Southbound Day One

Southbound 2016 was unexpectedly pushed back to December following some devastating fires in Yarloop and Waroona, however the masses turned out in force to catch some of Australia’s biggest and best, along with some international guests.

The indecisive late December weather thoroughly tested WA’s outdoor endurance as Happy Campers arrived for the first official day of the newly established Southbound Festival in Busselton this week.  After making it through the well-intentioned but debacled n entry system that really erased any sense to the first come first served camping arrangement, we found ourselves in the side paddock and prevailed against the chilly winds to raise our tent, before racing off to check out our home for the next three days.

It seems the dates weren’t the only aspect to change, Base Camp came up fairly underwhelming compared to previous years, the Murdoch tent with all its activities and op shop was gone, but the random couch gathering area had moved to the new Commedia Dell’ Southbound tent where the usual comedic intervals and other antics now had their own arena to entertain.  It was clear improving touches had been focused on the festival itself with the DJ stage moving to a dedicated tent behind the main bar, evolving from the roaming dancefloor status.  However, even while there was a sense that a lot of great features wouldn’t be present this year, it couldn’t overwhelm the feeling of being back at WA’s best Summer festival.

Everyone I’ve talked to has always given rave reviews of Tash Sultana, so it’s safe to assume I went in with high expectations. I also chuckled inwardly whenever her name was mentioned, as my supermarket background never failed to give me the mental image of an anthropomorphic box of sultanas. Anyway, were these expectations met? Better, they were exceeded. Tash Sultana blew me away, a one-woman musical army who effortlessly combined electric drumbeats with slick guitar picking and… pan pipes. Yes, the skilled use of pan pipes created an otherworldly atmosphere unlike anything else I’ve experienced. Her vocals were smooth like butter; she could go from tender to harsh in an instant, every moment sounding impassioned. Sultana was akin to a pint-sized goddess, the crowd eating up her performance as one would a doughnut with coffee. Tash Sultana is an artist with a multitude of talent being put to extraordinary use, whose every song is an obvious labour of love, a labour that certainly lived up to the hype.

“She’s actually the next best thing ever” was immediately overheard as Tash Sultana took to the stage cheeky grin in tow and middle fingers raised in greeting to uproarious approval from the crowd.  From the moment the first chords rang out you could tell she was loving every second and it just fuelled the punters on as they cheered every transition from the looping melting guitar melodies to the beatboxing pan flute.  Jungle echoed throughout the Lefty’s tent, the crowd chanting along while Sultana urged them to sing louder, her gritty soulful vocals sending shivers down your spine, the festival totally immersed in the endless swirls of rising production.

Discovery: Daft Punk Tribute was everything you’d expect it to be, a killer dancefloor sparkling under the watchful chrome and silver helmets of the dedicated duo as they orchestrated the Daft Punk only playlist.

The first note I have written in my notebook is ‘cool dude’. That two-word summary fails to do Remi’s performance justice. Mixing a sweet afro with blazing rap backed up by steady drumming, the man himself was openly honest with the audience, stating that he was “going to try and sell shit for the next hour”. Given the close proximity to the merchandise tent, this was a brilliant business model supported by a blitzing performance. XTC Party was the highlight, and as the name implies, it was a savage beatdown utilising measured drumming, funky keyboard and immaculately delivered lyrics (“Check into this lesson/Its just quick refresher on how to be the best“). It was certainly a lesson worth checking into. Hate You was a feels trip and a half that showcased Remi’s soft side, his lush vocals shining over lax synth and steady drumming. 

The whole crowd chanted along to the self-esteem raising anthem “No one can hate you like you hate you” and apologising for the lack of Sampa the Great on For Good, introducing himself as the replacement Remi the Average.  But it was the verses from his debut ‘Raw x Infinity’ that had the festival bouncing in approval.

As someone who was out of the loop when it came to Remi, I left incredibly satisfied, feeling as though I’d seen a performance that felt intricately crafted and passionately delivered.

Nothing of what I’d heard in POW! Negro’s recorded work could have prepared me for the  explosive performance it gave at Southbound. A barrage of saxophone and synth slaying instantly got the crowd in the mood to get amongst it. The synth operator’s guitar work was just as artful as his machine memory, the occasional slick breakdown keeping things fresh. The performance evolved into a spectacle thanks to the exhausting and peerless work of lead vocalist Nelson Mondlane, whose boundless enthusiasm and energy was a joy to behold. That is to say nothing of his lyrical talent, in which he did a sensational job of hyping up the crowd. Mondlane never seemed to stop jumping, moving, and jiving,  featuring a lung capacity as deep as his musical talent. Seamless transitions between songs meant the intensity never let up, the mood electric one moment and chilled the next, at times feeling like something out of a film noir. A super sax solo made for a fantastic finale, which included solemn guitar and drums being revived with renewed vigour for an outro that featured all the chaos we’d come to expect. A truly exceptional way to kick off the festivities.

The tear jerking presence of Alex Dyson dj-ing between sets only highlighted the glowing red flap hats and tune rags more as he spun a quick set, the crowd getting quite disgruntled however as MIA’s Paper Planes hit the decks only to be immediately interrupted for the next set.  A delayed start from technical difficulties on Cosmos Midnight‘s arrival plagued the stage with silence for a moment that had the audience booing for Dyson to return, but once the sound kicked off all was forgotten.

Dyson had the whole tent crying out to Alicia Keys New York substituting the city for Southbound and getting everyone absolutely pumped for Hermitude to explode on stage.  Unfortunately the hype up on their first track was shattered as the sound once again hit a hurdle, the whole stage dropping out momentarily before it was able to start back up.  As before though it did little to mar the set, favourites Ukiyo and The Buzz From Dark Night Sweet Light going off while a little sentimental shout out for the track that made it for them introduced Speak of The Devil as the crowd flung their limbs around like the trained hip hop dancers we all thought we were.

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