A Psych Newbie Heads To Sydney Psych Fest

 

Factory Theatre, 25/02/17

Photos by Rhiannon Hopley

Riding the wave of Psych-Rock’s boom of late, Sydney Psych Fest returned for its third year, taking place at Marrickville’s Factory Theatre. And while I’m not a complete Psych virgin, I’ve had the wonders of microtonal tuning explained to me more than once, my tastes have stuck pretty close to the mainstream Triple J rotation. So for me at least, Psych Fest was an insight into a genre and a community that, from what I’ve heard, is having a renaissance of sorts.

The festival was also a chance to disprove the notion that Australia doesn’t have a Psych scene. Dave Couri, the festival’s founder, stated in 2015; “I’ve met so many bands on our travels to festivals in the US, and the conversation always became ‘Why can’t we do this at home?’…we have a truly unique talent-rich pool here in Australia.”

To me, the line-up was a series of odd names, Comacozer, Black Heart Death Cult, Dead Radio, Carsick Cars, among others. Best case scenario was that I have my mind blown like when William listens to The Who for the first time in Almost Famous, and at the very least I would hear some sick, fuzzed out guitar solos.

Comacozer

One of the first things I notice about Comacozer is a bongo, and before they even begin, I’m intrigued. Their opening tune is a drifting Desert Rock song that morphs from guitar riff into a Bass heavy almost R’n’B beat, cruising along and pulling me into the outer-space Acid trip I had hoped for. This sort of tone continues throughout their set; slow jams rise and fall like waves crashing in a technicolour ocean. I’m getting definite Black Sabbath vibes (the bongos in particular remind me of something like ‘Planet Caravan’). Impressive instrumentations – especially the percussion – layer each tune, making them feel as if there are many moving parts, all of which come together to form a cohesive and entertaining whole.

White+

Immediately upon walking into the Fusebox Theatre, White+ intrigue me because I can’t see a guitar on stage? “What?” I ask myself, “Since when is Psych guitar-free?”. White+ are a two-piece hailing from Beijing and while they are not what I expected a Psych act to be, their music fits the festival perfectly. While they’re classified as ‘arty electronica’, what makes White+ entertaining live is the interplay between the DJ/Electronic half and the live drums, which is a unique combo that is utilised really effectively. Often, their songs will revolve around one loop or effect, and build from there. I really enjoyed White+, and definitely thought they were one of the more unique acts from this year’s festival, even if they didn’t fit my preconceived notion of ‘Psych’.

Black Heart Death Cult

With a more packed stage than other acts in the festival – six members plus a guest flautist for one song – I knew Black Heart Death Cult would be loud. The band is driven by a trio of guitars and each song heightens in intensity and ferocity, pushing and driving towards brilliantly climactic guitar solos. Most songs are riff based, and the sextuplet flies around these riffs, building the tension – until the levy breaks and the Psych explosion rushes forward.

The Jim Mitchells

The Jim Mitchells emit a slightly more classic and laidback vibe. The vocals and melodies are choral and not unlike a Classic Rock band mixed with a Ty Segall-esque garage sound, albeit with a unique and modern take. Mitchell’s vocals are impressive and gravelly, and immediately after I take note of this he apologises; “Sorry my voice is a bit cooked.” Each song begins softly, falling within the ‘Classic’ vibe, eventually though it slips into hyper drive – giving way to a grinding, Psyched-out conclusion. The Jim Mitchells are a unique act and a festival highlight, I’m definitely checking these guys out. Also I have to give Jim Mitchell a shout-out for taking the time to give half the crowd cheek kisses.

Dreamtime

Dreamtime live up to their name. There’s a bass-heavy synth that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Vangelis soundtrack, and mixed with their tribal sounding drums these guys are a really unique iteration of Psych that’s really quite breathtaking. Similar to other acts, each song is a five plus minute exploration, but what makes Dreamtime unique is the element of immersion. Something about the layering of each factor, the interplay between the synth, the drums, the guitars and the vocals create a really strong vibe within the Fusebox. It’s in Dreamtime that I find myself drifting closer to what I had envisioned this festival to be like, letting the music carry me towards some state of bliss.

Flyying Colours

Finally! A band I’ve heard of! I’ve even seen them play once! They’re the final act to take the stage at this year’s Psych fest and immediately you can see why they’re headlining; as a unit they are tight. Not rigid mind you, they maintain a strong ‘flowy’ vibe that showcases their Shoegaze roots, but as a band they are a strong force of unstoppable Psych. The crowd, hyped from the day, absolutely froth it. Overall, Flyying Colours are a festival highlight and definitely seem to be on the verge of something big.

Overall, while my initial expectations were never fully met, I don’t think that was a bad thing. Sydney Psych Fest 2017 allowed me to abandon some of my preconceived notions about the genre, and opened my eyes to a community of musicians that are not only inventive and extremely talented, but always moving forward. While from the outside, Psych music can sound extremely ‘same-same’, I discovered it’s a genre that requires the listener to invest and truly listen – something that isn’t always that easy – to really take something with them. It’s easy to see now why an act like King Gizz are such juggernauts, not unlike the Grateful Dead, they draw a community along with them, feeding off one another to create a wholly unique listening and creative experience. This to me, is Psych’s true appeal, and I don’t see it dying down any time soon.

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About Nathaniel Barlow

I make short films. I like music a lot.

View all posts by Nathaniel Barlow

About the photographer, Rhiannon Hopley

Rhiannon Hopley is a Sydney based, award winning photographer. Her diverse range of skills have found her working in live music, promotional, events, and fashion photography, while also working as freelance graphic designer and an accomplished artist. Rhiannon began professional shooting soon after graduating high school in 2004, with excellence in photography. Initially shooting gigs

Learn more about Rhiannon Hopley

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