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March 15, 2016 Music , , , , , , , , , ,

X Marks the Spot – Golden Plains 2016

This song is called ‘The Beginning of the Twist’: DANCE, bitch.

And with those fateful words, screamed out just ahead of fits of riotous laughter, we hit the point of the weekend where you’re so deep in the unique Meredith groove that you can’t see the path you entered on nor do you have any idea where the road will take you next. It’s a good place to be.

So how did we get here? Let’s go back to the start: back to the beginning of the twist, if you will.

Has it really been 10 years since GP1?! Since upstarts Eddy Current Suppression Ring started the festival? Since the Comets-On-Fire inspired birth of the shoeing? Since the mind expanding !!! set on the Sunday night, since our escape in the Monday pre-dawn light to get our mates to the airport? It feels like yesterday, and brings with it the realisation that we’ve now been doing this whole Sup thing for a very long time but it still feels like the first time. Some things change, but the important things remain.

My prediction of ‘we won’t be putting tents up in the rain’ held, but only just, as we settled into our little Tom Mankey’s suburb. Whilst this part of the campsite was far from full, it was certainly busier than usual, most probably due to a steadily growing line of new devotees – once you’ve gone the full Mank, it’s hard to go back to your old practices. A relaxing few beers at the campsite and we’re down at the spot in a luscious sup with plenty of time to spare before the opening ceremony. A very solid crowd assembled to all firmly have their sunglasses in place for the joyous and heart pulling ‘long blink’ before Gold Class stepped on as first band up. And what a start it was.

First band, much crowd, epic performance

First band, much crowd, epic performance

If you don’t have a copy of Gold Class’ debut ‘It’s You’ from last year, go and do yourself a favour. Then do yourself another favour and go see them play. A band that are undoubtedly ready for bigger things, they not only sounded brilliant but cut a fantastic aesthetic with the band dressed all in black and a white-clad frontman. Drawing heavily on post-punk and early career Interpol for sonic influence, each band member had a role to play and did it bloody well. Special mention goes to their excellent guitarist, but the whole band were solid. In a scheduling masterstroke, they brought a ginormous crowd down and set the tone for the entire weekend. Well played.

Drinks on the hill to the enjoyable soul-lite kinda sounds of Emma Donovan and the Putbacks before heading down to see U.S. Girls. A short trip down, that one. I don’t know if they had sound problems or they just sound kinda crap (Bass and treble on full, no mid-range, not much stage presence) but it wasn’t a great set and left a few fans of their latest album disappointed. The sporadic appearance of a Spencer P Jones lookalike on guitar, materialising from side of stage to play a solo before disappearing again was either surreal or sublime depending on who you spoke to.

I was a bit worried that Natalie Prass would be a bit ‘nothingy’ but within about 2 minutes of appearing on stage it was clear that I was totally mistaken. Great voice, great showmanship, a well deployed couple of covers, and a perfect late afternoon set to settle people into the groove. A ‘quick’ trip back to the campsite to get changed stretched out and I unfortunately missed John Grant, who by all accounts was incredible, but you can’t win em all.

The Buzzcocks were….. farking amazing. Heritage acts can be a bit middling at times, particularly if you weren’t there to experience them ‘in their prime’, but based on the performance they put on it seems like they are still at the top of their game. They came to rock, and put on an absolute belter of a set, smashing it out with relentless energy and genuinely happy to be there performing for the crowd.

With the sun now well below the horizon and the shadow of the Buzzcocks looming large, Royal Headache stepped on stage and absolutely stepped up to the plate. With the band significantly tighter than the last time they played the sup, and Shogun prowling the stage with nervous energy, they are right at the top of their game at the moment and led a good time garage singalong across both their records. More than a touch of the ‘Cold Chisel’s’ about their live performance, which is not necessarily a bad thing – you could see Jimmy Barnes belting out a pretty sweet version of ‘Carolina’ – but also kind of confronting to realise that if you were around at the time you may have actually liked Cold Chisel.

C.W. Stoneking overcame some risky scheduling to play the set of his life and keep the sup moving for the duration of his set. I didn’t hear too many people waxing too lyrical about it afterwards, but from where I sat he had to play out of his skin to keep up the vibe after what came before him so let’s chalk it down as a win.

While we’re talking about bands playing out of their skin, let’s move onto the 36 or so members of NoZu who swamped the stage for a good time party set that could have well been a headline slot. It was focussed and purposeful, well, as focussed and purposeful as a band who kind of resemble a tropical cult can get, but they came on stage with intent to be party starters and delivered in spades. Massive tick.

No Zu at Golden Plains X

With time and space starting to meld into one, we started to slip deep into the GPX groove. Sass levels within the squad were high, the Bear was back in the sup after some 5 or so years away: Party pants, on. Like a flock of pink flamingos we took flight onto the Meredith Eye during Black Cab, becoming one with the eye of the storm before heading back to earth and getting our D Floor on. Late night acts on the Saturday were all pretty excellent and thankfully got the memo that if you’re playing late: bang it out, don’t get intellectual. Friendships may have sounded a little samey by the end of their set, but Darcy Baylis certainly brought the good times and we also got right down and personal for Kenji Takimi: who may lack the DJing skills generally associated with a touring international DJ (his beat mixing is mind bogglingly awful) but had a few pretty choice cuts in his DJ bag that kept us going until late into the morning. A surprisingly good decision was made on my behalf to not give in to the ‘stay up for a while longer’ vibe that I had going and I retreated to the tent ready to hit it early on day 2.

 

*Dawn Breaks*

 

All of the best intentions in the festival couldn’t compete with the delightfully cool morning and I slept straight through HTRK (who were pretty good by all accounts) and only caught a few minutes of The Necks whilst en route to the ice van. After a bloody mary or two, our crew started mobilising with the first group catching the diminutive ‘Sampa The Great’ and the rest hitting the sup for the as-yet-unknown Songhoy Blues.

GP always has a bit more of a world-music flavour than MMF, a direct result of sharing a long weekend with WomAdelaide, and it didn’t take long to realise that we were in for something special here. The band from Mali bringing a great sound and huge amount of energy to the stage and their performance not only jolted people awake, but brought them to their feet in droves. A set that just kept on giving, song after song, they earned a mighty shoeing from the crowd and a huge roar. Based on the look on people’s faces it will have been the highlight of the weekend for many.

With a glorious day unfolding we started mixing cocktails for locals Tyrannnamen who played a quality vintage-rock set as the sun properly broke through the trees. Up next was Freddie Gibbs, with an epic Gangster-trap party set for the mid-afternoon. I’ve been on record before saying that Clipz didn’t work cause they were ‘a bit too gangster for the sup’ but this came off in style, largely due to Freddie’s infectious personality and million-watt smile. A bit cheesy at times, but undeniably a whole heap of fun. Bringing one particularly loose unit up on stage from the crowd (‘White-boy Will’) with his sprite bottle of jet fuel, after a couple of songs of creating dances on Freddie’s command (White Boy Will I want you to imagine you just got a brick of coke and you cookin’ up some sweet dope) he was asked ‘so what’s in the bottle anyway?’ and righteously replied: “Codeine and promethazine”

Freddie flowing, and no doubt very happy he didn't take up White Boy Will's offer of a drink

Freddie flowing, and no doubt very happy he didn’t take up White Boy Will’s offer of a drink

That sound you can hear? That’s 7000 people dropping the mic simultaneously before screaming WTF at each other. It really brought strangers together and gave us all something to bond over.

Keep it classy, White Boy Will.

Perth Jazz /Hop Hop collective Koi Child brought some very smooth grooves and decent MCing to the stage with their mid-afternoon set before we retreated en masse to the campsite for some cocktails and to reload for the long night ahead. Which brings us to the quote that opens this review – somewhere between leaving the sup and getting to the campsite, things got silly. Our cocktail maker refused to brandish the shaker unless the soundtrack was right, the Canadian-Australians amongst us started marking their territory with maple-flag sticky tape on anything that wasn’t bolted down (and several things that were), conversation took a decided sideways turn and the next 90 minutes or so were spent in a fit of giggles as he afternoon light started to take on the magical golden tinge and illuminate the distant wind turbines on the surrounding hills. We snapped out of it with plenty of time before Sleater-Kinney and moved back down towards the stage at the end of Built To Spill’s set. On walking towards the stage, the interstitial DJs were playing the classic ‘How Soon is Now’ by the Smiths, and they were playing it LOUD. Incredibly loud. At this point we realised something was different, the vocal wasn’t quite the same, but how could it not be a recording? That guitar sound was ringing out so clearly over the golden landscape. It sounded better than anything that could be reproduced live, even by Jonny Marr himself. As we quickened our pace and rounded the corner we found out that it WAS in fact live, and it was Built To Spill with a rapturous crowd enjoying an absolutely monstrous and memorable end to their set. Had to be heard to be believed. Campsite giggles notwithstanding, I reckon we missed a good one there…

Luckily, there was more to come and we assembled closer to stage for the inimitable Sleater-Kinney. Far out, what an incredible band. They suffered from a pretty muddy mix early on but it didn’t slow them down, and as the set went on and the sound improved immeasurably, they worked themselves into an absolutely frenzied rock and roll performance. Whilst their first records were a long time ago now, they play with an urgency that feels as if they are still proving themselves. Tight, on point, frenetic, it was a clinic by three incredible performers.

Sleater Kinney were shredding so hard their music took a physical form as blinding white columns of light

Sleater Kinney were shredding so hard their music took a physical form as blinding white columns of light

From the yin of Sleater Kinney and the Buzzcocks, to the Yang of the Violent Femmes. All three are bands that made their names sometime in the past, but only the Violent Femmes trod the well worn ‘play the hits and get out of there’ path that is so easy for older bands to tread. There was nothing wrong with the set per se, and it provided a nice interlude to have some chats up on the hill, but there was nothing particularly memorable about it either.

Speaking of memorable, let’s talk about Eddy Current Suppression Ring. They’ve played a few Meredith and GPs with varying results, but nothing stands out more than the glorious headlining slot they played at MMF (09, I think) which is in the top couple of things I’ve seen on that stage in over 10 years of attendance and full of moments that are not only burnt into my brain, but hard wired into my emotional response to the Sup. Listening to their records in the lead up to the show, they sound even better than on release, it’s phenomenal. So it was with some expectation on their shoulders that they fronted up at prime time on Sunday night, and wow-wee they put on a clinic. Their sound is just timeless, Mikey Young’s guitar filling out those speakers with so much presence, and Brendan Huntley/Suppression pacing the stage like a man possessed. They are somehow simultaneously a no-frills live prospect and commanding live performers, the guardians and custodians of a legend that is greater than the sum of their parts. Opening with ‘Cool Ice Cream’ and playing everything that anyone wanted to hear, it was a rapturous and triumphant headline slot that wore out the vocal cords of everyone in the amphitheatre. Highlights for mine were Colour Television, the so-good-I’ll-never-get-sick-of-it ‘Which Way To Go’ and ‘Get Up Morning’.

ECSR ominously in the eye of the storm

ECSR ominously in the eye of the storm

Where to go from here? (or should that be: Which way to go, from here…?) Sadar Bahar read the mood perfectly and played an excellent set to transition for rock glory to the long night on the dancefloor in front of us. Adventuring around the sup to find various groups of friends’ and the associated scattered night time conversations, we went in and out for various stages of Tom of England but by the end weren’t paying too much attention. We waited up to catch the transition to the Black Madonna, who burst out of the gate with some pretty jacking house and certainly seemed like she was taking it to the ceiling but in the end the looming drive home pulled me back to my tent for some well-earned sleep ahead of the pack down.

Let’s be honest, any weekend in the sup is good to great, but few of them have the magic pixie dust that this one had – lighting up the stage from go to whoa thanks to incredible performances, rock-solid scheduling all weekend, and above average sound quality. Our campsite full of comrades all being in top form all weekend certainly helped too, love you guys.

For now, over and out, see y’all on the flipside.

Not the author, I promise.

Not the author, I promise.