This was my first venture to BIGSOUND – Brisbane’s bottomless rabbit hole of a music showcase.
By Monday night (3 Sep), Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley was already buzzing from warm-up sets across a couple of venues.
At The Brightside, Candy frontman Calum Newton gripped his electric guitar with the intensity and stance of a cartoon character or a cowboy (if cowboys had bowl cuts and wore polo shirts).
At Bloodhound Bar, the women of sci-fi chic Nice Biscuit swapped Converse for pink go-go boots side-stage. Wielding castanets, bells and tambourines, sometimes all at once, they led the six-piece with synced up ABBA-esque choreography and bright vocal lines that bounced off the rafters.
On Tuesday arvo (4 Sep), Netherworld’s arcade room was packed with punters keen to watch their favourite acts play an unofficial showcase. I was sitting on top of Street Fighter II to get a view of the stage, where Moaning Lisa’s Charlie fought a grin during the opening lines of 'Carrie (I Want A Girl)'.
Candy - image © Kalem Horn
Just in case the audience was confused, she clarified the meaning of the lyrics: “I want a girl who knows her sexuality. Uh, gay.” Charlie, Hayley, Ellen and Hayden blitzed through their back catalogue, and new track ‘Comfortable’ hit just the right level of shoegaze shout-y.
Sweater Curse were one BIGSOUND’s busiest acts – counting unofficial sets they played five times, and still made time to get to the front of their mates’ showcases. In a new song, Chris sung: “Maybe I’m too tired to be going over this again,” reminding the room of how well this Brissie band can pull precise emotion from the everyday. Some truly fantastic drumming from Rei energised 'Can’t See You Anymore', as Monica nailed the hook, clean voice soaring right on cue.
At Bloodhound Bar, power-blonde Jade McInally led Jade Imagine through a collection of gauzy lounge-room dance party songs. ‘Walking Around’ hit a sweet spot – nostalgic and faded at the corners, the dreamy single emitted a warmth reminiscent of the Melburnian singer’s Sunshine Coast home.
Soon after, the first official showcases began. At the Elephant Hotel, pocket-rocket rapper Dobby laid his own drum beats and ad-libbed over them to hype up the crowd. He proved his chops by getting some serious speed up on his bars, then loosened into the set performing with an energy that makes it easy to picture him on much bigger stages.
Ric’s Backyard was overflowing for Kaitlin Keegan. The young singer-songwriter crafts delicate vignettes through her bittersweet and candid lyrics. “Am I still breathing? I’m not sure.” In a new song, 'Blush', she froze moments of crushing anticipation and delivery with aching fidelity.
At Black Bear Lodge, Hazlett established himself as a name to remember among the usual suspects of sun-spotted, guitar-wielding folk-pop boys. More than one of his choruses could have found a home with Vance Joy, with lyrics like “I can be your firework” practically begging to be belted out the open window of a car on a summer road-trip.
Back to Ric’s. I suggest that jazzy quintet Demon Days’ frontwoman, Bella, be elected BIGSOUND Dance Captain – somewhere between Lorde and Tkay Maidza, the explosive shapes she pulled on stage kept the energy high all set.
Entranced by the natural ringleader, the Backyard grooved to everything thrown at them, as Bella’s voice scatter-bugged over vibraphone melodies, then sank deep and tranquil into funky basslines.
Jade Imagine - image © Kalem Horn
Keen to boogie a bit longer, I headed to CLYPSO at the Elephant Hotel. This absolute queen served up one punchy bop after another: “Okay, let’s play! Whatcha gonna get out of this?” she called out, building her own beats on-stage.
At one point, she laid down a melody on a recorder, transforming popular opinion around the instrument most known for squeaky renditions of ‘Hot Cross Buns’.
Avant-garde pop came out in front on Tuesday as Eilish Gilligan, the next artist I was keen to see, enchanted the Alehouse Stage at Woolly Mammoth. Wearing tiers of embroidered black tulle, the synth-princess played 'Hysterical Ex-Lover', all eye-rolls and hair tossing.
Her studio recordings are impressive on their own, but campy choreography totally elevated the act and made me want to see her cover Kate Bush.
After Eilish, I squeezed in a couple of songs from the Psychedelic Porn Crumpets. These guys are seasoned performers and put on a rock show with all the trimmings: the smoke machines, the strobe lights, the hair. The mosh went hard, clearly satisfied.
But there’s substance beneath the surface with the Crumpets, who flaunted intricate riffs and never eased up on the pace.
At the Valley Drive-In, I was very, very excited to discover Australia’s newest sister duo. In black fringe and fishnets, CLEWS are a beguiling pair who filled the venue with their buttery harmonies. The girls’ lyrics have an almost gothic edge to their sweetness: “To hear you hesitate is a sharp pain, baby,” but it’s the tangible chemistry between these two that made it difficult to tear my eyes away.
A quick dive into The Zoo yielded a fun thrash-about to Brissie supergroup Total Pace. It was dirty, fast and the room loved it. Members from DZ Deathrays, Violent Soho, Tape/Off and I Heart Hiroshima mean little needs to be said for the calibre of talent in this band, but it was rad to see Queenslanders coming together at the top of the Aussie rock scene.
CLYPSO - image © Kalem Horn
I headed to Woolly for The Moving Stills, four teenage dirtbags who know the value of a well-placed tambourine. Their hook-driven jams were full of bright guitar licks and golden vocals with a hint of '80s nostalgia I can’t wait to hear more of. Also, they’d better upload that cover of ‘My Delirium’ because it deserves many, many plays.
As midnight neared, I caught some tracks from the lads of Hobsons Bay Coast Guard. They didn’t disappoint – the surf-rock group are just gimmicky enough to delight, but have the musical chops to carry a set that’s peppered with details to return to later.
Sweetly layered harmonies on lyrics like “I can’t wait to go to bed and dream of you tonight” were Pet Shop Boys charming, and theatrical drums rolls kept the crowd swinging their hips and practicing Fred Flintstone-esque footwork.
I wandered over to The Foundry to watch the end of a set from Planet, A-grade noisemakers with a Brit-pop twist. Vocalist Matty's bright twang echoes older brother Johnny of the DMA's, but the crisp charm is all his own.
Three songs were enough to convince me that the world was very possibly a more vivid place through the eyes of these Sydneysiders, whose brassy ballads and crash-bang choruses made the end of my night feel like staying up to watch the sunrise.
The best way to recover after eight hours of trekking from one side of the Brunswick St Mall to the other, watching bands squeeze as many song as they can into 30 minutes, is to recharge your phone and do it all over again the next day. Or so I’ve heard.
Demon Days - image © Kalem Horn
I started my BIGSOUND Wednesday with an unofficial set from IV League at Bloodhound Bar. You can hear Bella’s smile as she sings, coyly inviting you into the “backseat of [her] mind”, and strumming her glittery seafoam guitar. Grungy chord progressions and heavier drumming undercut the cyber-princess’ soaring vocals in a jagged retake of '90s dream-pop.
Thando took no prisoners in her afternoon set; her full-bodied voice carrying right through the bar. I was struck by how precisely the songstress controlled the mood of the room through her own emotional performance. As her lyrics transitioned from celebratory and posturing to deeply grieving, she brought her audience with her.
By Wednesday arvo, I felt ready to level up my BIGSOUND experience, so I headed to a streaming service party at the Valley Drive-In. I learnt there aren’t many ways I’d rather spend a sunny afternoon than sipping free wine and listening to the hazy, slow rock of Edward R.
The band lost a little of the cinematic quality their studio recording has, but the old-world drawl of Fitzroy’s Alex Turner was slick as ever.
DIET were heaps of fun and quick to mention that everybody was invited back to their hotel jacuzzi that night (sorry, I’ve got nothing to report). The lively five-piece faded bright synths over big, triumphant guitar lines and vocals by lead singer Ben that felt warm and familiar.
Later in the afternoon, Levi’s hosted a party with four of the most buzzed-about acts from the festival line-up, which meant I had less clashes later on – score.
Sweater Curse - image © Kalem Horn
Sunscreen, a project by FLOWERTRUCK’s Sarah Sykes, were one of my favourite bands at the festival, mostly because they were genuinely fun to watch. Sarah’s lilting articulation interwove seamlessly with guitarist Alexander’s grounded vocals on 'Tide', a lush, guitar-driven ballad that seems effortless because of the band’s easy chemistry.
On a personal note, I’m on the hunt for anyone with the Dropbox link to new song 'I Think About You All Day', because I can’t get it out of my head.
Watching the boys from garage-rock outfit Bugs have the time of their lives on-stage was a big treat. Frontman Connor rocked the double denim, and bassist Jordan wore more clothes than he usually does on the Brisbane gig circuit (but still couldn’t be convinced to put a shirt on).
It can be hard for bands to get a response from a delegate-only audience, but the endearing Australianism of the trio soon won the crowd over, and even got them singing along.
Kwame was up next, mixing precise, rapid-fire syllables with vibe-friendly verses ready to play off the aux cord in your best mate’s car. 'WOW' was particularly explosive, the rapper visibly working hard to completely master the bars. But his most charming delivery was for 'Coffee' – the track is his favourite from the recent EP and just hit 100,000 streams.
I was stoked to catch drummer and singer G Flip live for the first time, if only to hear more than the two bangers she’s currently released. I wasn’t disappointed – new tracks highlighted softer vocals and some serious drumming skills that had her attacking a second kit at the front of the stage, layering a more intricate rhythm over the main beat.
Georgia was at BIGSOUND last year, but she wasn’t performing – she told the crowd that she was mostly hassling people to listen to her Soundcloud link. A year later, she cheekily dedicates her final song based on what she learned delegates liked to do at conferences – 'Drink Too Much'.
With the massive afternoon line-up out of the way, I headed off to Laruche to watch a smaller act play their second ever gig – Erthlings. The four sisters blended pretty guitar riffs with floating, heady vocal lines, and I’m keen to see them give HAIM a run for their money.
At Ric’s, an under-the-weather Emma Anglesey introduced herself as a “Tasmanian fire tiger” and sung about a doomed text message relationship she had with someone who lived in San Francisco. It’s possible that the croaky voice highlighted her unique ability to turn a mundane and slightly tragic sequence of events into something worthy of a pop song.
Down the stairs into Heya Bar, people spilled out of the room Carla Geneve was performing from with fair reason. In a seemingly self-cropped mini dress and a beret, she delivered seething direction to those who’ve wronged her with witty lyrics that remind me of early Courtney Barnett, power chord inclusive.
At the end of a song about being a woman in the music scene, she absolutely shredded it on the guitar, played louder and harder than the whole half hour and finished on the floor, to a massive response from the audience.
Fortune Shumba - image © Kalem Horn
Next, I accidentally wandered into what could definitely be mistaken as a bachelorette party, but was indeed an artist showcase. South Africa’s Fortune Shumba, twirled onto the Mane Stage at Woolly Mammoth in a tinsel skirt, matching wig and printed bodysuit.
Over polyrhythmic Afrobeats, his girl-power anthem 'Trash!' was met by screams from the front third of the room, and certainly more delegate attempts at twerking than the rest of the week put together.
At The Brightside, wholesome rap favourite imbi the girl performed to an equally enraptured audience and drank honey straight from the bottle between songs. Her warbled flow sounded like a late-night phone call with a best friend.
Directly addressing the crowd imbi rapped bars just off-beat enough for them to sound like a spontaneous train of thought, but deliberately enough for them to have weight and magnitude.
Another highlight of the week was next at the Woolly Mammoth Alehouse Stage, where Bin Juice busted out the saxophone for an immersive, languid set. Frontman Elias placed distorted vocals on top of the bassline-like clouds, playing off the other musicians and organically moving through a suite of sink-your-teeth-in jazzy bangers.
My Wednesday ended at the Empire Hotel with Hollow Coves, an acid-wash folk duo whose songs sounded like the first glimpses of ocean on holiday. Steady and hopeful, they built to slow-burn choruses that made the bar feel like a campfire, filled by friends winding down at the end of a long day.
By the time these boys broke out the harmonica, I was ready to pack my life into a van, start a travel-themed Instagram account and trek around the country. Or at least to home, and to bed, after another day of spectacular new Aussie music.