Gig Review: Volumes Festival 2015

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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.

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Gig Review: Brighton Up Bar 3rd Birthday

Saturday, 4th July @ Brighton Up Bar

The Standard is dead. The Lansdowne is dead. The Imperial is dead. All the venues where bands could cut their teeth in moderate rooms before lambasting the Enmore Theatre 12 months down the track – deader than my dreams. It’s not all doom ‘n’ gloom, but. There’s still a few champions out there. A few pockets of beer-soaked mayhem, where the crowds sing with dement, and the bands play with broken guitars and wonky keyboards. Where the beer is relatively cheap, and the dickheads are minimal. And that place celebrated it’s 3rd bloody birthday on Saturday.

I’ve swooned about the Bells of Death before, and that’s because they’re incredible. This – THIS – is a band, I tells ya. Get around, hear them, LISTEN TO THEM. They serenade a packed room with songs equally influenced by stony pre-Brit Pop (New Order, Stone Roses) as they are the finest exports of Brooklyn (Wild Nothing, DIIV). They’re a special breed, five young guns who put everything into their performance, swelling at their peaks and bottoming out in their troughs. They lower a fierce grip over the audience, belting through a manic set, including the highlight of “You, Me & Everyone In Between”. Fair warning, you’re gonna be giving this a thrashing if you press play. And you’ll also be desperate to get along to catch them. The real deal, mates, the real deal.

The Pinheads follow with a set of deep-fried Nuggets rock ‘n’ roll. All seven members are in attendance, and the shedding of layers is imminent. This shit is sweaty, sweatier than an American preparing to tell you why the USA is way goddamn better than your shithole. The Pinheads are deep fried garage rock, hurtling through a tight, loud set of two minute rip snorters. Frontman Jez is particularly admirable, a bopping mass of hair and muscle who desperately wants to fuse the flamboyance of Marc Bolan with the reckless endangerment of Iggy Pop. The man is everywhere, soaring over the top of his band’s increasingly intense shenanigans.

Conquering the stage soon after are everyone’s favourite local troupe Big White – the five piece immediately set about laying down some of the most romantic guitar pop songs to worm their way into the ears of every audience member. A conglomeration of all the best pop bands in Sydney (High-tails, Jack & Elmo, New Lovers, Cody Munroe Moore etc.) Big White were always going to be doing fantastic things…but this was something else! We’re chowing down on their songs like it’s a $5 schnitty deal. The tri-guitar attack is heavenly, and songs like “You Know I Love You”, “Dinosaur City” and “EOFY” are pop sluggers, and force every single mop of hair in the room to bounce like they had just discovered the joy of the pogostick for the first time. Seeing Big White was just a really happy experience for everyone involved, off-kilter excellence served on a beer-soaked, joy-drenched platter. Even those two grumpy shits from The Muppets would’ve been giving two thumbs up!

Melbourne’s Mangelwurzel came next…look, A for effort. They’re obviously making the exact type of music that they want to make, a weird sort of gremlin punk. But it just didn’t seem to be anyone’s thing. Sax and guitars…you’re getting dangerously close to ska, the worst genre of all time. It was a cool thing to watch, but it was a burger filled with exotic ingredients that didn’t really make up for the absence of the basics. Why add radishes and caviar when you’re missing the burger patty?

Brisbane’s The Creases closed out the night. The eyelids are closing, the mouths are developing into yawns, everyone’s checking their watches a bit more frequently. But these guys, they knew bring it all back into the party gear. They’re a group bound for the biggest of things, that’s obvious enough to see. They write excellent songs, they play with enthusiasm, they’ve got weird earrings. It’s the triple threat.

Seriously though, go and check out The Creases. They feel like a pretty big band, but ya know, some are a bit slow on the uptake. An amalgamation of Primary Colours-era The Horrors, The Vaccines, Palma Violets…the NME hit-list really…it was a set of shimmering, invigorating guitar pop that had the floorboards creaking and the kids violently excited. Someone knocked my beer, and I wasn’t even that mad. Now that’s an accomplishment and a half. Get around The Creases!

There have been some good times had at Brighton Up Bar. Excellent times, quiet times, disgusting times where my head has been so repugnant that it’s a surprise they let me in the place/palace. The fact that little 120 cap room hunkered down on the Hyde end of Oxford has been home to so many excellent gigs is no mean feat. From Donny B to Ms Barnett, all the best come through Brighton Up’s precarious staircase, and proceed to demolish the place. Such was the case this night, and such will the case be on many nights to be. This esteemed little venue has plenty of life left, and love to give, so get the fuck down and watch a band!

Video: The Pinheads – I Wanna Be A Girl

Besides making top-fucking-notch twangy rock ‘n’ roll about how kickass ladies are, The Pinheads seem to have un-restricted access to Satan’s prop department. Bowling pins, bug eyed sunnies, and masks that will have religious fanatics hissing and throwing up the sign of the cross. Makes for very deranged and disturbed garage rock ‘n’ roll that’d have Lux Interior cacking in his dacks.