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To arrive in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley on any day during or surrounding the annual BIGSOUND conference is to inject yourself into the pumping veins of the nation’s music industry. There are people hurrying – running – around from bar to eatery and back again, the anticipation is high and excitement can be heard through the chattering and laughing of friends and networkers alike.
Things are happening. Welcome to the golden star on the musical calendar, and a prime time to be a Brisbane local. Although the timetable indicates a starting time at a comfortable 8pm, just enough time for the burritos to digest and the first beer to be cracked, you must remember that the party has long started before you arrive in the Valley on the first evening of BIGSOUND.
Unannounced, un-publicised performances are already in full swing, to be heard from any corner of Brunswick Street, and one of those surprise early birds was soon discovered to be Apes. Warming up the Brightside Bar nicely are the kids from Melbourne, indie-garage stylings a-plenty. They are so suited to the open air stage, with a crowd packed outwards and upwards, their tune Pull The Trigger seemed like the perfect joyous track to get the evening underway.
Off to old favourite venue The Zoo for an early start to Rolls Bayce, the Brisbane locals causing a bit of a stir among indie pop circles. A mesh of talents from other recognisable acts, the trio have been building a solid foundation of praise in previous months, which well and truly cemented on this balmy Brisbane evening.
They smashed out hits in the making, forging indie highlights with psychedelic, solidly-rock insta-jams that won the crowd over instantly. Triple j‘s Dom Alessio was caught scuttling around taking snaps of the trio, then joined the crowd to revel in the sophisticated pop. Newer release Don’t Get Me Wrong was a clear favourite, with howls and cheers following through to the end of their tidy set.
Orphans Orphans were certainly one of the main buzz bands of the evening. Comprising of five artists, each branching out from their own respective Brisbane bands – The Jungle Giants, The Belligerents, Last Dinosaurs, Morning Harvey and Millions – these lads lived up to the hype.
Once they started their set it was surprising to hear the collective sound; theirs was a shady psychedelic jigsaw, bringing to mind The Velvet Underground or the more experimental phases explored by The Beatles. Strikingly different to their boisterous indie pop roots, yet still revealing an old-school, entirely playful charm, they enamoured the crowing crowd from the beginning. Nice one.
It would seem that the old Elephant and Wheelbarrow has lost a squeaky wheel; The Elephant Hotel is the next port of call for the Brisbanites who never rest on their laurels. Little Odessa are ordinarily an exciting band, a certain ripper of a show. When it comes to BIGSOUND showcases, these guys upped the ante tenfold. It’s hit after hit here. My Girl and All Night are just the tip of the too-cool iceberg. A bunch of consistent and shameless fun.
Back to the Brightside Bar we go, for a band that needs room to move. Bad//Dreems seem to need no introduction, judging by the crowd that swarmed for their show – people out front could be heard warning fellow punters that they “couldn’t get past the bar” to see the band play.
Once you did squeeze past, avoiding cans and smokes, you were in the thick of an impressive show, with slacker rock blaring its goodness. As soon as the initial strums of their track Dumb Idea were heard, the crowd kicked into gear. For a group of South Australians, they do the downtrodden Brit rock in the best possible way.
Watch: BIGSOUND 2014: Bad//Dreems Want To Focus On The Music
Walking through the Brunswick Street Mall at this time of night, particularly being a BIGSOUND night, proves hilarious. Everyone is at ease, almost besotted with the occasion, and everyone is friends with everyone.
This is also the opportunity to do the best of the muso-spotting, as the big timers have re-emerged after the conferences to see the best of the evening’s remaining lineup. Strolling back up towards Alhambra Lounge, you walk past media reps of all levels of notoriety, and then rejoined the line by squeezing past Neil Finn himself, who’s talking to some sheepish characters that are eerily familiar. “That is exactly how I would look if I was talking to Mister Crowded House right now,” you think, and then you keep walking because they’ve got it covered.
Lurch & Chief has carved a mark in the live performance scene in the past year or so, developing a really fun show — an all-in community identity of no rules, big vocals and rhythms to pinpoint perfection. Their BIGSOUND performance was no exception to this rule. Even their howls and off-the-cuff screams were on pitch. The song that most know them for, We Are The Same, proved them once again to be supremely and justifiably confident performers.
Another stunning example of performance graces and genuine talent, Thelma Plum, wowed the overflowing Elephant stage. Gorgeous vocals were impressive in themselves, but her manner with the audience should also be recognised, and definitely won her over some more fans.
It’s difficult to pick a stand-out track from this set, although her new release How Much Does Your Love Cost? was just as impressive live as it is in the studio, those breathy high notes throwing some unexpected punches. She was even cautious about introducing her older song Around Here. “Just to let you guys know, there is a lot of swearing in this next one. Very bad word.” She soon realised how excited the crowd was to sing along to that chorus.
The last stop for the first night of BIGSOUND is to the understated bar that is Black Bear Lodge, a perfect, intimate setting, now-full of anticipation for the coming band. It’s been a while since we’d last heard from Mosman Alder, the Brisbane six-piece known for their driving rhythms and hazy harmonies.
Since their time spent with Australian songwriting legend turned producer Paul Dempsey, they’ve been lying low, and evidently fine tuning their sound. BIGSOUND provided a peek at their new wares – the haze has cleared to multilayered soundscapes, with greater intricacies than first thought from this already-complex outfit. They sound sharp, clean, and are reclaiming their status as a band to watch around Brisbane town.
Image: Orphans Orphans At BIGSOUND Live 2014 / Photo: Rebecca Reid