Music

Here’s What Went Down At Splendour’s Biggest And Best Pre-Party

The festival site is eerily quiet, but inside the Mix-Up tent, the party is just getting started.

Splendour 2019 pre party red bull

About 24 hours before he’ll stroll onto the amphitheatre stage to close out the first night of Splendour in the Grass, Kevin Parker stands side of stage in a cloud of smoke.

It’s Thursday night at Mix-Up Tent and while the festival doesn’t officially start until tomorrow, a pre-party is underway for those who’ve rolled into North Byron Parklands early to set up camp for the weekend ahead. The rest of the festival site feels eerily empty; Dagwood Dogs rotate soundlessly while food vendors stare into the distance, waiting for the punters that are another day away from showing up. But inside the Mix-Up Tent, things are rammed. Evidently, everyone who is already here had the same idea as Kevin.

Mr. Tame Impala has come watch, from a safe vantage point, Pond close out the night. It’s a band he has a long history with: drummer Jay Watson still plays in both bands, Pond frontman Nick Allbrook spent years in Tame Impala, while Parker himself used to play in Pond (along with current Tame Impala members Cam Avery and Julien Barbagallo).

There used to be a meme about how every dude in Perth will tell you they once played in Tame Impala. For these guys, it’s true.

Pond

Pond at Splendour in the Grass 2019.

Pond are just one of the bands keeping Thursday night’s crowd entertained. For years, Red Bull have been pulling together a cast of music’s best and brightest names for Splendour’s on site pre-party. Traditionally they’ve focused on left field electronic music, but tonight’s bill spans hip-hop, soul and, as evidenced by Pond, psychedelic rock. Some of the acts are well-established names, others newer, but all are smart, switched on and unnervingly talented.

The first cab off the rank tonight was Flex Mami, the moniker of TV-presenting, beauty-influencing, podcast-making and content-creating multi-talent Lillian Ahenkan. When the clock strikes 6pm and security start letting people into the tent, a group of five or so friends sprint up to the stage barrier and scream out “We love you Flex Mami!” Lil laughs and waves back.

Some of the acts are well-established names, others newer, but all are smart, switched on and unnervingly talented.

Following her is Milan Ring, the R&B/soul artist who makes playing guitars, keys and singing in the one set look easy. “This song is about treating yourself with love and kindness,” she says, before launching into her incredible ‘Drifting’. When Milan’s done it’s over to the Kiwi dream team of rapper Jess B and DJ Half Queen, real name Shaki Wasasala, who warms the crowd up with Rihanna while Jess jumps around backstage to gee herself up and then runs on stage to erupt in song, all attitude and energy.

While the first artists of the night play, the others on the bill rally around to watch, cheer each other on, and document it all on their Instagram stories. If it sounds like the crew here is a little cosy, it’s because they are. The artists playing in the Mix-Up Tent tonight have spent the four days leading up to this holed up together in a house in the Byron Hinterlands. They were there for Red Bull’s annual “artist summit”, where the musicians booked for their stage come together for a kind of grown up school camp designed to help them bliss out, skill up and connect with each other ahead of the big night.

Flex Mami

Flex Mami performing at Splendour in the Grass 2019.

During the day, they attend sessions on stage production and storytelling and holding their breath underwater (it’s good for learning to stay calm in high pressure situations like performing, you see). By night, they eat oysters prepared by reputed local chefs who’ve come to cook for them privately, or just discuss Love Island and conspiracy theories over a packet of corn chips (give Flex Mami ten minutes and she’ll have you convinced that Solange is Beyonce’s daughter, not her little sister).

Across the week, they’ll spend 24 hours a day together, opening up to everyone around them becoming fast friends. Signing up for a set on the Red Bull stage is more than just a gig; it’s a week-long intensive experience.

It’s not just the artists on stage who are staying at the house in 2019. Also there are rappers Baker Boy and Dallas Woods, who played the pre-party last year but weren’t able to get to Byron in time for the full week. So to make up for it, they came back this year for the full mansion-in-the-middle-of-nowhere experience. While Woods had to fly out on Thursday afternoon for other commitments, Baker Boy stuck around to watch his new friends play their sets.

Back at the North Byron Parklands, Electric Fields have the crowd enraptured as they strut, prowl and dance around the stage, Zaachariaha Fielding flipping his almost floor-length braids around as bandmate Michael Ross pounces on the keyboard behind him.

Electric Fields at Splendour in the Grass 2019.

Electric Fields at Splendour in the Grass 2019.

US artist Channel Tres was meant to play next but after a last minute cancellation, rapper Genesis Owusu has been called up instead. It’s hard to imagine there could have been a better replacement. Gobsmacking feels like an OTT word choice, but it might be the only one to describe the impression Owusu leaves.

While he raps front of stage, behind him a group of five masked guys in matching red ensembles leap into the air, jumping and running amok in unison. They’re his “goon squad”, a group of friends from his hometown of Canberra who join him on tour to help deliver the theatrics on stage. It’s a set so polished and powerhouse that it feels like it should belong to an artist who’s been doing this for ten years, rather than a newcomer who’s all of 21.

Gobsmacking feels like an OTT word choice, but it might be the only one to describe the impression Owusu leaves.

Also on tonight is the debut performance from Mystics, a “new” pairing. Only they’re not new — it’s the partnership of Jono Ma and Jonti, two names who’ve been at the forefront of Australia’s electronic scene for years now. They’re joined on stage by vocal artist Glo, who’s more than up for the job, having sung with the younger Knowles before. While all three positively nail it, much of the Red Bull artist crew descend from side of stage to join the crowd together for unhindered raving and Mystics moral support. That’s the sort camaraderie a week in close quarters creates.

As Pond wrap up, frontman Nick Allbrook shouts out his new friends. “Thank you Red Bull for hosting us in a sick big house up the road, we’ve met some incredibly talented artists,” he shouts into the mic. Once they pile off stage, the Red Bull class of ‘19 will pile into a bus and head back for that sick big house up the road for a sick big afterparty and then, tomorrow, a collection of sick big hangovers. The week might be over, but you get the feeling the friendships will last.


Katie Cunningham is a former editor of Junkee, a co-host of the money podcast Frugal Forever, and a freelance writer based in Sydney. She is on Twitter. She travelled courtesy of Red Bull.