Live Review: Sugar Mountain 2016

25 January 2016 | 10:41 am | Bryget Chrisfield

"When you get home, and then realise you snuck in an extra meal, you've just gotta give the range of tucker on offer the thumbs up as well."

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Some outfit adjustments need to be made to incorporate waterproof jackets when we wake up and notice, with much annoyance, that it's raining. By the time we arrive at the site, however, the sky is no longer crying. Queuing isn't excessive and we're on track for Car Park stage at 12.30pm. Sampa The Great  (Sampa Tembo on her passport) is exactly that. Her flow is so natural it's just like a conversation (albeit a one-sided one). Tembo's backing band (three on BVs) bring it and the funky guitar shines almost as brightly as this stage's metallic gold backdrop that shimmers in the breeze. One suggestion to make this live experience truly world class: the backing vocalists could get together and work out some go-to unison moves, The Public Opinion Afro Orchestra-style, 'cause at times the trio looks a bit lost up there. Tembo raps about themes that make you reflect while you sway and says it herself within one track: "I was born to be great." True dat.

"What. The fuck. Is that?" enquires a dude, mouth agape while gesturing toward a photo that utilises some kind of gooey substance — fish spawn of some sort? 

It comes as no surprise that there's a long queue at the Wrangler denim exchange so the pair we brought to swap might just wind up in a bin. With delicious Pina Colada in hand, we pop into Gallery Two to look at the Prue Stent x Honey Long x Clare Longley exhibit. There are photos of naked body parts that are often not instantly recognisable. "What. The fuck. Is that?" enquires a dude, mouth agape while gesturing toward a photo that utilises some kind of gooey substance — fish spawn of some sort? 

While we watch City Calm Down, a bloke wanders past, shrugs his shoulders in reaction to the music, which obviously doesn't resonate with him, and then he and his mate wander off in search of something to excite their ears. Dodds Street stage's proscenium arch is decorated with pool noodles that, bunched together, resemble white sea anemone foliage — which is awesome, but also calls to mind a shrub comprising extra-long pencil dicks. They sound tight, but it could be a bit early in the day for City Calm Down and they swelter up there in matching long-sleeved shirts that could be black (but look navy in the sun) and black jeans — who's their clothing sponsor? When you hear people chatting in the audience, the band clearly have a problem. Then we start checking out nearby festival fashion and find a definite contender: a long-sleeved, leopard-print onesie with standup collar that looks roasting! On further inspection ol' mate has teamed his ensemble with brown suede ankle boots and a pair of star-shaped sunnies in glittery silver hue that also somehow manage to channel snowflakes. Having also scrawled a gold lightning bolt on his chest, it's fair to say he's won Sugar Mountain. But all this looking around obviously means we're not engaged by what's on stage and make a break for Car Park. 

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Kate Tempest brings her freshest flow via rhymes so fast our ears get whiplash. When is she sneaking breaths? There's zero punter chatter. Circles is sheer brilliance and she rhymes "gu'a" with "nu'a" - so brilliantly Souf Lundan. Tempest exhales forcefully after this song; she's definitely tested that lung capacity. Obviously chuffed by the turnout, Tempest introduces her best mate on drums and sister on keys/samples. They all embrace and take a moment up there. Tempest closes with a lengthy, political a cappella. "Nothing you can buy will ever make you whole, including my album," she spits and we take her thought-provoking words with us throughout the day. There's nothing throwaway about what she does, Tempest is a true artist. Standing sidestage, she's still visible to passersby who shout out their thanks and approval. Tempest places her fist on heart in gratitude.

A beautiful pink mosaic bust with fountain flowing from its mouth pulls our focus and many take photos of it while we pause to admire. Another crack at the Wrangler denim exchange sees a pair of skinny Lee flairs that were never gonna fit successfully exchanged for a high-waisted stretch denim skirt - win! There's not much product left, so Salvation Army's youth network will definitely reap the benefits of our castoffs. 

Roland Tings lures practically the entire festival's population to Car Park stage. His bouncy tunes such as Coming Up For Air (which sounds exactly like its title) are appreciated by dancing bodies (and we ache for his self-titled album), but it's way more comfortable dancing at Boiler Room where there's plenty of space to pull unlimited shapes to the tunes of Laila Sakini. We search for Guest Bar and ask several security guards for its location while looking at a map, but to no avail. "I feel like looking at some art," a nearby punter tells her friend and we decide to check out Intwo Pieces, the contemporary dance and film installation by Yahna Fookes x Martha Zakarya in Gallery One. Dancer Kelsey Smith demonstrates masterful control and poise, the articulation through her feet is extraordinary. It's also awesome to see Adalita seated on the floor admiring this performance.

So Royal Headache changed timeslot due to "personal reasons for one of the artists". That's a bit annoying when you've already written your schedule out. Better rush over to Dodds Street stage then. En route we see groups of revellers sitting on the ground, applying glitter to each others' faces with varying degrees of success. Frontman Shogun (whose mum even calls him that, word has it), tells us his dad is present. It's wonderfully shambolic with an unhinged edge, but all assembled aren't entirely captivated. At one point Shogun turns around and makes a gesture that looks like he's instructing his bandmates to quieten down their playing. He mumbles some self-deprecating stuff under his breath between songs, but that's probably just Shogun doing him. The band would've better suited their later scheduling and we pity anyone who missed the memo, timing their arrival just in time for Royal Headache's original 5.15pm scheduling and therefore experiencing a different kind of royal headache. 

"WHAAAAAAaaaat!? We've completely missed Courtney Barnett!! DAMN you, monsieur Sweeney !"

We grab another Bacardi cocktail, a Storm Chaser this time, and prioritise getting a good posi for Le1f. And he's fierce in every way, whipping that topknot of fluoro-orange-tipped braids back and forth. "I'm not gay, but he's a sexy man," is an overheard call. When two male dancers enter to rip into some insane unison chorey, we don't feel like we can dance anymore so just stand back and admire. Never before have we seen such impressive, perfectly in sync backing dancers. Could they rival Beyoncé's Les Twins? We'd pay top dollar to see that battle. Le1f strips down to his striped undies then tries to scale the proscenium arch. Wut destroys us. "...Wut is up? Wut is wut?" The answer is Le1f. Just fabulosity in all of its glorious shades.

On Dodds Street stage, Total Giovanni look like Devo from a distance in their matching white hats (maybe they're premiering their White Night costumes given the band were added to the evening's live music line-up?) "If you haven't started dancing then I suggest you start," frontman Vincent D (born Vachel Spirason) coaxes and he does have a point: their tunes deserve our motion. A festival highlight occurs when we clock Barry Morgan just wandering around out of character, as a punter (well, as much as that's possible with his luscious, Bee Gees-esque locks). 

Another beau of the ball we spy sports a vibrant aquamarine printed shirt with black mesh panel in the back. This is not the focal point of his outfit, however; a dangling lemon (the actual fruit) earring really ties his look together.

Back in Car Park, Kelela admires the vibe from the stage: "I think Le1f set it up for me real high." The Canadian tuxedo-wearing Washington, DC singer-songwriter who tweeted for weed while in Sydney a coupla days back ("Sydney!! Im [sic] keepin it mad classy in your city tonight...where da weed at??!! [greenery emoticons]") then proves a bit of a downer so we head over to Boiler Room for the one-and-only Tim Sweeney. He's all it. Sweeney reminds us why we prioritised DJs over live bands for some 'lost' years throughout the '90s. His track selection is on-point and the transitions, seamless; songs roll one into the next without our ears recognising where one finishes and the next begins. And then he plays Bowie's Fame, which really takes us there. "Oh yeah, he's good Tim," is the understatement of the year as spoken in the Portaloo line. 

Okay, time to consult the schedule. WHAAAAAAaaaat!? We've completely missed Courtney Barnett!! DAMN you, monsieur Sweeney (kind of)! Talk about a life fail. We're not sure we'll ever recover from this. Let's set up in front of Dodds Street right now so we don't miss Dirty Three. Initially, we deemed this weird scheduling within the context of everything else on offer at Sugar Mountain, but boy were we wrong. The Warren Ellis-led instrumental outfit deliver and turn out to be exactly what we we need right now. It's strange how sometimes music sans lyrics digs deeper emotionally and dancing to it becomes therapy. Ellis definitely needs to play the absinthe fairy on the silver screen at some point; his wild, untamed locks and svelte frame beneath tailored suit and trademark ostentatious shirt prove an unbeatable combination. And his fiddle playing? It's matchless, but lord have mercy on those strings.

When Hot Chip toured without Joe Goddard for Splendour in 2010 (he was about to become a dad), this scribe hightailed it outta the Mix Up tent in a huff. But he's here this time and it's ace to see him up there dancing like a munted jellyfish. One never can tire of seeing this outfit live and they really do go to every effort to successfully recreate each nuance. Second song One Life Stand gets us busting moves we hope we'll never have to watch back. We're pretty much ready to do whatever they say via song as soon as Night And Day drops. They're all sporting lab coat-inspired attire up there. Strobes totally take us there during Flutes. All the songs are interconnected, flowing one directly into the next, and when Over And Over sneaks in we're anything but, "Laaaaaaaaid baaaaaack". Hot Chip are so composed up there, but the unexpected drop in this track propels us, fast-tracked, to our respective happy places and all previous daily highlights disappear from memory. Need You Now plus Ready For The Floor equals complete devastation on the D-floor. At times you'd swear you were listening to Alexis Taylor's recorded vocals — he just sounds so identical live — and kettle drums finish us off. While we might not adore Hot Chip's Born To Run cover, it sure is fun to sing along with at an outdoor festival among likeminded souls. And then they segue into LCD Soundsystem's All My Friends for a bit and we're positively exulted. 

When you get home, feel really full, tally up what you've eaten throughout the day and then realise you snuck in an extra meal, you've just gotta give the range of tucker on offer the thumbs up as well.