BIGSOUND’s Big Review

Marcus Thaine went to BIGSOUND in Brisbane and saw a lot of bands. Here are his thoughts:

Here are just my ramblings, thoughts and recollections of my experience at Brisbane’s music conference, BIGSOUND. I took some notes on my feeble excuse for an iPhone, which mostly included drunken hyperbole about seen bands. For example: “I weep at the feet of the god, Kirin J Callinan.” Right. Anyway, hopefully this provides some insight and perspective about some of Australia’s best bands.

It all began four floors up on a sonorous fire escape staircase towering beside the elusive and exclusive EMI ‘showcase party’. I had a live pass but, not one of those $500+ conference lanyards which seemed to be the latest accessory craze taking over Fortitude Valley.

Apart from perving on copious amounts of fake smiles, forced handshakes and Drunk Mums (the band, not the inappropriate parent) abusing the bar tab, I managed to peep down on the likes of Oh Mercy and Ball Park Music. Bearing in mind I witnessed this through a marquee, from a corrugated piece of shit four floors up, I don’t really think I can give a fair judgment of how they were live. But hey, they were the first bands I ‘saw’ and it sounded good.

Leaving the comfort of my EMI party box position, I headed to Rics Bar to see Jeremy Neale aka multitalented musician who dabbles in bands like Velociraptor, Tiger Beams and his own side project. Decked out and looking doo-wop dapper in tweed and ties, his band were fantastic. Rocking a goofy groove and pumping out high-energy swing-pop, I think everyone in that little bar was seduced by the Jeremy Neale Band.

Playing in ‘The Magic City’, a venue that felt like a cross between Shakespeare’s globe and a Texan strip joint, you could feel the syncopated tunes of Fishing reverberate through the floor on entry. Oozing fun and bubbling with exotic sounding samples and hypnotic thumps of base – Fishing bridge the gap between wonky pop and experimental beats. The crowd wasn’t receptive or really feeling it – a recurring theme of the BIGSOUND experience. I however, felt the need to clarify to the band that I really was feeling it. Later on in the night I drunkenly embraced them in the street with over-the-top obscure compliments. “You’re sound like a jungle dancing underwater!” Ok?

I’m yet to really get the Flume hype and seeing him play after Fishing didn’t really change that. Yeah there is the catchy Sleepless which had teen girls squealing to those chopped up moaning vocals but, things only really got a little interesting when he dropped some more trap, Hudson Mowhake-esque beats. Even then, he didn’t quite hook me in like Fishing did.

Phebe Starr is one of the artists I’d most been looking forward to at BIGSOUND. Every time I play her single, Alone With You to anyone, they immediately fall in love with her. How can you not? Yeah it’s pop and people love to hate on that, but seeing her live really sealed the deal as one to watch. She almost seems to be stepping into Catcall’s shoes, but with a hell of a lot more determination and potential. I’ve backed Catcall for ages but I think Phebe’s heart is truly in the music. On record the range and ability of her voice doesn’t really come across but, live, the sheer magnitude and range was, well, kinda beautiful. By kinda I mean incredibly. Despite playing to a bunch of industry duds, and performing in a space that smelt like someone had effectively smeared their vomit across every inch of the venue, she was flawless.

The Preatures (above) have long been awaiting industry success and acknowledgment, so it’s only deserving to see that a whopping five album deal has been laid down by Mercury. Living up to the deal, The Preatures, as usual, delivered a seamless and high-energy performance. I was told that Isabella had lost her voice, but who would know? Delivering those rich smoky vocals and climaxing in the swelling set closer, Hero, the whole crowd was buzzing. They also handed out free copies of their EP, Shaking Hands. A+.

I mentioned Phebe Starr as one of my most anticipated gigs but it was really Kirin J Callinan that made me promptly book the flight from Melbourne. Way To War is, and most likely will be, my favorite track of this year. If it’s not your vibe, it’s unarguably the most sonically interesting thing you’ll hear this year. Taking to the stage with two bandmates – looking like a gothic matador enclosed in a ring of around 15 guitar pedals, was the silence before the storm… Never have I experienced such fucking loud music. Really, those headphones an air traffic controller wears would only just suffice. Apart from having my eardrum moved about an inch deeper into my head, he was as expected: genius. Among the audience was a unanimous gobsmacked glaze, while Isabella (of The Preatures) threw back her head and basked in Kirin’s sonic apocalypse. Yeah it was that good. I also managed to see him play the next day at an instore and picked up a copy of the vinyl. I don’t have a record player, but… Kirin J Callinan.

It’s pretty criminal that I’d never heard of Clairy Browne & the Bangin’ Rackettes pre BIGSOUND. So my thanks go out to Oztix who put on this industry party in which I successfully managed to crash without scaling some unstable fire escape. With a retro vibe and appeal akin to the likes of Kitty, Daisy & Lewis and Lanie Lane, Claire Browne & the Bangin’ Rackettes are all 60s soul with synchronized hand actions and flapper like frilled dresses. Undeniably catchy, immediately accessible and unfailingly fun.

Microphone down the pants, mooning the audience and generally getting naked were some of the antics I’d been told/warned about pre The Gooch Palms‘ show. And yep, both times I saw them at BIGSOUND, they lived up to this wild reputation. I head on witnessed the full frontal view of Leroy’s bare cheeks, and watched as he etched a blood bindi into his forehead through repetitively smacking his head against the mic. Every song had the same drum beat, but every song had a massive pop-rock hook. I still have the nasal call of Houston we have a problem echoing around my mind. Awesome.

There seemed to be a general consensus that the Straight Arrows (above) show was one not to miss. Despite sounding ‘mid-fi‘ on record, Straight Arrows delivered a razor sharp sound of garage rock live. Apart from playing the legendary material from debut, It’s Happening, they sampled some new songs from an upcoming record. A highlight being an initially slow, then massively thrashy dirty rock anthem- sounding like the schizophrenic cousin of album highlight, Haunted out. Apparently it’s their new single.

The Harpoons weren’t part of BIGSOUND, but I can’t help but write about them. I found out by chance they were playing a gig for the Brisbane Festival and promptly hopped in a cab to the city. The Harpoons have this understanding of space within music, the same way The xx do. Nothing is cluttered. Just simple, a lil’ jazzy and cool (cool as in calm and serene, not all hipster soy).

The Belligerents easily pulled the biggest crowd and rightly so. They make danceable and immediately infectious indie pop. It’s a winner. Also big love to these guys as they let me crash on their couch for my time there. Legends.

Drunk Mums (above) are mental and I think everyone in attendance can agree that this was the best show of BIGSOUND. If you were within two metres of the stage, you’d soon find yourself two meters above the ground. Playing a set made up of their rad self-titled album, the whole room was loving the mums(?). Enough love was felt that the owner of Melbourne’s Cherry Bar took to grabbing the mic and proclaiming, “I book 750 bands a year and Drunk Mums are the greatest band I’ve seen yet.” Some other highlights were guitarist/singer Dean telling the audience that we were, “all magical vaginas” and that “I wanna get inside of you!”. This was shortly followed by him sniffing a shot of bourbon. A key to the success of the show was also in ‘Show Man’ Isaac who took part in a range of, ‘activities’. Smashing the tambourine, seizure-like dancing, getting naked, crowd surfing, and , then spraying blood (Gatorade?) from his mouth. I still have the stains on my clothes. I love Drunk Mums.

I’ve been listening to The Ottomans‘ single Lonely With You on repeat for a while now. It has this retro western vibe sung in a guttural growl by enigmatic front man, Mitch Schultz…. Have a listen. To be honest I don’t have that much to say about these guys, I only really tuned in for the single but, if the music keeps coming, so will the fans and Triple J radio play.

The last time I saw Bleeding Knees Club (pictured, top) was in a semi-demolished pub where everyone was practically marinated in a constant fountain of free beer and where moshing filled the room. Not at BIGSOUND… Strange considering it really didn’t seem like much of an industry crowd, but in general people stood still and observed. An inflatable ball was thrown around though! Hooray! But, even it still just seemed to nonchalantly bounce between people with no sense of fun or vibrancy. Booo. Apart from a loser crowd, Bleeding Knees Club put on a slick show with drummer Brett having the most remarkable facial expressions.

I really did have the most incredible experience at BIGSOUND this year. Apart from attending the evening shows, I managed to see a day-and-a-half of the conference on my punters’ pass. There I learnt about how to record your debut album, how festival organisers pull acts and witnessed an excerpt of Ben Lee’s experimental upcoming album about consciousness and taking Ayahuasca (bit weird).

10/10, BIGSOUND.


Review by Marcus Thaine. Photos by Luen Jacobs