Live Review: Sweet Relief! Festival @ Maritime Green, Brisbane

18 September 2023 | 2:57 pm | Ray Shindo

The smell of barbecued delights, a light breeze, and social get together accompanied by electrifying dance music: Sweet Relief! is unlike any other music festival...

The Avalanches

The Avalanches (Grant Spanier)

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The smell of barbecued delights, a light breeze, and social get together accompanied by electrifying dance music: Sweet Relief! is unlike any other music festival. It has an impressive lineup and great vibes, but it’s definitely more chill and cultured than traditional parties like Coachella or Splendour In The Grass. While there were some eccentric outfits sprinkled throughout the crowd for the mid-show costume contest, the overall ambience was more like an al fresco luncheon or a spring picnic than a music festival.

The event gets off to a mellow start, and Latifa Tee is tasked with the difficult job of performing to a bare dancefloor. The sun beats down on the concrete floor, and punters take refuge in the shade and picnic area. Sporting a white cap and a pair of sunnies, the triple j host invites a chill summer vibe with her mix. Her track transitions are seamless, and her use of slicing adds a unique flair to her performance. The genre-fusing of ‘80s techno sound, ‘00s hip hop, R&B and modern EDM is tasteful, and she throws in Donna Summer’s iconic I Feel Love in the mix to top it off. The nationally recognised DJ infuses her modern twist to a few throwback classics, setting the stage for the headlining acts. It’s unfortunate most of the crowd missed out.

Finishing the first round of drinks, people start rocking up to the dance floor as Australian icon Nina Las Vegas appears in a vibrant yellow sports jersey. She kicks off her set with a mix of Beyoncé’s MOVE. Switching from one contrasting vibe to another, she keeps it sounding natural with her genre-blending skills and effortless transposing. Afrobeats and R&B mixed with dance and electro pop, recent hits, some old throwback tunes, you name it. She’ll throw everything in the mix adding her original spin, and you’ll love it.

Concert sign language interpreters are becoming a common sight these days, and this festival is no exception. Auslan interpreters also grace the stage, artistically communicating the sounds and atmosphere through signing and dance. Sweet Relief! exceeds expectation by also offering a silent disco section, featuring vests which enable the hearing-impaired to directly feel the beat on their body.

Talking about being an all-inclusive festival, the Poof Doof Pride Patrol takes over the spotlight between sets, entertaining the audience with pop dance mixes of their own. Charismatic queens bring their sass and sharp moves to the drag performances, reeling the crowd in.

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As the show moves onto the third act, a different air takes over. Electro pop veteran Cut Copy sets the scene with a blend of chillwave, synthwave and retrowave tunes. He keeps you guessing though, you think you’re vibing to some synth pop and techno, and you realise there’s some classic rock in the mix. Cleverly meshing genres together, he throws in some snippets of world music in the mix, as well as some forgotten tracks. It’s like a journey through the evolution of music itself, marking a transitional era of musical artistry.

The calm air is suddenly disrupted by a dazzling mid-show costume contest presented by Masked Singer host Osher Günsberg. An array of bizarre and comical outfits parade on stage: a pink Batman, some winged angles, disco roller-blade Ken, a man in a matching set adorned with miniature pugs… Each captivates the audience in an epic showdown, with Barbie Batman claiming the grand prize.

A little break from the disk jockeys, New Zealand musical icon Ladyhawke graces the stage with her band. As the festival’s sole live-band performance, she completely transforms the atmosphere as she launches into her indie hit Magic. Wielding a striking blue guitar, she grips our attention. Her presence gives off an intimate sensation, almost resembling a solo concert at The Triffid. The backdrop comes alive with neon pink and purple hues, blending seamlessly with the pastel sunset as she performs Dusk Till Dawn.

She smashes a string of hits, including Back Of The Van, Guilty Love and the groovy Mixed Emotions. She surprises the crowd with renditions of the popular Paris Is Burning and some forgotten gems from her previous band. The one-hour set passes swiftly, and the singer concludes with her classic banger My Delirium. Even 25 years after its release, the song’s relevance remains undeniable. You can’t turn back time… but the past can indeed become the present.

Over at the Poof Doof stage, Yo! Mafia assumes control, treating the audience while the headlining acts get ready. The international party DJ can certainly play for any audience. She joyously brings her old school hip-hop and R&B, as well as some contemporary sounds to her dance mix.

The sun has been completely sucked into the night sky at this point, and the crowd leaves their comfy picnic area, rushing to the floor. The atmosphere undergoes a dramatic transformation as The Avalanches releases ethereal sounds into the air. It’s a rare sensation… like witnessing Earth waking up for the first time. You can feel the excitement simmering, with people fidgeting, couples squeezing each other’s hands, friends exchanging whispers…

Cheers roar through the Maritime Green as a spiritual atmosphere envelops the crowd. Renowned for their storytelling through music, the electronic music duo stuns the audience yet again with their cosmic performance. They take an experimental approach, creating unworldly sounds by literally swaying the theremin around. The music evolves into a more melodic journey, as the backdrop transitions from abstract lights and colours to contemporary images. Multiple musical genres meld into the mix as they fast forward through time. The duo moves playfully to the music, sharing warm embraces and smiles like young kids. Their sheer joy in performing their set warms our hearts as they take us on a voyage through the cosmic void.

The festival is coming to end but the crowd is at its maximum height. Euphoria courses through the punter as Groove Armada takes the stage. The set break was shorter than anticipated, prompting a rush of people manoeuvring through the tightly packed crowd to catch a better glimpse of the legendary duo. It’s a shame they didn’t bring live sounds to the stage this night. Live vocals and musicians would’ve made for a big finale with a wave of nostalgia much like their previous performances. Nonetheless, their DJ set had plenty of character, featuring ‘90s beats and throwback classics with a contemporary edge.

The floor was engulfed in the rhythmic sway of hundreds of bodies, rendering the floor invisible from their perspective. It was a slow start, but the turnout was nothing short of remarkable. The influential dance act brought Sweet Relief! to a zestful end with an unforgettable night of clubbing.