Music

The Mythmaking, Mishaps And Great Sets You Missed At Golden Plains 2017

This festival may be obsessed with its own mythology, but maybe that's a good thing?

Sometimes it feels like Golden Plains and Meredith are obsessed with mythology. They’re the Saw franchise of music festivals, if you will — constantly engaging with their own history, choosing which moments to valorise in real time.

You can see it in the traditions like The Boot. Raising your shoe in the air for your favourite act was an act originated by punters, but it’s now largely accepted as Part Of The Festival. Some of this self-mytholgising has crept into the way acts are presented too. It’s not just Kurt Vile — it’s Kurt Vile at sunset. Neil Finn isn’t just playing — he’s playing under the full moon. Ian Svenonius is back — 19 years later!

Mythmaking and self-aggrandising can be a dangerous thing, but in the case of Golden Plains, it’s a brilliant one; in building up these myths, it creates the expectation in punters’ minds that new lore will be created, opening up their minds to new experiences and new music. The lineup, despite the heavyweights booked year in and year out, is (musically) pretty Equal Opportunity — new artists can capture the audience’s attention just as well as an all-time great. This year was no exception. Myths were made and expectations were subverted, and some things — the sunset, the joy, the consistently great music — stayed exactly the same.

Cash Savage and Camp Cope Conquer Early On

True to form, the local contingent on this year’s lineup was as considered as the international booking. Stalwarts rubbed shoulders with upstarts and curios alike. Cash Savage, one such stalwart, hit hard with dark, grubby country-rock on Saturday afternoon. Savage is an imposing figure onstage, stalking around hungrily, eyeballing the audience like an eagle scouring the ground for mice. She’s not unlike Nick Cave when she adopts her stage persona: funny, menacing and unforgettable.

None of the members of Melbourne trio Camp Cope have the same outsized personalities as Savage, but that didn’t matter as they tore through a set featuring highlights from their debut as well as songs from their recent split single with Cayetana.

The set was essentially a victory lap at the end of what’s been a ripper 12 months for the band, but they didn’t rest on their laurels — Sarah Thompson’s drums brutalised, Kelly-Dawn Kelso’s basslines cut through, and Georgia Maq’s lyrics sounded even more anthemic out in the open. Saturday evening was the trio’s first appearance at the Meredith Amphitheatre, but the crowd welcomed Camp Cope like old friends; every lyric was yelled right back at Maq, and boots were held aloft as the set wrapped up.

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Nicolas Jaar Transcends

It was hard to know what to expect from Nicolas Jaar’s set — his records flow between slinky club music and warm, liquid ambient, never really sticking to one thing long enough to be assigned a specific genre. But for his Golden Plains headline set on Saturday night, Jaar mostly stuck with dance music, albeit the highly specific kind of dance music that you could only really associate with him.

Surrounded by synths and samplers, and lit by a massive array of lights on either side, Jaar’s set was joyous and glamorous and felt true to his most recent album, Sirens, despite being completely different. Ending with a sublime extended version of ‘Space Is Only Noise If You Can See’ (with live vocals), Jaar’s set was like a distillation of everything he’s released to date: somehow monolithic and sinuous, communal and deeply personal, danceable and deeply thoughtful.

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Habits Ascend

After a grating display of style without substance from Total Giovanni, ascendant Melbourne duo Habits felt like harbingers of the way forward for Golden Plains. Seeming even better than usual (and they’re usually very, very good) when placed in comparison to the vapid Total Giovanni, Habits’ performance was radically personal and visceral. Their queer, punky rave music cut through the overwhelming male-ness of the acts that preceded them.

Mohini and Maia are statuesque and otherworldy onstage with their matching hair and bodily contortions, but this just serves to highlight even more how emotional their music is. The mood was dampened when the stage’s power was cut, but the thrill and power of their set’s first portion lingered.

New Faces (and No Faces) Impress

At around 2pm on Sunday afternoon, a drummer and synth player took the stage, shirtless and clad in heavy black veils that obscured their faces. The sun was already scorching, and there was no crowd waiting for the band to start — everyone watching music at this point is sitting in the shade, avoiding sunburn. The musicians onstage are half of Confidence Man, a weirdo disco project made up of members of The Jungle Giants, The Belligerents and Moses Gunn Collective.

It’s an interesting booking — those bands don’t exactly scream Meredith — but Confidence Man proved to be a Sunday highlight, drawing in one of the day’s biggest crowds and garnering the most boots of the weekend. Part of Confidence Man’s appeal is the sheer blunt force of everything they do. While introducing the final song, debut single ‘Boyfriend (Repeat)’, lead singer Janet Planet explained the song to the captive audience: “This song is for all the girls who hate their ex-boyfriend.” The crowd went wild.

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Remi Plays with the Power of a Headliner

With Princess Nokia’s devastating late-stage cancellation, it was up to Remi to provide Golden Plains 2017’s sole hip-hop set. The lack of hip-hop of any kind outside Remi was disappointing, but it’s not surprising. This year’s lineup tended to lean heavily on local and legacy rock acts, as it does every year. Remi’s spectacular Sunday night set made a strong case for more representation of the genre in the festival.

Backed up by hype man Dutch and drummer Sensible J, Remi Kolawole gave a much-needed hit of energy to the crowd, cycling through tracks from his excellent 2016 album Divas and Demons. Kolawole seemed visibly thrilled to be there: Golden Plains, he explained to the crowd, was the first festival he ever went to. The highlight of the set — and, perhaps, of Sunday night — was when he brought out Sydney star Sampa the Great to perform their collaboration ‘For Good’. Seeing the two rising hip-hop artists onstage together just seemed right, future icons staking their claim to stardom — a myth being made, right before our very eyes.

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All images via Golden Plains/Katie Fairservice.

Shaad D’Souza is a freelance writer from Melbourne. Follow him on Twitter here.