Fairgrounds Proves That Small Festivals Are Always The Best

 

Featured Image: Big Scary

Photos by Josh Groom

Day 1

“We love it here, we’re moving to Berry!”

It was a joke that Ali Barter made pretty early into her set, but after two days of great music, chilled vibes and tasty beers, I think it’s safe to say that a lot of punters will be feeling the same. With the perfect mix of big bands, small(ish) crowds and a relaxed schedule, Fairgrounds is quickly becoming one of the highlights of the year.

The graceful indie-rock stylings of Ali Barter kicked off the weekend to an easy start, with punters choosing picnic rugs over moshpits.

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This wasn’t to last long however, and things were quickly kicked up a notch with The Drones’ renowned live show. Although they’ve been touring and performing for a good few years now, the Melbourne-based noise rockers haven’t lost any of their edge, and frontman Gareth Liddiard still knows how to snarl his way through the band’s politically charged lyrics. Fairgrounds may have been an all-ages family affair, but the band didn’t hold back on their distinctive noise-rock breakdowns, with scratchy guitar, hard hitting drum fills and fuzzy bass washing over the show grounds. New material took a centre role in the set, and tracks like ‘Private Execution’ and ‘Taman Shud’ somehow became even more intense live.

The Drones

Helped onto the stage by his band, and heading straight for a chair, Rodriguez may have looked shaky, but his performance was anything but. Not that it would’ve mattered that much, as the legendary singer-songwriter was frequently drowned out by the enthusiastic crowd, with all ages singing along to classics like ‘Sugar Man’ and ‘I Wonder’. Interestingly, he chose to focus much of his set on classic covers like The Doors‘ ‘Light My Fire’, Elton John’s ‘Your Song’ and the Rolling Stones’ ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’. The tracks were performed excellently and got a huge response from the crowd, but being that it was only a short set, some of us were left wanting  a few more originals. Still, the musician’s passion and humble nature was infectious, and he ended almost every song by thanking the crowd for singing along.

Rodrigu

I must be perfectly honest and admit that (being a big ‘ol fan boy) I actually caught closing act King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard a couple of days earlier at their own Gizzfest which featured the same setlist. This isn’t an insult whatsoever and, being that the fellas have been performing pretty much every night this week, makes perfect sense. In keeping with the looping theme of their latest album Nonagon Infinity, I’m re-writing my review from then:

What is there to say about these guys that hasn’t been said before? Their live show is pretty much flawless, and they’ve easily solidified themselves as one of Australia’s must-see acts.

Keeping in the vein of latest album Nonagon Infinity, the band play their sets as one long, seamless jam, with each track blending into the next. This may sound easy, given that the album already does that, but when you see how hard all the band members go, and how much they bounce around the stage and yelp into the mics, it’s amazing that they don’t exit the stage on stretchers.

Starting with ‘Gamma Knife’ rather than album opener ‘Robot Stop’ initially threw people for a loop (!), but as soon as they faded seamlessly into following track ‘People-Vultures’ we knew we were in for a classic uninterrupted Gizz jam. Especially impressive is how the guys work in older tracks like ‘I’m In Your Mind’ and ‘Cellophane’ into the Nonagon format, seamlessly interweaving between then. A mashup between ‘The River’ and ‘Wah Wah’ was the best example of this.

The band only broke form for closing track and latest single ‘Rattlesnake’ which, given it’s microtonal composition (get your music nerd on here), can’t blend with the other tracks.

I must admit to being initially underwhelmed by the track, but after a few listens and a stellar live performance, it’s quickly snaked (!) its way into my brain and become a Gizz classic. Plus, it’s especially impressive seeing frontman Stu play it on his custom micro-tonal guitar, which allows you to truly appreciate the inventiveness and complexity of the track. If it’s anything to go by, their upcoming (5) albums are going to make for an equally amazing tour.

Long live the Gizz!

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Day 2

If you haven’t heard Julia Jacklin yet then stop reading right now, listen to her debut album Don’t Let The Kids Win and reassess your priorities! With a beautiful cross between indie rock and country, a powerful voice and emotive instrumentations, Julia ensured that there were no dry eyes in the crowd by the end of her set. Although her backing band created a warm, full sound, the highlights of the performance came when she took the stage alone, placing all attention on that amazing voice. We expect big things from Julia, watch this space…

Julia Jacklin

After the relative quiet of Julia Jacklin, Philly punk rockers Sheer Mag came out snarling like a bat out of hell. Many people, including myself, had to take a good few steps back to stop those ears ringing. Still, the infectious energy of Tina Halladay made up for any perforated eardrums, and punters quickly head-banged the pain away. The front-woman has an impressive presence on the stage, walking around like she owns the place (which she does!) and bellowing down the mic.

Indie-pop up and comer Bec Sandridge is no stranger to the 2016 festival circuit and we’ve seen her a few times this year, but a performance at the Newtown Social Club Stage (aka a small barn-shack) made for an intimate and unique performance. The lack of drums and quieter than usual backing band placed all emphasis on her incredible vocal range, which truly stood out on tracks like ‘You’re A Fucking Joke’. The presence of her family in the crowd only helped to further this intimate setting.

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New material was the flavour of the day for Big Scary‘s performance, and the set largely consisted of material from their latest album Animal. This is no bad thing! The album is excellent, and the crowd were already familiar enough with the material to confidently sing along. The band’s two sole members, Tom Iansek and Joanna Syme took centre stage, but the presence of three additional live musicians gave the band a big full sound, particularly on tracks like ‘Organism’ which featured sweet, sweet sax. Tom’s style of playing is reserved but effective, and it’s a joy to see small details like his piano flourishes on ‘The Opposite Of Us’ or minimal guitar work on ‘Lone Bird’ live. The chemistry between himself and Jo (who truly knows how to bang out a funky drum beat!) made the performance feel friendly and fun, particularly when they chose the final few songs of the setlist on the spot.

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Wanting to make the most of their limited slot, Canadian rock duo Japandroids tore through a mix of new and old material in record time. “We don’t have much time, so I’m not gonna talk” announced guitarist and co-vocalist Brian King. “See you on the other side”.

Backed by a wall of amps, the musician racked up an impressive layer of sweat as he jumped around the stage, thrashing away on guitar and singing his hardest. You’ve got to cut him some slack though, apparently it’s the first time they’ve played in daylight in over three years!

Tracks like ‘The House That Heaven Built’ and ‘Young Hearts Spark Fire’ got a loud and energetic response, with even the uninitiated quickly singing along to the former’s catchy pub-style chorus. The duo also treated us to a handful of tracks from their upcoming third album, including lead single ‘Near To The Wild Of Heart’, creating high expectations for the album and proving that they haven’t collapsed under the weight of anticipation.

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The programmers at Fairgrounds deserve props for scheduling indie-pop musician Sarah Blasko at sunset, making for a relaxing and melancholic ending to the daylight. Picnic rugs, cheese and wine were the perfect support act for this set, and even those who didn’t know her stuff found themselves nodding along and smiling.

The biggest crowd of the day was reserved for Swedish singer-songwriter The Tallest Man On Earth. Opening with ‘Fields Of Our Home’ from latest album Dark Bird Is Home, the musician started the song by himself on acoustic guitar before slowing being joined by the rest of his band for a truly epic crescendo. Apparently Australia was the first country that he toured outside Sweden, and his love for our country is apparent. Although his music may be laid back, his stage presence is anything but, and The Tallest Man frequently ran around the stage whilst playing, even getting down into the front of the moshpit.

 

Fairgrounds

With an array of instruments backing him (including a violin and pedal steel), the set had a beautifully full sound which no doubt tugged at the heart strings of everyone in attendance. Tech issues at the end of the set resulted in a beautifully intimate moment as the backing vocalists had to leave their own mics and all huddle together at the centre of the stage singing into one.

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Fairgrounds may only be in its second year, but with acts like these playing to small, friendly and passionate crowds, its quickly become one of the best festivals of the year. Bring on the 2017 edition!

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About Mark Royters

Many years ago I was given an Arctic Monkeys EP. Everything changed from that moment onwards. I'm a Sydney-based music writer, reviewer and interviewer.

View all posts by Mark Royters

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