Oh, BIGSOUND. You’ve done it again. Returning to Brisbane for my second time at the conference/music festival in 2016, I approached the trip with a list of my own personal non-negotiable, must-see artists, some recommendations from friends and a steely determination to not burn out too hard on the first night.
That steely determination lasted until maybe halfway through Totally Unicorn‘s set on Tuesday night at Crowbar. Still, with a blistering headache happily accompanying me back to the Judith Wright Centre on Wednesday for the first full official day of BIGSOUND programming, I was excited to be sinking my teeth back into a line up of Australian and international music that awaited attendees.
Splitting between your usual meetings and press commitments, most of the days were spent either ducking in and out of the Judy for quick feeds in between interviews, attacking the free burritos and margaritas at Beach Burrito up the road, or finding out where the first open bar of the night was kicking off later on.
Having split my Tuesday night at both the Deathproof PR and Remote Control Records’ BIGSOUND pre-parties, I had gotten a taste of a wide range of music already and the festival hadn’t even properly started. Early highlights were definitely dished up in the forms of the aforementioned Totally Unicorn plus Ceres, Columbus, Gabriella Cohen and Jarrow – a diverse range of artists really switching it on and setting a solid bar for the following two nights of live music.
One of my choice picks from BIGSOUND 2014, Apes, were also in Brisbane to chuck a few sneaky shows in and come 1am on Wednesday morning, the band was doling out a special album preview show upstairs at Crowbar. Having had to follow along online through the duration of their recent Melbourne shows, I was happy to have seen the lads ahead of what is undoubtedly going to be a busy few months ahead.
There were the buzz artists everyone was talking about way before they even played and, as BIGSOUND continued to roll out, it seemed that those artists were living up to the hype. Alex Lahey and Middle Kids were two such artists who were causing a stir and all throughout my social media feeds during the week, their names were popping up the most. However, while it was great to see such names nail their BIGSOUND appearances, I was blown away by the talent who sidled up alongside the buzz names and left solid impressions of their own.
The Singaporean contingent especially took me by surprise; the technical musical talent of In Each Hand a Cutlass and the Syndicate collective was friggin’ awesome and I felt lucky to have been at the Singapore Sound System party at the right time on Thursday to see some amazing live music from abroad. Similarly, MusicNT’s Fresh Mint showcase at The Woolly Mammoth on Wednesday brought me to short live performances by Colin Lillie, Apakatjah and Resin Moon – all three artists I saw earlier in the year during the NT Song of the Year awards. Resin Moon, moniker of Alice Springs songwriter Dave Crowe, showed particular potential while Lillie (who is soon to embark on an overseas jaunt) stood out as a BIGSOUND artist to follow throughout the festival. In Apakatjah and Catherine Satour (who performed at Virgin Australia’s HOME showcase at The Brightside on the same afternoon), there were two artists the NT who provided memorable moments during each showcase appearance that more people needed to witness. Great potential, though still to be fleshed out on forthcoming records no doubt, came through from each.
Splitting the first night between the annual I OH YOU kegger at The Brightside and another night at Crowbar (maybe my new fave Brisbane venue?), I was able to lock in sets from Darwin’s answer to the likes of Parkway Drive and Northlane in Tapestry, as well as Jack River – the latest I OH YOU signee. With a full band behind her, Jack River drew a large crowd to the indoor stage at The Brightside and held ’em there. The rain may have been smattering the heads outside but inside, the smoke was thick and the temperature rising as bodies clamoured around the stage to get a load of undoubtedly one of the must-watch artists of 2017. It’s I OH YOU – just take a look at their roster’s trajectory so far. Mint formula.
BIGSOUND also proved to be a great stomping ground this year for some of the country’s fresh and exciting crop of hip hop artists emerging out of 2016. We had the likes of B Wise, BIRDZ and keynote speakers A.B. Original all throwing down unforgettable sets at The Elephant on Thursday night – a significant showcase of the festival as a whole, clearly being marked as an important one to be at by many, judging by the sheer enthusiasm the crowd brought with them to the gig as Thursday’s nighttime programming kicked into high gear.
Over at The Empire Hotel, rock fans got a swift kick to the senses with some sweaty and ferocious music from South Australia and the east coast. West Thebarton Brothel Party set the standard pretty fucking high early on; as one of the early shows on their ‘Four More Years Tour’, their BIGSOUND set was easily the best show I’ve seen the Adelaide seven-piece play and stood out as one of my favourite moments of the showcase run this year. Followed by These New South Whales and The Gooch Palms, the showcase was a party that didn’t care for rules or protocol – it was an all or nothing jump off for everyone involved; one of those moments where that decision of whether or not you were going to have a big night was well and truly made for you (if it hadn’t been already).
For another year, I ended up leaving the Valley inspired by the hustle of musicians new to BIGSOUND, as well as those industry folk who were at the event for the first time. It’s an incredibly overwhelming experience – one I remember feeling vividly in 2014 – to be surrounded by so much, but to see the professionalism of those from the behind the scenes crew at the Judy through to the musos on ground made all the chaos easy to weave one’s way through this year.
You can never see everything at an event like this and there’ll no doubt be moments in coming months where I’ll regret having skipped a certain showcase in favour of running from venue to venue on the other side of the Valley set up. While the festival side of BIGSOUND seems to have taken on larger prominence in recent years, possibly to draw in more outside punters, that raw and passionate approach the artists brought to their shows (the ones I saw, at least) remained the same – this was a platform for them to make the most of and those artists didn’t take it for granted, regardless of their set time.
It’s an exciting time for Australian music moving forward into 2016; we don’t need to worry so much about the big hitters’ status when we’ve got an event like BIGSOUND shining light on the crop of artists about to come on through or cross that threshold from being household names in their own cities to being known nationwide and potentially abroad.
Until next year.
Header Image: Zakarij Kaczmarek.