BYO drinks. Beach. On-site camping. Aussie bands. If this sounds like a recipe for a rowdy festival, it’s because it damn well is. Drop that festival into the middle of Port Macquarie (or, affectionately, P Macca) and baby, you’ve got a stew going.
Middle Kids may have treated Friday to a relaxing start with their breakthrough single ‘Edge of Town’ and more tracks from their upcoming debut EP, but things were quickly kicked up a notch by politically-charged up and coming rapper L-Fresh The Lion. L-Fresh never fails to get a crowd going, but add in BYO beers and you’ve got a bonafide party going off…at 3 in the afternoon! Joined by DJ MK-1 and fellow rhyme master Mirrah and dropping famous samples left, right and centre (including the iconic ‘We Will Rock You’ as a fist-pumping opener), the rapper kept crowd engagement high throughout the set. A highlight came when he made the crowd honorary Punjabi partiers, by starting a “Balle Balle” (a Punjabi phrase for happiness) call and response.
Tash Sultana was up next to make us all feel shitty about our own musical abilities, taking to the stage by herself yet still creating a sound rich enough to rival even the biggest bands of the weekend. Although sound issues made for low guitar levels for the first few tracks, the Melbourne-based multi-instrumentalist shredded and danced her way through an amazing set of looping wizardry. There was an impressive count of Tash Sultana shirts in the crowd already, but she would have won over many more fans with that performance. A guest appearance by her splits-performing Dad further helped her become one of the most likeable performers of the weekend.
With the release of her critically acclaimed full-length debut, a string of solo and festival dates and a well-deserved ARIA win, 2016 has been Montaigne‘s year. And, as she proved with her set, that’s an awesome thing. With an energetic stage presence, bubbly and instantly likeable persona and, of course, incredible vocal range, Montaigne was excellent. Highlights like ‘In The Dark’ (which has grown into a bonafide banger for this initially skeptical writer), ‘Till It Kills Me’ and ‘Because I Love You’ all went off, and proved that she is a festival necessity.
Friday headliners Gang of Youths closed off the night in a suitably epic fashion, with the energetic and charismatic Dave Le’aupepe proving how well he’s fallen into the frontman role. Singalong was the buzzword of the set, and the crowd was already well familiar with tracks like ‘Native Tongue’ and ‘Strange Diseases’ from the band’s latest EP Let Me Be Clear. The former was a particular highlight, with the crowd energetically swearing along. At one point, Dave shouted to the crowd “the sound of you singing along is my favourite fucking thing in the universe” and you could tell he was being completely genuine.
The band assume a heavier and more guitar-centric sound in their live form, and even familiar hits like ‘Magnolia’ and ‘Radioface’ pack a far bigger punch than their studio counterparts. Gang of Youths have quickly become one of Australia’s top bands, and its easy to see why.
Indie up-and-comers Hot Spoke helped ease the collective hangover way with singer Ness Muir stirring the crowd back to consciousness with her beautiful yet powerful voice. Sahara Beck carried on the torch afterwards, jumping between familiar covers (‘You Shook Me’ being a clear standout) and roots-tinged originals.
Bec Sandridge has been one of our favourite breakthrough artists of the year, and her set of tracks from newish EP In The Fog affirmed this belief. Tracks like ‘You’re A Fucking Joke’ and ‘In The Fog, In The Flame’ were personal favourites, but her unique, 80s tinged vocals worked well across all tracks, and definitely won over the uninitiated.
The morning’s relaxed vibes were torn to shreds in the best possible manner by punk rockers Luca Brasi who brought the rowdiness back in spades. The band are an incredibly tight act and right from hard-hitting opener ‘Say It Back’ they had the crowd engaged and ready to mosh. The crowd quickly became a sea of headbanging and beer spraying as the fellas tore through tracks from their latest album If This Is All We’re Going To Be. A bizarre highlight came during an excellent cover of Paul Kelly’s ‘How To Make Gravy’ which saw one particularly enthusiastic fan making and sculling a poisonous concoction of Gravox and UDL. It looks even grosser than it sounds…
If you can believe it, things got even looser with party rockers Dune Rats who pulled quite possibly the biggest and craziest crowd of the weekend. Opening with ‘Dalai Lama, Big Banana, Marijuana’ threw the assembled Aussie masses into a frenzy, with the song’s massive “MARIJUANA” vocal hook energising the crowd into action. Puffs of smoke billowed from all sections of the mosh. However you feel about their music, there’s no denying that the fellas know how to write a fun, catchy-as-hell tune (or choon in this case), and even those who don’t know the lyrics quickly learn and join in. New singles ‘Scott Green’ and ‘Bullshit’ were perfect examples of this, with the former quickly resulting in chants of “Scott Green!” echoing through the grounds. Things got particularly intense when lead singer/guitarist Danny Beausa offered $50 to anyone who could hit bassist Brett Jansch with a tinnie. Forget sports matches; I don’t think I’ve ever seen more VB cans in the air than in that moment.
The Smith Street Band brought their unique mix of catchy hooks and relatable lyrics to an already well warmed-up crowd, and got a huge response. The band made their presence felt right from opening track ‘Death To The Lads’ with its call-to-arms hook quickly uniting the assembled masses. Despite only being out for a month, the track has already become a live staple.
Although this track is a huge start, the intensity was never let up, and the Smithies were the true definition of “crowd pleasers”. Familiar tracks like ‘Surrender’, ‘I Can’t Feel My Face’ and ‘Throw Me In The River’ had everyone singing at the top of their lungs. The band truly know how to get a crowd worked up, and in favourites like ‘Ducks Fly Together’, frontman Wil Wagner would frequently drop out to let the fans take over vocals.
Closing track ‘I Don’t Wanna Die Any More’ was definitely up there with the previous nights’ ‘Magnolia’ as a festival highlight, and Wil encouraged the entire crowd to have a ‘little boogie woogie’. The tune is the quintessential Smith Street Band track, showcasing their impressive ability to tackle heavy yet relatable themes with honestly, and being a reassuring voice for those experiencing similar struggles.
I’ve no doubt there’ll be post-festival headaches, sunburns and Monday sickies aplenty, but for good reason. It’s been a pretty fucked year in many ways, but Festival of the Sun proved that we’ll always have music to rely on, help us blow off steam and get us through even the strangest of times.