Violent Soho / Cloud Control / Last Dinosaurs / Fazerdaze / Sloan Peterson
University Of Wollongong – Innovation Campus, Wollongong 19/08/17
Review: Matt Doria | Photos: Peter Zaluzny (Facebook/Twitter)

Winter is the absolute epitome of bittersweet: you can sip hot choccies 24/7 and nobody is allowed to judge you (as per the Milo Protection Act of 1973), you can enjoy at liberty the sheer euphoria of being crushed by heavy doonas, and you never have to stress about sweating up a storm on crowded peak hour trains. But – and it’s a fickle motherf***er of a but – outdoors after 5pm are an incontestable no-no. So with that in mind, what better a way to remind us that summer isn’t all that bad than to hold an outdoor music festival in the violent, icy clutch of Wollongong’s remorseless mid-August!?

There’s a homely vibe to this miniaturised offshoot of the rapidly burgeoning Yours & Owls festival – tucked away on a university campus were 3,500 fur-jumpered punters all huddled around a single stage with a unified devotion to solid indie, and a few smaller shared loves for cheap alcohol and filthy burgers. The evening was off to a brilliant start, as the sunset-stricken mountains proved a dazzling backdrop for Sloan Peterson‘s dreamy ’50s-channeling guitar pop. 

Melding upbeat tempos with breezy harmonies, Joe Jackson‘s youthful and infectious energy set the platform for fizzy, reverb-licked guitar solos and dusty, pumping basslines to soar. Perhaps it’s just our recent obsession with the flick, but a cut like “Rats”, for example, would fit effortlessly into a film like Baby Driver. Put straight, it’s music to feel like a badarse to: the kind of rollicking fret affection to blast from the subs in your vintage Mercedes as you glide down the open road at doubtlessly illegal speeds, the wind dancing through your matted locks and sunlight glittering off the lip of your Ray Bans. No wonder the band is named after the Ferris Bueller’s Day Off character.

As the sun continued to descend – the temperature achingly with it – the campus grounds began to fill. Fresh outta New Zealand, our new faves in Fazerdaze kept the misty atmosphere alive with their soft, swervy indie jams. Their energy was a little muted, but it worked in their favour: the slow-burning tinge of the foursome’s zeal meant it was astonishingly easy to lose yourself in their silky guitars and glassy drums. 

Being the ‘fill-in’ band – especially for one billed so high on the lineup – is never an easy task. But taking the reins from Brisbane indie lords Cub Sport, who slipped off at the last minute due to illness, neighbouring funk-pop outfit Last Dinosaurs delivered a tight, temperate set that instantly proved why they should have been on the bill to begin with. Frontman Sean Caskey was all kinds of enigmatic, trading slick riffs and smoky vocals with blinding ease. The highlight of the quartet’s set came in a sweet and sultry cover of Modjo‘s “Lady”, which pumped a downright sexy vibe into the festival with chimey strums and a thick, funky bassline.

It’s about right now that the smell of weed started wafting through the grounds. Our attempts to track down who could hook us up with a gram proved fruitless – and were also nonexistent, because doing so would be very unprofessional. Don’t snort marijuanas, kids. 

After a buoyant set from electro warriors The Kite String Tangle, regional psych-rock powerhouse Cloud Control took to an audience now bursting at the seams. “It’s been really cold, but I think things are about to get HOT,” frontman Alister Wright quipped before tearing into the hazy, almost erotic “Dojo Rising”. There was a lot of potential in Crowd Control’s loose and laidback showcase – Wright’s rhythmic strumming was no less than hypnotic – but at this point in the night, we were starving for energy, and their slinking prog-inclined indie was doing little to sate us. The 40-minute set drolled quickly; standing through the entirety of it felt like watching paint dry. But hey, they did exactly what the penultimate band at any festival should: they got us hyped as all sweet hell for our headliner.

Speaking of which, the hype surrounding Violent Soho‘s headline set was immeasurable: currently in hibernation to chip earnestly away at LP4, tonight marked their first performance since a closing slot at Groovin The Moo in May, and with no future shows locked down, their last for a decent while. But as the Brisbanian grunge kings sauntered out to their adoring hordes, something felt… Off. Vacant was the raw ferocity Violent Soho are so revered for – the four-piece meandered, slugging spiritlessly through a 12-cut set that ticked off a slew of fan favourites (the oft-ignored “Neighbour Neighbour” an especially welcomed jam) but with none of the intensity those demand.

To their credit, there were a handful of moments that reminded us why Soho are the country’s fastest rising rock act: axeman James Tidswell riffed with vicious aplomb when it counted, and his banter was, as always, hilarious and sharp; the messiest pits and most passionate singalongs made “Covered In Chrome” and “Viceroy” instant highlights; and if nothing else, the band’s insistence on stopping the set midway to slam a blunt was inspiring. But the faults are too glaring to ignore. The mixing hindered much of Soho’s time onstage – it sounded like we’d slipped a dusty copy of the WACO vinyl onto a cheap Crosley – and the band’s lack of enthusiasm certainly served us no respite.

Of course, none of that was at fault of the Yours & Owls crew, and at face value, it’s safe to say The Last Frost was a belting success that we’re keen to see flourish in the coming years. We definitely can’t pass complaint at the notion of a new alternative festival propping up in a semi-regional, but widely accessible market like Wollongong. Needless to say, too, our excitement for this year’s ridiculously huge Yours & Owls lineup just tripled.