The Supernatural Amphitheatre seemed impossibly lush upon arrival on Saturday. The springy green grass seeming to contradict the already blazing sun and dust that was blowing persistently through the air. The buzz of excitement could be heard and observed across the campsights, with eager punters cracking tins from the early morning while later arrivals circled the neighbourhoods, anxiously looking for a place to call home for the weekend.
Tropical Fuck Storm grabbed the festival by the ears and dragged it kicking into gear form their opening song, ‘Chameleon Paint’, serving as a rallying call to get this shit started. TFS are a truly original band, bringing weirdo funk and psychedelic afrobeat influences all channeled into a rock’n’roll vehicle captained one of the most distinct voices in Australian music. Drummer Lauren Hammel’s unexpected drum patterns and precise power kept things constantly shifting from the ground up while also providing a firm bed under which Fiona Kitschin’s heavy bass lines could weave. The backing vocals care of Kitschin and guitarist Erica Dunn helped to provide an element of sweetness that worked nicely with Gareth Liddiard’s rabid dog vocals and barely contained energy. Their latest single ‘Let My Tyres Down’, delivered towards the end of the set, came across as a weirdo rock anthem that built upon itself with a long repeated chorus that got wilder each time, Liddiard’s unique angular fuzzed out guitar work adding both darkness and edge.
To be fair, they would be a hard act to follow for anyone playing anything remotely similar, so Batpiss had to fight against that immediate comparison. The Melbourne three-piece did a sturdy job, blazing through tracks from their Liddiard-produced Rest in Piss album from last year.
Now that the crowd were properly warmed up and attentive, it was time to shift directions, beginning the first of what would be a very jazz-influenced lineup. Thundercat kicked off with ‘Captain Stupedo’, wasting no time in stomping on one the pedals that makes his instrument sound like a synth and busting out a fast, technical solo that sounded like something off Mario Kart. The bassist may not have the strongest singing voice but he’s got soul and uses his vocal as one ingredient in the overall sonic palette, along with his beloved wah and octave pedals. Having frequently collaborated together, it was anticipated and welcomed when he brought out one of the other headline acts, Kamasi Washington, for some incredible sax soloing. ‘Tron Song’, a two minute number from 2013’s Apocalypse, was pushed closer to ten minutes with a large soloing break in the middle, before finishing with the smooth upbeat feel of ‘Friend Zone’, from last year’s Drunk.
The sun beating down mercilessly, it was elected at this point to retire to the comfort of Eric’s to explore their cocktail menu. This unfortunately meant listening to Perfume Genius from a distance, but tactics are everything if you want to play the long game friends.
There’s no one else quite like King Krule. He seemed to pack each song with a surprising level of complexity, the dense sound coming from the dual guitars, bass, drums, saxophone and turntables resulting a sprawling, jazzy rock set. Krule himself has a crazy voice, moving from a growl to a scream to a soft lament, and all while looking a straight-laced schoolboy. Unfortunately it may have been a little too demanding and laid back to keep the attention of the excited crowd at that time. The set closer, 2013’s ‘Easy Easy’, received a strong recognition however, the band sounding unified and anthemic.
Having had a glimpse of his genius three hours earlier, it was such a pleasure to see Kamasi Washington own the stage for his set. He has helped to popularise jazz and bebop with a new generation that probably hadn’t previously considered the ins and outs of Coltrane’s discography. Although the tenor saxman was clearly the focus of the show, his band all brought their own musical personalities to play, giving the feeling of a collective of equals, rather than a backing group. The drummer helped keep things feeling snappy and funky, as well as adding some off-time jazz feels, particularly during an impressive solo section.
Washington himself is a formidable presence onstage, his playing wild and expressive, the tone of his instrument a beautiful thing. Returning the favour from earlier, Thundercat emerged to provide a funky bass solo, the horn section blowing together for all of their worth. It was an incredible show, rendered all the more special by the setting of seeing world class music in the ‘Sup, certainly the highlight of the day.
At this stage in their career The Preatures are a finely tuned classic rock force, their sound and demeanour ready made for a large festival setting. Their straight ahead melodic rock songs were delivered with energy and passion, while Isabella Manfredi proved that she is one of the most magnetic and natural front persons in the land.
Since re-launching two years ago, The Avalanches have emerged as an unlikely festival favourite, bringing to life one of the most acclaimed albums of the early 2000s, along with new music, 2016’s Wildflower. From the get go the band were clearly determined to get the party started, with Eliza Wolfgramm bouncing across the stage and singing to the front row. The current touring lineup includes original members Robbie Chater and Toni Di Blasi, who seemed to handle most of the music between them, playing synths, turntables and triggering samples. The addition of a live drummer helped to bridge the hybrid band/DJ mix that has always made The Avalanches a unique proposition, but there were also enough big electronic beats that things were kept strictly danceable. ‘Frankie Sinatra’ made an early appearance, with Wolfgramm singing over the vocal samples that appear on the record, and rapper Spank Rock appeared intermittently, doing a great job of getting the crowd hyped and injecting a hip hop feel to proceedings.
In general it felt a little uncertain exactly what kind of set we were seeing, as more beats-based jams that focused on the two original members gave way to full band renditions of rock songs. This was most evident when a brief cover of The Animals’ ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ gave way to the song that most people were looking forward to — ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’, which was incredible to hear live — and then into The Who’s ‘My Generation’.
Now that the midnight hour had passed, people were definitely in the mood to use their feet and MzRizk, surely one of Melbourne’s best DJs, did not disappoint. Rizk raised the energy levels with an upbeat set of classic R&B and hip hop party jams, including Prince, N.E.R.D., Luther Vandross and The Notorious B.I.G.
The ‘Sup now officially full of inebriated yet happy punters, Floating Points’ mesmerising and evolving beats seemed to fit the vibe perfectly. Although the mood was a step down from the energy of the previous DJ, the subtlety and catchiness of his synth-heavy productions backed with a chunky kick drum, sounded incredible.
The following morning introduced a perfect 27-degree day, a welcome reprieve from the incessant roasting of the previous afternoon. Waterfall Person entertained a grass-sprawled crowd with her tongue-in-cheek pseudo amateur presentation that centred around singing purposefully off key over what sounded like pre-set Casio keyboard songs from the late ‘80s. She also kept pretending to laugh while singing, insisting that she was playing the wrong version of her tracks and interacting with the crowd asking random questions. There was a respectable enough audience for that time in the morning who seemed to find it endearingly cute and quirky, which was surely the intention.
It was a bitter sweet moment to watch Wet Lips take to the big stage and absolutely own it. Sweet because they are an incredible punk rock band and well deserving of the attention, yet bitter as it would be one of their last ever shows before closing shop indefinitely. The combined charisma of all three members, but particularly singer Grace Kindellan and bassist Jenny McKechnie who started the band together six years ago, gave the feeling of a close-knit family affair, even during the most high energy numbers. Kindellan’s voice is strong yet melodic, capable of carrying the poppier numbers as well as the straighter punk songs. Bidding us a teary farewell, the band won several boots during their last song ‘Can’t Take It Anymore’.
Kaiit was an unknown name on this lineup, and it turns out that this is because the Melbourne singer has only released a single song thus far, a testament to Aunty’s ability to program whatever she wants. Backed by a full band, Kaitt’s sound is neo-soul in the strictest D’Angelo’s Brown Sugar vein of the genre. Her voice was incredibly powerful and soulful, giving off a gospel R&B vibe like a young Jill Scott or Lauryn Hill. She also raps in a sweet singing style that recalls one of the standouts of last year’s Meredith, Noname. In truth, the band were just a little bit too polished and smooth, giving off a slight session player feel, but that feel is also consistent with the genre, so that’s a small gripe. Finishing with her song ‘Natural Woman’ — yes the hook really has the words ‘You make me feel like a natural woman’ — many in the crowd seemed to know it and raised a boot in tribute.
Rocket Science returned to the ‘Sup just as they last left it, energised and fucking loud. Pushed along by dirty distorted guitar and Roman Tucker’s organ, the band are still all about simple rock’n’roll grooves and a classic pub rock style with a hint of psychedelia. Nothing fancy, but they do it well.
Adrian Sherwood’s mid-afternoon slot was a welcome sidestep, with the veteran UK DJ/producer taking us on a bass heavy trip of dub, reggae and breakbeat tunes. Using a mixing desk as an instrument, along with two CDJs and some outboard delays, phasers and reverb effects, Sherwood physically tapped out delay times with a drum stick and had the crowd shuffling along in appreciation.
Ata Tak was revelation, the Ghanian MC backed by a crack hot band that delivered an upbeat set of synth pop and early ‘90s disco house grooves. Ata Tak himself had an impossible amount of energy, rapping incredibly quickly and showcasing some of the best dad dance moves the ‘Sup has seen, all with a big warm grin on his face. His style of fast rapping was almost chant-like, while owing a lot to early hip hop MCs of the disco era, and he soon had the crowd responding to his every entreaty, even if we didn’t understand the words he was singing.
Lee Fields & The Expressions brought the genuine sound of Daptone soul to the Amphitheatre, and it was incredible to witness at all, let alone in that particular setting. Fields has the sort of magnetism known as star power, an old school soul star with total command of his craft. If you closed your eyes you could imagine you were watching disciples of James Brown at the Apollo in the mid-60s, with just the amount of raw edge and authentically vintage tone that the Daptone label has made their name with. Replete in a shiny gold jacket, Fields owned the stage, telling the crowd that he loved them and making sure that everyone present was feeling the passion that he was putting into every raspy shout and heart felt tender croon. The standout moment was a highly emotional take on ‘I Wish You Were Here’, which he dedicated to the late Sharon Jones, a powerful shot straight to the feelings.
One of the traditional highlights of Meredith and Golden Plains is the sunset at Inspiration Point, and this occasion did not disappoint, with large applause going to the couple who held their baby up to the sun gods atop a rock à la Simba; a naked man doing backflips; and a successful marriage proposal just as the sun was dipping behind the horizon.
The Black Angels’ fuzzy stoner rock was perhaps a little too much of an energy dip for their particular timeslot, the singer’s voice lost in a wash of reverb, although the heavy rhythm section helped maintain a certain pace. They ramped it up with the final song, a fuzzed out heavy rock groove over a mid-tempo beat with some shreddy-sustained guitar soloing at the end.
Out of all of the acts on the lineup Grizzly Bear seemed the most out of place, and while there were definitely some strong moments during their set, their big stadium pop sound seemed too mainstream and safe for Golden Plains. The epic, dramatic nature of the songs felt slightly cheesy in parts, but those with a nostalgia for 2009’s Veckatimist were rewarded with plenty of older cuts, including the obligatory ‘Two Weeks’, which closed the set.
If it wasn’t obvious already to those who have been paying attention over the past year, quickly into his set you could just see that Baker Boy is going on to big things. For a new artist that has released only a couple of tracks thus far he commanded a headlining timeslot with the confidence and ability of a natural star. His rap style is powerful and militant, recalling the fire of early Public Enemy, but he is also not afraid of incorporating a pop-R&B edge to the music. At points the young rapper also showcased a beautiful singing voice in Yolngu Matha language as well as English and kept a big smile on his face throughout the night. Certainly a fan of the old school, Baker Boy managed to bring these various influences together and make them feel fresh and exciting, his energy matched by fellow rapper Dallas Woods, as well as a DJ, drummer and another backing vocalist. An updated cover of Yothu Yindi’s ‘Treaty’ was an early standout, while his own ‘Marrunya’ also received a big response. Keep your eyes on this guy, he’s soon to be everywhere.
Doubling down on the hip hop vibe, Big Boi brought the weight of OutKast’s back catalogue with him, ensuring that even those turned off by his pimp styling has something to get excited about. Tracks from last year’s Boomiverse featured strongly, but an early medley of ‘ATliens’, ‘Skew it on the Bar-B’ and ‘Rosa Parks’ got everyone moving in appreciation, and the opening notes of ‘Ms Jackson’ brought a massive sing-a-long. It’s true that the Southern trap-style beats of his solo work were probably a little bit too hip hop for this setting, but the smooth vocals of long-time collaborator Sleepy Brown as well as the chance to hear classic tracks like ‘B.O.B.’, ‘Way You Move’ and ‘Shutterbug’ made for an enjoyable time.
DJ Manchild played a solid disco funk set on vinyl that dipped into afrobeat in the middle and closed with some heavier disco house, which paved the way for the next act, Barbara Tucker.
Tucker was introduced by her DJ, who ramped things up with chunky disco house grooves that immediately raised the energy levels. The big beats and fat basslines were blessed with catchy soul samples, and when Tucker emerged, looking like she stepped straight out of Foxy Brown, the party was definitely on. The campy backing dancer was a sign that this set was all about pure uninhibited joy, and Tucker gave her powerful soul vocals to classic tunes by Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin and Donna Summer, before the final DJs carried us off into the night.
Originally published in Beat Magazine. Photographs by Chip Mooney.