Gong Heavy, Gong Strong: What local bands mean to Yours & Owls Festival

Written by David James Young on 20th June, 2018
Gong Heavy, Gong Strong: What local bands mean to Yours & Owls Festival

Having sold out the 2018 edition of the festival within a day of it going on sale, it’s worth noting the impressive collection of homegrown talent playing across the weekend. David James Young spoke with Yours & Owls’ Ben Tillman about what local bands mean to Yours & Owls Festival.

When the Yours & Owls collective were piecing together their 2017 line-up, it felt bigger and better than anything they’d ever worked on in the past. They’d scored a marquee international band in At the Drive-In, plus Australian EDM heroes like The Presets and SAFIA; not to mention some of the biggest festival draw cards on the national touring circuit right now. Even still, Ben Tillman felt like something was missing. The epiphany came: it was time to expand the festival to include a third stage dedicated to both local and up-and-coming talent, the Rad stage.

“It felt as though we were straying away from what it was we had always set out to do, which was to grow and nurture what was happening in our local area,” says Tillman, the head booker and one of the founders of the collective. “We had to fix that. We knew we had to be doing more.

By adding the Rad stage to the festival, it was about us acting on a feeling that there was something missing and following through on it.” The Rad stage in 2017 welcomed the likes of feminist indie-rockers The Nah, emo revivalists Jacob, fun-loving grunge kids Totty and a one-off reunion from south coast hardcore kids Break a Leg!, to name but a few. Tillman assembled the stage with assistance from Jimmy Shirley, a fellow member of the Yours & Owls group who also books the North Wollongong Hotel’s Sunday residency and the monthly safe-space party Strawberry Boogie.

Rad Bar
Rad Bar – Image via YouTube.com

“Jimmy and I book everything ourselves,” explains Tillman. “Obviously, Dan [Radburn, Rad Bar’s owner] is consulted – the stage is named after the bar, after all. We also wanted to make a point of not repeating ourselves – there are no acts that played the stage last year that are playing again this year.

We want the stage to be both reflective of what we have going on, as well as developmental – in a sense. It shows people what we have going on right here in Wollongong, while also giving a lot of bands their first festival experience.”

This year brings together another exceptional contingent of local talent. It’s a melting pot of genre, stylistic approach, message, and experience levels. Babymachine, for example, are Wollongong veterans, having served up their down-tuned rock & roll for well over a decade.

Laptop-toting indie-pop duo Cry Club, by means of contrast, have been performing together for less than a year; Yours & Owls 2018 will mark their first-ever appearance on a festival bill. “We’re very aware that Rad Bar can get pigeonholed quite easily,” says Tillman.

“People often perceive it as a place primarily for garage rock, surf rock, that sort of thing. Obviously, there’s more to it than that. We’ve never seen Yours & Owls as being an ‘indie’ thing, a ‘punk’ thing… we’re not interested in discriminating between genres. It’s more about supporting the music we love, and exposing that to people who are willing to give anything a crack. It’s our mission to represent Wollongong in a broader sense.”

Indeed, that’s something this year’s Rad Stage achieves in a big way. There are plenty of great success stories among the bands performing this year – melodic hardcore band Easy Life are the first-ever Wollongong-based band to sign to heavyweight label UNFD; jangle-pop outfit Enfant Terrible opened up the sold-out Lemonheads show at the UniBar back in March.

These are feats that felt nigh-on impossible even a few years ago – and yet, here stands Wollongong as a still-evolving and rapidly-developing music hub. “One thing that’s definitely changed is how much the scene and the community has expanded,” Tillman comments.

“For a while there when we were originally booking weekly shows at the bar, it honestly felt like there was maybe 10 bands around at a pinch. When we were booking the Rad stage for this year, we legitimately had about 60 bands that were on the list of acts to play the festival – we had to narrow it down, and it felt impossible. It was supposed to only be 16 bands across the weekend, but we ended up with 34. And that was the shortlist.

It’s not slowing down, either – new bands are coming through every single month. It wouldn’t surprise me if we were in the triple figures by now.”

Frank's Wild Years in Thirroul
Frank’s Wild Years in Thirroul

Tillman narrows this down to a growing interest in what bands from the area have to offer. If it’s not the ongoing national success of Hockey Dad, it’s the growing number of international bands making the trek south. If it’s not the weekly packing-out of Rad, it’s the expansion into new venue territories such as the recently-opened Servo Food Truck Bar in Port Kembla or pop-up shows at Frank’s Wild Years in Thirroul.

Everywhere around the area seems adamant about keeping bands playing on every corner, which Tillman is all for: “There’s a huge appetite for live music in the city right now,” he affirms.

“When I was first starting out with Yours & Owls, the whole scene was just clubbing and DJs – that’s just what everybody was into and what everybody did. It was a struggle to get anyone to come along to a live show. Nowadays, it’s a big thing – going to see bands and going to see gigs has replaced the club scene almost entirely. The way people have responded has been fucking awesome.”

Yours and Owls Festival is SOLD OUT but head over to this site enter Tone Deaf’s competition to nab yourself FREE TICKETS.

The article was originally published on The Industry Observer