Photo by Jack Mannix
The Sound Summit festival is the only music festival which takes place in the state of New South Wales in the nation of Australia. There are other events in Australia which are nominally ‘music festivals’, but these usually focus on activities peripheral to the enjoyment of music including getting high on drugs and lining up.
Media corporations like Tonedeaf, AJ Maddah’s Twitter, Wikipedia and The Sydney Morning Herald always mention these non-Sound Summit events as examples of music festivals, but the truth is much darker. These events are simply amusing ways for rich old people to get young people to line up all day.
It’s the industry’s biggest secret. AJ Maddah sometimes invites Michael Gudinski and the editor of Tonedeaf to his house just to watch surveillance cam footage of Soundwave attendees lining up. Michael Chugg has also been known to attend these excited yet sedate occasions, and the reason AJ Maddah is now involved with the Big Day Out is because he and Ken West share a deep appreciation – or fetish – for watching young people line up for everything in unpleasant weather conditions.
The reason Homebake was canceled this year is because the new venue situation would not result in queues sufficiently exciting enough for New South Wales ‘festival’ promoters to continue with their plans.
Sound Summit is a proper music festival though because it is festive. You never have to line up for anything. I didn’t attend everything, in fact I barely scraped the program’s surface, but here are the moments I think are worth making note of.
On Saturday at 1pm I walked straight into 107 Projects in Redfern and was not frisked, nor did the venue smell like dagwood dog and belch. It was intense, but not for bad reasons. There were drunk people but they did not seem angry. Instead, the event consisted mainly of people standing in a dark room and listening to music by artists including Lucy Cliche, Video Ezy, Sarah Spencer and Red Belly Black Snake.
I should offer some details about these artists. Sydney duo Video Ezy played strange electronic music using a synthesizer and drum machine and created a positive yet sleepy atmosphere in the room. Red Belly Black Snake is Emma from Holy Balm playing the saddest music I have heard for a long time. She stood facing visual projections of otherworldly settings and it looked like she was shaping them with her synth. Lucy Cliche played her mysterious pop songs and then some excellent goth club dance tracks reminiscent of ‘90s darkwave compilations from Germany, while Sarah Spencer from Blank Realm played gentle and sentimental pop music. None of these words are very sufficient because all artists involved played in tiny realms between more distinct genres.
Intense Nest was the most focused event that I saw at Sound Summit. While there are a lot of differences between the dystopian pinball house pop of Video Ezy and the spiritual transcendence of Red Belly Black Snake, all suited sharing an event because they explored the frayed and illusory edgelands of pop music. All sounded like sonic phenomena you may accidentally dream about and then wonder how such unearthly sounds managed to burrow into your subconscious. It was difficult to let go of Intense Nest when it ended. It felt very special.
Here’s a friendly looking photo of all the artists who performed at Intense Nest:
It wasn’t in Newcastle
Newcastle is one of the most interesting cities in Australia from a musical perspective, yet many people I spoke to were relieved the festival happened in Sydney this year because they didn’t feel like they were going to get bashed.
Everything is important
Sound Summit is less focused on strictly experimental music nowadays, and is more a practise in trying to collect many of Australia’s fringe scenes in one place. It’s an important development because most of Australia’s interesting fringe music is not experimental broadly speaking. Instead, we have distinct communities in different cities searching for new ways to express ideas and present sounds that are deemed at that time to be important, both by the artists themselves and the small group of interested people who listen to them.
There are international artists at Sound Summit but they seem to supplement the local ones, rather than vice versa. Real Numbers is a new garage-influenced rock group that mirrors similarly inclined rock groups in our communities. Heatsick and Container have many parallels in Australia at the moment and their presence represented the current universality of punkish electronic and techno music.
These parallels can encourage you to think about why certain styles are being explored right now while others are starting to recede. None are new, but they’re recurring in slightly new ways now and why is that exactly? The audience is given the opportunity to realise that maybe there is some greater and invisible tide of feeling among independent artists globally which they had never identified before. Maybe there is something about this world at present that makes this happen. You are allowed to have fun speculating about this.
Photo by Jack Mannix
School Girl Report
This Bateman’s Bay duo offered the most bracing band experience across the weekend. The first half of the set was heavily manipulated electronic renditions of their own songs, looped and warped beyond recognition. The second part of the set was a drum and guitar affair, except Sam Miers’ way of playing guitar was unlike any of approaches you may have tired of throughout rock music’s long history, chiefly because it didn’t sound like a guitar yet it wasn’t heavily treated.
Sometimes when you see a man pick up a guitar you expect them to perform certain very showy actions that are so ingrained in the playing of the instrument that the instrumentalist probably doesn’t even notice they’re doing them. You expect a flick of the hair, or for them to nurse the neck in a certain fashion, or to do cute things with their fingers on the fretboard to signal their adeptness. I loved School Girl Report both as an electronic and rock duo because none of these signposts were visible. The duo played like they were inventing something. They seemed tentative about it all, like they were wondering how exactly these strings and drum surfaces were meant to result in sound.
Unlike School Girl Report, Sydney punk band Housewives sound almost exactly like a certain type of punk band you have heard before. They are not worried about changing anything about music. Housewives represents a certain demeanor among a certain type of young person in Sydney so perfectly that I think people will remember them for this above all else, and I don’t mean that to be insulting. Sometimes I feel like they’re a Sydney version of Melbourne’s UV Race because there is a smartness about them that they are very eager to hide, or to leave unannounced, and so they move in the opposite direction. I’ve seen Housewives before and listened to their 7 inch a couple of times but their performance at the weekend made me more curious about a guitar based punk band than I have been for years. They’re the perfect band for the mood in this city at the moment.
Reading about a band’s performance via long strings of adjectives is very dull, so I’ll keep this brief. Angel Eyes played a set of new material which incorporated ghosts of his older songs. I am predisposed to all the components that make up Angel Eyes’ music, and as a result have felt in the past unqualified to explain why I love it so much. On Saturday afternoon his set had a very different mood to his first three albums. Something is about to happen.
Matthew Brown played a set of unfussy yet subtlely complex techno music accompanied by images of old Japanese monster movies, and it was matched in stark beauty only by Gareth Psaltis’ set later that night as part of the Hunter-Gatherer showcase.
It’s impossible to see everything at Sound Summit. I didn’t go on Thursday night because I was busy, and I didn’t go on Friday night because I was feeling anxious about being around people.
That’s the good thing about Sound Summit though. No matter how anxious you may be there is always someone to talk to about music that no one else in the world seems to understand. Talking about music is a lot more fun than writing or reading about it, because you look people in their eyes.
As time has passed I’ve become increasingly reluctant to make broad diagnoses about Australia’s underground music cultures. I’ve become even less inclined to opine about music because opinion is neither very interesting nor in demand. Speaking to Joel Stern from Sky Needle about this on Saturday, he acknowledged that it must be difficult to do so at a time when many musicians are willing to provide the context themselves. Speaking on a panel with Nic Warnock about “the continual evolution of independent music culture” reinforced Joel’s words, because he and the three other musicians on the panel were not oblivious to many of the factors music writers think they’re independently discovering through writing about them. Music culture, the way it evolves and the way we engage with it, is not very mysterious. All the phenomenons are identifiable by anyone with a vague interest in it. There is a lot that is mysterious about music, but not these things.
And that’s why Sound Summit is the only music festival in New South Wales, Australia, because you can get drunk on Saturday night and dance to Four Door then talk coherently about the same performance for hours the next day between sets at the Red Rattler. Music is enjoyed and then discussed by several communities in one place. The conclusions and opinions that each person gleans from each band or artist or discussion is liable to change dramatically. What’s important is that the opportunity is there in the first place, and that’s what Sound Summit provides. It is definitely a music festival and it is very important.
Thanks to Jack Mannix and Intense Nest for allowing us to use their photos.