Festival Review: A Weekend in the Gardens overcomes torrential rain in delivering a night of prime Aussie hip hop

Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens endured one hell of a beating on the weekend as it, along with the rest of the city, was battered by torrential rain and storms for most of Saturday afternoon. A Weekend in The Gardens, which had previously run the night before (headlined by Paul Kelly), was teetering on the fence of potential cancellation but thankfully, the event pushed forward and wound up delighting the crowds of hip hop heads gathered out in the gardens through the evening.

Hosted by Brisbane MC Jesswar, the mini-festival kicked off with an impassioned set by Bad Apples’ own, BIRDZ, whose album Train of Thought has had much of the music industry impressed upon its recent release. The rapper dealt with the early crowd excellently, powering through and getting people to forget the dampness of the weather, a perfect way to start our transition into the evening.

Spit Syndicate took things in another direction, bringing their brand of Sydney-drenched hip hop vibes to Melbourne. With their album One Good Shirt Had Us All Fly having had the duo on the road around the country earlier this year, the festival crowd saw Spit Syndicate peakin’. Always a festival favourite, Nick Lupi and Jimmy Nice knew how to connect with the crowd – a crowd who at this point, were getting stuck in and fuelled by drinks – and keep them in the palm of their hands.

Keeping things in Sydney, Thundamentals were the penultimate act of the evening and arguably, one of the acts I had been most keen to see. I’ve always had the unfortunate luck of missing them whenever they’ve been on tour cycle, though I obviously know how much the Blue Mountains natives are beloved by the hip hop community. Again, with a recent (acclaimed) album behind them in Everyone We Know, Thundamentals had a lot of new material to play with. Inciting the crowd with their catchy verses, biting attitude and tight stage presence, Tuka and Jeswon bounced off each other’s flow effortlessly, a great indicator of just how well the two lyricists and MCs have locked in with one another over years of making music and touring together.

Headlining Saturday at A Weekend in The Gardens was Melbourne’s own, Illy. Performing his last show in Melbourne for the year, the crowd gathered in front of the stage, by this point, was more than ready to receive a set from the ARIA winner.

The crowd’s response to his Botanic Gardens set was as I’d thought. This is his hometown. Of course the Melbourne crowd is going to have that extra special connection that no other crowd is likely to get from the Aussie hip hop kingpin. Taking the crowd through his broad body of work, particularly material from 2015’s Two Degrees, Illy demonstrated the different lanes he’s been driving in, musically. Fusing pop with house elements, all intertwined with his hip hop roots has made Illy one of the country’s most successful commercial crossover artists; look at his performance of “Oh My” with Tonight Alive‘s Jenna McDougall for instance, a massive tune from Two Degrees that has brought hip hop and pop punk backgrounds together in producing a slick radio pop hit. A clever move on Illy’s part, no matter your opinion of the music, the man knows he’s on to a good thing.

It’s always going to be difficult to point of differences in an artist’s show if they’ve been on the road so much during any one year and I feel like, with at least the last three artists, Australian fans have seen them more often than not in 2017. Illy especially, has been taking in multiple venues right across the country, both metro and regional. Still, if A Weekend in The Gardens proves anything, it’s that the programming of three distinctly different days of music still holds charm and allure for crowds, rain or shine.

As the Australian festival climate continues to find its groove now that major touring festivals have rebuilt themselves, events like A Weekend in The Gardens are showing strong potential and longevity. Long may it continue.

The reviewer attended this show on November 18th.