harts left off. Perhaps more than any other band, it was Kaiyote who best represented the freewheeling spirit of both festival and people, and lead singer Nai Palm (that’s right) looked like she could have walked up from busking at the Esplanade, except she had strapped around her a whopping gold and silver electric guitar. At times she spat out lyrics and at times she cooed them, but she constantly seemed in motion. The open elements occasionally threatened to drown the nuances of Kaiyote’s performance, but the natural amphitheatre proved surprisingly protected.

Harts

Harts - View all Photos 

One Day owned the stage like only an Australian hip hop group can at a festival. Consisting of Horrorshow, Jackie Onassis, Spit Syndicate and Joyride, the group had a lot of bases covered and their atmospheric, brooding beats rolled over Horton Park like a wave. Leave Your Windows Open vied with Love Me Less as best songs of their set, and no-one seemed especially greedy for the spotlight, sharing responsibilities appropriately. The rain was falling a little heavier for Gang of Youths, and that suited them as well, with their epic brand of atmospheric alt-rock. David Leaupepe oozed effort and sweated in the surprisingly warm afternoon sun, his husky voice undulating and grunting through crowd favourites such as ‘Radioface’ and ‘Magnolia’. The crowd was making its presence felt, heaving and writhing with pleasure. Gang of Youths truly outdid themselves with ‘Poison Drum’ though, a beast of a song that rolled like thunder. 

DZ Deathrays were probably ‘Best on Ground’ for the day. Shorn of any fat that might have slowed them down, Shane and Simon belted through a set as streamlined as a seal. Night had descended by now, and a whirling, morphing white disc hovered ominously behind the duo has the lights crackled and smoke whirled. DZ Deathrays will always be a festival favourite, and it’s their just reward for ‘Black Rat’, their hugely successful 2014 second album. No one could make that album sound bad, but DZ make it sound fucking phenomenal live, booming and beery and humid. Like WAAX, they had a faithful home crowd in tow that screamed in ecstasy whenever a favourite came on (take your pick; Gina Works at Hearts, Black Rat, Less out of Sync etc.)

DZ Deathrays

DZ Deathrays - View all photos

Alpine are on fire at the moment, and MMVAF simply underlined that fact. ‘Yuck’ has been a complete success, spawning beloved singles such as Yuck and Damn Baby, to go with other favourites like Lover 1, Lover 2 and Gasoline. Delightfully funky and without a modicum of modesty, Phoebe and Lou twirled and gyrated their way into everyone’s hearts as they always do. They bought the most energy out of any artist to their set.

Though he delivered a near faultless set, I don’t just wonder if the Kite Strong Tangle (aka Danny Harley) shouldn’t have performed before DZ Deathrays. His intelligent, introspective electro pop would have blended well thematically with Gang of Youths’ thoughtful stadium-sized rock, but after the punch of DZ Deathrays came the sigh of TKST. Harley delivered a woozy, heady set, full of colour and smoke, and even found time for his old friend Dustin Tebbutt to come on stage for a song, finished by following the time honoured tradition of saving the best until last with Arcadia and Given the Chance. 

The festival was scheduled to end reasonably early, at 10:30 pm, so it was barely 8:30 when Flight Facilities came on. That they were scheduled before Hermitude is a curious thing in itself; as secret headliners, one would naturally presume they would headline the event. However, for whatever reason they found themselves warming up the crowd for Hermitude, and perhaps it is lucky they weren’t headlining because they gave what seemed a pretty jaded set. An appearance by Owl Eyes for Heart Attack promised to pull the set from mediocrity, but unfortunately they overstayed their welcome. The crowd finished their set restless and heaving like a stormy ocean, waiting for Hermitude’s successful homecoming.

MMVAF 

Hermitude was the granddaddy of the festival, with five albums, a swag of awards and fans nationwide. Following their enormously successful 2012 album ‘HyperParadise’ and the accompanying tour, they had been oddly subdued though. That all changed with ‘Dark Night, Sweet Light’, released earlier this year which debuted at #1 on the ARIA Charts, and they bought every bit of their guile, experience and audacity to the set. A restless crowd was bombarded with hits, evenly spread mostly between their two latest albums, and Luke Dubs and El Gusto bounced around like they were on pogo sticks. Get In My Life was the catalyst, Speak of the Devil was the explosion, and HyperParadise was the fireworks; Maroochy grew in size, in volume, it glowed and it combusted and it trampled every blade of grass, and then it was over. 10:30 pm. The night was still young, and I doubt the festival ended for many people at that point.

Conclusions: it was a deft and brave debut from the MMVAF. Their focus on art and commitment to showcasing some of the best young Australian talent really set them apart from similar festivals in the area. Drinks were reasonably priced, toilets accessible and food varied. The single staged natural amphitheatre fostered a sense of community, and bands freely mingled with the crowd after sets. You could sit on the patchwork of picnic blankets on the hill in between sets, and not face a Tekken tournament to get a decent spot back at the front. Harts and Gang of Youths were the best of the early performers, while Alpine and DZ Deathrays delivered what they’ve been delivering all year- quality. Flight Facilities underperformed, but were more than compensated by the old hands in Hermitude. MMVAF are early to the party of niche festivals, and their boldness and vision will be well rewarded. A tweak here, a fiddle there and I’m already looking at my apartment for next year’s sophomore instalment.

 

 

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