Saturday, August 29th @ Brighton Up Bar, Oxford Art Factory, Cliff Dive
It’s rare to walk into a venue at 3 o’clock in the arvo and see anything more than a few winos having a quiet beer. Maybe a couple of #ridiculouslydressed folks on a pub crawl for someone’s birthday. There’s certainly no expectation of seeing a packed house of clamouring music fans singing along to an album that hasn’t even been released yet. But, in the first incarnation of what’s sure to be a celebrated annual occurrence, VOLUMES Festival brought Sydney’s music fans out of their share houses and into venues, catering a fantastically eclectic showcase of Australian music.
VOLUMES Festival sure seemed like a gamble – for a local nerd like myself, the lineup was a wet dream. Relatively speaking, it was like a Star Wars geek getting to have lunch with a pre-sequels Lucas at Skywalker Ranch. Just viewing the bands playing, delight was being compressed into my brain at an unhealthy rate. The lineup was stocked with incredible acts, from the bigger names Jack Ladder & the Dreamlanders and Blank Realm, to sturdy up and comers such as FLOWERTRUCK, Low Lux and Gold Class. However, statistically speaking, these aren’t your typical headlining bands. In anticipated excitement over the festival, I would sputter and slobber about all these awesome names and would often be greeted with blank, occasionally hostile, stares. “Oi, can you fucking not spit in my face…and I don’t know who the fucking Laurels are, mate!” was a common response. It felt like this beautiful new thing that was taking over three of the most celebrated venues in Sydney – Oxford Art Factory, Cliff Dive and Brighton Up Bar – could be attended solely by music nerds with nothing better to do with their time (read: this ginger piece of shit with a keyboard).
Come 3pm, and bands that don’t even have full records out are busting out their jams to enthralled audiences. Big White serenaded with their off-kilter guitar pop, Death Bells shot daggers with their dark, infiltrating gaze of post-punk inflected dream pop, and The Pinheads engaged in all-out debauchery. Three bands in, and the senses have been driven into overdrive, particularly by The Pinheads, who make it their mission to risk their lives for the sake of our entertainment. Draped in thrift shop rock star outfits, shimmering with a Straight-Outta-Spotlight glamour, The Pinheads brand of overwhelming rock ‘n’ roll continually invades the audience and challenges the status quo of standing with your arms folded *nodding in solemn appreciation*. Bertolt Brecht would be proud.
It’s been said before, by folks much more eloquent/intelligible/handsome than myself, but FLOWERTRUCK are fucking sick, hey. Go-Betweens/Triffids meets Talking Heads with a dash of Factory Records pop aesthetic. Winner winner, chicken dinner. Although they’re usually a first-song-in-capture-the-whole-crowd group, the sound in the Gallery Bar seemed to irk the set towards the beginning – however, FLOWERTRUCK still commanded their half hour with the most impressive pop to come out of Sydney in a long time. Don’t get us wrong – the crowd was grooving hard, especially when cynic-evaporators “I Wanna Be With You” and “Sunshower” upended naysayers right in the pleasure gland. As their time stretched thin, the dance floor grew more heated, and sweat poured. This band is essential – don’t miss them next week, when they play the Junkyard-curated leg of King Street Crawl at the Botany View Hotel.
Holy Balm made a rare appearance, and quickly reminded why they’re one of Sydney’s favourites. They are a truly un-pigeonhole-able group, a threesome who’s influences stretch far, unveiling a sound that is equally at home in a nightclub as it is in the bedroom of a lonely soul. In the intimate Cliff Dive, Holy Balm quietly shone with dance music that’s unrivalled, beautifully delivered monologues bubbling over the top of incredible live production – whenever Holy Balm decide to next grace a stage, ensure that you are front and centre. Switch over to World Champion in the OAF main stage, where a very different kind of noise is being produced. BritPop sheen collides with skilful production, and bolstered by vivid visuals, the lean team of Julian Sudek and Will Campion make for a bustling performance reminiscent of Jagwar Ma’s live shows.
ONWARDS! A cinematic double-team of Shining Bird and Jack Ladder. Although both faced technical problems, the South Coast and Blue Mountains ensembles triumphed in their own way. Shining Bird are impossible to tear away from, and once they float into their groove of slow-burning psych pop hauled from a conk shell in Thirroul, there’s no backing away from the gems of the South Coast. Much like interrupting a sleepwalker, it’s better to just look on in bewilderment at the dream-cloaked happenings that city slickers would never be capable of pulling off. Meanwhile, Jack Ladder and co. simply pushed through the difficulty with brute force. Typically dressed to impress, Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders played admirably, but hardly at their most memorable. Whereas previous performances have left attendees in complete awe, sound issues plagued early portions, and the band didn’t seem to throw themselves in as much as they have previously. There isn’t much too complain about – any chance to witness “Cold Feet” and “Hurtsville” is always a pleasure that should be experienced by everyone, but tonight felt slightly crooked.
Segue into Brighton Up Bar, and the room is fixated on Melbourne’s Gold Class and their urgent post-punk. It’s a paradox, hearing such a confessional and committed singer, running around the stage, wrapped in his microphone, strapped to snarling, drenched music. It’s bleak stuff curdling upon sharp and searing punches of music that unwraps spectacularly. Seeing them made for a satisfying prequel to their debut album, which drops soon.
Unsurprisingly, Blank Realm were the highlight of VOLUMES. This band is easily the greatest band in Australia, firmly tied with Royal Headache. Do whatever is in your possible power to see this band, or buy their record…fuck it, do both. Their music is incredible, and just keep getting better. The festival provided an opportunity for Blank Realm to unleash a few songs from their upcoming masterpiece “Illegals in Heaven“. Not only is this album perfect in recorded form, but live, it does to the heart what a volcanic explosion would do to butter. “River of Longing”, “Palace of Love”, “No Views” – these are some goddamn hits! Sprinkle these amongst some bonafide classics from the Brisbanites back catalogue, you’ve got the best thing that’s happened to Oxford Street since the first Mardis Gras. How Blank Realm haven’t been scooped up by a multi-national corporation to be the face of contemporary music, showered in unruly decadence and a royal declaration of excellence, is beyond me. Maybe it’s because the subject matter is Schindler’s List-crossed-with-Lassie levels of heartbreak…but cut with the band’s wonky serving of pop and the group’s irrepressible live show ensure that anyone in hearing distance is cutting shapes and sweating harder than a 17 year old at their first Stereosonic. Seriously, Sarah Spencer is the coolest person in live music – her keytar moves are more inspiring than hearing Nelson Mandela and Ghandi swap stories. I’ll say it again – DO WHATEVER IT IS NECESSARY TO WITNESS THIS BAND! IT IS ESSENTIAL TO YOUR SURVIVAL AS A HUMAN BEING! YOU WILL BE BETTER OFF FOR IT! BLANK REALM ARE THE MCDONALDS SALADS OF BANDS – SURROUNDED BY FAKE BILE, THEY ARE GOOD AND GOOD FOR YOU! :)
Concluding the night are a couple of rock “elder” statesmen – Wollongong’s finest shredders Step-Panther and Sydney’s The Laurels. The former are criminally underrated, a South Coast three piece who drenched an adoring audience in fits of fuzz, and sporadic solos that should have splintered the fingers of frontman Steve Bourke. Although some wankstain, twat-faced ginger who probably runs a blog decided to ruin their otherwise spot on rendition of King Tuff’s “Headbanger”, the set was otherwise an encapsulation of everything there is to love about Step-Panther: unstoppable garage rock paired with a heads-down, lets-fucking-rock performance. It was enough to warrant abundant crowd surfing, which at Brighton Up Bar is a cock tease to Death, considering the giant hole in the middle of the room. People are actually willing to plunge to their execution at a Step-Panther show, what have you done lately? The Laurels finished the VOLUMES marathon with a tight set drawing from tracks off their legendary psych rock debut ‘Plains’, as well as material from their upcoming record. Paired with throbbing visuals, The Laurels went into shred territory, running the gauntlet of rock from the squealing charge of “Changing the Timeline” to the hypnotic “Tidal Wave”, and new jam “Zodiac K”.
It really can’t be overstated how important a festival like VOLUMES is – in the void of the incredible Sound Summit, it is instrumental that there is a festival that showcases everything there is to love about Sydney and Australian music. The lineup was extraordinarily well put together by music lovers for music lovers, covering far more bases than this review was capable of representing; for example, the electronic masterminds of friendships, Null and Lower Spectrum went unseen, as did the brutal Zeahorse. But the fact that it catered to more than just a guitar loving Aus music nerd, and managed to consistently serve up some of Sydney’s favourite rooms with punters itching to dance is proof that, even though it occasionally might not seem like it, people do care about Australian music. And why shouldn’t they – when the bands that played brought such great performances it’s hard not to pat Aussie music on the back, grin and say…fuck, we’re pretty alright.