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Sir Stewart Bovell Park, Busselton

Saturday-Sunday, January 3-4, 2015

From the opening bars of X-Press-endorsed Stagebound winners, Apache, this year’s edition of Southbound was a sunny joy to behold. The early part of Saturday undulated to the sounds of Tkay Maidza and Kim Churchill as the crowd built steadily and the few remaining walk-up tickets were quickly snapped up at the entry gates for this sold-out edition.

Icelandic pop-folk sensation Ásgeir had a huge 2014 and accordingly drew a big, early arvo crowd to the Mainbreak stage for a standout set. A polished performance from the young singer/songwriter and band saw him play most of his debut album including the hit King And Cross and he swapped from guitar to keyboard to play a great cover of Nirvana’s Heart-Shaped Box, which was really suited to Asgeir’s beautiful falsetto. He thanked us in his thick, distinctive Icelandic accent and before leaving with Torrent.

Now in its 11th year, Southbound is a well run and well organised setup with the two main stages easily accessible side by side and the Base Camp area growing even more with a cool selection of stalls, tents and food options. The Coconut Club dance stage this year was the best set-up yet, with a tall DJ tower decked out with lights and visual screens rising above the sandy dancefloor below. An assortment of great, fun party music was played all weekend by a stellar local line-up, providing a more laidback option that had a small crowd dancing.

While Vance Joy reminded everyone why they all feel in love with him just over a year ago on the Mainbreak stage, over in the Lefty’s bigtop Melbourne’s Remi impressed with an energetic performance. The young hip hop MC has a smooth flow and likable stage persona, alternating between rapping and singing as he bounced around stage backed by another MC and a live drummer. With catchy party hits like Sangria and XTC Party he’s a good festival act. Trying on various hats that were thrown on stage to him, he looked a bit like Pharrell. A future star surely on the rise. Cold War Kids were a big attraction for this event, so their early slot seemed a little surprising, but the action kicked in with their appearance, as the glare of the early evening sun only rivalled by Hang Me Out To Dry as its chorus took to the sky.

The Black Lips brought their bluesy, southern rock swagger to the stage and were a whole lotta fun. With three members taking turns on vocals, singer/bassist, Jared Swilley, was looking very rock’n’roll in his white t-shirt with slicked back hair. They worked through a selection of material including Justice After All and Boys In The Wood which sounded great but suffered a little from a muddy mix in the tent.

Jagwar Ma played a great late afternoon set on the mainstage, with their psychedelic retro sounds drifting through the air, proving they are one of the most underrated bands in the country. Their combination of guitars and electronic beats, with Gabriel Winterfield’s distinctive vocals on songs such as Man I Need and Come Save Me proved popular with the crowd.

British singer/guitarist, George Ezra, drew a big crowd at Lefty’s, equal parts the curious/uninitiated and the devoted who hung off and/or sung along to every word. Ezra proved himself top be an astute and adept guitarist, with a band that’s right there for him. His friendly, polite manner of speaking was offset by the blues-bitten howl every time he took to the mic. No doubt we’ll see him back on his own headlining tour before too long.

The Temper Trap have become a finely honed touring machine and as the light began to fade they lit it up in front of a big crowd. Dougy Mandagi’s familiar high-pitched vocals carried across the crowd who sang along with their anthemic hits Love Lost, Fader and Sweet Disposition.

Back at Lefty’s Run The Jewels had a packed tent going off, complete with a crowdsurfing guy in a wheelchair. The dynamic duo of heavy hitters El-P and Killer Mike are a formidable live combo, backing each other with their rapid fire rapping. Their eponymous sophomore album of 2014 was one of the year’s best hip hop releases and they blazed through several cuts including the Zach De La Rocha-featuring Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck), the trappy vibe of Oh My Darling Don’t Cry, the hilarious crowd singalong to Love Again and their song about ‘the five tenants of life’ Lie, Cheat, Steal with its chorus hook ‘Lie, Cheat, Steal, Kill, Win, Everybody Doin’ It’.

Despite not really bringing much new to the table, The Presets killed it on the main stage, with a consummate, career-spanning performance as night fell. With a dazzling light show and a formidable arsenal of tunes, they know how to put together a tight set, and it was just the ticket to really fire things up and take us into the night. Reworking some of their material live, they manage to keep things sounding fresh. Their futuristic sea-shanty Ghosts was a highlight, My People never fails to ignite a crowd and Talk Like That was the perfect climax to an epic set.

As one of the late substitutes for the cancellation of Royksopp & Robyn, La Roux was a rather unexpected addition to the bill but ended up putting on a polished performance that got a big reaction from the crowd. Backed by a full live band and looking slick with her ’80s dance moves in an oversized pantsuit and trademark red quiff, the girl known as Elly Jackson who burst onto the scene with her debut in 2009, has grown up. While her second album of last year wasn’t as hyped, it’s a more mature effort and saw her working with a different producer. Less of the cutesy, electro-pop, there’s a brooding, darker-edged sound that has more depth and a nu-romantic, retro vibe – tracks such as Let Me Down Gently and Tropical Chancer highlight her vocal talent. But it was still the old hits In For The Kill and Bulletproof, which closed the set, that saw the biggest response and mass singalong.

Meanwhile in the bigtop Alison Wonderland had drawn a huge crowd that had the tent overflowing. While not much substance to it, her set was a non-stop party mashup of dubstep, electro, hip-hop, trap and bass. Familiar hits old and new flew by. There’s not too much mixing involved in a Wonderland set, but she does know how to sequence together a killer tracklist and her energy behind the decks is infectious. Flume’s remix of Lorde’s Tennis Court got a big drop and finishing with MIA’s Paper Planes followed by The Cure’s classic, Close To Me, was a very nice touch.

Empire Of The Sun finished the first day on the main stage with an incredible, mind-blowing, intergalactic stage show that proved they were worthy of the headline spot. It was the final fling for this current presentation of the EOTS stage production, and the last show for long-time dancer, Miss Uganda. As such, The Emperor himself, Luke Steele, seemed pretty pumped, given that for all intents and purposes this was a homeground show. Elaborate it was, too, with dreamy dancers and those pop tunes that sail you away to a wild new yonder. The pomp and circumstance could come off as cold, but there’s way too much heart in the show – and Steele’s commitment to his creation – for that to happen. By the time it all ended with Alive, we’d all lived a little more.

While putting the cherry on top of the day’s festivities in the tent, hip hop legends Salt N Pepa blew everyone away with a dynamic and interactive performance. The duo still have it in spades and demonstrated there’s a lot more to their legacy than Push It. With more sass and attitude than you could poke a stick at, the girls were having a ball working the crowd. Accompanied on stage by two tracksuit wearing, male dancers and the brilliant Spinderella on the decks, it may have been a bit of a nostalgia trip, but it was a whole lot of fun. All the classics were dusted off and given a workout – Let’s Talk About Sex, Shoop and Whatta Man – which saw them get a bunch of guys from the audience up on stage to bump n’ grind with them – a refreshing role reversal that flipped the stereotypes of the all-too-common hip hop scenario of the guys getting all the girls up. Spinderella had her chance to shine with a mini-mash-up set that saw her cut up a bunch of classics ranging from DMX and House Of Pain, to Nirvana and Guns N’ Roses. This girl could show Alison Wonderland a thing or two about DJing. To finish it off was of course Push It, a great way to wrap Day One.

The second day was a little warmer, and the crowd a little more loose, having gotten fully into the swing of the festival by now. Jim Lawrie and his band evoked his driving-desert-sounds to a sparse yet devoted crowd, which quickly filled up by the time Kite String Tangle took to the Mainbreak stage, his cover of Lorde’s Tennis Court accompanied by the work of the amazing kitemaster who had the crowd’s eyes staring into the sky all weekend. DMAs, meanwhile, proved that they’re not just a hype band over at the bigtop, mustering all the swagger they’ve become known for and enthralling the massive crowd spilling out of the tent. Uber-normal blokes doin’ good.

Milky Chance had already won over the crowd at the Mainbreak by the time they walked on. Vocalist/guitarist, Clemens Rehbein, and producer/DJ, Philip Dausch, were joined by touring member Antonio Greger on guitar/harmonica. Launching into Stunner, the opening tune from their Sadnecessary album, it was clear that high expectations were going to be met. The crowd sung along spiritedly through most of the set, though especially so on Flashed Junk Mind and the ubiquitous Stolen Dance. No doubt there’s a few spots booked in the triple j Hottest #100 for these blokes.

The bigtop became something of a sauna in the early afternoon, but that didn’t stop a huge crowd from ramming in for Glass Animals. The dapper young English band providing an early highlight, and seemed legitimately taken aback by the huge crowd response to every track they played from their debut album, particularly their awesome single, Gooey. Vocalist, Dave Bayley, jumped up onto one of the speakers for one song and then got down amongst the crowd for their cool cover of Kanye’s Love Lockdown as heard on triple j’s Like A Version. Grinning from ear to ear, he shook his head, muttering ‘You guys…’, sincerely thanking us and promising to be back, before leaving the stage.

Spiderbait are a curiosity these days. Well known to those over 30, they still manage to stir up younger audiences at festivals even if they don’t know who this rockin’ trio is. Drummer/vocalist Kram, was, as ever, an excellent host and with tuneage like Shazam, Buy Me A Pony, Calypso (with a playful intro referencing Hey! Baby) and covers such as 99 Luft Balloons and the perennial Black Betty, it was a rock’n’roll party on sunny Sunday afternoon. The John Butler Trio locked in and played a workman-like set in the glaring sun. Hits such as Pickapart and I Used To Get High provided plenty of scope for singing along but the extended musical workouts were often the larger treat, as Butler, bassist Byron Luiters and drummer Grant Gerathy showcased what the power of three can truly be. 

An unfortunate incident early in the tent saw some muppet throw a bottle onstage that caused havoc with the sound equipment, causing some delays that saw the stage running 20 minutes late most of the day which caused some confusion, and also seemed to limit the volume of the stage, detracting slightly from some of the performances.

Acts like Tycho and Jamie XX were brilliant, but the gorgeous, subtle, intricacies of their music were lost somewhat. Tycho fared better – San Fran native Scott Hansen has been quietly producing his brand of beautiful, instrumental, atmospheric, down tempo electronic music for over 10 years and it was a pleasure to see him perform with a full band, complete with vintage synth, funky bass and reverb, drenched guitar. His organic, post-rock vibe conjures the spirit of Boards Of Canada with a touch of M83. A custom visual show enhanced the immersive experience that had hippy chicks spinning and grinning at the front.

Jamie XX has impressed several times before with his DJ set later in the day didn’t seem to have much impact due to the lack of volume, or perhaps it just wasn’t the right vibe. It was still an enjoyable set of down tempo beats from The XX producer who always selects distinct, cutting edge tracks. His classic Far Nearer got a spin as did the great Fourtet remix of The XX’s VCR.

After a lengthy wait for his arrival on stage Joey Bada$$ did well to lift the energy level in the tent. Fresh from a performance and an assault charge on the East Coast, Joey lives up to his name and oozes attitude. With a couple mix tapes and a debut album released in the last couple years he’s quickly established himself as one of the hottest young rappers. Raised on the likes of Nas, Jay-Z and Dilla, he has fine pedigree and a classic style and flow. An entertaining set of quality hip hop.

Saving the day by filling the void left  in the line-up after Julian Casablancas cancelled last minute, Sydney’s Cloud Control stepped in as a welcome addition and provided an afternoon highlight with their infectious stage energy and great songs. Scar sounded as great as ever, as did Promises. This band go from strength to strength and are one of the great new breed of Australian bands. They seem like beautiful souls who love what they do. Lead singer Alister Wright was shirtless and jumped down into the crowd at the end to spend several minutes hugging and thanking people. It was bass player Jeremy Kelshaw’s final show with the band, adding a touch of poignance to the proceedings.

Having become much bigger since his last appearance at Southbound SBTRKT drew a huge crowd to the mainstage and now has a full live show. Surrounded by an arsenal of equipment and joined by additional percussionists, musicians and a vocalist, the masked man started off brilliantly with some older tracks like Never Never as well as ones from his new album such as New Dorp, New York. But as his biggest hit Wildfire started it all went pear-shaped and the sound cut out. After several attempts to rectify matters, it became apparent something wasn’t right and the set sadly never recovered

For those over in the tent meanwhile things were going a little crazy with the bittersweet last ever show from Bluejuice. Those madcap legends have called it a day and they went out in style, charging through all their hits with reckless abandon. Jake Stone was a consummate showman, all over the stage, the speakers and the crowd, giving it his all physically and otherwise. Co-vocalist, Stavros Yiannoukas, was a little more measured and the impending end of the band seemed to be etched on his face as the set went on. ‘Til that end, however, it was a celebration of hits (I’ll Go Crazy, George Costanza, Act Yr Age), their excellent Lana Del Ray cover, Video Games – especially poignant on this occasion – glow sticks aplenty and some very happy competition winners dancing onstage to Vitriol. By the time Broken Leg brought the set – and Bluejuice – to an end things were understandably emotional. Farewell fine friends.

While he didn’t draw the biggest crowd, hot Norwegian producer Todd Terje had a dedicated following grooving away in the tent with his disco-fuelled live dance music. Paying respect to the early analog synth sound, his set, utilising live keyboard was very precise, very smooth and very danceable. He mixed in several of the tracks from his recent album, Delorean Dynamite and Inspector Norse, and even a touch of Whitney Houston, keeping the momentum rolling the whole time.

The majority of the crowd had gathered at the mainstage for the final and biggest act of the weekend, Alt-J, and the relatively new band that have rapidly risen the upper echelons didn’t disappoint. Opening with Hunger Of The Pine the boys captivated from the get go, with a simple but effective light show. (A not so effective light show came courtesy of some knucklehead firing off several flares, one causing a fire in a nearby farmer’s paddock. It takes just one idiot – Ed.) The four members were lined up at the front of stage and showed just how tight an outfit their constant touring has made them. With a set comprised of their best material from both albums it made from a great headline set that the crowd lapped up. Fitzpleasure and Tessellate sounded fantastic with their majestic vocal harmonies resonating through the night sky. Joe Newman’s unique voice was pitch perfect all night and Thom Green’s drumming was brilliant.

New tracks like Left Hand Free and Every Other Freckle sounded better live than on the new album. Their cover of Bill Withers’ Lovely Day was a fitting tribute to the weekend and of course they finished with their finest moment Breezeblocks – as the big bassline came in at the end, the whole crowd singing ‘Please don’t go, I’ll eat you whole, I love you so’. It was a triumphant climax to another great Southbound weekend.


Photography by Rachael Barrett


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