Words Will Oakeshott.
Before the day had even begun this festival was already in the midst of “highs and lows”; sadly weeks before the tour had commenced New Orleans favourites MuteMath unexpectedly cancelled their appearance leaving a sizeable gap in the timetable, as well as a wave of disappointment impacting numerous attendees (including this writer). However all was not lost; in complete contradiction to the event in 2015 appropriately renamed to “Groovin’ The Mud”, this year had a pleasant unseasonable warmth perfected with ongoing sunshine enforcing a feeling of paradise which lasted well into the night. It would seem that the quote (or its translation): “The best laid plans go awry” from John Steinbeck’s infamous Of Mice & Men novella published nearly 80 years ago still has relevance regardless of the time or situation.
The aforementioned quotation maintained its presence in the attempt to arriving on time with a substantial grid-lock of traffic upon entry into the beautiful town of Oakbank. In good fortune this scribe was able to catch the last songs of Adelaide act West Thebarton Brothel Party, whose fuzzed-out party-garage-rock certainly had the celebrations accentuated audience wide at such an early time slot. Honestly, the seven-piece were rather ideal to kick-off the festivities and their notable influence of Radio Birdman would have the members’ of that model group collectively proud to see just how far their iconic sound still continues to influence and incite the music world and its followers.
A quick change of pace, the sophistication of multi-instrumentalist Darren Hart aka HARTS then took to the main stage and saturated the crowd into breath-taking submission. The Melbourne musician and drummer Manny Bourakis utilised their smooth funk-driven-classic-rock (with keyboard inclusions) to incite the “groove” into the festival. The song ‘Red And Blue’ was simply spectacular with the Jimi Hendrix inspired guitar work; but the real “cherry on top” was the Prince tribute and befittingly astonishing guitar tricks which Darren employed, impossibly performing a frenzied solo behind his head. It was rather hard to believe there was so much more to come.
Aptly it was rather an enjoyable change to cool off and slow down the pace of the event thus far. It was time to over to the Moolin Rouge tent for Sydney’s soul sovereign NGAIIRE. Clearly enjoying her promotion to the spotlight from her former days as a backing vocalist, Ngaire Joseph employs her 60s soul influence with some modern motivations akin to Solange Knowles and a hint of The Jackson 5 thrown in for good measure. Track ‘Dig It’ had the attendees provoked into a funk driven dance mayhem and truthfully if there were to be another Sister Act film, NGAIIRE would be very suited for an upscale role with the talent she exhibits.
Continuing the ease of the soothing and harmonious vibe; Emma Louise drew a sizeable crowd back to the main stage to become hypnotised by her transfixing vocal flair. Channelling art-pop extraordinaire FKA TWIGS at times with ‘Talk Baby Talk’, then adding another dimension with encouragement from gothic queen Chelsea Wolfe with her ‘Underflow song’; it became glaringly obvious the reasons why Ms. Louise has been presented numerous awards for her gift. This was only exemplified further by the songs: ‘Jungle’, ‘Mirrors’, ‘Illuminate’ and ‘Two Bodies’.
At this point in the day an injection of rock’n’roll was not just suiting but necessary and Brisbane’s DZ Deathrays were the right choice for administering this jolt. The now trio blasted through some excellent heavy-hitting dance rock and to the delight of a sizeable audience. ‘Less Out Of Sync’, the sleazy ‘Dollar Chills’, the Muse persuaded ‘Reflective Skulls’, ‘The Mess Up’ (sadly slightly amiss) and ‘Gina Works At Hearts’ ignited crowd-surfers and head-bangers but it was the band’s cover of Blur’s ‘Song 2’ that really caused havoc. Groovin’ was well and truly alive now.
This energy needed maintenance and Melbourne’s indie hard rockers British India was eager to prolong it. The quartet came out firing for the packed Moolin Rouge tent and chaos ensued. ‘Black & White Radio’ was the starting gunshot of this race, but it was certainly more comparable to a sprinted marathon. With guitars blazing and hair flailing, Declan Melia and his merry men literally tore the venue apart mostly through their defiant onstage chemistry: ‘Nothing Touches Me’, ‘Plastic Souvenirs’, ‘Said I’m Sorry’, ‘Suddenly’, a cover of Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Killing In The Name’ (although far from the Tom Morello and Zach De la Rocha execution levels; still very ecstatic nonetheless) and to close the anthems ‘I Can Make You Love Me’ and ‘Wrong Direction’ (with a hint of Something With Numbers coming through); this was lunacy in the best possible way. British India proved that they are most likely the leaders of the loud / quiet dynamic in Australian indie rock right now and it feels like the best is still yet to come.
Last year Sydney’s Northlane waved the heavy music flag, the year before Parkway Drive sported that uniform for Groovin’ The Moo. 2016 it was time for a return to Byron Bay, but with the melodic metalcore giants In Hearts Wake to take the reins. Vocalist Jake Taylor yelled at the show’s commencement “LET’S RAISE SOME DUST SOUTH AUSTRALIA” (referring to the idea of moshing and filling the atmosphere with dirt) and it was time to dislocate necks and deafen ears, somewhat figuratively. ‘Earthwalker’ begun the madness with a collective unison of crowd head-banging moving like waves through an ocean and the quintet accepted this nod (pun intended) of respect with open arms by pushing themselves even harder. Spins and athletic stage weaving had the five-piece as energetic as crazed lions during a feeding frenzy which the track ‘Divine’ accentuated. Unfortunately ‘Wildflower’ slowed the momentum down to a practical halt, rather unnecessarily but rest assured the majority of the audience would disagree with this critic, especially with the united crowd wave which overtook the visual spectrum. Nevertheless the liveliness kicked back into gear when IHW launched into ‘Erase’ featuring a guest spot from Melbourne rapper Remi. Badlands kicked things up another notch leading into ‘Skydancer’ which triggered a “Wall Of Death” in the moshpit. To close, predictably the track ‘Breakway’ was flawlessly performed but the real victory here was IHW’s ability to easily join the ranks of the metal players of this festival before them. This was going to be hard to top.
Brisbane’s Jarryd James alternative pop spellbinder beautifully serenaded the sun into setting, but as the warmth of the day quickly disappeared, Ohio’s twenty one pilots were ready to raise the temperature and the roof, literally.
A deafening cheer welcomed the tourists to the stage who were barely visible with their masks on and hooded jackets up. A microphone swinging from a minor crane was collected by Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun took his place at his drum kit weapon and the battle had launched. Within seconds Tyler had rapped, screamed and sung melody whilst percussionist Josh had beat his kit into submission and this was just the opening track ‘The Judge’. The reggae influx appeared with ‘Stressed Out’ and Mr. Joseph explained to the unsuspecting that this could be “one of the most confusing sets you ever witness”. ‘We Don’t Believe What’s On TV’ had a pleasant ukulele introduction before the disorder arose including a black-flip from Josh and the presence of trumpet for the sample of House Of Pain’s ‘Jump Around’. This lead into ‘Ride’ which Mr. Dun thought would be better played with his spare drum kit which somehow floated into the expansive crowd on a stage extension; unbelievably this was still not the highlight. ‘Car Radio’ caused havoc with a deafening sing-along and understandably so, the song is beyond infectious. However, the danger front-man and multi-instrumentalist Tyler Joseph put himself in by climbing atop the entire Main Stage dozens of meters high to complete the song, it was the peak of insanity and impressiveness. If you have heard buzz about twenty one pilots and their live performance, the reality exceeds the rumour.
Whilst the five New South Welshmen known as The Rubens busted out all their big moves to maintain the party vibe, including their own inflatable boat to crowd surf the audience with, as well as play their controversial Triple J Hottest 100 number one hit ‘Hoops’, it barely turned this writer’s head and comparably was a match stick to the flame which twenty one pilots had ignited just minutes prior. A switch of time slot may have paid off here as The Reubens’ brand of alternative rock was far from electrifying. This meant the rather long day was coming to a close, but who to leave with this rather substantial honour and responsibility?
DJ Alison Wonderland may have been a slightly odd choice, however Alex Sholler definitely wanted to prove she was the right one. Excitable would be an understatement for how Alison Wonderland performs her set; climbing, striking her DJ platform ferociously, jumping, dancing, singing and expressing song meanings with complete sincerity is her attack and it is captivating even if electronic music is not one’s preference. ‘Run’ and ‘U Don’t Know’ were the most memorable with the nice remix additions of Justin Bieber, Rick Ross and Spice Girls to add a familiar zest was an excellent touch. What really fascinated Oakbank with Ms. Sholler’s performance however, was her reinforced outpourings about mental health and self-awareness but mostly loving oneself which truth be told, was simply and remarkably stunning.
At the end of it all, it was rather hard to digest that it had been a year since Groovin’ The Mud, but even with the unsteady lead-up, this year was yet another magnificent success. The most enchanting part of this all is that the majority of the acts involved were from our fine nation of Australia; this ultimately means that Australians are the victors and to us belong the spoils. Sure, a few festivals have not survived the recent challenges, but Groovin’ The Moo you are becoming a necessity to “come to”.