Sound Summit 2013: the only music festival

1464787_523739747709975_385192899_nPhoto 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.

image(1)Sarah Spencer performing

Intense Nest

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.

image(2)Lucy Cliche performing

photo(1)Red Belly Black Snake performing

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.

994035_523739834376633_1392707637_nPhoto 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.

photoAngel Eyes performing

Other Bands

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.


Photos from Sound Summit 2012

You’ve probably read our facts and emotions pertaining to Sound Summit 2012 and wondered, “what kind of web content is this? Where are the photos?” Well here they are, thanks to one Yasmin Nebenfuhr. You can either sit back, have a glass of merlot, and watch the slideshow below lazily unfurl before your eyes, or you can click the thumbnails below the slideshow to see each image in all its amazing 2D glory. It’s up to you.

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Sound Summit: Facts and Emotions

I saw heaps of bands at Sound Summit. It’s a waste of time to reiterate how good Primitive Calculators, Royal Headache or Mad Nanna are live, so rather than do a review, here are some key facts or “emotions felt” across the Saturday and Sunday. I couldn’t make it on the Friday. Obviously heaps more happened than this, but these were the highlights:

* The best show of the whole weekend was xNOBBQx in the Croatian Club’s Boardroom. Nick Dan was playing his drums at a 90 degree angle by the time the set ended. Matt Earle was smashing a sole remaining string on a crappy old Ibanez, and sometimes he’d drive the headstock into the crash cymbal. Most people smiled as they watched xNOBBQx, because their performance was one of the happiest experiences at Sound Summit. It was almost like being on pills at Parklife.

* There was a screening for a documentary about the Brisbane music scene called Brisbane 2012.  Created by Joshua Watson, it featured interviews with Joel Stern, Kitchen’s Floor, Scraps, Blank Realm and Matt Earle. It was basically the Gummo of music documentaries. It’s a true disaster that Scraps isn’t as big as AC/DC.

* ‘Sitting Outside Having a Cigarette while Royal Headache Play’ would make a good Anal Cunt song title.

* The Best Newcastle Band Ever, Castings, played at the Pharmacy on Sunday night, which was their first show in over two years. It was incredible. We will publish something longer about this soon.

* The locals at the Croatian Club are very patient indeed. I interviewed one of them. His name was Matthew and he refused to trade a couple of cigarette papers (his) for a pinch of tobacco (mine), which is false economy but I trust he knew what he was doing.

What’s your impression of the music here at Sound Summit?
Not that good, hey. Not really my style. I guess there could be more techno beats and all that. Or a bit more hip-hop in it.

What type of music do you normally listen to?
Mainly techno hip-hop and a bit of country.

What kind of country?

Just before, a guy called Oren Ambarchi played. What did you think of that set?
Me and Doug, we were like “I reckon we should just turn this off, unplug everything, turn it off”. That’s what we were seriously thinking. We all thought it was just shit, all us locals who normally come down to the Croatian every night.

Can you imagine any appeal to noise music? From your point of view, why would people listen to it?
Because they’re just a bunch of airheads I reckon, and they don’t really care what they listen to. In my opinion these people don’t really have much of a life, they just tour with all these people here, and they really start to begin to know all the band members, and I think they’ve ruined their life because they could be in a nice job, nice house and have a good family, instead of touring with them. That’s kinda what I’m thinking at the moment.

Do you think there’s anything wrong with noise music?
Yeah, I reckon it scares the birds away from the neighbourhood. I’m a big bird breeder and I’ve got a friend across the road who’s a big bird breeder, and he said the birds didn’t sleep last night. They just squawked all night. He said he’s getting sick and tired of it.

There are a bunch of artists in Newcastle that have done noise music. What other types of music come from Newcastle, that you know of?
With Newcastle we have a few up and coming rappers, we have up and coming techno people, and we might even have our own country music coming up in the next few months.

What are some of the hip-hop artists?
Bailey Squires, Blocks, One Tonner, they’re up and coming for Newcastle. We might even be able to take over the world with them.


Fellow Crawlspace person Luke Telford also had some emotions to share re: Sound Summit. Here they are below.

* Brainbeau are concerned about sounding too “easy listening”. They’re also a bit worried about how crappy their keyboards are. If you were to take them at face value, you might think these concerns were justified. They play seemingly pithy throwback electronic pop in a similar vein to the likes of Group Rhoda or Paco Sala, but the gently sensuous chord changes and spry melodic sensibility of this set leaves most of the work of those two bands in the dust. Sublime, slightly crusty retro-fetish party music that’s not difficult to weave your own internal melodies through.

* Lasse Marhaug seems to belong to a lineage of perfectly bald, bearded dudes who wreak vengeance on ears. There are points in his set that do sound like a jet engine dismantling itself, but reducing this music to descriptors like ‘noise’ dismisses the depth and character of it. It’s maximal and exquisite, and your loss if you prefer to smoke outside than listen.

* Soft Power is Andrew McLellan of Cured Pink and Joel Stern of Sky Needle – devolved dance pop to soundtrack to dimly fluorescing science fiction street scenes. It slows and expands periodically, as though molten and bubbling in the heat of some immense light. The tiny boardroom that contains this duo is corralled by coloured threads of sticky tape culminating in a precarious stack of chairs that’s bound to McLellan’s Mic stand. Divide and rule.

* High Wolf’s dense tribal polyrhythms and unspooling cosmic noodling belie his hunched self, seated onstage like some electric swami. It sounds superb, but not many people actually get to see him, preferring instead to sit on the bowling green and fill the air with smoke.

* Mist. Nothing misty about them. Richly synthetic progressive techno with tendrils that reach for your mind’s hems. Utterly present, though – you can try and drift off on wisps of texture, but you can’t escape the driving immediacy of this music.

* Lower Plenty live is like finally meeting someone you’ve fallen in love with from a distance, by mail. It’s something of a relief to see them and feel them, to hear the timbre of their voice and to know that they do exist. Those letters were something else though – can’t wait to go home and read them again.


Sound Summit was a festival which you’ve missed, so you can’t purchase it from the Sound Summit website.

New Music

Watch: The UV Race stars in Autonomy and Deliberation

In the desperate, post-apocalyptic world of Autonomy and Deliberation, UV Race isn’t a band any more. In a city [Melbourne] full of “strange wild creatures”, one member has sold his guitar and another works the streets. Vocalist Marcus has sorted his shit out and wants the band back.

That’s all I can glean from this trailer for the forthcoming Johann Rashid-directed Autonomy and Deliberation, which stars the UV Race and features heaps of Melbourne music celebrities. After that, a bunch of other funny exchanges occur and Marcus talks to himself in the mirror. It looks pretty good, and it premieres October 24 at Melbourne’s Westgarth Cinema. Of course, you could always go check it out this weekend at Sound Summit, followed by a Q&A with the director and two members (Dan Stewart and Al Montfort) of the band.