Live Review: Sugar Mountain 2017

22 January 2017 | 3:05 pm | Bryget ChrisfieldStephanie Liew

"A Remi Kolawole sighting makes us wish he was actually on the bill! Next year, please?"

Sugar Mountain is so much more than just a music festival and visual artists from all corners of the globe have been working tirelessly to make the Victorian College of the Arts site look pretty. New Orleans-based artist MOMO's endless, intertwining lines call to mind The Northern Lights and make a perfect backdrop for selfies.

Habits can’t believe there are actual people standing at Movement stage to watch them perform at 1pm. “Are you all on kick-ons?” they say, and ask anyone who is to raise their hand. No one does. “Good for you! Take care of your health!” The duo - Maia, wearing a jumper, and Mo, in leather shorts and thigh high fishnets - deliver their self-described sad goth party jams to the early punters, who lap it up and fully embrace their inner summer goth.

On Dodds Street stage, which is framed by UK collective Super London's large colourful shapes that resemble liquorice all sorts, The Belligerents bring rambunctious goodness. Lead singer Lewis Stephenson rolls his eye balls around in his head, swaying long flaxen locks from side to side and dancing (intentionally) awkwardly - a captivating presence. The five-piece deal catchy songs - it's hard to get Caroline outta your head - and we'll definitely go see them again at the next available opportunity, but it's time to bolt over to Movement stage for Moses Sumney.

We were lucky enough to catch this unique California-based solo artist's sideshow the other night so wish to share this new-favourite discovery with friends. Just how he loops those swoon-worthy, almost-operatic vocals around claps and crisp finger snaps is baffling. Sumney's multitasking impresses and all within earshot are bewitched by this extraordinary talent. There's reverent silence and a feeling that we're watching something extremely special. Think Tash Sultana, but celestial. A salted pineapple cocktail with herb garnish is the perfect choice of beverage. And aforementioned friends express their extreme gratitude for being dragged over to this stage and introduced to Sumney. 

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Many punters wander around carrying their brand new denim pieces from the Wrangler Australia Denim Exchange. All donations go towards Launch Housing and helping the homeless, and there's even a pool table in the area this year. Fancy a game? 

We head into The Theatre for some shade and to watch the exceptional vocalist/classically trained cellist, Kelsey Lu. It smells like BO in here, but our ears are more than happy. Not a single audience conversation is heard throughout her set and a couple of punters even grease this scribe off for typing notes into my phone as if this somehow means I'm not honouring the music enough. The softly plucked, measured lamentation Liar ("I'd be lying if I said I was okay") takes us all to a dark place as Lu's voice soars to impossible heights and then effortlessly hovers. This is Lu's first visit to our shores and she's welcome back any time. 

Searching for some sustenance, we traipse over to the food truck area and are delighted to discover a Mr Miyagi van. The crispy cauliflower concoction goes down a treat! Clusters of pink balloons with weird oozing growths decorate this grassy chill-out area - more selfie-friendly settings. 

A Remi Kolawole sighting makes us wish he was actually on the bill! Next year, please? 

As Big Scary take Dodds Street stage, shade dissects the audience space into two halves, the shaded half heavily populated and stretching way further back than the sunny half. A dude is overheard asking his mate, "How good looking am I?" Before clarifying, "In this shirt!" Whatever, mate. Big Scary's latest Animal set was recently shortlisted for the Australian Music Prize and Tom Iansek and Joanna Syme are always a delight to watch. There's something calming about Big Scary in that you always feel confident they'll deliver. Iansek slips smoothly from singing to almost spoken-word delivery during The Opposite Of Us and Syme's crisp drumming glues it all together. Sparse arrangements showcase beautiful melodies and Big Scary always bring so much artistry to their performances. A perfectly arty inclusion within Sugar Mountain's line-up. 

Little Simz bursts onto Dodds Street stage, her energy emanating into the crowd immediately. The British rapper is clearly stoked to be here. When she is rapping, her serious expression conveys the weight of her lyrics - analytical, political, passionate, biting - but as soon as each song ends she breaks out into a big smile. For Devour, from Little Simz’s 2014 mixtape EDGE, the performer invites us to participate in a call and response for the refrain “many, many men”; as Little Simz finishes the line, “Many many men will attempt to devour my throne /I empower my own," we’re reminded that it’s the day of Trump’s inauguration, and that earlier today in the city a women’s march was held in solidarity as part of a global protest event. At the conclusion of Little Simz’s set there is lengthy and thunderous applause; she looks touched. The feeling’s reciprocal.

It’s too dark to see accurately by now, but it seems like the crowd for The Avalanches stretches as far as halfway between Dodds Street stage and the entrance - probably further. The punters are buzzed, ready to close the festival with a capital-P Party. Recent hit Frankie Sinatra is played second, and the crowd takes great pleasure in hamming up their voices for the “Ahhhh, Frank Si-na-tra!” chorus. There’s a lot of jaunty bobbing. It’s hard to pick the highlights from such a strong and varied set but Flight Tonight from their cult debut album Since I Left You gets some whoops of approval, as does Subways from new album Wildflower, with its film clip projected onto the screen at the back of the stage. No one could disagree that the band put on a killer live show when witnessing the coming together of infectious jams, exuberant performances, incessantly entertaining video footage and truly wild lighting design. Of course, Frontier Psychiatristis one we’ve all been waiting for, its opening bars initiating an eruption of appreciation and nostalgia. To take us out into the night, it’s Since I Left You; the combination of an American flag splashed across the screen with the lyrics, “Get a drink, have a good time now/Welcome to paradise” - in all its facets of meaning considering current events - ignites a flame in our bellies.