FEEDBACK: Sugar Mountain Festival 2018
There’s something incredibly grounding about Melbourne that just keeps you coming back for more, Sugar Mountain Festival contributes to that very feeling. Yes, I know, we’ve heard the whole Sydney vs Melbourne thing before, it’s not about that rivalry. It’s genuinely just a great place to be, where difference is celebrated and music is a must.
After a glorious experience in 2017, we took the trip back down to Melbs this year for round two. 2018 saw Sugar Mountain expand its site to cater for a larger number of attendees, which also allowed for a better layout than last year too. Housed in the already colourful surrounds of the Victorian College Of The Arts, there’s something new to discover whichever way you turn. It’s packed to the brim with music, art, food and booze - there was even a natural wine bar, which is - oh, so very Melbourne.
Let’s kick off with the important stuff though, the music. Unfortunately we didn’t make it down for the lady of the hour, Stella Donnelly. Having witnessed her live performance a few weeks prior, that was most certainly something that we didn’t intend to miss. That, along with missing Sydney lo-fi pop-rockers Body Type - it was a regrettable start to the day. We did however get there just in time to see Melbourne locals, Beaches. Drenched in sunshine, it was the perfect mood to get lost in their infectious pysch-rock.
Yep, you’re reading that correctly - that’s three all female line ups to kick start the day. I hate to draw attention to it, as I find it somewhat unnecessary to mention whether band members are male or female, but diversity and inclusivity appear to be a big part of what Sugar Mountain do. In fact, a number of the artists playing were wearing black and white tees that so eloquently stated, ‘The person wearing this shirt stands against sexual assault and demands a change’. It’s a powerful statement that helped set the tone for the rest of the day.
The deep tech sounds of Ara Koufax took over the main stage shortly after, a set that really got the party started. We had to bid farewell to the main stage momentarily to witness the Djirri Djirri Dance Group’s Acknowledgement of Country, the crowd was completely packed, entirely still, with some people unable to even get in. How refreshing. It was a similar scene at the Merlyn Theatre for a stunning performance by Amrita Hepi and the Pasefika Victoria Choir. As you walked in, your sun blasted eyes quickly adjusted to the pitch black theatre amongst a capacity crowd, there was not a single peep from the audience, just pure respect and concentration for the spectacle in front of them.
The theatre backed out onto the Boiler Room which had been in full swing from the early afternoon. It was too soon for me though, there was one more mission before really getting stuck in.
Having been unsuccessful at getting my pals to leave the Boiler Room (Project Pablo was playing, fair enough) it was time to check out one of the performances I was most excited for, Kardajala Kirridarra. I first heard about the Indigenous group from the Northern Territory last year when they left a lasting impression on many at BIGSOUND 2017. It’s not often we get to witness the beauty of the Aboriginal culture first-hand, coming from a country so drenched in ignorance, it’s only in the last few years that I’ve started to notice a more mainstream respect for the magical culture that came before us. That, combined with the impending Australia Day/Invasion Day/Survival Day, the beauty of their voices drifting above the synth evoked a lot of emotion. For me personally, it represented a sense of hope: a past we cannot change but a future that we can be proud of if we stand together in solidarity.
That was our most profound moment of the day, yet a lot of people were also walking away from the 'Future Culture' exhibition with a similar feeling of satisfaction too. It was an immersive experience celebrating women of colour, trans and non-binary people via vibrant photography, art and music. The focus on art allowed people to take the day at their own pace, with an opportunity to really take something away with them.
Fortunately we caught Jamila Woods and her brilliant cover of 'Say My Name' but we had to depart with Joey Bada$$ and his loving fans and head to the dance floor. Stand out performances in the Boiler Room included Germany’s Gerd Janson who had total control of the crowd with his vast array of sounds from Four Tet to Underworld's 'Born Slippy'. Highly recommend checking his set out here. (Bonus entertainment via Boiler Room doing what they do best, capturing the most enthusiastic attendees.) Honey Dijon and Shanti Celeste were hard to walk away from too, both with hugely energetic selections and massive crowds.
After an hour of exercise with Shanti Celeste, we headed back to watch Cut Copy's powerful headline set. Everyone's always keen for a bit of Cut Copy, but you wouldn't have assumed they'd steal the show. Lead singer Dan Whitford brought the moves from the very first song, with limbs in all directions, the crowd followed suit. It was a nice balance of new and old crowd pleasers, with the new material sounding quite anthemic in a live setting.
Once again, the team behind Sugar Mountain delivered a forward-thinking, beautifully curated festival to the masses. It's this kind of creative direction that stimulates progression and provides a safe environment for all. Sweeter than most, with a huge hit of grit to keep things edgy.
Key moments: Gerd Janson, Kardajala Kirridarra, Shanti Celeste, Cut Copy, the natural wine bar and the overall inclusive vibe.
Regrets: not catching Sevdaliza, wearing trousers - it was hawt.