"The Cat Empire: these ridiculously soulful creatures know how to rile up a crowd."
An air of optimism pervaded the build-up to Southbound 2016, despite being postponed due to the devastating South West fires. A full line-up of local and international acts provided a mouthwatering prospect for punters, with an exciting mix of musical genres and persuasions. Campers faced a long trek from the paddock to the gig, but the quality of acts ensured the long journey down south was worth it.
As POW! Negro took to the stage at 5pm, the band’s faithful pressed against the barrier to throw wild shapes to POW!’s rap/hip hop/jazz fusion. None could match frontman Nelson Mondlane’s chaotic energy, however, with lanky limbs and tied-back dreads swinging to the equally energetic instrumental. Mondlane’s slightly affected Caribbean accent and theatrical delivery gave him the vibe of an '80s Bond henchman starting afresh. Case in point the delightfully expletive-ridden new single, Hidle Ho, which swaggers purposefully with its crisp, bass-heavy jazz sound.
Tash Sultana started her set with a roar of guitar riffs screeching through the tent. The crowd cheered, honouring the sound. Her charisma and presence left a mark on the main stage. Being one of the early opening acts on the first day, she pushed through with an inviting demeanour that drew in arriving guests.
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Discovery, a Daft Punk tribute act, made their way to the stage, filling the space with their funky vibes. A packed crowd of enthused fans began bouncing around the circus tent as they delivered old classics. Decked out in metallic gold and silver attire, including the trademark helmets, they brought the house down.
The Leftys tent swelled to capacity around 8pm in anticipation for Melbourne-based hip hop outfit REMI who, after appearing fashionably late, quickly had the whole crowd swaying in unison from left to right. Discarded cans and cups attested to the majority of the punters’ identification with Substance Therapy. Remi Kolawole was uncharacteristically apologetic for a rapper as he launched into each song without the (understandably) absent featured artists, although the chilled-out vibe of For Good (not featuring Sampa The Great) went down a treat as punters grooved out, the distinct smell of something other than cigarette smoke drifting around the Leftys tent.
Most of the mob stuck around for a set by electro duo Cosmo’s Midnight. Their big beats began with impressive visuals, which they used to rile up the crowd before the duo entered to give them the high-intensity dance tracks they craved.
Hermitude began their set singing out nostalgic tunes like Through The Roof. People jumped on each other's shoulders as Hermitude drummed out an electronic beat and all one could hear was the bass bouncing off the roof of the tent and the constant cheers of the crowd. Hermitude interacted with enthusiasm, shouting out their love for Western Australia and the energy our state brought to their set. Their sample breaks mesmerised the crowd and, dropping 2015's The Buzz, the duo seemed to be in a trance themselves.
Awaking in the camping section, the refreshed punters of Southbound began their journey to the Base Camp entrance. Wrists in the air as we headed through the checkpoint, we felt like prisoners going through security. However, the crowd was happy enough to comply knowing that the organisers were doing the venue and punters a favour by providing a safe environment.
The Money War stepped onto the Leftys stage with a backing of familiar faces from around the Fremantle music scene. They delivered exactly as tight a set as would be expected from such a talented and experienced collective of artists, the crowd responding with cheers and enthusiasm.
Midday at the Leftys tent saw local Perth boys Verge Collection getting the hungover heads of the modest early-bird crowd bobbing along. The optimism of their poppy indie tunes was matched only by the rising heat of this warm festival day. Highlight of the set had to be the summery Our Place with its charmingly banal description of being out with your mates leaving the audience unable to hide grins. Apologetically stalkerish, Postcodes had the punters lustily singing the chorus of this quintessentially Aussie song.
Mosquito Coast gingerly took to the stage just after midday as more punters started to trickle towards the main stage from the campground. Mosquito Coast’s languid, meandering sound is so easy on the ear that it’s easy to forget you’re at a live gig and not curled up on a comfy beanbag with a studio version coming through headphones. Despite their laidback confidence, the band members themselves seemed slightly on edge, perhaps understandably so considering they're playing such a large festival. But, confidence will surely grow if they keep casually throwing out performances like this.
Hideous Sun Demon raged through their set like men possessed. Lead singer Vincent Buchanan-Simpson jumped around under his bleached bowl-cut like the hyperactive individual he is. They rocked into a high-tempo tunnel of psychedelic rock with Buchanan-Simpson screaming at the top of his lungs and the crowd screaming back. The band delivered an onslaught of guitar melodies and energising fun.
Local grunge torchbearers Tired Lion sparked mosh madness with punky song Not My Friend and new single Agoraphobia showcased Sophie Hopes' throaty vocals. If Not My Friend was the blood in the water for the blood-thirsty moshers, then a cover of grunge classic Song 2 by Britpop heavyweights Blur was the fallen, wounded monkey hitting the water for the proverbial piranhas as they rabidly tried to out "woo hoo!" Hopes' hollers (to no avail).
Olympia took to the dimly lit stage, frontwoman Olivia Bartley clad in a '70s disco-inspired jumpsuit, as both Leftys and the main stage started to attract substantial crowds. It has to be said that Olympia were one of the tightest bands of the festival. Bartley’s vocals are unique, almost Scandinavian in sound, and despite the wall of sound built up song after song you can pick out each instrument being plucked, drummed or immaculately played.
Over on the main stage, Montaigne got on stage to much acclaim wearing a cardboard-chip waistcoat. It seemed to shimmer as it jiggled along with Montaigne’s erratic dancing, which in turn matched her unique voice. Her quirky, dynamic vocals seem to make each song completely unpredictable (I’m A Fantastic Wreck in particular) with Montaigne’s breathy-yet-powerful voice soaring over the instrumental and across the Bovell Park oval at decibels that were unmatched by any other vocalist at this festival.
On Hightide Stage, DJ Mishtee experienced technical difficulties for the first ten minutes before finally finding a solution. She pumped out funky beats and made sure the crowd felt every build-up. She has had great success in the past year performing at venues like Metropolis in Fremantle and various festivals around Australia and worldwide.
As The Smith Street Band mounted the main stage, the late afternoon crowd had swelled to its largest size yet. The Melbournians were quick to impress any half-hearted attendees by immediately belting out murderous wallflower anthem Death To The Lads, which saw a chaotic mosh open front and centre in an ironic show of peak ladism. They finished the set with a lusty rendition of Surrender before waving their way off, covered in as much sweat as the moshers in the front row.
Hydraulix made his way into the set with crowd-loving breaks riling up the crowd. One couldn’t see an unenthusiastic face. He shouted out for onlookers to jump with joy at each break and the crowd responded in turn.
Koi Child brought a different kind of vibe to the stage with their systematic tongue-twisting tunes. Originally from Fremantle, alto saxophonist Jamie Canny blasted out warm tones as he led the brass section. Bringing jazzy-rap fusion to the stage, singer Cruz Patterson transported the crowd into a cloud of freestyle rhythms as keys player Tom Kenny flooded the space with an essence of groove, eyes closed, bobbing his head back and forth. The ongoing battle between the brass and string sections was mediated by percussion, finding perfect balance. A near-constant wave of crowd-surfers were fuelled by the funk.
An air of expectancy shrouded Catfish & The Bottlemen as one of the few foreign international acts on this festival bill. They definitely delivered and the punters lapped it up. Frontman Van McCann crooned away in his northern English accent while the punters did their best to imitate his dulcet tones during Twice and Cocoon.
Safia started their set on the main stage to a capacity crowd as the number of girls on shoulders reached record levels for the festival. A spectacular light and visual system made the open space feel small, more like an intimate club, as the double-decker crowd grooved along effortlessly to Safia’s electro sound.
LDRU, badass Australian dance DJ Drew Carmody, brought his quintessential dance grooves to the main stage. Such textured sounds vibrated through the crowd as he punched out poppy track after poppy track. Keeping Score was well-received, with the crowd singing every lyric. The party could be heard next to the food trucks on the other side of the festival and locks swung to and fro as Carmody punched filters and breaks in his eclectic mix.
Hot Chip DJs played their set at Leftys to what seemed like a fairly inebriated crowd. Some attempted to dance while others seemed only able to muster the energy to watch while the duo played a tight, under-appreciated show.
Lovers of deep house were enthralled by the presence of Zhu, who shared a live element of saxophone and guitar. The guitarist entertained the crowd with his harmonious riffs. The saxophonist kept score with his projective brassy notes.
Tuka from Thundamentals freestyled love and peace, connecting the crowd to the main message of his act. Jumping up onto the barrier and coming down to the same level as us, he raised the energy to a new high. His wondrous wizardry, along with Jewson's, rallied the crowd. Their whole set was rooted in the promotion of peace. The crowd sang along to every song and Tuka expressed much gratitude.
The night had an emotional finale as Sticky Fingers made what could be their final appearance before going on indefinite hiatus, following talk of dysfunction within the ranks. Although the band’s ska-/reggae-inspired sound was solid and the five-piece played well, you couldn’t help sensing an unease emanating from the stage in light of the recent news. However, no such toxicity existed in the crowd as they swayed gently, basking in the glow of their flawed-but-talented heroes. One girl nearby even let the poignancy of the moment overwhelm her as the floodgates behind her eyeballs opened.
The morning of the third day saw fewer punters make it to the earlier sets, perhaps saving themselves for the international acts of the evening, or recovering from a heavy night before. Maybe a combination of the two?
Casually handsome Death By Denim opened the final day of Southbound at the main stage with a disappointing two out of four members dressed in denim (although the bassist made a solid effort with denim overalls held up by a single strap). However, they didn’t disappoint musically as they strutted their way through an apparently entirely sex-inspired set.
Beanie-clad local rapper Mathas bustled around the stage spitting delightfully artful and unapologetically political rhymes. Despite his casual style of dress, you couldn’t help imagining him as a cool geography teacher telling you stories from when he was younger while subtly influencing your future political allegiances. Mathas’ mischievous eyes darted back and forth during Enforce Less as if he knew the lyrical potential to aggravate more conservative ears. Despite missing an entire verse of White Sugar ("Shit, it’s a shit verse anyway," according to Mathas), the trickle of punters nodded along as they encircled a wandering Mathas down on the grass.
Talented electro vocalist Kuren was on in the big tent at 1.30pm and had the small crowd dancing erratically.
Aussie feat. queen Nicole Millar was lithe and cat-like as she leapt energetically around the small stage, drawing in punters with her strong vocals and elegantly thrown shapes that hinted at previous dance training.
Time Pilot performed at Hightide Stage in the late afternoon. Notable trap with thunderous drops made the audience dance like crazy. The duo rocked voluptuous jackets. The crowd bumped to the beat of a variety of hip hop- and dubstep-infused trap. Time Pilot were quite the unexpected talent and deserving of the crowd that the main stage draws. To finish of their set, they delivered a little deep house.
Victorian outfit The Bennies' interests lie in illicit pursuits. The optimistic Legalise (But Don’t Tax) threw audience members into joyous rapture and the band's between-song banter was cracking; an absolute lesson in crowd control for other acts. Crusty-looking party god/vocalist Anty Horgan even solicited the crowd for pingers at one point. The decadence reached peak hedonism levels when their backdrop footage cut to lads on their mates' shoulders downing classic Aussie shoeys (as made famous by F1 driver Daniel Ricciardo). One punter even managed to finish a tinnie out of a thong, much to the delight of both band and crowd.
MSTRKRFT delivered high-tempo tunes that were intense to the 4pm crowd. They played an old classic, their remix of Justice's DANCE, which the congregation worshiped. Throughout the set, the crowd settled and kicked up a gear to the same level as MSTRKRFT.
As the evening of the third day approached, Seth Sentry entered to much furore. Seeing the level of crowd sing-along participation was deeply impressive. He closed the set with popular The Waitress Song; never has a shoddy fry-up been sung about so enthusiastically by so many people.
Electro act Slumberjack brought one of the biggest crowds of the day to the Leftys stage with some filthy basslines and modern dance beats. The tent so was packed it was impossible to move from note one; it was an impenetrable wall of bodies.
Norwegian five-piece Highasakite mellowed the crowd with simplistic vocals and instrumentals. Singer Ingrid Helene Havik looked engrossed in her flow. Their mellow vibes contrasted the previous acts of the day.
San Cisco, a local indie-rock act full of familiar Freo faces, brought the energy up with the classic Bitter Winter. There were many punters on shoulders and others jumped about, fully engaged with the act. The group was a unit and their sound bounced off the shipping containers of Hightide Stage. Their performance, timed with the sunset, captivated onlookers with its majestic tranquillity. The band members looked right in their niche at this coastal party on the west side of Australia.
Unequivocally cool New York electro-rock duo Phantogram kept the punters ticking over for Peaches and Drapht with electro beats and Sarah Barthel's vocals searing through the entire tent.
Ladyhawke, with her unmistakable New Zealand accent, projected her melodies in front of a pack of admirers. She kicked ass with My Delirium, cementing the strong following she has developed throughout her growing career.
Luke Million brought onlookers back into the '80s with his wicked synth and beats. He transported the crowd to a simpler time when electronica was young with a refreshing and energetic set that drew festivalgoers closer. It was a delightful surprise to see a niche artist that took the chance to deliver the once-golden generation of music to the here and now. He added classic Daft Punk beats to join the past with the present.
Peaches easily took the award for most bizarre act of the festival as she mounted a platform in a bulbous pink suit adorned with odd-looking boils and a vagina-inspired headdress. Two back-up dancers appeared dressed as female sex organs and started prancing around like something out of an HR Giger nightmare as Peaches sang a song about her vagina, which, to be fair, could describe a large chunk of her catalogue. Stripping off the vagina suit and now dressed just in white underwear with hot pink nipple attachments and Play-Doh like pubic hair, Peaches was joined by two topless models: one female, one male. The spectacle was one you couldn’t quite pull yourself away from, borderline porn but infinitely entertaining.
The Cat Empire: these ridiculously soulful creatures know how to rile up a crowd. A rumbling of thunderous double bass opened the set with lead singer Felix Riebl rising from the smoke like a phoenix from the ashes. The wide grin on his face set the tone for the rest of the set. Nostalgic banger The Chariot blasted the excited pack with the brass trinity of trumpet, trombone and saxophone. Riebl and Harry James Angus tapped into a jam of jazzy Latino swing with acoustic hints and the rapturous volume of their synchronised singing showered down on those in attendance.
Drapht, aka Paul Reid, performed to an outrageously eager crowd. The stage was filled with talented musicians including Morgan Bain (a WAM award winning blues and roots singer), Brendan Scott Grey and Junkadelic Brass Band trumpet player Matt Smith who thrilled the crowd with a funky mix of freestyle rap, piano and brass gold. Reid jumped over the barrier into the frothing herd, who elevated him into a radical crowd-surf while his triple j Like A Version of Frankie Sinatra by The Avalanches blew minds. Morgan Bain delivered the vocal spice with his rendition on guitar and piano. His harmonies touched a special place in the crowd’s hearts.
Electro duo Peking Duk were the final act of the festival, kicking off at 11pm with an energetic, crowd-pleasing set. A remix of Song 2 went down well (although much could be learned from Tired Lion’s effort the day before). A particular highlight of the set was when the pair had everyone squat down before jumping up on call to create a simultaneous leap from nearly everyone at the festival. Peking Duk again exercised their control later on when nearly the entire male population gave a boost to nearly the entire female population, creating 200 square metres of double-decker humans — almost a forest of bodies. Peking Duk rounded off their set with a rendition of High featuring Nicole Millar, who brought the entire set to crescendo before Southbound wrapped up for another year.