Now in its fourth year, Wollongong’s Yours & Owls festival has brought more quality, live music to Wollongong than you can shake a booty at.
Residents and travellers have championed the town, blooming the festival from local legend to 18,000 punter strong cultural standout.
A once industrial uni town, Wollongong is home to a predictably young and active music scene. It’s beachfront Stuart Park sets a serendipitous scene for just the kind of music festival that sees you not stop for two days and still return home glowing. Not that you would want to stop.
The venue itself was organised with enough variety to please a punter of any persuasion. The main stage, Jung Stage, was an enormous affair which would present the weekend’s headliners to an overflow of punters, patrons, and potato-on-a-stick stands.
The secondary stage, And The Restless, would house its own impressive schedule of acts beside neighbouring workshop space and electronica stages, The Local and Das Schmelthaus. Brainchild of much-loved Rad Bar founder and dedicated solely to local upcomers, the more intimate Rad Stage bravely offered the mixture alcohol, energy drinks, and a ballpit with the completely illogical idea that there would not be tears (which there were).
Kicking off the festivities for punters who didn’t wake up before 2pm was Good Lekker, local boy gang of soundmakers fresh off both the presses and a show the previous night at the University of Wollongong.
A hair-of-the-dog mentality didn’t go astray for the Illawarra six-piece or their dedicated and hungover fans, as the wah-wahs of five guitars were met with a wall of raucous yews that would set the tone for the Rad Stage across the next two days.
Maddy Jane - image © Barnaby Downes
Tassie songstress Maddy Jane followed popular art Yanks BOYTOY at And The Restless with the slow-paced deep bass of ‘No Other Way’ so perfectly paired with the 3pm sun. Despite her major goal-kicking across our radio waves of late – including a sold-out show with Tash Sultana – Maddy seems to have managed to hold onto the genuine joy of an artist hearing their lyrics sung back to them for the first time.
“Thanks for sticking around for the sad songs,” she quipped before breaking into a standout ‘Thank You And Sorry’, which had Wollongong’s finely wined swaying into each other like it weren’t no thing.
A ballad-esque cover of 4 Non-Blondes ‘Hey’ had guys, gals, and gulls reaching into the afternoon in what was to be just the start of a string of excellent covers by the weekend’s artists so-far snubbed by Like a Version.
A conveniently short leg-it back to the Jung Stage for Brissie’s Mallrat saw me catch the end half of her huge track, ‘For Real’. While I can’t know for sure the audience’s behaviours at the song’s beginning, I can officially vouch for its potency in getting festy besties from all sides of stage to sway, sing and smile (for real).
Mallrat - image © Barnaby Downes
Shout-outs to Brisbane’s den of debauchery in a lonelier version of her collab with Donatachi and Oh Boy, ‘Bunny Island’, were met by a smattering of appreciative Brisbanites and a crowd of enthusiastic others.
‘Sunglasses’, ‘Tokyo Drift’ and ‘A Little Bit High’ reeled in various yews and the odd ‘F... COLLINGWOOD’ from the adoring crowd, while the entrance of special guest Tyne-James Organ for a cover of Outkast’s ‘Hey Ya’ brought the sound that gets festival goers on shoulders.
The last of Saturday’s sun snuck behind the speakers to the sound of the emcee’s anti-anthem ‘Uninvited’, which was thoroughly enjoyed by all but none more so than the three safari-suited punters with synchronised dance moves.
Dear Seattle - image © Barnaby Downes
Punky Sydney four-piece Dear Seattle were onsite and on the case to cure any dusk lulls with their local sound of long-haired Australiana.
Frontman Brae Fisher spat through the set list with enough headbanging energy to woo even the newest of comers, technical difficulties included – “this is what you pay for, live music,” he remarked coolly over a sweaty silence and the squeal of feedback.Click here for photos from Day One.
A change of scene in search for the Wollongong dream led me to The Local, Yours & Owls’ resident chill-out space and land of 1,000 couches.
Packed to the teeth with psychic readings, tarot cards, art, drag shows, silver star-shaped pinatas, and workshops for everyone from the botanist to the budding poet, my misaligned chakras and I had the good fortune to catch a meditation session presented by Astrophysical Maser.
Taking sounds from the forests of Wollongong and feeding them into our spiritually (and mentally, emotionally, probably physically) malnourished psyches, the local producer wrapped us in a self-described ‘tapestry of sound’.
With empty lungs and a renewed sense of safety, I removed myself from the warmth of three strangers and a communal aquamarine doona – not for a change of scene but to keep the strange flowing freely, for Psychedelic Porn Crumpets were kicking over metaphorical musical trashcans at And The Restless.
Psychedelic Porn Crumpets - image © Barnaby Downes
Psychedelic Porn Crumpets wasted no time in getting down to what they’ve developed a wide-ranging, cult-like fan base for: being long-haired yahoos.
Manipulating a willing crowd with feel-it-in-your-feet beats spattered with electric riffs so close to face-melting I had the uncontrollable urge to moisturise, the Perth quartet pounded through their debut and sophomore 'High Visceral' album.
The clearly dedicated crowd were ecstatic and the scene was only sweetened by the strategic scheduling of fan favourite ‘Cornflake’ as the set's closing song.
Hot on the heels of the Crumpets were Tiny Little Houses, a Melbourne outfit with a penchant for politically-inclined songwriting and a dry millennial relatability that makes you say “me”.
Tiny Littles Houses - image © Barnaby Downes
The four-piece’s mellow folk-noise/ bedroom rock ebbed and/ or flowed through songs about growing up in small towns and songs about just growing up. ‘Soon We Won’t Exist’, ‘Easy’, ‘Team Player’, and ‘Short Hair’ made their appearances, lead Caleb Karvountzis biding his time before giving the eager crowd TLH’s Hottest 100 prizefighters, ‘Entitled Generation’ and ‘Garbage Bin’.
Pre-empting our collective and inevitable Sunday dustiness with their special brand of 'Music To Cure Hangovers To' was Ocean Alley at Jung Stage.
Starting strong with festival-wide sing-along ‘The Comedown’ was certainly strategic planning in the annual race to be the answer to the question: ‘who was the best act of the weekend?’. ‘Flowers And Booze’ and a rendition of the Sydney six-piece’s Like A Version crack at Player’s ‘Baby Come Back’ warmed the audience up to a state of near-howling, from the core of the moshpit to the outer-rim shrimp stands.
By the time ‘Lemonworld’ and hit single/ funk cauldron ‘Confidence’ hit our expectant ears we were all but malleable in the group’s capable hands, having been in the business of delivering uncut groove across Australia for almost a decade before becoming golden children of the Triple J kind.
Ocean Alley - image © Barnaby Downes
Back at Rad Bar and the budding end of Triple J’s radio play spectrum were Canberra kickstarts Moaning Lisa, keeping the fire skilfully burning with an entirely different breed of sing-along material.
If you were lucky enough to catch these guys’ killer BIGSOUND set, you’d already know that frontwomen Charlotte Versegi and Hayley Manwaring are no strangers to the stage. Knee-deep in blue smoke, they waxed and waned between burn-in-the-back-of-your-throat vocals that smack of WAAX’s Maz Devita and the casually cool lyricism of Patti Smith in a post-Patti world.
Pausing, Charlotte addressed the gentlemen of the mosh: “Guys, it’s been nice having ya… but girls to the front...” before ripping into this year’s surprise empowerment anthem, ‘Carrie (I Want a Girl)’.
These guys are one of the most musically delicious acts I’ve had the pleasure of seeing live lately, so do yourself a flavour and check them out – particularly if you’re bloody over being up-skirted at festivals and are desperately missing Carrie Fisher.
One of Yours and Owls’ biggest names, The Jungle Giants inadvertently talk a big game at every festival they plaster the posters of (which is most of them).
With the almost suspicious ability to churn out single after single of convenient pop that ages like fine wine, 4/5 star album reviews from the likes of Rolling Stone, and five Hottest 100 contenders in their relatively short lifespan, expectations were tall for the Brisbane outfit.
True to their reputation, the set's technical elements were clearly birthed of high-production value – everything from stage presence and sound to one-liners and lighting worked like the crew had never turned up to rehearsal hungover and missing a shoe.
The Jungle Giants - image © Barnaby Downes
At the risk of blaspheming Brisbane’s poster children of pop, however, I couldn’t help but feel the set was almost a little too rehearsed. While some portion of this may be chalked up to the inevitable call of bitter adultism, I found myself a little exhausted by the perfect processions, jam-packed with “don’t be shy!”, “louder!”, “put your hands up!”, and “this is maximum” from frontman Sam Hales.
There’s no doubt the four-piece fit the festival’s line-up a glove: ‘Quiet Ferocity’, ‘You’ve Got Something’, ‘Bad Dream’ and ‘Used To Be In Love’ stirring up fanfare of pandemic proportions.
Hellions closing set at And The Restless was the weekend’s most pleasant surprise. As vocalist Dre Faivre projectile-bellowed lyrics before three band members with the bounce capacity of a pre-pubescent Flea, the Sydney trio expertly covered the base for the heavy crowd, who were catered to at Yours and Owls like vegans at a steakhouse.
Hellions - image © Barnaby Downes
Even the provocative choice to close with a ballad didn’t stem their fans’ affectionate whiplashing, the group being aptly and skilfully described by dedicated Hellions moshpit member Lauren Humphries as “the tits”. You heard it here first.
Day two of Stuart Park’s gargantuan Yours & Owls festival commences.
Polishing off the last leg of her Sugar Mountain tour, Jack River’s golden hour set was a huge drawing card for me (as well as, I imagine, most of the punters who also attended the mostly sold-out shows).
My first clue that the Brisbane singer-songwriter (aka Holly Rankin) was going to put on a live show to match her fantastic spacey riffs was the actual spacesuit she had decked herself out in for the occasion.
Jack River - image © Barnaby Downes
With a space force of three firmly behind her (including Sydney artist Annie Hamilton on guitar), Holly led the packed crowd through her catalogue of sweetly sentimental songs – ‘Limo Song’, ‘Confess’, and ‘Fault Line’ collectively losing the punters minds.
An ecstatically nostalgic cover of Tal Bachman’s iconic iPod classic hit ‘She’s So High’, saw one of the best executed audience-artist interactions of the festival, every member of the thousand-strong crowd joining a breathless Holly word-for-word for the chorus before ending with indisputable bop, ‘Fools Gold’.
Sydney scallywags Big White were on afternoon shift at Rad Stage, graciously doling out their brand of bloody good time between a long string of successful shows, recording a debut album, and even a SXSW appearance.
The five-piece have managed to find a unique space for themselves within the niche 'new wave muscle pop' genre, with songs so surreal and dreamy they would find themselves at home on any given intergalactic beach.
Skilfully making eye contact with a crowd of a couple hundred like they were a crowd of ten, the vocalists eased through ‘You Know I Love You’ and ‘Right Before Everything Dies’ with a suburban sound reminiscent of a Growlers-Cure lovechild.
Perhaps the only aspect of the set more impressive than the catchy choruses spawning a hands-in-the-air audience was the drummer’s mullet, which officially takes out Best of the Fest.
Methyl Ethel - image © Barnaby Downes
Back in the epicentre, Methyl Ethel was carrying the torch for Australia’s wild west at Jung Stage. The melancholic Perth foursome were predictable line-up bigwigs with a string of impressive radio regulars and last year’s killer album, ‘Everything Is Forgotten’.
Already thick anticipation became thicker as lights dimmed and vocalist Jake Webb kicked the set off before a blown up, technicolour live projection of himself across the stage’s screen.
The set’s beautiful technical elements was no holds barred, satiating an at-times restless audience who occasionally responded to the band’s notoriously slow pace and standstill stage presence with low chatter and three-person totem poles.
Any doubts I had about the set, however, were quickly rectified by the band’s iconic sound – their ghostly, anthemic melodies ringing out to and reverberating back from Illawarra’s mountains, each track gaining momentum until a back-to-back playing of much awaited ‘Ubu’ and ‘Twilight Driving’.Click here for photos from Day Two.
Hailing from the Gong itself, local legends Hockey Dad were clear #1 picks for what looked like the entirety of the festival, packing the Jung Stage almost out the entry gates. Ripping into evergreens from debut album 'Boronia': ‘Can’t Have Them’ and ‘So Tired’ saw the audience go off like a fish milkshake from the first note.
Of all the acts that graced the two-day festival, none captured the laidback local attitude as perfectly as the pair of Wendang lads – an attitude summed up nicely by the blisteringly violent death pit that opened mid mosh, huge grins plastering the faces of every punter giving it a crack.
Hockey Dad - image © Barnaby Downes
Shout-out to the bloke tackling the pit with an open box of Weetbix without spilling a flake (until he closed the set by showering hundreds of punters with fibrous goodness to 'Homely Feeling').
Holding my ground front and centre at Jung Stage for Aussie wunderkinds Angus & Julia Stone lest I look away and they return to whichever astral plane they came from, I waited should-to-shoulder with countless diehard fans.
Despite years of silence, hiatuses, rumours, and will-they-won’t-they’s, the sonically-gifted siblings have managed to hold onto what seems to be an eternally adoring fan base – especially after last year’s #2 Australian album, ‘Snow’.
Opening with ‘Stay With Me’ to an audience already singing along, the pair cooed out their honeyed sound with an ageless onstage presence. Julia’s cool voice, which spawned a generation of Lisa Mitchell’s, teased the crowd from behind purple smoke with ‘Who Do You Think You Are’, ‘For You’ and ‘Big Jet Plane’.
Angus & Julia Stone - image © Barnaby Downes
A banjo solo plucked away mid-set under orange spotlight and just as we had decided that it couldn’t get better than this, Julia masterfully swapped her acoustic for a trumpet. Not to be outdone, Angus led the electrified audience through a surprise inclusion of ‘Uptown Folks’ almost as decadent as the mimosa flute sitting atop as his nautical, fairy-lighted organ.
The highlight set was closed with a rendition of last year’s hit ‘Chateau’, so soothing to our tired and crispy souls it gave the 5pm meditation session at The Local a run for its money.
At the other end the venue and the musical soundboard entirely, Sydney’s favourite pissed idiots were trying their best to ensure that the Rad Bar site would never see grass grow again.
A Sydney four-piece made up of genuinely good pop/ pub rock, Pist Idiots were aggressively dishing out the kind of sound that just dares you to shave a mullet right into your head.
Giving it his all and cutting a sweaty Jesus figure onstage, frontman Sniff throat-punched his way through singles ‘F... Off’, ‘Smile’ and ‘Leave It At That’ before thanking the crowd for “f...king off from the footy and coming to see us”.
Despite a moshpit that had me questioning my decision to go without travel insurance, these guys have built up a hysterically dedicated fan base with their acute authenticity. Rave reviews from punters in completely unorganised and unauthorised exclusive interviews with scenestr correspondent, me, ranged from “liability dangerous” and “world’s most welcoming death pit” to “transcending of hocus pocus”.
Slated as one of Australia’s next big up-and-comers, Pist Idiots put on a participation-only live show that’s a must-see for anyone that doesn’t mind getting punched in the nose.
Tumbleweed - image © Barnaby Downes
While not pulling nearly the same crowd numbers as their scheduled counterpart (Alison Wonderland), Tumbleweed's set provided an excellent refuge for those who prefer bass and drums.
Pulling the punters that dug them back when they once supported Nirvana, the local five-piece can now safely add World’s Coolest Dad-band to their long list of gongs after 45 minutes of incredible energy complete with a drum kit perch by a band member who probably shouldn’t have been drum kit perching.
With a stunning amount of home grown talent almost unparalleled by other festivals of this size, Yours & Owls has gone from strength to strength since it’s conception only four years ago.
Starting as a local club night and then café – now the infamous Rad Bar – the festival has morphed into an incredible showcase of Australian live music. Even more impressive is the managing team’s dedication to building the once-ignored Gong into a hotspot for the arts with more culture than a six pack of Yakult.
The southern hospitality and unique down-to-clown attitude of the Wollongong locals stands hand-in-hand with Yours & Owls to form a festival where everyone’s a friend – far outside the police-patrolled confines of Stuart Park.