REVIEW: Groovin the Moo (Maitland)

What can be said about a festival like Groovin The Moo? It’s a festival which has all the subtlety of an Allen’s Party Mix bag, I guess. It has no qualms about having Thundamentals follow Violent Soho following Parkway Drive. Its Boiler Room equivalent was consistently more packed than the traditional “Main” stages (which is a first in my experience with festivals). The only seemingly consistent theme behind the choice of acts was “loud”. This was not Harvest. There would be no winery backdrops, and no Jamie xx reworks, and no Nile Rodgers guest appearances.

And what’s wrong with that, exactly? Well, nothing really, unless you’re this reviewer, stuck in a traffic jam 200 metres out from the gate and watching the hundredth bucket hat pass by on foot while I worried about upcoming assignments to pass the time. I should’ve taken the train, because the trains here don’t suck, and who takes a car when half of Groovin’s attendees don’t have their P’s yet anyway.

Then I felt old.

The site itself is deceptively small, with two stages (one covered, one uncovered), perched as far away from each other as the organisers could manage, hosting acts at any one time. Sounds bleeding from one stage to the other was not as a large an issue as I had expected, although hearing Vance Joy’s more pensive moments punctuated by Parkway Drive’s far-off bark was something to both consider and behold.

It’s a little bit telling of current musical climates that most of Groovin’s “rock acts” are scheduled early on with guitars giving way to turntables and Jake Stone’s not-quite-Luke-Steele headdress as the event wore on. But amidst of the midday sleepiness The Jungle Giants and Gang of Youths made for a powerful one-two punch, both sounding much more raw than their records might have you believe and playing to crowds much larger and more devoted than anticipated. Sydney up-and-comers Gang of Youths in particular had me impressed with their ability to cross-pollinate my dad’s two favourite acts – U2 and Bruce Springsteen – without sounding contrived. I will be watching this space.

And while I still struggle to get “Riptide”, it’s no secret that I’m definitely in the minority here – there are few songs that have the same festival pulling power. What exactly about the Vance Joy track makes it such a crowd magnet? Is it the ukulele? Is it James Keogh’s adorably floppy haircut? Is Michelle Pfeiffer Illuminati? No one knows, and no one should care because at this point the song feels like an establishment of Australian music, and there was no greater confirmation of that than watching thousands both young and old get the words exactly right for James and co. I even saw a punter parachute one during the opening lines; a gesture of approval, I’m told.

There are a number of recurring adjectives which come up time and time again when discussing Violent Soho, both in reference to their antics on record and on stage. Words like visceral, gnarly, cathartic, #hellfuckyeah, and grunge-ish, all of which certainly apply and are not far off from nailing down the band’s live assault. But what about “bonkers”? At the risk of shooting the upcoming Dizzee Rascal portion in the foot, it has to be said that amidst the sinewy guitars and scorched vocals is the sense that these four Brisbane bros are having more fun onstage than any of us. It’s not easy to write a tune that is of equal distance from both a Hungarian uprising and the Drake/Lil Wayne single “HYFR (Hell Yeah Fucking Right)”, but “Covered In Chrome” achieved that and the insanity of it all must go on record: Violent Soho are bonkers.

Choosing to see Karnivool over The Kite String Tangle wasn’t easy. Having seen neither act previously, I was curious to see how Danny Harley would project his #majesticcasual vibes over a 40-minute set with so few tracks to his name, but I also knew to expect a precise and crushing show from Karnivool. It must have been through Violent Soho’s influence that I chose the act more likely to start a circle pit, but it was soon clear that I had made the right decision: Karnivool tore through an undeservedly short set time in what was definitely the most impressive act of the festival. The band was able to translate the nuanced heaviness of their three records flawlessly for the stage, and the ever-spectral voice of frontman Ian Kenny was particularly on point tonight. Readers, if you’re going to GTM in Bendigo, Townsville or Bunbury this weekend, consider paying these guys a visit because you will not be disappointed.

After finishing with “New Day”, I trudged back to the Moolin Rouge tent, where I chose to set up reviewer base camp and waited for Peking Duk to take the stage. From this point on, things got seriously eclectic as guitars were traded for turntables and the night came on. Every 5th person in the tent was a girl crying while looking for her friends. I saw a lad finish a call to what sounded like his mum only to lick molly off that same iPhone with two other bucket hats. There were a lot of bindis all of a sudden. Then every 3rd person became a crying HSC student. This was not Harvest.  Peking Duk knew that well, as they pummelled the crowd with drop after eclectic drop, the choices of which look bad now, on paper, but made total sense in that sweltering tent. Feel like spinning “Happy” into some Jackson 5? Go for it! Why not a little bit of that opening track from The Lion King? Hey, the kids are singing along to it! I began to realise quickly the mad genius behind their recklessness, and while they probably won’t be asked to co-sign a Boiler Room set with Four Tet anytime soon, they are doing well to cement themselves as naturals of the festival circuit.

Also impressive were the 8-bit trappings of Wave Racer, who happened to be performing tonight on his birthday. In contrast to the previous set, he chose to map out a more traditional DJ set, moving between genres with care but periodically moving back towards his trademark sound. While a trap-centric set would be understandably off-putting to many people, he had a knack of keeping things from sounding too syrupy, and frequently switched it up with splashes of Jersey club and straight-up house. Singles “Streamers” and “Rock U Tonite” were greeted with uproar, as was an unreleased original, but the notable lack of “Stoopid” was felt. Otherwise, Wave Racer did well to keep the crowd dancing, dancing, dancing into the night.

I ended my night exhausted but determined to document the two heavy hitters in Dizzee Rascal and Disclosure. Dizzee let off an hour-long banger of a set, which did nothing for my creeping post-fest coma but was panacea to the legions of fans before him. Hip hop in a live setting is always a gamble, but this wasn’t a problem with the MC, his hype man, his singer and his DJ all coming together as a tight unit. Recent singles mingled well with early deep cuts and Chase & Status collabs, and while casually noodling around in the circle pit for “Bonkers” I resolved to keep my energy up for the final act of the night. As Flume and Emoh Instead wound up their What So Not set at Moolin Rouge, the tent swelled with anticipation. Unfortunately, Disclosure completely dropped the ball as festival closers. Despite having the best light show and most perplexingly complete rig of the day (seriously, roto-toms next to turntables next to mics next to more turntables next to an actual bass guitar), the set dragged each song to unwelcome lengths. Certainly, the brothers Lawrence were surgically precise performers, but the subtle constructions and deconstructions on last year’s Settle somehow translated to drawn-out plodding, especially to a crowd that had been treated to the exact opposite over the last 3 hours. Call it a case of poor context and misguided expectations, but combined with a set that also played most of its radio hits early, the crowd seemed more than a little let down. I left early to check out the last remains of The Presets’ set, who were winding their audience down in a much more exciting fashion. Visceral, electric and wholly Australian, they seemed a much more fitting act to close out Groovin The Moo, and in another life I would have experienced their set start to finish. But as with all music festivals, enjoyment ultimately comes down to choice, even if Maitland today was rather spoilt for it.

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