Live Review: Golden Plains 2016
On the other side of a mystical summer, Chloe Mayne swings back through the paddock for the golden anniversary of the Plains:
Golden Plains took me somewhat by surprise this year; swimming togs tossed over my shoulder, making tracks for the beach a week before, it reached out a long and curled finger and tapped me gently on the side. Whooooosh, she whispered, all muddled up in the ocean waves, I’m here! like some kind of hay-bale lighthouse signal. And though it felt as though I’d only just brushed the last of Meredith’s glitter speckles from my skin, this call from yonder took me right back through the halls of a truly magical summer, a summer of saltwater tangles and finding secret waterfalls and sleeping under the stars, the smell of burnt bitumen and the sound of gumtree rustle in a hot wind. What better way to note and heed the receding water mark of the sunnier season than by transporting myself back to where it all began?
Waking in darkness and puzzling the car boot together under orange streetlights, the adventure had that surreal long-distance tinge to it before it even began. The only other time I’m up that early is to catch a plane, and spotting the other loaded-up vehicles grunting along empty roads felt like catching the eyes of fellow passengers in an airport lounge, sipping coffee from crinkled paper cups and eating donuts for breakfast, headed somewhere strange and wonderful. By the time daylight filtered in we were flying down the freeway in graceful convoy, stopping once again for last-minute snacks from the wonderfully kind corner-store folk in Elaine. Everything was enshrouded in fog; part nineteenth-century romance novel, part outback Australian thriller, the sooty faces of sheep swirling in sunken grey like a woolly mirage.
Trundling up the gravel entranceway, dust columns falling away from the wheels and leaking up the windows in bronzed spirals, there was a tremor in the air that told me Plains was something a little different. Things were hazier, slightly sun-razzled, slower-moving. We cruised across the open paddock expanse and unfurled our belongings, canvas octopus arms extending a leisurely reach. This sense of space and backyard-jam filtered through the entire festival experience; Meredith is magic in its own gleaming ways, but GP’s birthmark is its softly-spoken serenity.
This year’s Golden Plains was an extra-special instalment, being its momentous tenth anniversary (double digits, whoop!). The cohort clustered in close for the opening ceremony and acknowledgement of country, during which guest MC Steph Hughes and the ever-welcoming Nolan family launched the festival ship off the pier with a perfected ‘long blink’ of approval from co-founder Chris, who grinned wildly as punters erupted into hoots and hollers. Taking unassumingly to the stage, Gold Class cut the sonic ribbon with a throbbing set, vocalist Adam Curley wrapping loops of microphone lead around and around his torso like cassette tape, insistent drums pressing it all down to a tense and writhing gem.
After a brief housekeeping session, during which our MC urged us to ‘put our effing cigarette butts inside a can’ while we frolicked across the ampitheatre to David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’, Saturday took off with flying momentum. An undeniable highlight of the weekend was Sydney outfit Royal Headache. While I’d heard fabulous things about them for yonks, there was something marvellous about their stage presence that’s near inexplicable. There was a current seething underneath an undoubtedly catchy spectrum of tracks, something dark and insistent and woozy that threw heads into swaying, unhindered motion. It’s that sticky, delicious stuff that festival dreams are made of.
Next up to the podium was blues-swinger C.W. Stoneking. The only qualm I’d point out is that the weekend’s programming seemed a little off-kilter at times, and the general consensus on my segment of the grapevine was that this may have better suited the sunset slot – it was an impressive stage show, however, and Stoneking’s big-band swing and brilliant backup dancers put on one helluva shindig. If the pent-up wild-and-free boogie was still waiting in the wings, it exploded with joy once NO ZU took the stage. A magnificent eight-piece phenomenon, the set was a careering gallop through the alleys and over the shimmering seas of disco, heat, beat, and twisted sexy saxy new-no-wave.
As nine-thirty on Sunday morning struck, I slid from my swag with a blanket and pillow underarm to watch HTRK open the day’s proceedings. I’d always imagined HTRK as a nocturnal creature, swilled with a mug of red wine, but it suited the grey and heavy morning to perfection. When I arrived, there were two other people watching from the wings, but the crowd quickly filled out to a deep-breathed lung in the damp and tangled grass. The Necks followed with a stunning configuration of experimental, jazz-flecked tapestries which saw the entire hillside rise to their feet in glorious ovation. It sure is a neat thing that so many of the festival highlights were dished up by local acts, a mandarin split equal parts between ever-supportive Aunty M and the sheer brilliance of what’s going on in our backyard right now.
Besides the fabled ovation, the highest seal of audience approval at the Supernatual Ampitheatre is the ol’ shoe-in-the-air chestnut. I took a running guesstimate throughout the course of the weekend and am pleased to announce a tie between Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 and Sleater-Kinney, both of whom treated us to a blistering show. Bodies flailed and threw themselves about with matching radiance for the two very different performances; the former, a huge-hearted, knee-knocking desert grin and the latter, unstoppable riot-rock all peppered with brash guitar.
The pair were punctuated with a shoe-worthy set of another strain entirely; a magical and mythical sunset witnessed from the embrace of a Ferris wheel carriage. As we circled ever higher the sun rerose from behind the rolling hills, falling away with our descent like a hot dropped lollipop. We then traipsed over to the famous hillside, where hundreds of spectators had gathered close to cheer and celebrate the sun’s mysterious turning. It was here that I got to have a good drink-in of all the costumes and props on offer, which included a psychedelic George Clooney esky and a Tony Abbot memecrow. These brought-from-home treats, as well as extracurricular extravaganzas such as the ravishing gold parade that took place over at Bluegums earlier in the day (if you weren’t there you missed out, sorry) give the whole experience that flourishing sense of community which make Aunty’s parties so much gosh darn fun.
A rare and hotly anticipated set from Eddy Current Suppression Ring finished the festival’s guitar orbit, and the atmosphere string couldn’t have been pulled tighter; every writhing motion, every pace of the stage met with howls and shoulder-to-shoulder thumps from the ring. It was the only act I saw granted an encore, and they reeled it in ferociously. From there the chaos detangled and reassembled in late-night, early-morning boogie form, bodies wriggling and faces starward, glitter shaking loose like dust clouds into misty Monday, when we rolled up our mats and tucked them under our arms, dispersing and disappearing to whence we came like a trail of iridescent ants.
Alrighty, that’s all folks. You are fondly dismissed. But for the love of the ‘Sup – start packing your shiny stuff for Meredith, our beacon of gleaming light in that semi-distant future of a schmoozy summer to come!
Words by Chloe Mayne. Images by Ty Johnson, Dane Tucker and Therese Harrison (click images for individual credits).