Sugar Mountain Festival at The Forum Theatre
You know this whole music festival business is getting out of hand when a singular, lowly autumn weekend in Victoria plays host to more than a couple of big name-baiting musical jamborees. Though the inaugural Sugar Mountain Festival and the well-established Cherry Rock take place less than half a day and half a block from each other, the two sit well and truly at polar opposite ends of the musical spectrum.
Presenting itself on paper as a sort of concise answer to Sydney’s sprawling Vivid Festival, Sugar Mountain promised a decent mix of local talent, international acts that otherwise would never get a showing around these parts, and a hefty dose of visual stimuli.
If it weren’t for the sparsely occupied dancefloor in front of them, you could’ve sworn pop duo Collarbones were fulfilling a support slot across town for The Biebs himself at Rod Laver Arena. With all the emphatic panache of half a boy band, as if they were exorcised from the pages of a late ‘90s copy of Dolly, the two baby-faced lads won over the few in attendance with an undeniably infectious strain of chopped-up pop. Closing with an iffy recital of J-Lo’s Jenny From The Block, then utilizing The Forum’s beefy PA to blast out some shitty house track – all the while taking to the floor to dance it out with the punters. This unassuming duo proved to be an irresistible force to be reckoned with.
Rat Vs. Possum bashed out a set of banging jams, sounding like they would make a perfect fit alongside James Murphy’s DFA roster. Their set marked one of the few instances where the overwhelming imagery projected on to the backing wall actually complemented the sound rather than ultimately distract from it.
Forging a sense of intimacy proved to be a near-impossible task for most acts occupying the main stage, with No Kids’ stripped back ensemble (with half the group merely fulfilling backup vocal duties) often being lost in the sparse surrounds. Maybe it was just a case of poor viewpoint selection – standing front of stage proved too narrowing visually and sonically. It was probably best viewed from the booths at the back.
The rarely utilised upstairs theatre at The Forum provided the more intimate viewing experience, and it didn’t get more intimate than actress-cum-singer (as much as I despise using ‘cum’ as a conjunction, it feels fitting) Jane Badler, who performed a selection of tracks from her album Tears Again. Decked out like an eccentric widow, Jane handed out black roses to the front row, then managed to recount (possibly fictitious) tales from her days in Hollywood as a bizarre fashion parade encircled the stage.
I only caught the tail-end of Galapagoose and his absolute domination of his sampler, but I was mighty impressed nonetheless. His mad skills overrode any notion that performing in front of closed curtains gave the sense it was merely interstitial sound.
The resounding standout for the day had to be pioneering Chicago house duo Virgo Four. Their sparse beats, punctuated by the odd live guitar-lick here and there, had the whole (exclusively white?) venue well and truly dancing their arses off.
The Coolies were an outright shambles. Maybe within the confines of a raucous house party or a similar environment, the loose set would have gone down a treat. But in front of a seated audience in a theatrical context, the unhinged display – peppered with quips such as “Ok I’m bored of this song,” from the singer, was incredibly disappointing.
Twerps’ highly anticipated set was marred only by the subliminal earworm-infecting of Day-O (The Banana Boat Song), due to the respective Beetlejuice scene being projected overhead. Other than that, it was a dutiful set which consolidated the group as one of our city’s premier guitar-focused groups.
By far the freakin’ loudest act of the day was Aa, as if a whole chunk of the mixing desk had been embargoed just for them. Bringing out Rat Vs. Possum once again – replete with a floor tom each – Aa definitely didn’t hold back. But with Boredoms performing in the same venue less than half a year earlier, it all seemed a little weak in comparison.
With an exhausted straggle of punters left behind, closing out the night had to be an unenviable task. Having a false-start due to an apparent electrical fault sure didn’t help Canyons from reversing the crowd flow away from the stage.
If there were any Apple reps taking any notes form the day’s proceedings, expect to see a Macbook integrated into a floor tom on the market. And expect every act at Sugar Mountain 2012 (which I do hope runs) utilise one onstage.
Loved: The well-dressed Forum staffers are always a delight – sadly an exception to the norm these days.
Hated: A few of the acts were a little mismatched to the theatrical surrounds.
Drank: At various bars within a 1km radius of The Forum.