Festival Review: Listen Out – Western Parklands, Perth (25.09.16)

It seemed the skies were on our side for the Perth leg of the DANCE worshipping festival that is Listen Out arrived at the new venue of the Western Parklands for its 2016 instalment.  It appeared that storms of any variations, both weather and artists, would not be seen over the weekend.  Boasting the likes of Claptone, Jauz, and A$AP Ferg, it was certainly going to be a high energy day.

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Getting in early after gates open, it was great to see such a spacious venue put out just for us; the Ozone Reserve by the river had its charms but the limited boundaries meant that halfway through the day, a fair amount of bottlenecking would erupt between the stages.  Out in Joondalup, which had previously hosted the likes of Future Music Festival, Big Day Out and other such extinct mammoths, it was interesting to see how the new layout would impact the whole ’boutique’ element that Fuzzy prided themselves on. Keeping it to two main stages and one minor, there wasn’t an issue with distance in crossing to catch the next act, the food trucks were so easily accessible and the amount of portoloos was very generous. There was just so much space.

The first act I caught for the day had been on my radar for the past year or so and her live performance made her an act to be reckoned with. JOY. took to the Atari stage with the Harry Potter theme tune enchanting the air and wasted no time pacing the stage with her brand of lush deep pop tunes. Quickly rising through the electronic songstress ranks, it’s no wonder the likes of What So Not have been quick feature her vocals on their tracks.  Gathering an envious crowd for an opener, there was no encouragement needed as people were full of energy, vibing along to those hypnotic melodies. There was one track where the sound seemed to let her down and JOY.‘s soft lyrics couldn’t be heard over the bass, but overall it was a standout performance and certainly one to watch.

Willow Beats were making a reappearance to the live music scene in a big way at the 909 stage, it seemed there were plenty of punters keen to catch the early acts of the festival, echoing the mellow twisting dance moves of singer Kalyani Ellis as they poured through the old favourites like “Elemental”, full of warm production and evocatively floral tracks that gained them a fair amount of recognition on release to showcasing some newer developments. As usual, the set seemed to be the duo just enjoying being present and delving into their brand of quirky beat samples and harmonic vocals, and the crowd certainly took to this.

One of the ladies to catch this year seems to have been the R&B styled pocket rocket Ngaiire and her crew, having missed her appearance at Groovin’ the Moo earlier due to a heartbreaking clash, I was stoked to finally see where all the love was coming from.  Brandishing BLAST cartoon chains and an attitude to match, Ngaiire marched across that stage kicking literal butt as she pushed full throttle on every track. From “Dirty Hercules”  and “House on a Rock”, the now sizeable crowd was right there with her, taking in every gritty electronic back beat and glossy soul drenched vocal. Taking things slow for a moment with a more something touch she had the festival raise their hands for “Once” before everyone grooved along to “Diggin”.

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As if there hadn’t been enough talent for the early afternoon the lately hyped Tash Sultana was appearing at the 909 stage with just the friendliest audience ever. Making conversation with some outliers over my pulled pork bun there were soon people offering up their spot at the front barrier so I could stand with a mate. The atmosphere for Sultana’s set was just bliss acceptance. Although a solo act, her presence didn’t make the main stage seem empty; the large lights spelling her name in the background highlighting her instrumental set up as she bounced from looping guitar chords to moulding basslines and finally layering those raw vocals. It was entirely personable, which is hard to get in a festival.  Fresh off the back of her Notion EP release, it was great to catch some indie electric roots styled originality.

Bar lines went by quickly and we took a quick break to spectate the hundreds of fence jumpers milling around the perimeter fences, not game enough to test their stamina against the moat of security waiting between them and the festival. The paying crowd were getting into it, jeering at them, and way too efficiently dismantling toilet seats from the surrounding portoloos to throw at the outsiders.

The crowd was sizeable as Anderson .Paak hit up Atari revealing, “I got a little bit too drunk before the show but I know we’re gonna have a good time!”. Backed up by his team the Free Nationals, it was the perfect set to take us from the soul drenched openers into the more hip hop orientated evening with a deserving level of funk. Apparently, being his first and possibly last Perth appearance, the crowd were ecstatic as he played tracks from his 2016 hit Malibu. With the supply of such calibre international acts on the lineup, this performance was testament to a dance music festival having more than just DJs, the live performances free of spectacle other than just the total engaging presence is something that has made Listen Out a stand out.

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That being said, sometimes you just need to get senseless. Slumberjack took over the Atari stage in a colossal way that only a hometown show could give, smashing out unforgiving tracks until the festival was a sea of jumping bodies and cheers. I don’t know how many people were lamenting the loss of Stormzy, but there were no complaints during that set. Followed by Baauer, it was like the storm before the hurricane, the back to back bass assault with that extra impact of trap samples for good measure absolutely controlled the crowd. It didn’t matter if you were halfway through lighting a ciggie, when that drop fell, your body went nuts. It wasn’t just a set, it was a dance marathon.

At this stage, I couldn’t help making comparisons on the atmosphere of this year’s Listen Out versus its predecessors and while I still couldn’t put my finger on it, something just wasn’t there. I don’t know if it was the new location, the leg-day skippers trying to find a home after the Stereosonic withdrawals, or just the kind of headliners changing up the genre. While it didn’t by any means lessen the festival, it did take the vibe from blindly ecstatic to just happy to be here. Even cashing in cans for, well, cash had lost its gold-finding excitement; perhaps because it had lost the new shiny element after becoming a must-go event on the pre-summer roster.

I didn’t have any expectation for Claptone going in; I figured I’d just go where the crowd took me, but I was glad I ended up there. With people sporting that famed mask with pride, the set was a highlight that caught me off guard. Lit by a single spotlight while strobes echoed across the festival he was truly the puppeteer as he unleashed a DJ set worthy of the timeslot. White gloved hands spinning endlessly as he danced along to each track, gold mask visible from the back, it was a more relaxed yet still uncontrollably dance-worth performance.

Catching the best of both worlds we hung in the mid section a while, leaning towards glimpses of A$AP Ferg’s bolstering rap volumes tearing through Atari before bouncing to the sound of Jauz’s remixes lighting up the 909 with classic samples of The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s and The White Stripes, while mixing in handles of Kanye and Drake to keep everyone happy. Security still had their eyes on the persistent hordes of fence jumpers still lingering, one optimistically commenting that they must be waiting around to help with the cleanup.

Wondering around the festival it was obvious the stamina of some had left them, those characteristic huddles by the side fences or anywhere with light, trying to find lost comrades in the long abandoned phone reception. RÜFÜS arrived to heal their sorrows with their sweet electronic melodies, the giant lighting rig like a halo to lead us all home in the supremely cold night. Caving out from the low degrees, I made my way out the gates with a straggling stream of other punters, content with the day.