Journalist Jai Price and photographer Liam Thomson made the boat trip across to Rottnest Island for Rottofest 2016, a musical and comedy festival featuring the likes of The Jezabels, Akmal Saleh, Alex Lahey and many more artists and comedians. Check out our review and gallery below.
Great Gable marked a chilled start to the day, an instrumental intro establishing a solid groove. Clad in a striking blue peak cap, lead singer Alex Whiteman’s voice cracked pleasantly as he sang “I know I’m a fool/But only for you”. The band got the crowd in the mood with reggae-esque guitar work and crisp vibes that suited the warm weather. Laid back, flowing guitar rhythms allowed each song to bleed into one another, creating a pleasant atmosphere. An instrumental break in the last track provided some respite from the frenzied guitars and drums, before seamlessly leading back into a high-octane outro.
Drumbeats reminiscent of thunder made an explosive opening to Elli Schoen’s performance, as her pained vocals were layered over sustained keyboard droning. Schoen undoubtedly had the best crowd interaction, stating that she should have been in the comedy section of the festival, lamenting the fact that she talked too much. The consistent chords of the keyboard measured up well against Schoen’s nuanced vocal stylings and authoritative guitar work. Rounding out her performance was a cover of Justin Timberlake’s Cry Me a River, a much more tolerable version at that. The accompanying band, the stop-start drumming in particular, gelled well with Schoen’s often heartfelt voice.
The first thought that entered my mind upon seeing Teischa Jones and co. was; “swag on”. Her glittery guitar meshed well with her bandmate’s sweet reflective sunglasses. Much like an onion, stylish use of backing vocals added layers to the performance. Smooth keyboard tones and soulful harmonies blended with the thrumming bass that went right through you, like the combined 1.1L of iced coffee and water I had to down before I was permitted into the venue. Oh Brother was the highlight, allowing Jones’ guitar skills to shine, as she swayed back and forth, guided the audience into a trance. In a song where she started solo, she was soon joined by harmonious backing vocals as she crooned “If it’s not one thing, it’s another”. Ain’t we all been there? Rounding off the performance was Midnight Hour, which ended with soaring vocals and a pinch of reverb to sate the sonic appetite.
Verge Collection was the standout act at State of the Art festival back in June, and, once again, they did not disappoint. Bringing their signature local flair and casual banter, the lads fired up the audience with an abrupt stream wailing guitars drowning out the DJ’s “All I Wanna Do”. Bizarrely, the backing vocalist’s screeching and lead singer’s extended drawl were incredibly endearing, and sized up satisfyingly alongside the band’s stellar crowd engagement. Short, intermittent stabs of bass were punctuated by a driving rhythm guitar, before things toned down for a more reflective vibe. Here, smooth drumbeats showed a more grounded approach. Just like at SOTAfest, I still believe “Hey baby, what’s your postcode/It sounds creepy but I’ve got to know” are the best lyrics I’ve ever heard.
Another returning talent from SOTA fest, Morgan Bain is a one-man musical machine, armed with only keyboard and guitar. A keyboard aficionado, Bain continued the reflective sunglasses motif established by Teischa’s drummer, making tactile use of vocal looping to create a surreal atmosphere. His keyboard stylings are reminiscent of Bill Withers, with Bain chucking out a few ‘ooh’s that seemed to mirror the lush tones. Pretend was the standout performance, the keyboard playing itself while Bain banged away at his guitar, meandering languidly between positive and dour. With his effortless mastering of blues, soul, and freestyle rap, Bain provided a stark, pleasant divide from the blazing efforts that preceded him.
No band looked as in the zone as Lilt. Opening up with a thrum of keyboard as cymbals crashed, an electronic drumkit added an artificial quality to the scene. Frontwoman Louise Penman materialised on stage, a spotlight shining solely on her. The keyboards provided a constant hum in the background, before all hell broke loose as the singer’s voice reached a fever pitch against the frantic drumming at the climax. The use of reverb gave her the feel of a sultry siren, as Penman, clad in bright jacket, repeated “I will be your guide”. The keyboardist bopped up and down, and indeed, the whole band seemed to be lost in the music. As Penman drifted across the stage, singing “Take my hand/Watch me float away”, the spell was well and truly in effect.
Regrettably, I missed around half of Lahey’s set, but what I did see was phenomenal. The best way to describe her and bandmates was simply a classic, energetic rock performance. She gets bonus points for having written a song after a conversation with her mum. Here, lilting guitar and back-and-forth drumming created a solid backdrop, as Lahey let loose and played her guitar vertically, showing she had the skills to pay the bills and bring the thrills. The momentum was staggering, and as the night wore down, the audience became increasingly wound up, to Lahey’s credit.
Indie-rock outfit The Jezabels provided a hard-hitting, balls-to-the-wall conclusion to the evening. Beginning with mesmerising keyboard notes running up and down, muffled drumbeats and a humming bass, lead singer Hayley Mary floated (not literally unfortunately,… figuratively) onto the stage, bathed in light. The accompanying light show was used to great effect, as Mary succeeded time and time again in keeping the crowd baying for more. As a white light encapsulated the stage, Mary reached out to the audience, and they responded in kind. Drawn in like the rest of the audience, I couldn’t help but see her as a goddess. As for the music itself, the band was relentless in its forceful guitar and keyboard dueling. Mary’s constant movement combined effortlessly with a voice beyond her years to create quite the lasting impression.