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While the conference component of BIGSOUND entails more than a little backslapping, handshaking and industry speculation, the event’s live showcases are something different entirely. With the first night of BIGSOUND Live collecting 80 of Australia’s most talented emerging acts, for many the veil is lifted from lesser known corners of the music scene. A collective buzz descends over the typical sedation of Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley, obscurity dissipates and artists hungry to push their sound to the next level deliver at their very best.
Opening the evening at the The New Globe Theatre was Unity Floors. A hard-rocking two-piece, the pair treats something akin to a guitar-driven Hoodoo Gurus sound with some serious jangle. If their performance hinted at anything, it was that the Sydney duo have tempered their tattered brand of scrappy songcraft down to a fine science.
While Brisbane residents Thigh Master performed punk-damaged guitar pop to what quickly packed out to a sizeable audience at The Globe, the diminutive Mallrat took centre stage at The Elephant Hotel. Aged 17 and another Brisbane local, her recently released album Uninvited was an impressive debut. Live, Mallrat laid down all the house vamps, husky spoke-sang vocals and dance-driven beats fans of the album might expect. Tracks like For Real sent ripples throughout a mixed crowd of curious BIGSOUND delegates and local acolytes.
Oscillating between carefree bravado and fragility, there were moments of tangible pathos within Mallrat’s pop-laden performance. Exploring the lighter shades of heartbreak, wryly confessional lyrics sat above an undercarriage of slick songwriting and production gloss. Mallrat may lack the command of a more seasoned contemporary, but the audience was unperturbed. Sitting short of a full-blown sonic assault, the performance still simmered at something more than an agreeable temperature.
?Ryan Downey charmed those present at The Foundry with a chilled-out demeanour and deadpan banter. At moments evoking Bob Dylan circa Nashville Skyline, he inhabits the role of indie folk balladeer. Assisted by a sonorous baritone, Downey put forth an engaging solo set.
Jack Grace’s jittery pop shares more than a passing resemblance to James Blake. There are plenty of little throwbacks to Massive Attack and Radiohead laced in too. While it felt that the set would likely have been better suited to a boiler room than the open air stage of Ric’s Bar, his skewered electronic pop was still something to behold.
A scant crowd quickly filed out as Grace wove an enveloping and dynamic series of songs. Blending fragmented slivers of male and sampled female vocals with brooding electronica, Grace’s sonic concoction was equally ambrosial as it was ominous. Not afraid to play with the pop form, it seemed that each of his textured tracks had something special to offer.
It may have taken a little while for the full impact of Foreign/National’s drifting riffs to set in, but the effect was overwhelming. Given the hip quotient of BadBadNotGood’s IV, those hungry for something in a similar vein would be well accommodated with the glimmering sedation of the group’s signature sound.
Far from a bulldozer rock band, the five-piece delivered an idyllic brand of jazz-leaning psychedelia. Despite a laid-back undercurrent, there could be little question that they cut a punchier sound live. Laying down hypotonic riffs and jittery rhythms alongside earnest lyrics, the group cast a glow over an adoring audience at The Brightside’s Coopers Outdoor Stage. Their set ended with an invitation to breakfast, followed by a new track which, teetering on the verge of krautrock, may even top the group’s already formidable output. With a long-awaited album (recorded with King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s Joey Walker) sounding well on the way, there’s a feeling that there are some great things to come out of the Victorian outfit in the coming year.
To say The Flying Cock was packed to the rafters would be an understatement. If Kucka’s prior performance set the mood, Tkay Maidza’s closing set blew the lid off of the place. It would be misguided to claim that Maidza is languishing in obscurity, but her presence really added something to the night’s proceedings. Driven by an amalgam of toothy smiles, dance-friendly beats and single-minded charisma, she sent a constant stream of energy coursing outward to a receptive crowd. With the Adelaide artist perpetually in a state of motion, this set was electric, with the audience reaction matching the energy in equal measure.
Unfazed by the growing intensity, Maidza sat imperiously at the centre of it all. It certainly feels like she is well under the way in transitioning from cult MC to full-fledged diva (if it hasn’t occurred already). Her contribution served as a strong reminder that while BIGSOUND might claim to take an industry focus, it’s the music that drives the festival.
Image: DZ Deathrays & Ecca Vandal @ BIGSOUND 2016 / Photo: Rebecca Reid