Sugar Mountain Festival at Victoria College of the Arts (Melbourne)

On a weekend that should have been buzzing with the anticipation of another Big Day Out, there was a big festival sized hole left in the Melbourne music scene. Luckily, for those of us not bush bashing at Rainbow, Sugar Mountain returned after a one-year break. 18 months in the making, the boutique festival brought an exciting line up of musicians and artists to an extended four stages and three art spaces to the Victoria College of the Arts campus.

Melbourne presented the perfect festival weather, hitting a nice 26 but feeling like 30, simultaneously lifting the mood and the length of every girl’s top. As the heat got a little intense and the areas of shade crammed up, the first port of call for many were the three gallery spaces. Gallery 1 was of particular interest to many with the featured artists being strongly connected to both the art and music world. Australian graphic designer and art director Leif Podhajsky – best known for his album artwork for the likes of Santigold, Lykke Li, Kelis and Tame Impala – teamed up with Japanese-born artists Hisham Bharoocha to exhibit one solo piece each and a collaborative effort of brand new psychedelic work exploring themes of nature and connectedness. Their prints were so incredibly bright and full of movement, that the room was never empty.

While the crowd was evenly spread for most of the day, many gathered to check out NO ZU who were joined on stage by the legendary Sal P of 80’s post-punk, post-disco band Liquid Liquid. Their mash up of incredible synth sounds and out of this world vocals, backed by funky bass lines was more than enough to have fans twirling and dancing the entire hour they graced the main stage.

Joining forces again with Sugar Mountain, underground music show the Boiler Room hosted its own stage and selection of artists while broadcasting live via the internet. Melbourne’s LA Pocock encapsulated his audience with broody beats and cosmic sounds, setting the stage up nicely for London boy FunkinEven. Most definitely the highlight of the day, FunkinEven is probably the most suave DJ you will ever lay eyes on. Not only do strong influences of everything from Prince to Kraftwerk to George Clinton filter through his sets, his incredibly cool style matched with great dance moves make for a strong set with a light hearted vibe. Fusing techno with soul, and hip-hop with house, FunkinEven escorted us straight to the underground clubs of London and Berlin. For a short hour we weren’t in Melbourne anymore!

Trying to catch a little of all the later sets was possibly the biggest challenge, thankfully made easier by a very simple festival layout. Ariel Pink wowed with his eclectic sounds on the main stage in chunky, spiky blue platform heels while Horse Meat Disco arrived fresh from their regular ‘queer party for everyone’ Sunday night show in Vauxhall, London and really turned up the volume. Then followed by a brilliantly fun electro pop set from Seattle duo Odesza, a few more Nas shirts and a lot more Nike Air Force 1’s began to make an appearance throughout the campus.

As the sun slowly disappeared and the crowd swelled, it was finally time for Nas to celebrate 20 years since the release of Illmatic by playing the album in full. To a nostalgic backdrop of beautiful architectural images of recognisable landmarks in New York City, Nas landed on stage atop a loud roar of sound from fans both new and old. By performing ‘Melbourne State of Mind’ rather than ‘New York State of Mind’ he had the crowd in the palms of his hands and with that hit polished off nicely, Nas began to talk about how happy he was that everyone was on the Illmatic journey with him. Noticing someone holding the vinyl record in the front row, he signed it and proudly asked them to hold it up high. A veteran on the rap scene, Nas closing the intimate festival was one of the best ways it could have concluded.
It’s hard to see how Sugar Mountain will top 2015, but there is no doubt everyone will be waiting with baited breath for the 2016 version.

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