Live Review: BIGSOUND 2023

8 September 2023 | 3:23 pm | David James YoungEmma Newbury

Country, metal, hip-hop, indie songs, hyper-pop and more - where else could you find it all but BIGSOUND?

Bella Amor at BIGSOUND

Bella Amor at BIGSOUND (Credit: Darcy Goss Media/QMusic)


Fresh from a red-eye flight over from WA, Perth indie darlings smol fish are in a slight haze as they perform in Brisbane for the first time on minimal sleep. Nevertheless, the quartet are in good spirits and are still able to make quite the impression. Their sweet-natured and lackadaisical approach to the genre, complete with accented vocal crooning and shout-sung harmonies, is often starkly contrasted by distorted drop-D guitars and stabs of keyboards.

The songs often zag where you expect them to zig, and their mix of weighted song structure with airy ambience makes for constantly engaging listening. Cuts from the latest EP Sweet Taste go down a treat, as does a surprise Faye Webster cover that perks up a few ears. Indeed, if that particular brand of yearning cuspy-millennial US indie features in your On Repeat in any form, you'd be wise to catch smol fish out of the pond.

A stark home truth is realised shortly after doors open at La La Land: Australia isn't going to give a shit about Behind You until they break overseas. Not because they don't deserve local recognition – tonight's incendiary, unrelenting set proves they very much do.

It's to do with history – acts like The Birthday Party, The Drones and even The Go-Betweens weren't given their flowers locally until the UK raved about them. Music that's a few steps ahead, not easily pigeonholed, and not about to let its wings get clipped either. The Sydney trio thrives on punk-rock chaos amidst programmed beats and jazz detours, with barked raps and churning guitars fuelling the fire. This is not a user-friendly experience, which makes it all the more exciting amidst a sea of inoffensive acts. Wake up, Australia: Behind You are right here in front of you. Don't deny them.

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

Valtozash kicked off at The Warehouse as the night was still in its infancy. Self-described as the world’s most brutal jazz orchestra, the whopping fifteen-piece big band took to the stage to prove just that. The band, donned in their signature black warlock-esque cloaks, toiled through songs such as Boiling Solitude, Wraith II, and the darkest song of all time - a cover of Sesame Street’s Pinball Number Count.

On the same theme of big showmanship was Battlesnake, taking to The Prince Consort and converting the packed venue into a heavy fantasy rock dungeon. Known for their eccentric and otherworldly costumes (or lack thereof, they also used to play shows solely in budgie smugglers), the band took to the stage in Medieval robes aligned in studs and sparks for the Battlesnake wow factor.

Lead singer Sam Frank took the look a step further with chain-like devil horns as he howled through tales of witches and thieves, sparks erupting between his stance as the three guitarists Ben Frank, Paul Mason, and Daniel Willington stood side by side unleashing the chaos over the crowd.

Back in The Warehouse, Bella Amor ripped through her showcase, visibly having a lot of fun on stage as she danced and pulled stank faces like no other. With a resume boasting tracks with a creative hand from Cosmo’s Midnight and Asta, opening for Lime Cordiale and just finishing her stint last weekend at the Gold Coast’s SPRINGTIME festival, it is truly amazing that this sensation hasn’t been signed yet. Her first showcase for BIGSOUND included her own songs Does It Get Boring, All My Friends Are High and a cheeky new song being released this Friday. Amor also played covers of popular tunes Iris by Goo Goo Dolls and Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High by Arctic Monkeys.

Next up was Bec Stevens at The Wickham, with her dry humour and captivating voice not only making the crowd want to support her music but also be her friend. “I’ve gone around the Valley all night, farting in private,” she said jokingly. If anything, Stevens’ humour complimented her set nicely, giving the crowd some consolation between the lyrically vulnerable songs. Steven’s interpretation of her late friend’s song James’ Song was especially moving, touching on the devastation of suicide, but also keeping her friend’s essence alive as a tribute to his life.

Also breathing new life into things was Southeast Desert Metal, with a name that says it all. The indigenous four-piece attracted mob like no other, with a massive crowd amassing at The Outpost Bar. The group’s infectiously catchy vamping and lead singer Chris Wallace’s Barnsey-like cries gave the band an edge that suggested they would’ve rocked the house not only now but also in the 80s. 

The favourite act of the night Full Flower Moon Band were unfortunately cancelled halfway through their set due to a medical emergency with a patron. This was their only showcase set for the festival, however, the band is known for fairly frequent live shows outside of the Bigsound sphere if you missed them. The Warehouse was closed prematurely as ambulances arrived outside. No information has been disclosed as of yet, but the night continued on elsewhere as the venue finished their night.

The fact that lutruwita multi-hyphenate Miss Kaninna was playing major Tassie festivals and opening for riot-grrrl icons Bikini Kill before she'd even put a song out should speak volumes as to her status as a performer. She doesn't just earn these spots; she commands them with her unapologetic and emboldened presence.

With a sizzling, in-the-pocket live band holding it down for her, Kaninna's genre-defiant approach recalls Santigold circa her game-changing 2008 debut. One minute she's slithering into neo-soul; the next she's belting overcharging indie-rock... and not long after that, she's spitting acidic bars calling out cops and colonisers alike. The band are similarly chameleonic – no matter what whim Kaninna fancies, they have that exact style down-pat to collectively elevate what's already exceptional. Make no bones about it: This self-proclaimed “deadly bitch” is here to make an emphatic statement. Either get on board or get out of the way.

Melody Moko treats her gigs like first dates. The Logan-based folk-country singer-songwriter, decked out in possibly the best outfit of Bigsound (a bright-pink romper with matching glittery boots), is all charm as she banters away with her small but wholly attentive audience at The Sound Garden.

She tells of moving from the big city, of her family and touring with legends like Troy Cassar-Daley and Ian Moss. Not for nothing, but another legend of the game Beccy Cole is watching on as Moko plays – and it's very easy to see what all of them collectively see in her music. When it comes down to just her smooth voice and gently strummed acoustic guitar, it's truly like there's nobody else in the room. She invites you in with warmth, heart and home-truth honesty. Forget a first date: 30 minutes with Moko will make you want to sign up for a long-term relationship.

Many fans from the Full Flower Moon Band line decided to make their way back up to The Outpost, where Melbourne artist Suzi closed out the venue. “I can’t believe you guys came to see me at 11:30 pm on a Tuesday!” She exclaimed, visibly excited despite the late set time. The band had lots of fun with their set, as hair and limbs flew about both onstage and offstage with the punters. Hot off her tour with Sly Withers, Suzi and the band played relatable tracks such as It’s Not a Competition (which was actually co-written with Sly Withers), Everyone I’ve Met Hates Me, and the lighthearted At Least My Dog Still Loves Me.

The night wrapped up with Suzi’s most popular hit Amelia, and some punters slunk back through the sleepy Tuesday night outer streets of Fortitude Valley, ready to do it all again tomorrow. As for those who were keen to keep partying, three Amazon Music After Hours events took place, curated with themes of queer music, RNB & Hip Hop Music, and Up-and-Comers to the scene.


Sydney four-piece Teeth certainly kicked the night into gear with their set at Superfly Studios. A bit of a clash of scenes considering Superfly’s discotheque decor and Teeth’s gnashy nu-metal attitude; however, the band pulled it off with members of the crowd moshing aggressively in their own worlds. Ripping through songs, lead singer Blake Curby fully embraced the cluster of moshers enjoying the front row - “If you’re too soft to move, bop your head.”

Ben Swissa has style. That much is clear. He's got the look, he's got the synth patches, he's got the full 80s pastiche down pat. Substance, however? That's not quite on the menu this evening. With no music officially out, his packed audience at Tomcat is dealing with what is essentially a blank canvas. What follows is Swissa sharing a selection of bright retro-pop cuts brimming with the borrowed nostalgia of The 1975 and The Weeknd, executed by a loop station he almost certainly saw for the first time via Tash Sultana.

Swissa attempts to paint with bright colours, but the broad strokes simply come out in the wash as beige. Sure, he's only 17 – not every child prodigy can be a Daniel Johns or a Lorde – but his preening school-prefect energy matched with cloying, performative showmanship leaves you feeling like you're watching a facsimile of a pop star.

Credit where it's due, Gamilaraay singer-songwriter Loren Ryan contains some pretty significant multitudes as an artist. For most, transitioning between a solo acoustic set and a full-band one is a fairly straightforward layering process. For Ryan, however, it's often a night-and-day contrast. This set with her impressive backing ensemble allows for her to embrace a more playful side to her music, including a cheeky rendition of Tanner Adell's Do-Si-Don'tcha that probably wouldn't work in a solo set.

By that same token, it also adds some weight behind what are already quite poignant originals, such as her misty-eyed ode to her infant daughter Suddenly. Ryan is the kind of performer who can whip a room into an awed hush or lasso them onto the dancefloor, dependent entirely on whatever whim she fancies. Whatever she chooses, her charm intertwined with her warm, lush vocals ensures you'll likely go along with it.

For something a little more warm and homely, Tori Forsyth was the place to be with her stint at The Sound Garden. The lush indoor plant life of the Soundgarden combined with Tori’s soothing authentic twang made for a wonderful time. While country music has a very specific fanbase, Tori’s brand is approachable for anyone, resembling the likes of Julia Jacklin but with an angelic warble.

Gigheads looking to see the roof blown off by the vocal cords of powerful female and non-gendered leads were welcomed with open arms to the second showcase for Porpoise Spit. The Melbourne-based outfit, taking their name from the fictional town in Muriel’s Wedding, took to the Black Bear Lodge stage in front of a packed-out crowd, displaying songs such as Flat Coins and People Like Me. It was refreshing to see congruity between both skilful songwriting and performing, and the contrast between Elly’s husky alto and Mill’s high-hitting Australian twang.

What are Johnny Hunter doing at Bigsound, exactly? Of the myriad artists doing the circuit this evening, the glammed-up Sydney rockers are easily among the more established names. Unlike most on the program, they could probably very comfortably fill a room on this very strip on any given night.

From the outset, it feels like they have nothing to prove – which is why there's a real initial shock when they come out of the gates with the energy of a band hitting the circuit for the very first time. Not that they've ever exactly been on autopilot, but there's a real fire in the belly this evening – the riffs feel thicker, the drums hit harder, and frontman Nick Hutt is as daring an agent provocateur as ever. “Are you entertained?,” he bellows at one point – channeling Russell Crowe circa Gladiator. Consider this Commodus raising the thumb up.

A short walk from Black Bear Lodge was Beckah Amani at the Brightside Outdoors, one of the bigger venues for the festival. The Tanzanian-raised Australian has been fast rising in the industry in recent years, just last year taking home the APRA Professional Development Award for Popular Contemporary, and in 2021 the QMA Award for Emerging Artist of the Year.

Fair to say that BIGSOUND isn’t her first rodeo, but it certainly won’t be her last. The singer eased in with the track Waiting on You, with her brother Jimmy collaborating with her by rapping. Other popular hits that have been catalysts to Amani’s success were played, such as the emotionally powerful Standards and I Don’t Know Why I Don’t Leave You. Lovely blue swirls projected onto the carpark walls behind the stage which added an exciting visual to Amani’s comforting and angelic falsetto.

Adding to the list of well-decorated artists was Moaning Lisa closing The Zoo. Rising to fame off the back of their 2018 single Carrie (I Want a Girl), the four-piece went on to receive an NLMA nomination for Live Bassist of the Year in 2019 and an NLMA win in 2018 for ACT Live Act of the Year, and have opened for countless Aussie acts plus stints at Spilt Milk and Splendour In The Grass.

While they have an accolade for their live performances, the band appeared more mature and reserved in their showmanship, however, The Zoo stage isn’t all that roomy for convulsive outbreaks of dance. Some gnarly guitar solos and fills from Ellen Chan pleasantly greeted the eardrums of the crowd, meanwhile, drummer Hayden Fritzlaff kept the rhythm exceptionally tight.

It's not every show where you smash-cut from speaking on mental health issues in pin-drop silence to spitting fiery bars over booming beats to waving hands and dancing bodies. That's just the kind of paradox Kobie Dee works within, though – and let the record show, it absolutely works in his favour.

The Gomeroi MC presents thoughtful and articulate ruminations on his still-young life, his family and his road to sobriety that are arguably more thought-provoking and engaging than a lot of the panels being run throughout the day by so-called experts. This is a thoroughly lived experience, and it's all showcased within Dee's multifaceted approach to hip-hop. With the stunning and tragic storytelling of songs like About a Girl and Jody, which close the set shortly after midnight, Dee solidifies himself as a key voice within Australian music right now – one that deserves to be heard loud and clear.


Day 3 started with the genre-bending duo Porcelain Boy taking to the stage at La La Land. With lead vox by Jordan Olyslagers, and guitar and DJing balanced by Jordyn Mamora, the group introduced the crowd to a musically and conceptually unique experience. From far into the crowd, Jordan O could be a dead ringer for a young Travis Barker, with a drone-like stare that pierces into each and every member and forces them into engagement, while Jordan M took on an astonishing amount of coordination fleshing out the bulk of the tracks.

Birrigubba man Dean Brady has a voice that definitively stands out from the crowd – and that's not just an expression. He's brought everything but the kitchen sink to the stage of his Bigsound debut, from a blazing horns section to a sultry backing-vocal duo – yet, at multiple points throughout this half-hour of power, all you can focus on is Brady's thoroughly impressive vocals.

His blends of velvety R&B, stomping neo-soul and bouncy dancehall prove to be a full-body experience, as the crowd carries the momentum with an all-out dance party at the front of the stage. You can't blame them, either – after all, they're being given a lot to work with. Though Brady has only one song out thus far – the sunny-day romance of Falling, which closes – this set proves that we're dealing with a wunderkind that's got plenty more where that came from.

With a budding career boasting 31k monthly Spotify listeners and collabs with Genesis Owusu, Isabella Manfredi and Tseba was goddess PRICIE, playing at The Wickham. “The best way to describe me is that I’m that church lady,” she said before plunging into a gospel-styled song. Succeeding this were tracks such as The Best, Friendzone, and ELD (which stands for Eyes Like Daddy). There was a fairly small crowd for her last showcase but what was small in numbers was big in engagement - PRICIE got the crowd going with some left and right side stepping in Friendzone, successful call and response on an unreleased track, and hand waving during ELD.

Platonic Sex show in Brisbane is, effectively, a bubble. Within it, the hometown heroes are the biggest indie-rock band in the world. The sing-alongs are deafening – particularly on the toothy fuck-you of Devil's Advocate – and the room, which is very comfortably filled right to the back, has every last ear caught on every last thrashing riff, rolling drum part and indelible hook. Everything that the band known shorthand as PlatSex have on offer feels fully realised, smartly written and expertly executed – far belying the relative infancy of the band itself, having only started earlier this decade. It's garage rock with the roller door up taking in the sunshine; it's riot-grrrl with Instagram filters adding in some rainbow colouring; it's sweet and sour in a scintillating simultaneous to-and-fro. This bubble needs to burst post-haste so the rest of the country, even the world, can experience it for themselves.

Oscar the Wild contain multitudes. The Adelaide indie kids love themselves a folk-punk shout-along as much as they do angelic three-part harmonies, and will go from a tenderqueer heart-eyes love song to a snickering kiss-off in an instant. By refusing to acquiesce to any kind of holding pattern, they're truly able to keep you on your toes – and keep them tapping along, while they're at it.

In-between choice cuts like the urgent, rousing Pinch Me Please and the stop-start frenetics of Kiss Me Aphrodite, the band speaks directly from the heart about what the country's music community at large means to them – especially as young adults who haven't often played outside their hometown. Sure, the debates about Movie World rides and horse girls are entertaining as hell, but it's the sincerity of the band's framework as both upstarts and underdogs that really sell you on what they're doing.

Western Sydney duo Cult Shotta closed out the Warehouse. “Cult” is a pretty accurate name for this duo, with their brand dominating the TikTok sphere as of late. Rapper E11even was wheeled out on stage, hinting later in the set at an injury. This was no trouble for the rapper though as he and partner lil golo slid through the set with ease. Their hip-hop - meets - hyperpop style on stage is reminiscent of the early 2010s electronic heard by millennials and Gen Z growing up, whether it be through roller derby or night-core YouTube videos.

The duo and their entourage even rapped over Cascada’s Everytime We Touch to huge applause. The maximalism of Cult Shotta’s brand was clear through their aggressively colourful and glitchy background paired with flashing lights, and the group themselves through their outfits and iconic spiked hair. Hits such as feel like bam and Beamin were performed, as well as a debut spin on an unreleased track made with Ninajirachi. The group ended on a high with song 250.

Aotearoa has truly come correct at Bigsound 2023, bringing over the legendary Bic Runga and showcasing impressive young artists like Georgia Lines and Yahyah. The top draft pick, however, has to be Auckland duo Foley. Though the pair's widescreen, electric pop music is entertaining on record, it takes on a whole other life when vocalist Ash Wallace and guitarist Gabe Everett present it in the live arena.

For one, they have a murderers' row of a rhythm section – bassist Marika Hodgson and drummer Elijah Whyte add a real kick when they get into the groove of songs like Smooth It Over and Coffee. For another, Wallace and Everett both absolutely come alive on stage – the former is in constant movement as she seamlessly delivers the hooks, while Everett pulls into his rock background and goes full-on shredder when the moment calls. For the love of mankind, get around Foley.

The story goes that there were only 30 people at the first Sex Pistols show, but they all left and started a band. By that same token, there are only 30 people watching Cloe Terare just shy of midnight – but all of them are going to leave and become bad bitches. That's the kind of energy this young Toowoomba artist carries, firing off a playlist of playful party-starters that make for quite the mixtape. Her R&B numbers offer late-night lust that the hips can't help but swivel to, while her more hip-hop-oriented efforts offer tinted-shades confidence that the shoulders can't help but bounce too.

A clear student of the game when it comes to femme pop icons across both the 2000s and 2010s, Terare is bringing her lessons learnt into the 2020s with an undeniable assertiveness that makes for a whole lot of fun. Baddies need only apply.