UNIFY Gathering 2019 was a blistering three nights of rock, punk and metal

The fifth edition of the festival had its highs and lows but failed to disappoint overall.

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Ruby Boland

If ever there was cattle living on the grassy plains of Tarwin Lower, there was no trace of them last weekend. A different flock was herded to the South Gippsland location by the promise of more punk rock than they could manage, more post-hardcore than they could imagine, and more bands than is morally decent – but no one was complaining. One stage, three days, 10,000 people, 33 bands – this was UNIFY Gathering 2019.

To the backing tracks of AM/PM DJs with guest sets from Hellions and Stand Atlantic, the trickle of eager early birds broke ground at Tarwin Lower on Thursday, laying claim to territory to call camp for the weekend. As the sun was setting to the tunes of Caged Existence, Aburden, Between You And Me, and the cringingly corny but somehow so awesome cover band that was The All Nighters, a sea of tents and marquees stood rebelliously erect against the gusts of the unpredictable Victoria weather. Somehow the first night managed to be the loudest and longest, eager UNIFY attendees pulling all-nighters, the hiss of tinnies cracking open and the chatter of predictions for certain bands’ performances over the weekend filling the chilly night air.

If campers had been any chiller on Friday morning they would have been falling backwards. Granted, many people after a drink or several were indeed falling about throughout the day, but that crisp and sunny morning was great for a few early beers, checking out the local food stalls, hanging with friends, and watching the new wave of UNIFY-goers trickling in.

Friday was hot. Ahead of their final performance as this version of the band, Ocean Grove bassist and vocalist Dale Tanner remarked, “It’s the opposite of Baltic!” Camping in with the public, Tanner and drummer Sam Bassal said camping as a band is tradition: “The first year we played, a few of us camped in public, which was super fun,” said Tanner. “I’d actually came the first year UNIFY happened, it’s such a good vibe in the public, everyone is so lovely and fun.

“It was like, nice, most were friends you meet in the scene, the community,” added Bassal, “So there was no harassment. Atmosphere was really good – everyone acknowledges you’re out here but they’re not gonna pester you.”

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A post shared by UNIFY Gathering 2019 (@unifygathering) on Jan 11, 2019 at 5:17am PST

Similarly, bassist Kyle Erich and guitarist Eaven Dall of In Hearts Wake said, as they were trying to navigate a side hug together for what they said felt like their hundredth selfie of the day, “Our first show of tour last night in Geelong was a warm up to this.

“It’s a big show, we thought we’d be shaking cobwebs off because we’ve taken a break from playing shows, but there were no cobwebs to be seen! Smashed it!” Erich cried.

Indeed, no cobwebs for any of Friday afternoon’s bands. The biggest hype and standout act was definitely the electro-metal Crossfaith, fans gathering in their thousands to witness the incredible energy and breathtaking strobes of the Japanese outfit. Pretty sure some shoes would have been lost in the crowd surfing that ensued, bruises gained as the crowd kicked up the mightiest of circle pits, and more than certain minds were lost when the band experienced major technical difficulties and had their set cut short by about 15 minutes. Epic fail but an epic show.

Likewise, epicness was present on Friday with While She Sleeps, who pulverised the stage, the likes of the happy-go-lucky Hellions who made shameless plugs for their latest and amazing album Rue, while the boom of the bass underfoot was confounding. It was a disappointing return from Karnivool [don’t @ me], who, given the hype that this was such a big return, were mediocre at best. Underoath continued the trend for poor sound quality and equipment fails despite their best efforts. The Christian rock outfit were visibly pushing through tracks off their 2018 release Erase Me before looking relatively relieved as they finished up with the seminal ‘Writing On The Walls’. Friday packed a precarious punch, certainly, but nothing, nothing could prepare us for the carnage Saturday would bring.

It’s not farfetched to say that three of Australia’s best live bands took to the stage on Saturday – all female-fronted and all amazing. No, this isn’t gender biased, this is a hard-hitting fact. Pagan, donning white and black uniforms, armed themselves with bottles of red wine and took their usual mocking stabs at their Italian heritage amidst an epic soundtrack of molten metal. WAAX looked like they were living their best life as they threw themselves around the stage like rag dolls to the beat of their raw punk riffs, and Stand Atlantic brought a sense of elation and wonderment to the crowd in their criminally short set thanks to their sweet and relatable punk-rock bangers. Phwoar! It’s amazing to know that female-fronted bands have earned their place at UNIFY for their talent and not for what’s between their legs.

Equally as amazing were the night’s international headliners. Every Time I Die delivered their unique blend of southern rock, metalcore, and hardcore punk to an expectant crowd, a crowd who had absolutely no qualms in getting down and dirty in the glowing red lights and smoke emitted from the stage. Closing the set with ‘Map Change’ from their 2016 album Low Teens, Every Time I Die took the award for Saturday’s MVP, an exhilarating and enthralling performance that resulted in an oddly welcome case of tinnitus.

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A post shared by UNIFY Gathering 2019 (@unifygathering) on Jan 12, 2019 at 4:09pm PST

Closing out the festival with a much welcome trip down memory lane were headliners Taking Back Sunday. With their members well into their late 30s, you’d think an emo-punk performance would be a little lacklustre – but no. Taking Back Sunday were absolutely the highlight of the festival. Was it because they were the closing band? Was it because of their epic song selection that spanned their entire 20-year career? Was it the endearingly nonchalant stage persona of frontman Adam Lazzara? Or was it simply because they are insanely great musicians? Whatever the reason, adrenaline helped us with one final push through an amazing final hour with an amazing headliner.

It’s an odd feeling to have to pack up after a festival – you’ve had your fun, you’ve had your fill, you’re keen to get home but you’ve had such a blast over the last few days there’s no urgency [and no energy] to dismantle your makeshift palaces. Luckily it’s not quite over yet as the likes of Yours Truly, Far Away Stables, Stand Atlantic, Little Brother and Endless Heights create a soundtrack for your feet to shuffle to in the third instalment of the Maton Sunday Sessions. As if to say “it’s time to go home”, the wind picked up its fists to punch the punters out the gate, armies of sunburnt rockers stinky, sweaty, smiling, and so ready to come back for UNIFY Gathering 2020.