Sampa the Great, Dustin Thomas and more prove to be early highlights of Splendour in the Grass

While most people wait to start their Splendour weekend on Friday, plenty of festivalgoers – especially the campers – know that heading along to the festival’s official kick-off on Thursday is well worth it. This year even moreso as Red Bull Sound Select came on board to curate a program at the Mix-Up Stage that highlighted some of the most exciting young acts in the country.

Particularly valuable for Splendour newbies, Thursday is also a chance to take stock of the sprawling pop-up community the festival builds each year, which consists of 72 food stalls, 59 market stalls, various activities – like the always fun Splendour in the Craft – 4 main stages, and several other platforms for live music, from the busker stage to Bohemian Lounge. The organisers have found a nice groove for their now-permanent site, and the overall set-up is incredibly impressive; spacious, efficient and absolutely packed with a variety far beyond the festival’s younger days.

While the camping site, that will eventually fill to a total of 19,500 campers this year, was populated in the day, nightfall brought a bunch of great music to get punters in the mood. Aside from the early-starting Tipi Forest and the ultra-chill Bohemian Lounge, Broadway Sounds was the first band to kick it all off, taking over the Mix-Up Stage with their richly detailed, party-starting funk. Though Red Bull Music Academy is sadly no longer a stage at Splendour, the brand’s music leg in Australia have proven some of the best curators in the business, and with Red Bull Sound Select being the new iteration the crowd were most certainly reminded of their penchant for picking some of the best new acts around.

That quality continued with Melbourne electronic duo ALTA, filling the tent with densely layered, atmospheric dance pop that would have more than satisfied anyone who had made the trip to Byron for Friday headliners The XX. The mood flipped to a hip hop tip with the talented B Wise, who can safely say he walked away with a bigger fan base that night, hitting every beat from opener “Smile” to the brilliantly expressive closer “No Questions”. The Elefant Tracks emcee even gave a nod to surprise guest, fellow Sydney legend and Stones Throw/Future Classic hero Jonti, who was given the stage to perform one of his new singles, “Rain”.

GL (Photo: Jess Gleeson)

Melbourne duo GL came next, keeping the Mix-Up Stage lifted to a state of euphoria with bright, blissful pop that easily and almost immediately recalled a young Madonna. Vocalist Ella Thompson sure knows how to hit those beats, gliding over sugary rhythms with a voice that resonated far beyond the tent.

Though it was Sampa the Great who really took things to the next level. Proving the only thing holding her back is a lack of recognition – no doubt set to change real soon – the exceptional performer stomped across the stage with booming, commanding raps set to left-field and inventive beats. Over the past 12 months especially, Sampa has become one of the most exciting emcees not just in Australia, but the world, and she’s obviously aware of those Lauryn Hill comparisons with one of her best cuts sampling “Fu-Gee-La”, both in hook and beat.

While the always-excellent Mansionair put a wrap on the Mix-Up Stage’s Thursday night, elsewhere the absolutely mesmerising Dustin Thomas took to the intimate little stage at the Bohemian Lounge. The beautifully set-up, relaxing space – with chai and organic breakfast bowls offered up the back – is fast proving one of Splendour’s most underrated stages. That much was greatly reiterated by the programming here, ending with Thomas who had nothing but a guitar, a calabash, and his warm unforgettable voice (and some ace beatboxing skills) which he used to wrap the small but attentive crowd in brilliantly written folk-soul. He’s one of the few acts at Splendour who will be performing every day throughout the festival, and the nomadic songwriter is definitely one of those ‘just stumbled upon’ acts who people would want to see many times over.

You know Splendour’s going to be good this year when you already have a few highlights before the Friday even kicks off.

Follow all our Splendour action on Instagram with @theaureview

Lead image by Jess Gleeson.