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FRONT ROW | SUGAR MOUNTAIN

In what’s felt like a painfully warm summer, Sugar Mountain delivered the kind of heat that music fans will always need. The one day music and arts festival taking place on the campus of the Victorian College of the Arts had a truly diverse lineup, the likes of which are rarely seen at major Australian festivals and kept the good times rolling all night long.

Stella Donnelly has been a triple j favourite over the last year, and it was easy to see why with her charming stage presence and honest material. Donnelly lured a strong contingent to the Dodds Street stage for an early set, for a festival that was later defined by how much space there was and the ease of movement there was a delightfully supportive collection for bodies humming along to her tracks like Boys Will Be Boys and Mechanical Bull. The same cannot be said for renowned DJ Éclair Fifi – she was thrown a set much earlier than deserved at the iconic Boiler Room Stage. Her set was one of the few not broadcasted, but the small collection who turned up were consistently impressed by her mix.

Photography by Michellefish

The Merlyn Theatre proved to be one of the more unique stages found at a larger festival of late, but also became near inaccessible when the Boiler Room was featuring its most packed crowds. Early on, as you entered to see Actress fans were met by a room so dark it took minutes to adjust their sight and more than a few collisions with audience members milling around the room. Actress’ experimental electronic material was coupled with hypnotic lights and projections and exactly no artist to audience interaction sans a final wave goodbye. It was an enthralling performance if you were into his style of production, and an ambitious booking for the festival. More than anything else it was an early reminder of what Sugar Mountain does so well – book acts that aren’t getting booked. Throughout the whole day it was artist after artist who we simply don’t see on mainstay festival stages and that an absolute joy.

Back at Dodds Street, Ara Koufax were setting up for what was easily a highlight of the day. Facing each other over two tables of equipment, the pair delivered a heaving melody inspired techno set that had bodies moving. It was fair competition to the heat on offer at Boiler Room and demonstrated that Australian electronic music far exceeds the well-known banger producers. There is a wealth of sounds and styles hidden away and Ara Koufax are just one of the many artists that electronic fans should be eyeing off.

A highlight of the visual art on offer, Corin, along with Justin Shoulder and Tristan Jalleh, presented a short musical and visual art vignette complete with a spiky inflatable suit and out of this planet visuals, enacting a short scene from The Devil Wears Prada.

Kardajala Kirridarra had a fantastic set of voices behind them, and it was engaging to see an indigenous band on stage but the lure of the Boiler Room was too much for many. With the masses moving to the dust pit that was an endless cycle of DJs, the live-streamed Boiler Room had a wormhole like effect with time seeming to stop mattering whilst you were there. Any time complacency in the material kicked in a new banger was dropped and the bodies once again got going. The stage stole the greater part of the Sugar Mountain crowd for the entire day, even if many were regretting it as they tried to clean their shoes the next day.

Despite the hype, Joey Bada$$ didn’t quite live up to the hype that he’s been building since 2015. With the audience having their own conversations in comfort tens of metres from the stage. Fans were dropping their own lyrics, and the bar remained full as Bada$$’s catalogue gained a sound of newfound homogeneity. The same cannot be said for Cut Copy. It may be ten years since band dropped their biggest hits like Lights and Music and Hearts on Fire but they proved to be timeless classics, and despite being mere silhouettes on stage were the best stage presences of the day. They worked through classics and recent releases with ease blowing the rest of the festival out of the water. There is this element to their music that is totally timeless and that while each of their releases has shown development and change they all have sounded distinctly like Cut Copy’s own branded style.

It was the perfect closure to an astounding festival that demonstrated that diversity not only can be achieved on festival bills but makes them more exciting. Few of the acts at Sugar Mountain are found regularly on festival bills, undeservedly so, and it created a sense of novelty and excitement that made it a truly unique experience. We can’t wait for this festival to set new precedents in the Australian festival scene.

Ayden Measham-Pywell

Tallest kid at every gig // Questionable dancer at best // twitter/instagram: ayds_on_toast