REVIEW: Mountain Sounds Festival

With the festival season drawing to a weary close, I found myself wondering on the way to Mountain Sounds Festival how I was going to survive another day of over-priced food, sunburn, drunken idiots and bands going through the motions of a 40 minute set, potentially featuring “this new one we’ve been working hard on.” Thankfully, it instead provided a mixture of the best parts of well-run Australian music festivals; impressive local acts, a beautiful location, near perfect sound and a bill chosen according to the structure of an exhaustive 12 hour day.

Upon arriving at the festival’s location (quite literally a plateau on top of a mountain on the NSW Central Coast), the casual dynamic of the festival was striking. The festival’s three stages had handwritten signs at their entrances detailing set times, the pop-up op shops had materials spilling out onto the grassy walkway and punters opted to sprawl on the grass as opposed to stand up at the barrier. This was the perfect atmosphere for ambient electro act Elaskia who opened proceedings on the Sailor Jerry side-stage. The blissed-out beats provided from the group allowed the few who had arrived early to relax and settle into proceedings. Despite a bit of noise bleed from the Bus Stage on the other side of the festival, Elaskia took hold of the difficult task of opening a music festival by encouraging punters to come forward and dance.

Over on the main stage, World Champion were making the most of their early slot by dancing around the stage and sharing in jokes with the few people who had made their way to the front of the main area. With their sweet, electro-fused-indie, which occasionally held hints of reggae jams, the newcomers on the scene proved to those lucky enough to watch their set that they had a sound that was worth listening to.

Odd Mob was the first set of the day that really got the festival vibes pumping. Beginning their set to a scattering of people in the Dance Tent, the area quickly reached shoulder to shoulder space as news spread around the site that “those dudes who play that Is It A Banger song is starting!” Indeed, when said song dropped, many a shape was cut in the tent. But the biggest reaction was reserved for the group’s remix of Where Are U Now by Justin Bieber himself. Proof of the ex-teenage heart-throb tuned cool celebrity’s growing status, the tent positively erupted, with punters hurling themselves into each other in a rave riddled frenzy.

By now the festival had well and truly warmed up, with beers flowing, beats pumping and all manner of strange individuals coming out of the festival woodwork. However, the inclusive, casual atmosphere remained in the air all around. Over on the main stage, I Know Leopard and Hockey Dad brought crowds off the grass and down to the front of the stage for their sets, but punters opted rather to dance in their own space and sway with the music as oppose to crushing in near the front of the stage. I Know Leopard were particularly impressive, with the one-two combo of Close My Eyes and Perfect Picture bringing an ambient yet joyfully freeing feeling upon the crowd.

With the sun beaming down and the inevitable fatigue beginning to set in, one man wonder Harts stepped up to the plate and delivered one of the most barnstorming sets of the day. With a surprisingly small crowd gathered to watch him work his wizardry, punters were rewarded as Australia’s own version of Marcel Rodriguez Lopez set about expanding his songs with erratic, 5 minute shredfests. Backed by simply a drummer, Harts did the rest, astounding everyone assembled, with his ability to punch out both the bass and guitar lines of his songs proving another highlight.

After such a virtuoso performance, one could assume that a band with such a live reputation as The Delta Riggs could match the standard of Harts. But unfortunately, the Victorian party starters lacked the energy and swagger that got everybody talking in the first place. Rather than looking like a bunch of cocky teenagers strutting around the stage, the band looked tired and even bored at some stages, with the band’s highly spun For Tonight dropped second in the set list with next to none enthusiasm. Despite this setback, the appeal of the band still proved to be infectious, with one of the largest crowds of the day turning out to see them perform.

The conclusion of the Riggs sparked a mass exodus of punters from the main stage area, with the approaching set by Nina Las Vegas packing the dance tent to capacity. This resulted in a vast majority of the festival missing arguably the set of the day, given by indie rockers Holy Holy. Performing cuts from their recent album When the Storms Would Come, the bands vast, atmospheric anthems coincided with a beautiful sunset over the lush Mount Penang parklands. It was a special moment for all involved, capped off by the security guards allowing a particularly elderly fan over the barrier to dance in a space free from the small crowd and up close with the band.

Holy Holy had set the bar for musical excellence high, but Alpine were the perfect act to not only match it, but take it higher once again. With a majority of bands appearing throughout the main body of the festival keeping their tentacles within Australian shores (for now), Alpine provided the perfect example of the standard needed to make an impact on the international stage. Numerous trips around both Europe and the States in the past 18 months have helped the band grow into one of the country’s most exciting live acts, with front women Phoebe Baker and Lou James powerfully combining to deliver a performance of conviction, passion and almost unprecedented energy given the nature of the bands’ music. Foolish and Shot Fox were both incredible live cuts in their own right, but it was the anthemic Damn Baby which ultimately stole the show, translating into a huge festival-friendly epic when performed in the live context.

Art Vs Science have developed into not only one of the country’s finest live acts, but also as examples of the heights possible for artists to achieve if they dedicate themselves to their craft. It was therefore fitting that the bands were given a headliner slot for the dance tent. I was only able to catch the first two songs however (with Tired of Pretending getting the tent positively heaving), as there was an act that I simply couldn’t miss, regardless of scheduling conflicts.

After weaving my way through the crowd to the second row of the rapidly filling main field, the stage lights dimmed and Violent Soho took to the stage. The band tore through select cuts from their back catalog, with Dope Calypso and In The Aisle inciting mini circle pits throughout the crowd. However, it was new cuts Like Soda and Viceroy that garnered some of the biggest responses, with the former fast becoming a staple of the Australian festival circuit. The band’s hurricane set came to an end after notorious sing along Covered In Chrome, leaving a field of drunk, sweaty  and deafened punters with a solid argument against the “rock and roll is dead!” debate to ponder in their tents.

Mountain Sounds was the perfect example of a smooth running festival with a great culture, with a positive feeling remaining present throughout almost the entire day. Keyword: Almost. Unfortunately, during Hockey Dad’s set, I witnessed an example of exactly what is wrong with our culture today. During the band’s set, a mini circle pit had broken out in front of the stage, with a selection of punters joyfully bouncing off one another and singing along. Security proceeded to physically force crowd members to stop dancing by placing a selection of them in headlocks and attempting to drag them out of the stage area, with multiple punters pepper sprayed for attempting to resist the aggressive nature of the guards. A woman in front of me then recoiled and asked the security guard standing in front of her, “Did you just touch my boob?” Upon persistent questioning, the guard smiled at the woman and held out his fist for a fist bump. The woman in question proceeded with a group of other friends to a separate group of security guards in order to explain what had happened and demand that disciplinary action be taken. The group of security guards shook their heads and laughed at the incident, no doubt refusing to believe the complaints of a festival goer who had been indecently assaulted. I found the reactions of these so-called helpers disgusting. The fact that such a serious issue is promptly laughed at is both frightening and sad. It was a sour experience that left a bitter taste in my mouth for the rest of the day, and I can only hope next time such serious accusations will be treated with the respect and seriousness that they deserve. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be the first time people have encountered abuse at festivals either.

Despite this incident, all the bands on the Mountain Sounds bill provided top quality entertainment. The vibe was good. The music was better. And the scenery was the best. Kudos!      


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