FOMO – Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne (13/1/19)

It was a 30 degree day and the kids who were strutting about excitedly were all wearing variations of the same wardrobe: the girls in as little as possible + dashes of glitter paint, and the boys dressed as either ‘There’s a Sale at Cotton On for Leopard Print Short Sleeves and Brown Shorts’ or ‘90s Drug Dealer’. Either way, they were clearly all there to have fun and were buzzing off that energy, plus the fact that at least half of them were clearly under 18 meant that hardly anyone was drinking, which added an endearingly wholesome feel to the Melbourne leg of FOMO.

Jerry from Jerry’s Vegiburgers shook his head when I asked how the day had been going. Looking around the enormous grounds of the Flemington Racecourse it seemed odd that the promoters had thought a space this large would be appropriate. Groups of revellers stretched themselves out under any shaded spot they could find and the bar staff smiled a little too broadly at anyone who walked by as if they hadn’t spoken to anyone for a while.

Kali Uchis and her band delivered a solid set of material from last year’s excellent debut album Isolation. The Colombian-American singer strutted and posed across the stage, twirling, dropping and sexy dancing with the microphone stand while looking every inch (67.2”, I looked it up) the pop star. Unfortunately her vocal was low in the mix and masked with reverb so it was hard to discern her words except during the sections when she pushed it a bit. Which was a shame because besides that the band sounded good and she has some really nice songs.

Anime` was all trap hats and backing tracks, showcasing a particularly screamy style of rapping that send me retreating to a shaded area where I met a teenager attending her first festival. “Where are your friends?” I asked. “In there,” she said waving towards the stage area, “I couldn’t do it, it’s too much.” She then lay down and proceeded to take a nap.

Mura Masa’s set seemed decidedly laid back by comparison to the previous artist and from where we stood at the back of the crowd many seemed to take the opportunity to chat. “Why is no one clapping?” asked my friend after a song finished to complete silence.

Masa, aka Alex Crossan, had a one-man-band setup, and was surrounded by drums, percussion, drum pads, keyboards, and presumably something to play the backing tracks off. His musicianship was highly impressive as he moved skilfully between instruments in every song, never missing a beat. The style straddles jazzy hip hop and groove based pop, with a sparseness and consistent melancholia that could only be British. He had two vocalists that came on intermittently and helped keep the energy high, but Masa was also able to maintain our attention during the instrumental numbers, and doing so without any flashy techniques or solos. A couple of songs towards the end of the set, such as ‘Love$ick’ and ‘Firefly’ were met with warm applause and people mouthing the words.

There were obviously a lot of Rae Sremmurd fans in attendance, but I really couldn’t get into it. They weren’t doing anything particularly wrong, but the whole thing felt extremely generic, from the subject matter to the production to the way that the DJ was triggering airhorn sounds after every song while Swae Lee shouted out the name of the city. Will anyone remember Rae Srummurd and their constant declarations of “SremmLife!” in five years time?

Everyone dutifully staggered to their feet and moved forward as a giant gold throne and two large golden unicorn statues were moved into position while the words Queen, the title of Nicki Minaj’s 2018 album, was raised above the stage. Once the lights dimmed and a triumphant fanfare played, a troupe of dancers took their position and Minaj emerged, posing at centrestage in a large yellow jacket that she quickly disposed of revealing a very small, mostly see through, pink dress.

Minaj is something of a veteran these days and her stage presence reflects this. The stage production was clearly all geared towards herself, but nevertheless it would have been hard to turn your attention anywhere else. Minaj oozed with attitude and confidence, rapping hard and fast in an extremely dexterous and rhythmically complex manner. Having reportedly fallen sick, she moved slowly around the stage, leaving the choreography to the troupes of male and female dancers, and often delivered the song sitting down. The hip hop focused songs soon gave way to some of the club-centric pop anthems that have yielded her so many hits, including ‘Anaconda’, ‘Pound the Alarm’, as well some features such as Ariana Grande’s dancehall-inflected ‘Side to Side’.

Some interactions revealed how much she meant to the young crowd who had braved the heat to gather in awe. In search of ‘a sexy boy’, she selected young man from the front and seated him onstage, as herself and the female dancers paraded around him before Minaj took a seat on his lap. The shocked participant was then briefly interviewed where he held back tears to say he was 16 and had flown from interstate just to see her. He got a selfie and a tour tee. Later Minaj staged a twerking competition onstage with some tearful fans how nevertheless got low and shook it in front of thousands of strangers. “I have no idea if this is a lot of money,” she said, handing a note to the winner. “It’s a 50!” shrieked the pro twerker. It was that kinda day.

‘Superbass’ provided the last big chorus of the night, as streamers were shot into the air and Minaj strutted off after telling us she loves us for the 100th time and promising to “See you next year!” Was that a tour announce Nicki? Catching an Uber Pool out was probably the worst decision I could have made, but 45 minutes later we’d made it out of the car park and off into the sweet summer night.

Written for Beat Magazine.

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