Southbound gets the West groovin’

WA’s Southbound Festival, a little sister to Falls, has rolled into Busselton once again, reaffirming its position as the state’s premier camping festival. This year saw the west coasters finally catch on to the camp-by-your-car concept, with attitudes varying from happy at the convenience of unloading by your wheels, to, “I’ve heard more car alarms than bloody bands.” The new system had campers wary early, with the huge camping queues resembling an enormous and slow game of Snake II. Alcohol amnesty points went untouched as festival goers dared to test their concealment nous against the wits of security guards. In a sign of who won the battle of wits, pop-up bars arose faster than the toilet queues could keep pace with, in the back of utes, under gazebos and generally all over the campgrounds. It begs the question, why not allow alcohol to be brought into campsites within limits, rather than impose a strict ban that entices patrons into testing the limits?

As tents were pitched and Santa Cruz hats, singlets and socks were slipped on, the music began. Crooked Colours seemed to be auditioning for a late night slot with their moody electronica drawing an early crowd to Lefty’s tent. The same could be said of Safia, with Ben Woolner’s beautifully smooth crooning impressing the early revellers. Back to the Mainbreak stage and Asgeir‘s ethereal blend of electronica and folk justified his iconic status in his homeland of Iceland, where there are more Asgeir albums than people (well, almost.) Vance Joy gave an honest account for the more laid back festival-goers, as did regulars Cold War Kids.

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Rockers The Black Lips began with a few sound issues but seriously got things going, so much so that there were complaints of mosh where mosh don’t belong. Psychedelic Jagwar Ma got the groove going and the dancers moving, while Run the Jewels busted out the bangers and had a wheelchair-encumbered crowd surfer kicking the set up a notch. The Presets dropped the epic set that we’ve come to expect of them before much loved DJ Alison Wonderland showed how her well-rehearsed show can have a crowd fawning. Empire of the Sun gave the most hedonistic show of the night, a feast for an ecstatic crowd complete with dancers and Luke Steele’s telltale crown. Oh, and Salt N Pepa played that one song. Yahtzel’s DJ set at the Coconut Club went off as the final acts finished up and people went back to their tents, or kicked on at the silent disco, which provided a good mix of bangers, Aussie rock and classic hip hop. The mood was high as Southbound gradually went to sleep, to the occasional snore and giddy late night dropper.

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The next day begun early as the sun began to swelter in the AM and the bus line to the beach was packed by 7. Busselton residents looked on quizzically at first, and later resignedly, as packs of dull-eyed youths made slow, economical movements towards the water. Back at the festival grounds, Head Studio’s teepee was busy providing braids, wraps and all manner of festival styles for the day. The yoga tent allowed many to sweat out the previous day’s seediness and the diverse food stalls made a mockery of the days when all a festival had to offer was a chicken roll and chips. For many, it is the allure of the organic and laid-back atmosphere, as much as the music, that has crowds returning to events like Southbound. It’s one of those festivals that has people saving before a lineup is announced, which cannot be said for many Western Australian events.

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Danny Harley, AKA The Kite String Tangle, had a devoted crowd captivated by his breathtaking voice and spot on production work, made all the more impressive by the solo show taking place in the heat of the day. German duo Milky Chance gave a relaxed performance before everyone’s favourite Aussie reggae artists Sticky Fingers absolutely nailed it, getting the ball rolling for the day’s dancing. Glass Animals sexed-up swirling tunes packed out Lefty’s tent before Tycho’s ambient essay-writing-background-music allowed a moment to catch one’s breath before the final big push through the night.

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Cloud Control showed that their immense ability to harmonise vocals is unmatched in bassist Jeremy Kelshaw’s final gig. Their blend of billowing rock and pristine folk made revelations of a new album arriving shortly so much more satisfying. Joey Bada$$ proved he’d been granted bail for his king-hit to a security guard at Falls in Byron Bay by making his appearance, and appearing to show no ill-effect from his stint in jail by going 15 minutes into the set time of uber-producer Jamie XX.

Jamie XX’s opening suffered from a lack of individuality; it would have been great to see a man with such delicate and refined production-value explore a less generic approach to the beginning of his set. Nevertheless, he finished strongly with his 2014 singles. Bluejuice were playing their last ever gig and as usual, looked like they had an absolute ball delivering it. Unsurprisingly, final song Broken Leg had the manic crowd overflowing out of the tent. SBTRKT suffered serious technical issues smack bang in the middle of Wildfire, with project-leader Aaron Jerome Foulds appearing almost as disconsolate as the large crowd gathered for his work. He returned briefly after a lengthy delay, yet the vibrations had wandered off with a large chunk of the crowd by then. Headliners alt-J then had the returned crowd absolutely immersed in their unique brand of experimental rock. The quality outfit was superb, with sophisticated drumming by Thom Green leading an immaculate and flawless set, which was also ably supported by some enterprising soul that had smuggled a flare gun into the festival, and was letting it off at surprisingly musical intervals.

As always, the festival seemed over far too early. The obligatory, drunken toilet-paper bandits wandered the campsite in a lame effort to keep the event from ending, but the majority returned to campsites, anticipating the rough drive home that was to come early in the morning. Once again, the sun burst over steaming tents to render sleep virtually impossible, and volunteers on buggies roamed at large, cracking jokes at the expense of poor hungover souls. The exodus began, and with the first bout of early-onset nostalgia we headed home.