Live Review: Festival Of The Sun

11 December 2017 | 4:54 pm | Mick Radojkovic

"This festival is a winner."

Day 1

Summer is here and so begins the music festival season. There are no less than four festivals occurring on the second weekend of December, but coming into their 14th year, Festival Of The Sun is a tried and true event that consistently compiles a stellar line-up.

This, the Outer Space Edition of the festival, is hosting a banging collection of Australian artists of different genres, ages and vibes.

Arriving at the festival is as easy as trekking four and a half hours up the highway from Sydney to Port Macquarie, a usually sleepy coastal town that transforms a caravan park into a tent city. It's a fantastic concept. The amenities are already here, the location is sublime and it's secluded enough to not cause too much of a fuss for the locals.

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The stage area is easy to access and navigate. An array of food trucks (Greek, Thai, kebabs, gozleme, pizza, a chippery) all encircle a field in front of two stages. The main stage is adjoined with a smaller side one meaning that there are no clashes to worry about! An excellent thing to note is the area of sand on the dancefloor. Much better than mud when the (inevitable) rain appears and it fits in with the beachy theme of the festival.

Arriving on Friday afternoon, we are immediately treated to the lush sounds of Clea. A smallish crowd are assembled in front of the side stage and she attracts more as her set continues with the delightfully bubbly Bright Blue. Next, Imbi The Girl appears for her festival debut. Her sound is unique, as is she. There's a definite vibe to her sound and one gets the feeling this is the first festival of many for this talented singer.

While Betty & Oswald are soundchecking, it's a chance to check out some of the stalls around the field. There's Lifeline op shop, a barber and the brand-new PLAY SAFE VIP Area. Provide a sample to check your STI status and you'll get access to glitter galore, a charging station and personal bathroom. That's a win-win-win if I've ever seen one! The harmonies of the band bring us closer. The combined voices of Pete Sotiropoulos and Claudia Schmidt on tunes like Figure It Out are a crowd-pleaser.

The biggest audience of the day so far arrives when Adelaidean rockers Bad//Dreems take to the main stage. Their irreverent Aussie garage-rock sound is appreciated a little too passionately by the crowd, with frontman Ben Marwe taking umbrage at the circle pit forming in front of him. During the appropriately named Dumb Ideas he yells out, "Stop running into each other and watch the fucking show!" The errant missiles coming from the audience don't help to keep Marwe's mood in check as he declares, "This is about you guys," as the band finish a rollicking set with Mob Rule.

Easily one of the best sets of the day comes from Melbourne's Press Club. The live power of this band is something to behold. With only a couple of songs released, this four-piece prove there's some exciting tracks to come. Vocalist and live-wire Natalie Foster is electric up front, while the band are tight and rock out hard. They blast through their set before heading off to Fairgrounds with many other festivals to come. Add this band to any festival plan.

The rain has been threatening all day and when Holy Holy take the stage, it is unleashed upon us. It's nothing torrential, but punters are sent scrambling for cover. For those with the fortitude to handle a bit of water, they take in an entertaining set from the Melbourne lads.

Hatchie, who is making a real name for herself since going solo from Babaganouj, gives us a beautiful little set that leads perfectly into Meg Mac. She attracts a huge following as she gives us her hits from album, Low Blows, but the crowd participation in Roll Up Your Sleeves is a huge highlight. An inspired choice for the final slot on the side stage is Alice Ivy. Her solo electronic performance along with cheeky guitar licks is frantic and exciting.

Is there any better band to finish the first day of a festival with than Ball Park Music? They bring a smile to all the faces in the crowd with their festival-friendly catalogue, which included Literally Baby, It's Nice to Be Alive and Everything Is Shit Except My Friendship With You. The prolific band also tease us with a few new tracks from their forthcoming fifth album. The band cheekily push the curfew for one last song, Fence Sitter. Such damn good fun.

The punters head back to their campsites to kick on for the evening. It's significant that FOTSUN is BYO. The feeling from staff and volunteers is that festival-goers are less likely to indulge in dangerous drug-taking at a festival where outside alcohol can be consumed. It's a fair point, and the police presence is precautionary, rather than forceful. Also, how great is it to be able to walk into the town, buy the cheapest grog you want and carry it back in? It's revolutionary!

Day 2

The second day starts with a cleansing downpour, but the site handles it well, what with the gravel roads and lush grass. Pretty soon, the sun breaks out and it's a great chance to hit the beach before the bands start. With the sand being literally five minutes' walk away, it makes this festival one of the best located in the country.

After a dip, we take in triple j Unearthed winners, Mild West. The local group make the most of their chance with a quick set of well-constructed psychedelic-alt-rock and lead perfectly into Dear Seattle who probably deserved a later slot. "How shit does everyone feel right now?" asks singer Brae Fisher to the decidedly dusty crowd. They perk us up though, with a fantastic set of tunes reminiscent of the '90s Aussie alternative scene. New track Dr Phil is a cracker, too.

The hip hop heads make their way to the stages for the next two artists. Local lads, manicSOUL, start out with two rappers on stage, before being joined by a full band to give us some fun and show their potential before Ivan Ooze froths up the crowd, delivering a massive set with hands (and people) bouncing continuously

The self-proclaimed "shittest band in Newtown" add "..and possibly Australia" to their tagline as the three-piece Scabz wake up anyone that might have still been sleepy. The band make us laugh even with their very localised songs about Wollongong and the Marrickville Metro shopping centre. New single, Poor This Week, shows that they're more than their novelty tracks though. A quick guitar solo on the main stage perfectly captures their cheeky vibe and every festival director should consider them as a warm-up act for The Bennies, who could be seen enjoying the trio during their set up.

The Bennies put on a huge set. "We love music festivals so much. You get to be as weird as you want!" declares lead singer Anty Horgan as they dive into Heavy Disco. A highlight comes when he literally dives into the crowd, balancing on blow-up furniture while singing Legalise (But Don't Tax). Fortunately, the police presence is content to stand back and watch. Oh, and Party Machine is a hectic set finisher!

Sampa The Great's set is positively joyous, a massive ray of sunshine to match the weather and break through the rock-heavy line-up. Playing tracks from her new album, Birds & The BEE9, Sampa and her talented backing band take us on a journey of musical delights. A Sampa show is so spiritual. Flowers, Black Girl Magik and the amazing Bye River are great to see live, but the crowd bay for an encore and she delivers it with F E M A L E.

Synthy guitars dominate in Raave Tapes' set including a fun cover of PNAU's Embrace. The sets are running ahead of time, so crowds trickle in late to most of the main stage act but when they all eventually show up for Kim Churchill's set it's impressive. People clamber onto shoulders as UFOs, balls, surfboards and shoes fly around the crowd. The response to music that isn't particularly diverse or flashy is surprising, but the popular tracks, including the over six million Spotify-play-having Window To The Sky, elicit a huge response from the vocal crowd.

Blink and they're gone. Up-and-coming group The Money War are probably hoping to play to a good portion of the residual crowd but only get a fraction of the audience to the previous act, which is a shame. They play a nice set, although their time-slot of 7pm is questionable considering the residual vibe from the previous act.

Sydney's The Preatures sees the people return from their campsites for more. The charismatic Isabella Manfredi controls the stage and the crowd but it's her voice that's absolutely perfect tonight. Playing a bunch of tracks from this year's Girlhood is great but it seems to confirm they missing Gideon Bensen's extra guitar, particularly on an outdoor stage. Notwithstanding, it's an excellent show.

The Pretty Littles score a nifty slot right before the headliners and they go all in. Ripping through tunes from last year's Soft Rock For The Anxious, they would have won over a score of new fans tonight.

It's a dream for any band to headline a music festival and tonight would see well-loved Horrorshow do it for the first time. Solo, Adit, drummer 'Surfy Jesus' (aka Dane Connor) and their keyboardist combine to showcase their passionate live show to the 3,000-strong crowd to round out the festival. Dead Star Shine kicks off a set of old and new tracks including covers of No Aphrodisiac and Can I Kick It? Finishing with an all-inclusive singalong of The Rain, we are thankful we didn't get any and got to appreciate a group at the top of their game under the clear warm night sky.

This festival is a winner. Despite some first-aid callouts near the end of the day, the crowd is well-behaved and good natured and the organisation is smooth and professional. Start planning your trip up for their big 15th anniversary in 2018!