Review + Gallery: Masterful and diverse, Golden Plains is the consummate music festival
11.03.2020

Review + Gallery: Masterful and diverse, Golden Plains is the consummate music festival

Sampa The Great
General Levy
Evelyn Champagne King
Ezra Collective
Bananagun
Joe Camilleri & The Black Sorrows
1 / 6
Words by Kate Streader
Pics by Bandanna Photography

You big beautiful thing.

Meredith’s Supernatural Amphitheatre is exactly as its name suggests; there’s an ethereal beauty that stirs something inside you. Perhaps it’s the tangled branches of its sprinkled, distinctive trees or the electric buzz of excitement in the air for the magic set to unfold – whatever it is, you can’t help but forget the world at large when Aunty Meredith sweeps you into her warm embrace.

After paying respects to the land and its owners in a touching smoke ceremony and Welcome To Country, it was time to get stuck in.

Saturday

Pinch Points kicked off the proceedings as the first of a quadfecta of Melbourne acts. Charging through their set of racing punk, the four-piece reminded us exactly why they’ve become the talk of Melbourne. As for the band, they were just stoked to be there – and for the extra doories that meant they could bring their parents along.

Up next and dressed like they’d just raided the racks at Savers, Parsnip were all flared pants and bedazzled, bug-eyed sunglasses as they unleashed their lollipop punk.

A vast contrast, Simona Castricum and co. followed with a set of spacey techno worthy of a 3am slot, smashing the patriarchy to pieces and serving a neon, latex BDSM fantasy in the process.

Come 5pm, the ground was already turning to mud despite the grey clouds not following through on the threat of rain. Filling the hip hop quota after Injury Reserve pulled out at the last minute, Agung Mango had no problem rallying the crowd. Between commanding punters to get low and starting pits, his jazz-funk brand of rap was the afternoon pick-me-up we all needed.

Taking off right where Agung Mango left us, Ezra Collective blasted through a set of blistering new wave jazz so hot, you half-expected to see smoke coming out the end of the trumpets. I’d challenge anyone to find a still body during this funk explosion.

Next up and looking like they’d stepped straight off the ranch and onto the stage, Bill Callahan and his blue jean-clad band bought their all-American charm across a set that can only be described as spellbinding. Surveying a 35-year career of tracks, from ‘America’ to ‘Son of the Sea’, Callahan’s rumbling baritone lulled the crowd into a state of sheer blissful euphoria as the sun set on day one. Utterly enchanting.

Effortlessly cool, Stereolab were totally in their element as they delivered their minimalist avant-pop. The stage was bathed in deep purple, blue and red hues as the English-French outfit led us on an aural excursion. A ten-year hiatus hasn’t dulled the cohesion of this unit, who wove their mystic melodies with complete ease.

“We’re usually in bed by now, so consider yerselves fookin’ lucky.” Sleaford Mods had arrived and the moshpit was packed tighter than a train carriage at peak hour. Staunch as they come, vocalist Jason Williamson stomped around the stage as he let loose in an unending stream of furious rambling and hoarse shouting while Andrew Fearn commanded the bass-heavy beats from a laptop, a cheeky smirk intermittently rearing its head as he stood in place; wide-legged, arms crossed. Nobody was safe from the pair’s wrath, even the audience were happy to be called a bunch of twats if Williamson was doing the telling off. From ‘McFlurry’ to ‘BHS’, the angry Brits gave zero fucks and we lapped it up. Not bad for “a pair of swearing bastards”.

Sunday

Come the next morning, the only thing longer than the shower lines were the queues for coffee as dreary punters geared up for the day ahead. Easing in, Yirinda offered stories of culture and country, led by meandering double bass, percussion and didgeridoo.

Appropriately dressed in matching knee-length raincoats, J. McFarlane’s Reality Guest brought a change of pace with their laidback synth pop, eliciting the ceremonious lighting of a few morning spliffs in the crowd. Even the flute was feeling the cold, struggling to spit out notes in the frigid morning, but with an arsenal of melodica and cabasa at their disposal, the few missed notes hardly left a gap amongst the busy melodies.

Making her festival debut and her first of two appearances for the day came Mwanje. She may be small in stature, but that voice is a force to be reckoned with. Playing songs from her upcoming EP, it was hard to believe Mwanje is a relative newcomer as she owned the stage across her choreographed routine. One to watch, she’s sure to be following in her sister Sampa The Great’s footsteps in no time.

As if wielding the weather with her voice, Weyes Blood’s Natalie Mering parted the clouds and conjured some welcomed sunshine. Even the wind picked up to hit her hair just right, gently sweeping it back as if we were witnessing a glamour shoot. “Sad cowboy music” may be her game, but Mering was absolutely beaming as she pilfered through an assortment of tracks from Titanic Rising and a cover of Procol Harum’s ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’. With an electric guitar riff that could melt your guts, ‘Something to Believe In’ was enough to warrant watery eyes while the atmospheric closer ‘Movies’ had to make you wonder why Weyes Blood was given such an early set.

Bananagun were up next with a delicious psychedelic funk jam before Civic smashed through a set of punk so lo-fi, you could barely make out a word they said – but that didn’t stop a circle of death breaking loose in the mosh.

Joe Camilleri & The Black Sorrows followed, bringing the oldies out for a good old boogie. Commanding the crowd as if he were a gospel preacher, Camilleri proved his merit as a seasoned pro on the stage.

Spitting absolute fire, General Levy’s mash of reggae dub had the crowd bouncing like the place was a jumping castle. Closing with a tribute to The Prodigy’s Keith Flint, Levy’s remix of ‘Incredible’ was just that. Wicked, wicked, massive, massive indeed.

When Evelyn Champagne King tells you to get down and get loose, you do as you’re told – not that anyone needed persuading at this point in the day. Joined by Mondo Freaks, it was an all-out disco dance party as King’s powerful voice boomed through the ‘Sup. Working her way through a catalogue of classics, the disco queen was shimmying just as hard as the audience. Her parting words: “Let’s keep this party going!” were duly noted.

Come Sampa The Great’s set, the generator could no longer keep up and barely a few bars of ‘Rhymes To The East’ managed to escape the speakers before it all went bust. Half an hour later, the backup generator was firing and we were back on. The sun had set during the mad shuffle to get the power back on, but nobody cared once Sampa began working her magic. Dedicating ‘Black Girl Magik’ to all the black queens in the crowd, and her sister Mwanje who was on backup vocal duties, it was an unspoken ode to International Women’s Day that had hearts full and arms swaying.

Drenched in feedback, Pixies went heavy-handed on the reverb to no complaints. Not uttering a single word to the crowd throughout their 80-minute set, it seemed they were on an entirely different plane as we simply watched on. All the favourites were there, with ‘Where Is My Mind?’ and ‘Here Comes Your Man’ spawning singalongs. Too cool for school, you had to wonder if they were simply going through the motions until Joey Santiago finally cracked a smile upon whipping the newsboy cap off his head and using it to play his gat. Softened with time, perhaps, but Pixies are still punk royalty, no doubt.

For those who lacked the chemically-induced stamina required to dance into the morning hours, number one guys Hot Chip marked the festival’s end – not that you’d want to follow their set, anyway. Forget A Bath Full of Ecstasy, this was an all-out ecstasy flood and we were gladly splashing around in it. Synth, strobes, synchronised dance moves: it was a sensory overload and we were begging for more.

Owen Clarke didn’t stay still for a single second, bouncing around like a kid after too much red cordial while Alexis Taylor zig-zagged around the stage as he unleashed his distinctive falsetto. A cover of Beastie Boys’ ‘Sabotage’ was the medicine and ‘I Feel Better’ marked the cure. Pure fun.

Once again, Golden Plains has proved not only to be a leading example of how to curate a genre-spanning, belter of a lineup but a communal festival that feels more like a family gathering than an assemblage of strangers. Now excuse me while I sleep for a week.

Highlight: Weyes Blood, Sampa The Great, Bill Callahan, Sleaford Mods and Hot Chip.

Lowlight: Not having it in me to make it to DJ Sprinkle’s 4am set.

Crowd favourite: Impossible to tell but Pixies’ ‘Here Comes You Man’ was definitely up there.