Live Review: Golden Plains Festival

14 March 2016 | 4:22 pm | Bradley Armstrong

"With the tenth nail in the coffin, a long drawn-out hug feels more appropriate [for Aunty]."

Leaving Melbourne, the sun hasn't risen. For the next couple of hours, going along the V/Line, it's a sea of unrecognisable places and people. Passing the chicken statues and local golf club, things begin to look familiar. After a chat with the legendary shuttle bus driver and a quick coffee at the local takeaway shop, it's hard not to feel gooey inside. Pulling into the Nolan farm, a shiver goes down your spine. Inhale deeply, for we are finally home. It's time for another Golden Plains. Happy Birthday Aunty!

After getting all the random shit out of the tent from Meredith, having a laugh and tear of joy relaxing to the Golden Booklet and a delayed breakfast of coffee from the Tucker Tent, it's almost time to crack open the first tinnie. Though the sky is grey, The Sup' is as beautiful as ever and, with this year being this workhorse's tenth birthday, the site is littered with photos of the last ten years with some great ones of Chris, Mary and Jack Nolan (also of note is one of George Clinton smoking a funk cigarette on stage circa 2013, memories...) Counting down time 'til kick off, the clock clicks zero. It's time.

As per tradition, the Opening Ceremony is our introduction to the times ahead. This year it is delightfully awkwardly conducted by our MC, Steph Hughes. She introduces the festival founders and the Nolan family, naturally including living legend, Chris Nolan, who comes out with the biggest smile on his face. After thank yous, it's time for the unquestionable highlight of the festival in which the crowd cheer for Chris and, in a display of human triumph, he acknowledges the crowd with a 'long blink' (his communication for 'yes' following his accident in '96 leaving him unable to communicate). He makes the blink and it is the most beautiful and heartwarming moment around. The classic Golden Plains speech by The Ghost then plays over the PA and, it's been confirmed, we are here in this multi-sensory wonderland. 

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Gold Class have scored the coveted opening slot and have drawn a sizeable crowd in support. Opener Michael doesn't exactly explode out of the gates, be it some nerves from the band and being the opening group, the sound hasn't found its foothold yet, leaving things sounding a little muffled. Things improve by the time they hit Life As A Gun and Bite Down midway through and, from then on in, they have the crowd's acclaim. Emma Donovan & The Putbacks follow and it's Golden Plains' textbook soul outing. Donovan and her five-piece backing band perfectly execute throughout and has the crowd grooving like it's late night. Our first international act, the aptly named US Girls, follow and the band deliver something different. They are one of the most musically hard to pinpoint acts to have graced the The Sup' in some time. At its core, it's experimental electronica that relies on samples, effects and synthesisers, but the vocals lie between hip hop and R&B with a modern punk edge and odd occurrences — for example, the guitar solo provided by a walk-on cowboy. The sound is rather terrible throughout the place, though aesthetically it could be in line with what the band are trying to achieve. An odd boot goes up but it's definitely a head scratcher as to whether what was achieved was great or not quite there yet.


Freddy Gibbs

It's time to clean up. The much-accepted clean-up party that is housekeeping turns into a debacle as it becomes Sophie's Choice to make a decision about which David Bowie track is gonna be this weekend's clean-up song. MC Hughes clearly is trying to push Rebel Rebel but the audience speaks and Let's Dance wins by a landslide and the results are no cleaning, just dancing.

Natalie Prass then follows and it feels totally off. The band has been clearly adapted for a 'festival' set and her sound falls back on an uneasy blues mix that equals a mixed response. The interpreted version of My Baby Don't Understand Me sums it all up. While we see some amazing songwriting behind this performance (even a couple of decent covers), it doesn't reflect like the Prass fans have come to know. It's not overly bad in the end but, without the additional instrumentation, it feels like we are being unfortunately and unintentionally short-changed with the end result. John Grant has an interesting backstory before his music career took off and you could be forgiven thinking the mood would be a little more grim for his set. But, backed by a full band, he delivers up an oddball set of electro-tinged singer-songwriter material that, for the most part, hits the mark, the only downfall being Grant's vocal delivery on a handful of tracks sounding a bit out of tune. Legendary punks Buzzcocks definitely have their fans in The Sup'. The guys have honed their craft to a T and come Ever Fallen In Love, we see our first boots of the day. Again, vocally, it falls a little short with Pete Shelley's voice sounding notably aged, but hey, it's punk rock baby. Their last appearance at Golden Plains was woefully kicking off affairs in 2010 as they were starting to get attention. After a brief hiatus, they're back again.

Royal Headache are well and truly back and, from beginning to end, own their set time. Things favour last year's High but cuts like Really In Love see the biggest fan response and equal some further boots. The bugaboo himself, Mr CW Stoneking makes his first GP performance and the guy has gone all out with a massive backing band including a backing vocal ensemble. It is late and his music would never fit in at this time at any other festival but it is simply fun and the crowd drunkenly lap up the modern day retro blues crooner. NO ZU seem to be the go-to band for both Meredith and GP, as seemingly the group make their 100th appearance in The Sup'. It feels as if the band are the unofficial headliners of the night and they go all out with pure energy radiating from the stage. Latest single, Ui Yia Uia, is definitely a highlight with horns, hooks and chants being unforgettable groove fodder. After a set like this, we will no doubt be seeing this oddball collective again soon (Meredith?).



Post-kraut-electro-punk group Black Cab follow and tonight it feels, in the festival environment, they play things a little safe, favouring a more palatable set of their electronic work. The sound and the visuals are amazing, though it would have been nice to see the band flirt more with their experimental side. By this point in the night, you either have spaghetti legs or think you are Superman as we head into the late night program. Electronic/AV duo Friendships have been making a name for themselves of late and it's clear why. Visually and musically, they offer up something different to their descriptor and even have a handful of MCs join in at points. DJ Darcy Baylus follows delivering a set of Chicago house-flavoured bangers that overall are quite consistent. Rounding out the night, Kenji Takimi mixes things up for the traditional last dance haul of the night, mashing up tracks and seamlessly creating a cohesive flow. Props to the Maggot Brain mash-up which unfortunately had few people busting out their air guitar. Oh the Silence Wedge, the most awe-inspiring thing of the festival, it was great to see you again. Now where is my wallet, phone and beer?

It's Sunday, the carefully constructed tent that you thought you did a good job setting up has now turned into a squat. The sky is grey, it's cold and that puddle you slept in hopefully was there before you went to sleep. HTRK seem like an odd pick to open the day at 10am. The band are notorious for having troubles recreating their sound in the live arena and today's show sees the duo take a different (tad classic HTRK) approach with Nigel Yang spending most of his time on guitar. They favour their older tunes and the overall delivery is quite bleak and refrained. Synthetik feels like an androgynous ode to a vacated future while the PA-pushing Give It Up is an aural delight. A reinterpreted Ha ends their time on stage and the minimalist version works well within the context of this set, despite losing all of its edge. It's not every Plains that you see a grand piano on the stage: the acclaimed trio The Necks are perfect for the recovery from the night before and it is hard to not get absorbed and lost in their world. Playing their set as one whole continuous piece, the playing from all members is mind-boggling and combines minimalism with a structured yet free feel. Making its first appearance this year, the sun takes over the Amphitheatre and the morning blues dissipates. Sampa The Great tries to hone in on the glory and, while it is great to see her with live instrumentation, it doesn't hit the mark. While her flows and performance skills are top notch, something feels missing and ultimately leaves a feeling of wanting more. 

US Girls

There is always that band that no one knows too much about but blows the crowd away. This year that honour goes to Songhoy Blues. Hailing from Mali, Africa, the band have the crowd eating out of their hands with their blend of '70s rock, blues and reggae. Boots are up and the clearly humbled band have well earnt it. Classic rock greats Tyrannamen have a tough act to follow and well... they sorta don't pull it off. While variety is great and it's essential to have a bit of old fashioned rock, it feels all too dated. Never in the history of both Meredith and Golden Plains has the Supernatural Amphitheatre seen a hip hop act like Freddie Gibbs. After about ten odd minutes of the DJ playing his favourite songs and repetitively asking the crowd if they are ready for Freddie Gibbs, when Gibbs does turn up, he arrives on stage with two bodyguards (friends, hype men... whatever) and bursts out of the gate with a bangin' flow over a trap style beat. Then everything grinds to a hault as Gibbs waffles on — for lack of a better phrase — nonsense. It was like trying to understand a lion as he gets the crowd to cheer for each city he is visiting on his tour — except he is not playing any actual music. What made this set great was the introduction of the character who came to be known as Whiteboy Will, who again, for lack of a better phrase, was a fucked punter plucked from the crowd. Will offers Gibbs some mystery drink he had and then proceeds to stay on stage for the remainder of the set, drinking a bottle of Moet and even walking off with Gibbs as he finishes his set. At its best, it's mind-boggling a cappella and bangin' beats and, at its worst, it was like bad stand-up comedy but, God, will it be remembered for time to come. With the shirtless, ESGN-loving Gibbs playing overtime and being a bloody tough act to follow, Koi Child have a lot to live up to and they just don't hit the mark. While it's good to see instruments again, it's just not as engaging, though being technically well executed and sounding great. With The Sup' filling up, afrobeat royalty Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 take seemingly forever to set up: we overhear an audience member accurately say, "Well, they're masters of anticipation" but when the stage-filling band take the stage, it's clearly time to get down. Firstly, the band are amazing players each refined with their instrument and together as a whole the band make magic. It is all quite palatable when it comes to dancing as a whole, but it's the louder freak out moments that are the jaw droppers.

Underground indie masterminds Built To Spill have the coveted sunset slot and take their time getting on stage, diligently soundchecking which bleeds into their set time. But it was worth it as the band sound amazing with their three-pronged guitar approach led by mastermind Doug Marstch crushing and inviting the ears of the mob. Each song is quite drawn out as things layer on top of each other, making a wall of noise. The band favour material from last year's release Untethered Moon but it's the classics that shine brightest with the feel good flirtatious pop of Carry The Zero radiating throughout The Sup', while the wailing Randy Described Eternity takes it to a whole new plain(s). A ridiculously faithful cover of The Smith's How Soon Is Now? closes the set and while definitely a boot-worthy performance, it feels as if the band would be more ideal given more stage time at a sideshow than on a festival slot. '90s legends Sleater-Kinney follow and it seems as if this band haven't played a bad show since the '90s as they're on fire, delivering fuzzed-out enthusiasm. All Hands On The Bad One is an easy highlight embodying everything the band are about and, by the end, they have well and truly won the crowd.

Everyone knows they have to play it, but as Violent Femmes kick off with hit Blister In The Sun a frenzy of dance and singalongs ensue. The oddball instrument/genre-swappers/alternative-rockers have a new album out but the set plays out like a 'best of' with all the hits present, with Gone Daddy Gone and closer Add It Up being easy highlights. By the end the band well and truly affirm their underground icon status and have no doubt won over a new fan or two. Here we are, the moment that many have waited five long years for. From Melbourne, Australia, our headliners, the specially reformed Eddy Current Suppression Ring are here. For those unfamiliar with the band's past/music, it all may come across as odd but, for everyone else, it is the hour they have been waiting for. It feels as if they had never gone with the songs sounding as powerful as when they first came out. The band are tight without question. The amount of highlights are endless with Anxiety, Isn't It Nice, Burn, I've Got a Feeling, Memory Lane being just drops in the ocean. Rush To Relax is a frantic moment that sees Brendan Huntley bound about the stage with no inhibitions during its louder moments, and with its quiet sees the man crowdsurf as a flat board while singing as if he was in his own technicolor world. With the material they didn't play, the band could have played for another hour and still have had the crowd eating out of their hands. By the time it's over, the humbled gods have well and truly earnt mine and everyone else's coveted boot. It's always a bittersweet moment when the Sunday late night program kicks off as our time in the country is almost up. Chicago crate digger Sadar Bahar offers up an interesting blend of funk, soul and disco with a house edge — classic GP sounds. Tom Of England follows and continues the same sounds but with more of an electro backing and annoying banter. Taking us home, The Black Madonna incorporates the best elements of the DJs before her and, with ease, has the energy-fuelled punters dancing until 7am. The Silence Wedge then makes her last appearance and is a heartbreaking soundtrack for us about to head back into the real world. It is hard not to give Aunty unconditional pats on the back for her work but, with the tenth nail in the coffin, a long drawn-out hug feels more appropriate. Golden Plains X was simply on the money from beginning to end. Happy Birthday again Aunty, see you in December.

Eddy Current Suppression Ring