In what is now firm tradition, on the last Sunday of April gig buddy and I trotted off to the University of Canberra to catch Groovin the Moo’s latest assortment. The weather was crisp, the hat game strong and the atmosphere a delicious mix of relaxation and anticipation.
Missing Sweet Shoppe (Gus, if you’re reading this, I’m so sorry), we arrived to catch the slick and smooth locals The Steptones, who were met with a modest yet receptive gathering of early comers. Drawing North, the other Unearthed act, were about 60% enthusiasm and 40% fringe. Though their sound I could never quite place as they tried to cover so much ground, they were noticeably grateful and excited to be there, reflecting in their efforts. The growing excitement for The Jungle Giants was palpable, a dedicated group eager for the Brisbane popsters. Their arrival onstage was greeted by early-bird vitality from the crowd, attention strong from the dedicated to the uninitiated. It is no small secret that bassist Andrew Dooris saturates The Jungle Giants live persona with vivacity. As I reluctantly rushed off to catch Andy Bull, I was lucky enough to hear an exchange between lead singer Sam Hales and Dooris.
“Share the balls around! I wanna touch the balls. [Referring to the beach balls bouncing across the crowds.]”
“Touch your own balls.”
“Fuck off, Dooris.”
I nabbed a barrier spot at Andy Bull (“Andy Bull’s not a girl!” he joked) and proved well worth the speed-walk to the tent and three year wait for his music to reach me live. I was a little disappointed that his album was missed altogether in the set. Yet, considering the lack of familiarity in the crowd, it was a stronger move for him to stick to newer tracks, opening with a new track that simmered up to a crescendo and impressive wail from Bull. Though some dedicated Andy Bull fans spotted the crowd (yes, I did cry during ‘Dog’. No, I’m not embarrassed by this.), most seemed happy to observe and take it in. He wrapped up with ‘Keep On Running’, spontaneously asking the crowd to participate in a round robin of the vocals – not altogether successful but executed with enthusiasm from Bull.
It was when Allday bounced out and launched into ‘Eyes on the Road’ that the Moolin Rouge really started to heat up. The crowd expanded and then compacted to bop along, both the middle aged and young ‘uns following along with his rhymes. Although admitting to a hangover on social media and mentioning DJ’s recent bout of vomiting on the grass, his dynamism and connection to the crowd was uncompromised.
Now, I thought Allday was pretty Australian. Then I saw Loon Lake live and realised that they had topped him; their keyboardist paused at least once mid song to have a swig of beer. Lead singer Sam Nolan is the epitome of relaxed, joking about Canberra with its ‘big lake and its politicians’ and referring to the bearded roadie as Zach Galifianakis. My gig-bud leant over to me midset and said ‘I think my mum has that hat. No. I’m serious.” Though their brand of crunchy indie rock lagged a little midway, they threw out a few curveballs; notably the roadie playing drums on ‘Cherry Lips’ and ‘The Weekend’ transforming into ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’ by Taylor Swift.
The sun came out for the angelic Vance Joy. His set reminded me a little of Matt Corby’s, two years previously. Whilst he and his band performed impeccably, a lot of punters were there for the ‘big song’, in Matt’s case, ‘Brother’ and for Vance, ‘Riptide’. Whilst there is nothing wrong with that, a quiet sense of impatience and lack of interest pervaded the sizeable crowd further in, as he rolled through several new songs. When he did wrap up his set with the massive hit, the response was automatic and loaded with delight. The sun, which had disappeared once again, came out with perfect timing to add – perhaps this is me being over imaginative – an even more joyous texture to the experience. Alas, the iPhones reared their ugly screens to capture the event. However, nothing can quite compare to when he withdrew for one chorus and the song was sustained by the crowd. Special stuff.
Architecture in Helsinki’s brand of fun was a shock to the system. They are a band where every single member dedicates themselves as much as the front man/woman. Although the kitschy rhythms veered towards exhausting mid-set, the dedication from those onstage propelled it onwards and kept the crowd moving. Everything about their set screamed FUN, from the bright costumes to the coordinated dance moves during opening song ‘That Beat’.
There comes a point during the course of GTM where the early birds start to droop, reaching out to food stalls and sprawling across the green expanses for recovery, whilst the evening rush come in and give new pep to the atmosphere as the sun lowers. It was dark by the time kiwis The Naked and Famous hit the stage. Opening with the tense build of ‘A Stillness’ gave a solid foundation for their party pop, suited in all its moody power for the vast setting. Front-woman Alisa Xayalith was both mystical and peppy, chatting away between songs and asking us to sing along with ‘In Rolling Waves’. The responses to their debut hits were most noticeable; ‘Young Blood’ was absolutely electric.
Three years ago, a little band called The Jezabels played the early bird spot at GTM. This year, three EPs and two albums later, they gave it their all once again; this time on an artificially lit stage and to a familiar crowd. Mesmerised, the group was captured under the spell of Hayley Mary as she strutted and gyrated onstage. They rotated between the old – ‘Mace Spray’ and ‘Easy to Love’ and the new ‘Look of Love’ and ‘Time to Dance’ before ebbing out without a bang with ‘Catch Me’.
Hauling out from the UK, it was time for the bass to come in with Londoner Dizzee Rascal. He lured in – second to Disclosure – possibly the largest crowd. Though variation in his set was lacking, the call of the heavy bass and solid beats was hypnotic and his presence was charismatic. This sparked a synchronised assault of verve for Dizzee. My favourite moment was away from the mass, bouncing like a maniac to ‘Bonkers’.
Trekking out the gates to the bitter reality that is Canberra, there is a slight come-down; the realisation a few soccer fields are transformed into a playing ground for a host of incredible acts – squashed into 12 hours – can be a little bit overwhelming. GTM 2014 was low on disappointment and high on good vibes, making it the most consistent and the most chilled yet.
Post note: I did have a really wonderful time at this year’s GTM, I will take this opportunity to bring up something more serious. Every year, GTM – by actually getting me out of the house and amongst ‘people my own age’ – makes me privy to fashion trends. This year, it was bindis. I do have a problem with this, because when white people wear bindis – an item borrowed from Hindu culture and a symbol of deep spirituality for many – without due understanding of this, it is cultural appropriation. You can read more about this here. It is offensive, and I know many don’t intend to hurt others with their style choices, so please be considerate of the cultural implications of what you wear, even at somewhere overwhelmingly fun like GTM.