Listen Out has wrapped up for another year, hitting Perth, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane and bringing with it some of electronic and hip hop music’s biggest and most exciting names. Childish Gambino, Joey Bada$$, ODESZA, Ryan Hemsworth, and Rae Sremmurd were all in tow for the ride, as well as homegrown talents Alison Wonderland, Client Liaison, Golden Features, Basenji and more. A festival that is often plagued by sound issues and the – at times – unfortunate ability to bring out the worst in “bro culture” ahead of the summer season, we sent two writers (one to Sydney and one to Brisbane) to see how it shaped up this year.
After I’d heard a fair few complaints about the sound quality at Listen Out Melbourne last week, I got pretty scared about what Sydney’s sound might be like. Last year wasn’t particularly great, but surely they’d learned from their mistakes, right? Wrong. I moved all around the crowd over the course of the day, and could easily have a conversation with my mates at pretty low volume, as well as hear about a million other conversations happening around me (most of them about how quiet it was). Sets from Rae Sremmurd and ODESZA, which should have been the sets that kicked the day into the next gear, were disappointingly quiet. Rae’s bass wasn’t loud enough and ODESZA’s lush, gorgeous sounds could hardly be heard. This continued into the night, with headliner Childish Gambino being so quiet that I had to leave and see Golden Features instead, who was only slightly better sound-wise.
I don’t want to lay on the hate too badly, there’s a pretty obvious reason why the sound can’t be as good as it should but that needs to change. Sydney’s Listen Out is held in Centennial Park, which is in the middle of a very residential area. Noise permissions must be a lot more strict than other festival venues, so I understand that for that reason they can’t bump speakers super loud. But, surely after a whole bunch of complaints last year and this year, Fuzzy would have learnt their lesson? Centennial Park is a gorgeous place to hold a festival – rolling parklands and trees and some pretty beautiful weather – but I go to Listen Out for the music, not for the setting, and I’m sure a whole bunch of other punters would agree with me on that. Rant over.
I don’t really know what’s the blame for this, but there were way more wankers at Listen Out this year. I know wankers is a pretty blanket statement, but I’m largely talking about people who are a stereotypically #shreddingforstereo type crowd. There were way more shirts off this year, and not because of the weather I’m sure. With Stereo being in some serious danger, I’m really hoping that these people don’t spill out into other festivals that have up until this point been largely wanker-free.
Aside from what was a very small proportion of lamos, generally the vibe of the festival was excellent. It was a beautiful 30-something degree day in Sydney and everyone – the artists, security and crowd were just loving the day. The sunset was gorgeous and the night was warm. As far as I could tell, there weren’t any major incidents like all the arrests of last year for drugs and jumping – at least if there were they didn’t impact on the rest of us at all.
Listen Out’s lineup this year was filled to the brim with an excellent selection of local and international acts who didn’t fail to disappoint. Rae Sremmurd kicked the day into some serious overdrive on the main Atari Stage following on from a perfect intro by iLoveMakonnen. The heat of the day didn’t stop the crowd from bumping along to serious james like No Type and No Flex Zone, in fact it probably made it all a lot rowdier – which was what the day needed. ODESZA were obvious favourites of the crowd, with their beautiful visuals accompanying the sunset to see the day turn into night in the perfect way. Following on from my interview with them last week, I was super keen to get serenaded by the boys, and did they deliver. Once the sun set though it headed into more banger territory, with Alison Wonderland smashing Atari while UK House duo Dusky got groovy on 909. Joey Bada$$ and Childish Gambino were the perfect act to pair together, flowing from aggressive and classic hip-hop beats to Childish’s own brand of bounce. I managed to catch the end of Golden Features as well, which was hugely fat. He’s come a long way, last year opening the show to closing it this year, and it was the perfect ending.
Don’t get me wrong, I had a great time at Listen Out. The acts all performed amazingly, the crowd was really into it for the most part, but overall it was just the sound that let it down and ensured that it didn’t kick into the gear that it should’ve. Hopefully Fuzzy just learn their listen about it, I hope.
This was my third Listen Out, and my fifth festival put on by Fuzzy. Still missing the old Parklife days with every inch of my life, the last two years of Listen Out have absolutely been underwhelming in regards to sound. However, I was pleasantly surprised this year. Having been called out about the issue in Melbourne and Sydney, I feel like the organisers actually listened to their punters for the Brisbane leg. The RNA Showgrounds in Bowen Hills is in a semi-residential, semi-industrial location, and also plays host to Laneway, Soundwave and Stereosonic, but with each of those festivals making the move to across the road to the recently renovated area and Listen Out remaining, I was a bit skeptical about what we would be hearing – or not hearing on the day. Having moved the 909 stage undercover, the sound of Feki’s booming set really was booming. It was this stage I would spend a large portion of my day at, and although it was pretty hot, it was well worth it for the new and improved sound quality. Was it top knotch? No. Was it an improvement from the last few years? 100%. The outdoor carpark stage for the Atari stage was also kind of undercover, so depending where you stood, the sound was alright there too. I still think there is a LOT of room for improvement. Hip hop and electronic music are two genres that need to be turned all the way up, and I was expecting ringing in my ears from ODESZA. I didn’t get ringing, but I did get close enough to the stage that it didn’t matter. Sound quality is something that is really make or break for me, but I feel like the fact that the festival took some action to rectify this is very promising and shows that actually do care what we, the people think.
The crowd was also a lot more solid than previous years. I don’t actually care about bro’s or muscly dudes with no shirts on, but I do care about my own safety and the safety of my friends, as well as the safety of our ~good vibes~. Because of this, we came across literally no wankers. Everyone was chill, everyone was polite and respectful, everyone was there for a good time. Again, just like the sound, I was pleasantly surprised by this. The crowd was so good in fact, having to compromise and live stream the NRL grand final off one of my best friend’s phones saw us eventually be surrounded by other legends who, although strangers, wanted to get in on some of that Cowboys action. A big improvement on the hedonistic, get-as-fucked-up-as-you-can mission statement of years before, Listen Out again provided the goods in terms of the crowd. I can’t be sure why, but I really hope it happens again next year.
Because of the aforementioned improvements above, the vibe was probably the most solid out of all the Listen Out’s I’ve been to. It was a fantastic day to kick off the summer, everything fell into place in a way that only festivals can provide. Good people, good music, good weather – good, good, good. I will admit in previous years I have been left underwhelmed, but Listen Out really did it for me this year. I’m still feeling the magic three days on from it.
My highlights of the day were ODESZA and Rae Sremmurd, the two acts I was there to see. Getting up close and personal with ODESZA surrounded by my best friends was something I had been dreaming about since the line up was released, and the delivered a total dream of a set. However, my winner of the day goes to Future Classic’s boy wonder Basenji, who laid down one of the best DJ sets I’ve seen all year. After some technical difficulties not even five seconds in rendered his set up out of action, he was quick to launch into a heaving, bass-filled DJ set that kicked the day into overdrive – and it was only 2:30pm. This guy is seriously going places, if not for his fantastic EP Trackpad out now, but for his ability to think quick and act accordingly. Thank you based Basenji!
All in all, Listen Out Brisbane was a winner for 2015. Yes, improvements could be made, but I feel like it’s well on it’s way. Leaving the festival, all I could see was smiles in every direction from punters, and I’m sure the acts were feeling the love right back. I really cannot wait for next year.