Live Review: Disconnect Festival

15 December 2015 | 12:24 pm | Craig EnglishChristopher H JamesTash Edge

"It's not often a festival lives up to its own hype, but Disconnect delivered on its tagline: 'What a festival should be.'"

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The brand-spanking-new Disconnect Festival hit Fairbridge Village last weekend and boy, what a weekend. If you can imagine Southbound but with less dickheads, more families and more weed, you'd be at Disconnect.

A beautiful stone building with speakers mounted on the pulpits, the Chapel made for an inspired venue. Kicking off the weekend with a solo set played to a few early birds, Timothy Nelson showcased his upcoming release (sans The Infidels) and judging from this set, it'll be a killer.

And later in the day, the Chapel certainly proved fitting for Bloom's gothic musings; rarely have songs about demons seemed so appropriate. Fait, a group of shoegazer Perthlings with a mesmerising sound, were just the band to test the Chapel's exceptional acoustics. In quieter moments, their heavenly reverb filled the room as if the stone walls themselves were breathing. 

Over in the Secret Garden, Akouo was a ball of energy as he unleashed his self-described "weird-ass beats." It was a committed effort, although his urban sound seemed a bit at odds with the quaint back garden setting, complete with lounge chairs, parasols and inflatable pink flamingos.

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It was revitalising to see Nick Allbrook reunited with his spiritual warriors and fellow members of Pond, after a ramshackle solo show one week earlier. They resisted the shout-outs for Medicine Hat and mixed old material with some new, as yet unnamed songs wherein Allbrook generated mind-boggling astrophysical sounds from his guitar and Jay Watson manifested into a force of pure drumming dynamism. Their creativity spilled over into the crowd as they invented new dance moves and what looked like some badly conceived attempts at flight.

Five-piece indie-folkers Bedouin Sea, sounding very much like Little Lion Man-era Mumford and Sons, sadly had a much smaller crowd than they deserved given the fact they played at the same time as Pond. This didn't seem to bother the fellas though, and their tight instrumentation and clever lyrics had the beginnings of a dance along happening in the Chapel pews.

Over in the Mess Hall, The Big Hoo Haa provided the night's comedy in the form of a Whose Line is it Anyway? styled improv. And although initially skeptical due to the difficulty of this particular genre, the crowd were soon wetting themselves (from spilled drinks of course) and eagerly joining in the fun.

Pond would not be an easy act to follow on the main stage, nevertheless Neon Indian gave it their best shot with their densely layered disco. Alan Palomo had clearly spent some time slicking his moves and grasped every opportunity to connect with the crowd. As an all ages event, it was fun to see some of the more coordinated toddlers bust some moves under the neon lights.

Festival sweethearts and all-round nice gals, All Our Exes Live In Texas brought the house (or the Chapel) down with their sweet-as-honey set. Taking turns to showcase their carefully crafted tunes and with harmonies to die for, their rich melting pot of sounds drew in a close to full house (or again, Chapel) and it seemed not a single person could walk past without being drawn in.

After totally exploding in the last year or two, WAAPA-trained Meg Mac's goosebumps inducing sexy-as-all-hell husky voice rang out across the Darling and gave the festival just the jump it needed this time of night. Despite a slow start due to technical difficulties, it quickly picked up and triple j favourite Never Be made it impossible not to sing (read: scream) along.

Perhaps motivated by a repressive catholic childhood, Abbe May later paraded The Chapel's aisle like a high priestess holding aloft a skeletonised goat's head. Previewing songs from an album she's "working on" to be titled Bitchcraft, she was joined by her friend Joni Hogan (of Joni In The Moon) for an earthy rendition of Ginuwine's Pony that coaxed the congregation into all manner of dirty dancing. There was frothing in the aisle and gyrating in the pews. Unabashed, May then demanded to know "what's wrong with gay marriage," and stood on the communion rail while brandishing the goat's head. We were all singing from her hymn sheet by the end of it.

Optimo slipped some exotic threads into his punk-funk and digital breaks, such as African sounds, kettle drums and, erm, Simon & Garfunkel. His timely drop of Hardfloor's remix of Mory Kante reminded everyone that acid always sounds great in a field.

Early on Saturday, and sounding like something from Lord of the Rings, RU's hauntingly beautiful, and totally captivating voice filled every sore and hungover head with the sweet relief needed after Friday night.

Felicity Groom and band took to the main stage as the heat began to wane and early afternoon languor had begun to set in among the festival goers. Brooding drums and dark bass drove the chariot of Groom's voice, with Hungry Sky rolling like thunder through the Darling View Amphitheatre.

Picnic rugs unfurled as the dusk drew nearer and welcomed City Calm Down. Unrelenting thumper Your Fix gradually enticed a growing pool of dancers toward the front. It was a real joy to see kids enjoying themselves as well, free to get swept up in the cacophonous beats and have a great time at what was an almost entirely dickhead-free festival.

Speaking of dickhead-free, WA Greens Senator Scott Ludlam took to the Mess Hall to present Hacking the City, a surprisingly interesting presentation on how to tackle issues like climate change and our one-way economy, and just generally wreaked havoc on the brains of any rightys in the vicinity. Somebody needed to get this man a wet towel, because he was on FIRE.

Taking to The Chapel stage like it was nobody's business, Helen Shanahan had heads rolling with her intense lyrical journey. She deserves way more recognition and the title track from her latest EP Finding Gold was just that — gold.

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, sporting seven members, dished out wave after hazy wave of funk-tempered psychedelia. Seeing their two stage drummers play together in unison was quite the spectacle; neither of them missing a beat — quite literally. People flocked and crowd numbers swelled, possibly due to the fact that the band was audible from the outskirts of Bunbury.

Scheduling them before the less well known Goat might have seemed counterintuitive, but the audience barely seemed to comprehend what had hit it when seven Swedes clad head to toe in pagan robes and masks entered to create a highly rhythmic psychedelic onslaught. The small group of onlookers had bloomed into a large, highly involved mass by the time King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard joined Goat onstage, igniting orgiastic scenes at the front. When the population of Pinjarra explodes in nine months time, we'll know why.

Mercury Rev seemed intent on blasting us away with volume, which for a band capable of conjuring meticulously detailed atmospheres of epic grandeur, struck some as a little disappointing. Still, there was plenty of drama as Jonathan Donahue threw his elegant interpretive poses, Grasshopper wielded his uniquely screaming guitar and the doomed romance of The Dark Is Rising lent an indelible sense of tragic beauty to the night.

Perth gem Ruby Boots brought rustic Australiana laced with the twangs of a country American landscape to the cosy chapel. Her gorgeous unplugged cover of Leonard Cohen's Chelsea Hotel had her marching up and down the aisles, serenading everyone in the room, but she peaked with a new song — Elana Stone and Georgia Mooney from All Our Exes Live In Texas joining Boots and band on stage for an unforgettably ephemeral lament.

Tkay Maidza burst on to the amphitheatre stage 'en fuego', conjuring rabid tension with irresistible foot stomper Brontosaurus. Her giggly and diminutive stature passed her off as a likely brainchild of Basement Jaxx, cutting through the face-melting house beats with her beautifully crisp vocals, all the while effortlessly controlling the crowd with a mere wave of her hand.

Complete with a safety briefing a la your standard commercial airliner, Flight Facilities warmed up the decks ever so gracefully before dropping hard house electronica. A power cut to the stage lights and displays momentarily redefined dancing in the dark, and surprise Daft Punk classic Revolution 909 crept its way into the mix, providing the crowd with limitless energy to dance well into the early hours of the morning.

With everyone looking a little worse for wear again on Sunday, youngster Sydnee Carter kicked off the day in The Chapel with an easy-listening, soundtrack-of-summer-styled set showcasing some originals and some clever covers not normally beheld in this genre, such as in the case of Rihanna's We Found Love.

A thoughtful rapper for whom insight is more a weapon than hollering, some might have thought that Mathas was miscast on the main stage, and during the hottest part of the day too, although he made valiant effort with ruminations on devolution, environmental degradation and horror stories about what white sugar will do to you. Maybe Jessica Pratt had the right approach to the heat, as her hazy, ethereal slowcore with gently chiming guitars drifted effortlessly over to the masses taking shelter under nearby trees. Inside the cooler confines of The Chapel, Timothy Nelson & the Infidels solid set was followed up by a masterclass in nuanced songwriting by Lucy Peach.

Tired Lion were visibly nonplussed by the crowd's lethargic response, with the drummer threatening to commit an act of public indecency if things didn't improve. It was a threat that dared not be ignored as the kids dutifully assembled to pogo.

At the Secret Garden, Denmark's own Spire built a set that evolved from optimistic, crystalline breaks to dark-core drum'n'bass while sustaining impressive levels of hyperactive twitchiness throughout, while back at The Chapel the seductively confessional songs of Tommyhawks met the evening with a dark turn of mind and were brought to life by some irresistible tenor sax.

Other than total instrument failure, every technical gremlin known to man seemed to hit Julia Holter and her band, including losing a pair of glasses. "Sensory deprivation can be good for art," Ms. Holter quipped, but it was apparent that not being able to see or hear herself was weighing on her confidence. Glimmers of her extraordinary talent shone through nonetheless, particularly on an exquisitely dreamy Maxim's I, and her stoic persistence in challenging conditions only endeared her more to her following.

From the opening bars of I Love You, Honeybear, we were putty in Father John Misty's hands, as he excluded a masculine sweetness that clearly no woman present (nor man) had any effective defence for. Wannabe frontmen will no doubt try to unpick his magnificent showmanship. But while on the surface he's Nashville, Las Vegas and a shimmy of the New Romantics all rolled into one, there are subtler elements at play, such as the pristine clarity to his voice that echoes through the soul, and a finely tuned sense for when to restrain himself and when to fall to the floor like a swan mortally wounded by cupid's arrow.

Following that, and having to step into Chet Faker's shoes (who withdrew due to injury), might have been a daunting task, but Touch Sensitive did so with a sure-footed nonchalance. A pulsating laptop set was complimented by the man himself playing live slap bass and bouncing around in crisp, white sneakers, as many who had seemingly climaxed with Father John Misty and gone home came running back for one final boogie. It was yet another twist in three storied days. It's not often a festival lives up to its own hype, but Disconnect delivered on its tagline: 'What a festival should be.'