"Parkway Drive crush it on stage, the lighting and smoke mesmerises, the pit runs wild, glow sticks and tinnies fly left, right and centre."
Even though our GPS voice doesn't know how to pronounce Koo Wee Rup (where's Kooee Wee Ruppee?) we get to the festival site after a two-hour drive. While setting up our tents we're surprised by the choice of campsite tunes, which cover INXS, Paul Kelly and even Justin Bieber; not exactly what you would expect at a "Heavy Music Gathering". There are a few footies being kicked around the campsite and a cricket match is underway. "Sun's out, guts out," enlightens a campsite neighbour who has drawn a cat's face on his chest. Beer/bourbon-and-cola funnels at 5pm? Choice.
We spy an ad for Tarwin Lower Pony Club strung up on a fence as we head toward the festival proper. Once we enter the performance area we note that we're probably the only cleanskins present and most punters are already sunburnt and/or covered in dust. Dream On, Dreamer close with Downfall and incite a circle pit while all band members pogo in unison, shouting, "We are the living dead!" And then we're distracted by a tat on a chick's calf that's right up there with the most random we've ever seen: Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka!? Frontman Marcel Gadacz crowd-surfs and we're not ready for these Melbourne legends to leave the stage just yet. Our chanted pleas for "one more song" are sadly denied, however.
Many revellers bring their funnels into the main stage area to continue the beer-bong action. One party offers up their apparatus to the DJ on duty; he accepts and climbs down from his station where the enablers poke the end of the tube through a fence for him. A security guard clocks it, high-fives a member of the beer-bong crew then wanders off talking into the neckband of his T-shirt. We shall watch with interest to see what transpires. In between sets we hear tracks by Hall & Oates and The Killers to soften the edges of this festival's focus on heavier bands.
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Confession utilise a video intro set to Green Day's Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life). A shoulder-riding dude helicopters some form of handmade baton above his head as he flies past us navigating a circular path. There's a rabid circle pit from the get-go. One of the musicians up there sports a white mask that calls to mind Jason Voorhees from Friday The 13th. Within the crowd we notice a bloke wearing a goon box helmet. And why on earth is there a fella in the front section brandishing a spanner? Security!! "Cancer is a fucking cunt of a thing," is how frontman Michael Crafter introduces their song Fuck Cancer and, given the passing of Bowie and Alan Rickman from the disease this past week, the song hits its mark more than ever.
"He's is in the middle of this impassioned speech when a stage invader materialises beside him. Dijorio calmly puts his arm around the fan, encourages us to give the dude a cheer and then calmly continues."
It's back to the tent to refuel and rug up. As we're wandering back to the stage, there's a dude sitting on the ground who reaches out to his mate for a helping hand. "Fuck you!" his mate retorts, before turning to us and explaining, "He spun-kicked me in the back! What does he expect?" A lot of those in next-door cubicles in the Portaloos throughout the event sound as if they're throwing up.
During Stray From The Path's set we spy our first shoey. There's an arm in a cast being brandished in the air in the middle of the circle pit and it's just mayhem in general. These guys evoke Rage Against The Machine (we bet they gee-up backstage to Killing In The Name before each show). "Fuck Ian Watkins," announces frontman Andrew Dijorio (aka Drew York), adding the band wish to remove themselves from those who are into creating this kinda music for all the wrong reasons. Flying flip flops projectile from the mosh. Dijorio sports a Hellions T-shirt and thanks this band later in their set, crediting the aforementioned Sydney quintet for his own band's welcome reception in this country. The singer also tells us Stray From The Path flew into Paris two days after the Bataclan attacks and he's is in the middle of this impassioned speech when a stage invader materialises beside him. Dijorio calmly puts his arm around the fan, encourages us to give the dude a cheer and then calmly continues. Security eventually kicks the intruder off the stage. Wouldn't it be great if we all still lived in a world where such actions didn't instinctively cause panic? Then Hellions singer, Dre Faivre, appears for a quick guest vocal and Stray From The Path close with First World Problem Child.
The crowd number increases dramatically for Tonight Alive and stunning lead singer Jenna McDougall's charisma is undeniable. Her star shines so bright that lead guitarist Whakaio Taahi has to jump up on the downstage platform to attract our attention. To the dude on shoulders in an old-school Adam West Batman onesie: we salute you. There's something so genuine about McDougall''s delivery and every musician on stage is full of life, bringing maximum energy and good vibes. Everyone around us aches for this band even though they're on a poppier tip. And we also sign up for their fan club on the spot. Once again our "one more song" hollers fall on deaf ears.
The award for best-ever festival food goes to the haloumi and tempura vegetable tacos. We ache for the recipe and eat way too many for dinner. A guy coming outta the Portaloos advises, "Don't go in that one. The sink has ended up in the toilet." We check and indeed this is the case, but also provides an excellent example of the caring community spirit of this festival.
In Hearts Wake take the stage for the second-last set of the evening, but it feels like things are still just kicking off. Their mic stands and speaker cabs are entwined with vines and we greet them with a massive roar. It must be disorientating for frontman Jake Taylor, who asks "everyone in this building/room/field?" to link arms and jump with them. A Great White joins the boxing Kangaroo on the list of inflatable Unify crowd-surfing creatures as the four-piece break into Healer. Kyle Erich (bass guitar) and Ben Nairne (rhythm guitar) waste no time jumping up and jamming with Taylor on the riser at the front of stage. It's well and truly dark now; this gives us our first opportunity to see the light show in full effect and boy does it deliver! For such a modest-sized festival, they've managed to get maximum bang out of the set-up. Taylor and Erich's dueling vocals are immense as different segments of the crowd chant along. Footage of the crowd projects on the giant screen, there's mini-circle pits everywhere; some who weren't aware run to join the carnage, while others — not so brave — flail ironically with their mates. Taylor takes a moment to reflect on the immense talent we have already lost in 2016 — Bowie, Lemmy and Alan Rickman — before breaking into their sombre tune Wildflower. But, like a true rockstar, he's ready to lift the intensity again with Survival (The Chariot) after thanking us for persisting with our love of metal, being responsible for triple j adding heavier tracks to their playlists and urging us to vote for ANY metal tracks in the station's Hottest 100. As the set draws to a close, it becomes apparent that a couple of punters are possibly enjoying the music a little too much off to the side of the stage (they appear to be having sex). Could we have our first Unify baby in only the festival's second year?
"Could we have our first Unify baby in only the festival's second year?"
The crowd thins a little as we head back to the campsite to refuel while the committed punters hold their spots. By the time we arrive back at the stage things have descended into chaos. Good chance a fair few exceptionally loose punters won't even remember the DJ between sets, but for now they're content singing along to Blink-182 and Fall Out Boy — who needs Parkway Drive, right!? But as the lights dim, Ire (the title of band's fifth studio album) illuminates on the curtain concealing the stage and the atmosphere is electric. The curtain drops as vocalist Winston McCall leads us in chanting the intro to this album's opener, Destroyer. The smoke on stage makes it near-impossible to see, but everyone is jumping in unison so who gives a fuck! The metalcore five-piece's collective stage presence is as impressive as their musicality and guitarist Jeff Ling absolutely shreds. "Let's kick it up a notch!" encourages McCall and we're not sure this is possible until some dude crowd-surfs over the circle pits in an inflatable raft. It's hard to scream along to McCall's intense vocals, but we're given an opportunity during the Idols And Anchors guitar riff. McCall begs us for a huge circle pit during Karma and all hell breaks loose. The pit opens up and thousands rush to join in or get the fuck out of there. It's absolute sensory overload; Parkway Drive crush it on stage, the lighting and smoke mesmerises, the pit runs wild, glow sticks and tinnies fly left, right and centre, and somehow there's three wheelie bins in the pit! McCall is amazed and thanks us for having the energy to keep up with them after 12-plus hours of moshing. The boys give a massive shout-out to fellow Byron Baysiders In Hearts Wake, before inviting the band's singer Jake Taylor to join them on stage for a brutally heavy track. There's no denying McCall's charisma; he commands the stage and asks for more crowd-surfers during the next track than we've experienced throughout the day and we hang on his every word. Unfortunately his plea to see someone sacrifice their bed and surf the crowd in their tent goes wanting, but you can't blame us for not wanting to leave the pit. The guys are joined onstage by another special guest, 'Crafter' (Michael Crafter, from Confession) for a rendition of an older tune Romance Is Dead. The set fittingly closes with McCall towering above us on the riser, like a mad conductor to our symphony, leading us through the "Whoa-oh"s in Home Is For The Heartless.
As we drag ourselves back to the campsite, it's pretty clear that the party isn't over for some. While the majority of us either hit the hay, congregate to assess the damage to our groups or go off to make new friends, some find it appropriate to shove each other onto people's tents, blast Justin Bieber and just be all around shitheads. Luckily, security intervenes and it's off to sleep for these tools too.
As with all Aussie summer camping festivals, we're crudely awoken at 7.30am sharp when the piercing sun infiltrates tents. Like zombies from the grave we emerge from our tents, dry mouthed and bruised, only to find that a large portion of the campsite has vacated. Their loss! Time for a cheeky breaky tinnie, bacon and egg pizza, then we slap on some suncreen and get stuck into some human foosball, giant Jenga/Connect Four and mini golf. Given how early the sun forces us out of bed, it's great to see a boutique festival making sure there's something for punters to do before the tunes start.
"It's great to see a boutique festival making sure there's something for punters to do before the tunes start."
Sunday morning overheard convo. Girl: "I met you last night." Boy: "Did you? I met so many people yesterday." Talk about a slap-down! There are a lot of extra bandages on limbs that weren't there prior to Unify 2016.
The Weight Of Silence are given the honour of breaking the Sunday stage silence and when the band's frontman Ben 'Buffalo' Pugh asks us how we feel, our shouted-out answers range from "hungover" to "fucked". Pugh tells us if we're feeling seedy we're not drinking hard enough and there's no easing into things; a headache remedy this San Remo quartet certainly ain't. This band's frontman resembles Rubeus Hagrid from the Harry Potter series and his vocals are beautifully brutal. He also pulls some suitably ferocious facial expressions and poses. Some wanker throws a full can of cider into the front section, but it luckily misses all of our sore heads. Their gnarly riffs are shambolic, but what they play wouldn't suit a polished performance.
The DJ spins some Bruce Springsteen's Dancing In The Dark, which is sweet relief. The average stage changeover time across the festival has been 20 minutes, which is certainly impressive.
Trophy Eyes are up next and it's a welcome change of pace. The punk rockers are one of the few acts on the line-up who aren't insanely heavy, but it doesn't stop them from drawing a decent crowd. It's evident that some of the artists billed for Day Two may have enjoyed Day One a little too much. Frontman John Floreani is one of them; he forgets track names while introducing them and hopelessly tries to converse with punters in the pit between songs. But we're just as ruined as he is and manage to muster the energy for a small-but-respectable circle pit. The band's tracks are short in length, but pack a punch.
We become victim to a dude's spontaneous rap demonstrations while chilling in the shade and he tells us he knows he has "something special". We're not so sure.
It's now time for American quintet State Champs. Derek DiScanio's accent stands out like a dog's balls among the Aussie-dominated line-up but, like their My Chemical Romance-esque pop-punk, we embrace it. Day Two seems to be about exploring multiple subgenres of metal so maybe this is why some of the more 'hardcore' punters choose to make an early exit. Those of us powering through the day are lovin' it, however. State Champs' tunes are a little more dance-y than mosh-y, but metalheads know how to bust a move when necessary and before long we're all jumping around. The New York natives have just kicked off a world tour, starting in Melbourne, in support of their second album Around The World And Back — but it seems most of their fans failed to take their advice of not getting so messy that they couldn't party with them at Unify.
Day Two is "matinee day" with bands finishing up before 3pm. It's a long drive back to Melbourne and our filthy monkey feet are in need of a bath with pumice stone handy. Note to self: don't wear flip flops next year.