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The ’boutique’ Listen Out festival signals the start of the party season, and 2015’s Melbourne instalment proved auspicious.
Now in its third year, Listen Out found a new home, leaving the Observatory for St Kilda’s Catani Gardens — and, being above the foreshore and surrounded by palms, it had a carnival resort atmosphere. Inhaling salty sea air while dancing? It’s gotta be good for you.
Melbourne’s Listen Out sold out, but with just 10,000 punters, it never felt rammed. Listen Out is ostensibly dance-oriented, but it likewise embraces hip-hop and attracts an indie contingent. There were three curated stages including the Red Bull Music Academy’s Crate Diggers, its booth modelled on a ghettoblaster, with local DJs playing to quirky themes.
Melbourne synth-popsters Client Liaison, among several homegrown headliners, were scheduled early on the Atari Stage. The duo — mercurial (and mulleted) frontman Monte Morgan and keyboardist/drummer Harvey Miller — make an eccentric composite of yacht rock, Hall & Oates, Tears For Fears and, oh, cheesy house.
Yet, crucially, Client Liaison satirise the corporate culture of the ’80s and ’90s (Morgan’s family are behind the polling company Roy Morgan Research). As seen at Splendour In The Grass, they’ve fully developed their live show, adding kitsch costumes, musicians (a guitarist and a bassist), aerobics dancers, and ‘ironic’ visuals, though the sax is still pre-recorded. Client Liaison’s finest hour remains the single Queen, but they also credibly covered INXS’ Need You Tonight, segueing into their finale End Of The Earth.
Tuesday rapper ILoveMakonnen warmed up the audience for Rae Sremmurd, Listen Out’s most buzzed act. The Southern MC siblings, discovered by Mike WiLL Made-It, dealt out hi-NRG trap bounce anthems from their recent debut SremmLife.
However, Rae Sremmurd did lose momentum, their R&B This Could Be Us unconvincing, and so we snuck off to the 909 Stage to catch Hayden James. The Sydneysider played to a sedate gathering with delicate live drumming, and closed with his Future Classic jam Something About You.
Overall, Listen Out’s programming was considered, but there was one particularly cruel timetable clash — Seattle’s melotronica combo ODESZA were up against Ryan Hemsworth, the Canadian Hudson Mohawke. We began with Hemsworth on the 909 platform. Despite pulling the smaller crowd, he turned out to be the day’s most riveting and cutting-edge DJ, dropping future hip-hop, illwave R&B and sub-bass electro.
Hemsworth slipped in Ping Pong With My Woes — his cheeky remix of Drake’s Know Yourself. Meanwhile, ODESZA, back at the Atari, performed a live set not dissimilar to that heard at last summer’s Sugar Mountain, with laptops, MPC and electronic drums. But, on this occasion, the sound was muted. They recreated their remix of ZHU’s Faded, plus their signature sublime two-step garage Say My Name.
Listen Out is associated with a post-EDM movement — deeper and airier electronica. But, coming onto the 909 Stage as night fell, Dusky cranked things up, rousing the crowd. The otherwise reserved London DJs mixed in 2014’s bass-house Love Taking Over, but their set was predominantly pummelling warehouse techno – as heard on their new Ordinary World EP. Very Melbourne.
Pro Era’s Joey Bada$$, touring Australia for the third time, immediately impressed fans at the Atari with his revivalist boom-bap. The Brooklyn MC revisited old joints such as Hardknock from his 1999 mixtape (with intro snatch from Jay Z’s Annie-sampling Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)), and performed material from B4.DA.$$, like the headnoddin’ Big Dusty. His housey collab with (the MIA) Kiesza, Teach Me, was perfectly suited to Listen Out — the rapper even invited girls up to dance with him. Joey’s stamina, and presence, rivals that of Nas.
The sometime comedian Donald Glover, aka cult MC Childish Gambino, presented a theatrical show accompanied by his live band — the drums were epic. Opening with the gothic Crawl off 2013’s Because The Internet, Gambino, an indier Yeezy, has fallen into his own genre since first appearing at 2013’s Big Day Out, where he randomly switched from trad to wonky hip-hop.
Of the two acts closing Listen Out’s Melbourne leg — Gambino and Golden Features — the former, following Joey, won easily.
Image: Childish Gambino Performs At Listen Out 2015, Melbourne / Photo: Michelle Pitiris