Festival Review: BIGSOUND 2016 (07.09.16 & 08.09.16)

For one magical week of the year, Fortitude Valley transforms to a musical haven; a subtropical playground bathed in the auditory ambrosia that is BIGSOUND. Christmas for the music industry has just passed, and what a week BIGSOUND 2016 has been. Dissection, examination and support of the Australian music community sustained the BIGSOUND conference during the days, but it is the BIGSOUND festival where the delights were truly found.

This year saw 160 bands play across 15 venues, in the space of two nights, and the future of Australian music was heard. From the entire BIGSOUND 2016, Larry, Sose and I have some undisputed BIGSOUND 2016 picks; but the festival had too many amazing acts to ignore. Here’s just a few of the most mouth-watering morsels from the BIGSOUND festival smorgasbord.

Ceres (Melbourne)

‘Uncool and unabashed’ – Ceres give us uninhibited honesty across their catchy pop-punk. Pair that with their perfectly bleak undertones at times, and you get music that makes you feel – their gig was a cathartic experience, but by no means in a dull way. Tom Lanyon’s vocals across ‘Happy In Your Head’ brought me back to the melancholy of my early twenties, the promise of the future, and a heady, bittersweet feeling. These boys have definitely plucked on a few heart strings across this BIGSOUND.

DZ Deathrays (Brisbane)

Surely this duo needs no introduction?! DZ were an essential highlight of this year’s BIGSOUND, with their thrash party/dance punk sounds summoning The Zoo to a frenzy. Starting at Brisbane house parties (and most likely going to end at one), DZ tore it up on their home turf, playing a varied set that demonstrated their musical development to the ‘sonic destruction’ heard on their latest LP, Black Rat. When Ecca Vandal came up to help them on last song, “Sabotage” (Beastie Boys), shit got real. They’re about to head on an international tour with Dune Rats – I hope the world is ready for what’s coming for them.

Flowertruck (Sydney)

Nearly every delegate who I asked about their BIGSOUND highlights mentioned Flowertruck, and they are definitely deserving of the praise – even being bestowed the honour of rounding out the official closing party. Charles Rushforth leads with his unique vocals, somewhere between Talking Heads and The Smiths; the post New Wave, guitar fuelled pop rock outfit won hearts across the festival. If you’ve been depriving your ears of some emotionally-charged garage pop, get on these guys right now – you won’t regret it.

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Harts (Melbourne)

This recommendation isn’t skewed by any level of musical crush this writer has. Promise. But if it were, you can’t blame me, can you?! Darren Hart is responsible for playing all the instruments, in these funk laden, soulful tracks, as well as writing and recording in his bedroom studio. He managed to pack out the venue at his BIGSOUND showcase, effortlessly commanding the stage between the synth and his guitar. No really, it was effortless; there was even a guitar solo played behind his head. Heading off on a national tour, Harts is a live performance you can’t miss, delivering bluesy, guitar-laden indie pop-rock bangers, where dancing is a requirement.

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Heads of Charm (Melbourne)

Opening their set with ‘One Second’, this Melbourne trio had us losing our minds. There’s At The Drive-In and Future of the Left influences, and one of the most rollicking soundscapes from this year’s BIGSOUND. Bassist Zaire Kesha delivered a bass tone that would have made Tool jealous, with his dynamic playing perfectly off Lachlan Ewbank’s off-kilter drums, and David Gagliardi’s powerful lead vocals. I’m sold.

Hideous Sun Demon (Fremantle)

They must be putting something in the water in WA, as this four-piece’s set proved they’re bound to reach similar heights of other Western Australian musical exports. Psych-fuelled garage punk, with serious levels of scunge and a live show that left everyone in sweaty, dishevelled, yet hyped. There was fuzz, darker undertones throughout the set, unbridled energy; Hideous Sun Demon have a unique sound that is definitely filling a space in the Australian music scene.

I Heart Hiroshima (Brisbane)

Finally. Brisbane favourites I Heart Hiroshima are back after a lengthy hiatus, and this BIGSOUND showcase showed that they’ve still got it. More than that, their guitar-driven, bassless sounds have matured, delivering heart stealing, harmonised indie rock with even more gusto. Comparisons to early stuff The Go Betweens are commonplace for this trio, still evoked in new single “Fifty Three”. For those who’ve loved this trio since their 2005 inception, you’ll be straight back in love with them after one track. For those so deprived to never have heard their dulcet, undeniably Brisbane tones – get on it right now. Here’s hoping these guys are back to stay.

Polish Club (Sydney)  

That. Voice. This two-piece rock’n’roll outfit from Sydney brings some of the best soul music around today, but Novak’s voice has the power to completely distract you from all else. The fast-paced, garaged tainted soul tracks are lucky to hit three minutes; but are guaranteed to satisfy. They’re headed off on tour with Northeast Party House – I could talk all day about this talented pair, but head out and see them for yourselves.

Rolls Bayce (Brisbane)

This trio features members from various bands across Brisbane’s music scene, including former Hungry Kids of Hungary front man Dean McGrath, Neal Apel (bass, ex. Panng!), and James Wright (drums, ex. Millions). Their wealth of musical and on-stage experience shows through in effortless psych pop-rock sounds, dripping in influence from soul. Whatever you do, don’t compare with Tame Impala; they draw their influences from obscure 60’s soul and psych records – dreamy guitar singing across drum and bass rich sounds. They delivered a truly blissful live show.

Terrible Truths (Melbourne)

The interwoven vocals of guitarist Rani Rose and bassist Stacey Wilson charge this post-punk Melbourne-via-Adelaide trio across influences of No Wave and Riot Grrrl, and do not disappoint. It’s a sound which I’ve been craving in the Australian music scene; revisiting the past, bringing looseness and buoyant emotions. The disparity between their elevated vocals energetic garage punk moments isn’t terrible – it’s truly refreshing.

The Belligerents (Brisbane)

This fun-loving Brisbane quintet managed to pull off a recorder solo. That’s got to be the highest form of praise possible. The Belligerents didn’t fail to deliver groovy tunes, with synth and guitar rich, 70s reminiscent psych-rock led,  by enigmatic front man Lewis Stephenson’s antics. Their dreamy soundscape led us through some of the catchiest singles released this year, (including ‘Before, I Am’); the audience danced their way through the audible ecstasy.

Tigertown (Sydney)

There’s no doubting that Tigertown are leading the charge on this generation of Australian alternative pop music. This musical family brings danceable, blissful and soaring tracks, lead by husband-wife duo Chris (guitar) and Charlie Collins (vox and synth). Their showcase had some of the most positive vibes across all of BIGSOUND.

What these showcases have to say is this: the future of Australian music? It’s in safe hands.

Photos by Zakarij Kaczmarek.