"The room floated on a dreamy, bittersweet cloud as [Nicholas Allbrook] hovered somewhere between Bowie and Robert Smith."
At First Sight kicked off on a drizzly day and offered punters shelter from the drab weather — for inside Carriageworks, the vibe was anything but. Curated by FBi's Martin Doyle, it wasn't your typical offering of small time up-and-comers playing an empty room to support an inverted pyramid of mainstream heavyweights. The schedule was designed more like a satisfying degustation menu of thoughtfully selected, mostly local artists. Starting the day around 11, you could grab a snack at the Eveleigh fresh produce markets outside and then wander the record fair: row upon row of vinyl, CDs, limited edition posters and the like from dozens of independent Sydney record stores.
The two stages were just metres from each other, meaning no frantic runs between sets, there were immaculate bathrooms instead of portaloos — this was definitely not your average festival. In fact, the only inconvenience was a lack of food, aside from hot dogs and $10 pies from the Carriageworks cafe — next year they might do well to get the Eveleigh stallholders to stick around past lunchtime.
The second course was a hearty serving of rock'n'roll. Melbourne outfit Rolling Blackouts opened the main stage with an inimitably Australian, laidback brand of rock, with dreamy harmonies on the romantic Tender Is The Neck and fast-paced punk riffs on Wide Eyes. Los Tones delivered raucous, bluesy rock enhanced by charismatic frontman Nick Clifford's gravelly shriek. Acid Baby Jesus came all the way from Athens and the Greeks fit right in, playing slacker-rock with a paranoid psychedelic tinge. Frontman Noda Pappas has the slack-jawed vocals nailed, with highlights including the organ-laced Vegetable and the tambourine waltz of It's On Me. Sydney group World Champion had the room dancing with their catchy psych-pop, with dreamy vocals from William Campion pulling off a surprising and infectious cover of Kelis' Millionaire.
Better known as frontman for Perth band POND, Nicholas Allbrook takes the psychedelic in a different direction in his solo endeavours, and gave one of the most mesmerising performances of the day. Backed by a four-piece band including cello, the room floated on a dreamy, bittersweet cloud as he hovered somewhere between Bowie and Robert Smith — vocals rich and filled with longing, lyrics ranging from the mundane to the beautifully dark — with a blistering guitar solo in there too.
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The day morphed into party mode as evening approached thanks to No Zu. The wild octet, fronted by Becky Freeman (Sui Zhen) and Daphne Camf, were larger than life and almost too big for the Bay 17 stage. Nicolaas Oogjes acted as ringleader, tin whistle in his mouth when he wasn't enunciating deeply into an echo-effected mic like a cult leader. There were bucketloads of bongo, cowbell, temple blocks and saxophone; it was Architecture In Helsinki, deep in the African jungle, on speed.
Melbourne three-piece My Disco, however, are impossible to categorise. Forget party mode for a moment, unless you like your parties (and your discoes) dark, minimalist and industrial. Forget the traditional verse-chorus structure and settle in for music that simultaneously slows down and fires up your brain, like a hit with a sledgehammer, with single notes held at length and silences filled with suspense, punctuated by jarring metallic chords and grating screeches and the occasional huskily vocalised, repetitive phrase. Liam Andrews, Rohan Rebeiro and Ben Andrews were all shrouded in shadow, the room pitch-black but for skillful lighting and visuals by Ego, including a hypnotic, sound-activated animation of the cover of their upcoming album Severe designed by Falko Ohlmer. That they drew just as big an audience as for the more uplifting acts suggests an open-minded crowd — a strong factor in the overall relaxed atmosphere of the day — and My Disco was a refreshing interval before the night went full disco.
Amrita hit the main stage for an energetic dance number to give a taste of Oscar Key Sung's evocative R&B. Melbourne's OKS is riding high on two solid EPs, 2013's Holograms and this year's Altruism, and he was relaxed and confident in his execution, adding live electric guitar and his own voice. His trademark earnestness stood on tracks like Brush — "Aren't you sick of men/Thinking you need them to tell you who you are?/I don't wanna be that guy" — and the finale All I Could Do, as he pushed back the desk to sing falsetto and join Amrita in a joyful dance-off, the crowd joining in to the thumping beat.
The dancing continued with Total Giovanni, a tongue-in-cheek collective bringing shameless party vibes in white T-shirts and gold chains. Frontman Spike Punch brings elastic dance moves and camp self-assurance, Vincent D slaps the rhythm guitar, and as a group the five-piece aren't always in time, but they're always having a great time. Outside in the entrance throughout the day, DJs including Marcus King, Adi Toohey and Jimmy Sing kept everyone dancing.
Topping off the night was Sydney's resident king of party-funk Donny Benet and his band. He brought a series of guests on stage for an all-star show from Sui Zhen to Oscar Key Sung, Total Giovanni's Vincent D singing Bowie's Let's Dance, and Nick Allbrook as an utterly convincing Mick Jagger — pursed lips and all — singing Just Another Night.
It was an unpretentiously fun end to a by all accounts successful day; in a venue with excellent sound and facilities, every band went off without a hitch. Perhaps the only surprise was that there weren't more people — the stages were busy, but especially in the cavernous Bay 17, never full. Here's hoping the word will spread and At First Sight will be even bigger and better next time around.