Live Review: Download Festival, Melbourne

Download Festival Australia
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Download Festival

Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne
Monday 11 March 2019

It’s not always easy settling on what you need for a festival. Is it going to rain? Should I pack a poncho? Sunglasses? Will they have sun block and water available? I know that at a recent festival in NZ attendees were not allowed to bring drinks, and the site ran out of water on a dangerously hot day. Will they accept a driver’s licence for ID, or do I need to take my passport?

Clearly most people didn’t put as much thought into it as I did. Melbourne had hit 38c just a week ago, but the black-clad crowds obviously didn’t seem fazed. But then again, this is Download, a descendent of legendary Donington – a Mecca for fans of heavy music from around the globe. It was a fairly stereotypical metal crowd: tattoos, studded belts, combat boots, leather and denim jackets adorned with patches. And of course: the obligatory black band t-shirt. Slayer was the most common name emblazoned on shirts that I noticed today, clearly influenced by the headlining act.

Download Dog

Upon arrival my friends and I took a quick photo inside the inflatable dog head (the festival mascot), and made our way to the mainstage for Luca Brasi. The Tasmanian punks had drawn a decent turn out for so early in the day, and judging from the amount of people singing along, many were long time fans.vin The attempt at a light show was entirely redundant in the middle of a sunny day, but the music was fun and set the tone well.

Like many festivals, the main stage was actually two stages stationed parallel [Red and Black], allowing for near continuous music. Stage techs on the left could set up and sound check while bands on the right performed, each side alternating throughout the day. The stages were flanked by two totem-like statues featuring the Download dog mascot, and a large screen was installed in the centre, allowing punters at the back a better view of what was happening.

We had a quick look around the rest of the site. It was fairly typical really: a selection of stages, plenty of food trucks selling future diarrhoea, a few stalls selling clothes and nerdy nic nacs, a merch stand, lines of port-a-loos, and plenty of bars. Great to see that the festival management were good hosts and made sure that water, sun block and ear plugs were freely available.

Next up we went to Slaves at the Avalanche stage. The Avalanche stage was a big tent, and easily the best stage at the festival, taking me back to the Boiler Room at Mt Smart, or Main Stage at dunk!festival last year. The reasons that tents like this work so well is because they provide shelter and shade from the elements, protecting us from sun/rain, and meaning there are less variables like wind that affect the audio mix. Light shows are also more effective during day time, seeing as they are darker. The downside is that the capacity can be more limited than an open air stage, and I’m guessing that it requires more set up, but I never thought this stage overcrowded when I was there throughout the day.

Slaves certainly had a unique approach. There were just two of them, both topless and heavily tattooed, giving their all with intensity. Isaac Holman played drums whilst standing – having converted a kick drum to a floor tom. Laurie Vincent played guitar.  The two shared vocal duties. It was high energy and reckless, the duo throwing themselves about the stage, bouncing off speakers and launching themselves into the crowd.

Fever 333 at Download

Next up were Fever 333, who followed on in a very similar vein to Slaves. Lead singer Jason Aaron Butler was led on stage wearing a jumpsuit and a bag over his head – imagery that wouldn’t look out-of-place in Guantanamo Bay. He was joined by guitarist Stephen Harrison and drummer Aric Improta. All three of them have played in other successful bands, and their experience showed. It was a hectic brand of impassioned hardcore fused with extra intensity and politics. Many of the messages were about fighting – fighting to make shows a safe space for women, fighting against the NSW government who are trying to restrict live music, fighting for the rights of black people.

All three of them jumped around like mad men – even Improta, who jumped up on his drum throne on the regular. They even had us jumping – asking everyone to crouch down, and spring into the air after a countdown. One great section involved a “drum off” between Butler beat-boxing, and Improa on drums. Then Butler dived out into the crowd, ran the length of the tent and climbed the rigging for the lighting tower. I have no idea how long his microphone lead was, but I’m guessing at least 100 feet. Not to be outdone, Harrison began to climb the rigging on the side of stage, until he became slightly stuck, so jettisoned his guitar down onto the stage below. I loved the ferociousness of it all, and I think it’s fair to say the rest of the crowd did too. Easily a highlight of the day.

Whilst offering decent value for money, and an opportunity to see a range of artists play, festivals sometime feel less satisfying when the band you really want to see can only play a stunted set. But I didn’t feel that today, with many bands having a decent enough time slot to put on a good show.

Back out into the sunlight, and Polish death metal act Behemoth were on the mainstage. Not my thing. Looking at the crowd, many people love the Satanic shtick, but to me, raspy ‘evil’ vocals just sound pathetic, especially when you compare them to punchier shouted hardcore/punk style vocals. I’ll hand it to them though, their imagery made them stand out (spooky face paint and costumes) and they had cool pyrotechnics. The gimmick of being ‘shocking’ and ‘extreme’ just feels dated.

Time for a recharge: get something to eat and drink, reapply sun block, and risk the port-a-loos.

Truth be told, punk covers band Me First & The Gimme Gimmes were my prefered act for this time of the day, but I’m seeing them play a full set in Wellington this Thursday, so I thought I’d try something new. Many of my friends are big fans of Converge. I’ve tried listening to them in the past, and didn’t like it, but some bands are better live. I stayed for a few songs, still couldn’t get into it, so went to Anthrax.

Anthrax are one of the Big 4 – the four most notable thrash metal bands. The other three are Slayer (the festival headliners), Metallica and Megadeth (fronted by original Metallica guitarist Dave Mustaine). Now I don’t listen to a great deal of any of those bands, but when the opportunity presents itself, you’d be foolish not to see them.

They were great, clearly veterans of the stage. In true metal fashion, the drummer had double bass drums and an excessive rack, and guitarist Scott Ian played a Flying V – the most metal (and one of the least practical) guitar shapes. You could see that they loved their job, with the leathery singer Charlie Benette and Ian taking turns to hype the crowd up. Their style of thrash is still centred around fast, heavy riffing, but takes a note from epic NWOBHM bands like Iron Maiden as well. Ian insisted on crowd participation. You can go nuts in the pit, you can nod your head, you can pump your fist, but everyone must move! They didn’t play many songs, but they sure hit the spot.

Amity Affliction took the next slot on mainstage. They played a decent set, although an incident up the front interrupted the set and caused the band to cease for some time. I think someone had fainted in the pit, and security we trying to remove them, but I couldn’t say for sure what happened. Despite the hold up, they played a suitably dynamic set, with great sound, and a mix of heavier songs to get the crowd moving and clean sing-alongs that elicited just as much involvement.

I met up with my friend Jason who had been tour managing Slaves earlier in the day, and we caught some of Alien Weaponry and Rise Against. A few years ago I had earmarked Alien Weaponry as the next success story, but never anticipated the extent to their success. They’ve spent the past year touring Europe and America, playing festivals and joining the likes of Ministry on the road. It has been almost a year since I reviewed their début album , and judging from the amount of views I still get from that article, I can tell that they are sustaining steady growth.

They may have played the smallest stage at Download, but the crowd was spilling out of the confines of the allocated space. I am proud of them for bringing their unique style of Māori-infused thrash metal to the world, and it was a blast shouting along to their rallying war cries as they played.

I’ve seen Rise Against four times in the past, and although they are one of my favourite artists, I think they’re stronger as a studio band then as live performers. That said, the sound mix at Download was better than I’ve come to expect from them, and they still come across as seasoned players. Nothing is ever as good as listening to some of your favourite songs from your formative years, and they made sure to touch on a mix of songs new and old. Special mention to the section of Black Sabbath‘s “Paranoid” that they slotted into “Savior”, likely as a tribute to Ozzy Osbourne, the billed headliner who had to cancel due to health issues.

Grunge giants Alice In Chains were one of my big drawcards to this event. I’d read good reviews of their Auckland show the previous week, which only served to whet my appetite even more. And boy, did they deliver! Lead singer William DuVall will never be able to escape the shadow of original singer Layne Staley, whose substance abuse and subsequent death effectively ended the band in the 90’s. And although Duvall has recorded as many albums with AiC as Staley had, people still ask if he is fit to fill Stayley’s boots?

Short answer: yes. He nailed the older material. He didn’t try to emulate his predecessor, but made the songs his own while remaining true to the what the fans knew. As you can imagine, tracks like “Down In A Hole”, “Would?” and “Rooster” all went down a treat, but I can attest that new material stood up just as well alongside the classics.

It was just approaching dusk toward the end of Alice In Chains’ set, finally rendering the stagelights effective. An some of the original giants of metal: Judas Priest sure made the most of it.

When it comes to Judas Priest, everything is excessive. The stage set, the costumes, the drum kit, the sheer power of the music… it’s all epic. Rob Halford reappropriated the leather and studs from gay culture and pioneered the eternal metal wardrobe. And tonight he showed us how loyal he was to that look, with aviator sunglasses, leather gloves, and a range of leather jackets.

They’re a quintessential metal band, with the sound and look dialled just so. I was loving every minute. But I had a tough call to make. As great as they were, I’ve already seen Priest play at Westfest in Auckland a few years back. And my teenage nostalgia was craving some Sum 41, who I’ve never seen live. It’s the scheduling clash I struggled most with, but I think I made the best call I could have.

We timed it perfectly, arriving at the Avalanche tent just before Sum 41 played “Walking Disaster”, my favourite song of theirs. Sometimes you need to be strategic about which acts to see at a festival, and thankfully I could use Setlist.FM to look up sets from the Download Festival in Sydney on Saturday to inform my choices.

Singer Deryck Whibley commanded the stage like a pro, controlling both the band and the crowd at his whim. It was even more fun than I’d hoped – the great music combined with well rehearsed showmanship. Like Rise Against, they threw a few covers into the set (Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall”, Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”), the most notable being Queen’s “We Will Rock You”, which was so punked up that I didn’t recognise it until they hit the chorus.

They concluded with hits “In Too Deep”, “Fat Lip” and “Still Waiting”, which is what most of us were hoping to hear.

It was a hard decision missing most of Judas Priest’s set. I didn’t see Halford ride his Harley Davidson, but I did see them play “Breaking The Law” upon returning to the main stage, which was a great consolation.

Sadly for me, the night had peaked by that point. I got to shout silly things like “metal” and “Slaaayer” in falsetto when Slayer came on, but they didn’t have enough groove or dynamics to make we want to stick around.

I had been trying to figure out Ghost’s appeal leading up to the festival, and hadn’t worked out why people like them yet. Was it the same lame Satan shtick? Because at least Behemoth sounded plausible. Ghost’s sound didn’t match their image or reputation. I’d been watching Ghost videos on YouTube and it’s like they were trying to emulate Dynasty era KISS by playing disco tunes while dressing spooky.

Thankfully they fared better live. They had a decent stage set, which always helps (Rammstein are worth seeing for their stage set and pyro alone, even despite their music). The drums and bass sounded good, and riffs stood out a lot more than in the videos I’d heard. The singing was still a joke though. I said I’d give them three songs to prove themselves. Well, they were OK – better than I expected, but still not interesting enough to warrant sticking around any longer.

Halestorm proved to be the most worthwhile of the last three bands of the night. They played hard, shredding away and putting on a performance that focused on musicality over presentation. The drummer had some interesting tones from a slightly unconventional set-up, and the guitarists clearly knew their stuff. unfortunately singer Lzzy Hale was losing her voice. She put a heroic effort in, but wasn’t quite hitting her mark. This didn’t take away from the overall experience though.

All in all, it was a fantastic day. My friend and I discussed our day on the train trip home and we realised that we hadn’t encountered any dickheads. No aggro, no shoving, no spilling beer on us. People were respectful, gave space when they could, and all looked after each other. And that’s better than I’ve come to expect from most gigs, let alone one the size of Download. But it all came together: the weather was good, the line up of bands was excellent, the crowds respectful, and the overall experience was excellent.

It’s a real shame that Ozzy Osbourne couldn’t play. He had been one of the big drawcards for me. But you can’t hold it against anyone that he got sick, and it was still a fantastic event.

I may just have to fly back to Australia for Download next year as well!

 

Joseph James

Live Review: Into It. Over It. at The Rev, Melbourne

Into It Over It Australian Tour Poster
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Into It. Over It.

w/ Zzzounds and Jess Locke

The Rev, Melbourne

Friday 30 September 2016

I awoke at 4.30am (1.30am Melbourne time) to make it to the airport for my flight to Melbourne for the Into It. Over It. show. As I stumbled out of bed bleary eyed, I quietly thanked myself for having the foresight to have packed my gear the night previous.

I got to the airport without a hitch, seeing as there is no traffic so early in the morning. My flight was delayed by an hour, but I busied myself doing some paperwork on my laptop as I sat in the waiting room.

Once it was time to board I somehow managed to squeeze my 6’3″ frame into the airline seat that was clearly designed for people less vertically inclined than myself. I managed to survive the four-hour flight, despite the lady in front of me deciding to recline her seat into my knees. She then proceeded to slam her body weight squarely onto my knees every two minutes as she tossed and turned, trying to make herself comfortable, and inflicting maximum pain upon my legs in the process.

Into It. Over It. Melbourne Will Not Fade

Landing in Melbourne was mayhem. Nobody appeared to have a clue where to go and the lack of signage and airport staff did little to dispel the mass confusion. It took an hour to get from the runway to a bus that drove us along the tarmac, through customs, and out of the airport altogether. It was a public holiday in Melbourne because of the AFL sports final, so perhaps most of the staff had the day off? I’ve been told that customs officials are on strike tomorrow, so I wonder if I’m going to have an equally unpleasant time trying to get back into the airport?

Whilst not the first time I had flown overseas, or even the first time I’d been to Melbourne, this was the first time that I’d traveled abroad for a gig, and I was wondering if it was worth all the hassle I’d had to endure so far.

My friends picked me up from the airport. We spent the morning in Richmond sampling outrageously unhealthy [read: tasty] food, before heading into the city to stroll down the streets in search of more morsels and to listen to buskers on Bourke Street. It was both a public holiday and school holidays, so town was exceptionally busy and full of life.

I was insistent that we needed to buy some matching red and black checked shirts to wear to the gig. My friend Francie was having no bar of it, deciding that dressing like a lumberjack was beneath her. But I managed to find a beautiful 7XL sized top to wear for $10 (bargain!), and offered my own more modestly sized M sized shirt to Francie’s boyfriend James, who was far too polite to decline. He didn’t seem to stoked on the idea, but I think that he was secretly relieved that I hadn’t bought another of the 7XL shirts for him.

We arrived at the gig at 9pm. Sadly we missed opening act Jess Locke. Time management has never been my forte, and navigating Melbourne public transport was a bit beyond me in my current sleep-deprived state.

I introduced myself to Evan Weiss, the man of the night, who was manning the merch desk. He thought it was hilarious that I was rocking a shirt the size of a tent. I’d got the idea from the brilliant “No EQ” music video [embedded above], which involves everyone dressing up in those red checked shirts and oversized Evan Weiss masks with plastic glasses. To my surprise, Evan told me that I was the first fan crazy enough to actually try to dress like him for a gig. He told me that he hadn’t even featured in the “No EQ” video. He had been away touring while his friends put together the video, almost as a prank on him. At least my friends thought my insanity was slightly more justified after that conversation.

zzzounds Into It. Over It. Melbourne Will Not Fade

Second support Zzzounds [aka Dave Drayton] started shortly after. Like Weiss, Drayton was doing a solo show without a band for support. And the IIOI comparisons don’t stop there. He sang brilliant heartfelt songs with nimble finger picking on a glittery green guitar, and was never ending with the funny banter.

zzzounds Into It. Over It. Melbourne Will Not Fade

His guitar style was impressive. Most of his playing was done using two hands on the neck, with a mixture or tapping and finger picking. He sang sad songs about unemployment and lack of money, but it didn’t get depressing because he was devastatingly funny between songs. He employed a gimmick of trying to incorporate nu-metal puns and Simpsons references into his songs. Anyone who writes songs about Juggalos getting confused about magnets gets a thumbs up from me.

Say Ahhh. Into It. Over It. Melbourne Will Not Fade

I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was hoping that Weiss would have brought a band over, or at least his phenomenal drummer, Josh Sparks. But I was also hoping to hear some  lovely singer/songwriter numbers like from his Daytrotter sessions. Turns out that Weiss had chosen not to bring his full band on his first Australian tour, partly to test the waters, and partly because going solo is cheaper than airfares for a full band.

Not that this mattered. Weiss had more than enough presence to compensate for his lack of support. Belting out anthemic choruses one second, and then tenderly cooing into the mic the next, he showed a wide range of proficiency. A few of his rockier songs felt slightly flatter than usual without the drums or guitar pedals that feature in the studio versions, but this was easily forgiven, because he was able to pump out such brilliant tunes using just his guitar and his voice.

And although he joked that  it was “sad singer/songwriter night”, nothing was sad about his performance. He was lively and energetic. He shared with us that he’d been nervous about how he would be recieved in Austrailia, but was having such a great time and couldn’t believe how well it was going.

It was a captivating show. I’ve listened to him sing thousands of times on record, so it was something special to sit a few metres away from him and watch him work his magic.

Into It. Over It. Melbourne Will Not Fade

Weiss was at ease on the stage, and commented on how much fun he was having, and how welcome he felt a few times over the course of the night. He shared stories behind a few songs, told us about how his cat was plotting to kill him, discussed his old haunted car, invited us to request songs, and even asked us to heckle him (like they do back in New Jersey).

My favourite story was about the inspiration for “Pinky Swear”.  At the time of writing the song Weiss was struggling to make a living as a musician, and his girlfriend was also struggling to make ends meet as someone who made plush toys for a living. The two of them swore to each other that they’d follow their passions, and the song tells of Weiss reflecting on this promise, parked in his car on the side of the road whilst watching a fireworks display.

He was a great sport, taking requests to play super deep cuts. Some of the songs he hadn’t played for many years, but it was the last night of tour, and he was feeling good, so he made a go of it. People in the audience felt comfortable interacting. Some heckled Wiess, tongue-in-cheek, as he had prompted them to. Many shouted out requests. One guy got a shout out for whistling a melody that was absent from the live guitar-only version of a song.

For one request (“Portland, OR”, from the split EP with Such Gold), Weiss had to re-tune his whole guitar, and once he had, realised that he’d entirely forgotten how the song  went. He tried to look it up on spotify to remind himself, and had an attempt, before throwing in the towel and just telling us the story behind the song. He had been staying in Portland when he and his mates had invited a girl to the pub with them. She offered to buy him a beer, and when he’d said “thanks, bro”, she’d blasted him and called him a “jock douche”, which inspired the song.

It was nice to see a professional musician show that it’s OK not to be perfect. He will have played some of his songs countless times, but still manages to make mistakes. But he owns his mistakes, and has fun while he’s doing it.

Into It. Over It. Melbourne Will Not Fade

I was tired and sore when I got to this gig. It had been a long day. But the music had been spellbinding. It was magic seeing how music could be used to form a genuine connection between strangers.

I left the gig exhausted, but elated. I’d been awake for almost 24 hours straight and in that time I’d flown to a different country, eaten some amazing food, caught up with old friends, and managed to meet one of my favourite artists and see him take complete ownership of the stage. It made me think about how fortunate I am to be able to pursue my love of music, and attend so many great shows.

“Life gets in the way of living
And interrupts the could be, would be, should be
That we’re offered everyday
And now that you and I’ve been given what we’ve wanted
Let’s make a pinky swear that we don’t throw it all away.”

-Into It. Over It. – “Pinky Swear”

 

Into It. Over It. Melbourne

And, as if I hadn’t managed to embarrass my friends enough that day, I fell asleep on the train ride back to their house, draped in an tragically over-sized flannel shirt.

 

Joseph James

Interview: Incentives

Incentives Melbourne
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Melbourne based hardcore act Incentives have just dropped their début EP, Dusk, at the end of June. I fired some questions off to vocalist Kyle Adams just before then to see where the band was at prior to dropping their first EP, and to learn more about who they were.

Will Not Fade: I’ve visited Melbourne once. It was in 2012 and I stayed with my friends who were in the band The Voyage, and we all went to see Terror play that weekend. I got the impression that in Australia people take being in a band pretty seriously, whereas here in New Zealand it’s more like “hey let’s start our sixth side project, and I’ll play an instrument that I haven’t learnt because it looks fun!” Have you noticed much of a difference between NZ/AU bands?

Kylee: We were lucky enough to tour New Zealand early 2015 and made great friends with a band called ‘The Inquisition’. I don’t really feel like we picked up on any huge differences other than the fact that the New Zealand scene is considerably smaller. This probably means that as an Australian band you really need to put in a little bit of extra time and money to get yourself noticed and grab opportunities. End of the day I think both scenes really love their music it’s just a matter of scale.

How does the Melbourne hardcore scene feel at the moment?

The Melbourne hardcore scene is super, super, talented right now. We have heaps and heaps of bands coming out and continually impressing! I still think there is a bit of a gap between the “In group” and the rest of the scene but that’s always pretty standard for any kind of scene in any facet of life.

I read that many of your songs are written about girls. Which member of the band is the biggest ladies’ man? (You need a story to back up any answers to this question!)

Daaaammmn, this is tough but good old Jezza (bassist) is currently the only single member so best for the future of all four other relationships I don’t disclose a great deal. Jezza has a pretty neat track record when it comes to Tinder, and has been known to pull some local girls when we pull up in their town. Currently boasting a 100% strike rate down in Tassie!

The Dusk album cover features a picture of a faceless man with a gorgeous beard, but I see in your publicity pics that none of you have beards. What gives?

Well you see before our drummer Joe moved to Melbourne he lived in the mountain ranges, and whilst stalking his Facebook to ensure this new drummer was a legit person I stumbled across a few photos. These photos depicted a wild Joe two weeks after his 18th birthday. Where Joe grew up you aren’t considered a man unless you trek through the bush for two weeks either side of your 18th birthday., and so these photos our dear drummer was sporting one fine beard and that’s basically where the inspiration came from.

You came to NZ last year to tour with Depths, Hand of Mercy and The Inquisition. Tell me what you enjoyed/learnt during that trip.

We loooooove New Zealand! Everyone was just so genuine and kind to us throughout the entire trip it was quite incredible. We made some lifelong friends in The Inquisition so that was great. One thing we did learn though was that our New Zealand friends weren’t all that great with the local geography and with an adventure that ended in Papatoitoi. I feel we Australians have a better idea when it comes to such matters.

Do you prefer playing all ages or R18 shows? 

I really don’t mind! Over ages is fun because everyone can get drunk and have a bit of a time, but then it’s equally fun playing to younger crowds too. It’s all a good time really!

Joe’s dad built his drum kit for him. How did he learn how to do that?

This is the question I have asked myself a million times, but again I think it comes down to the coming of age ritual. Upon Joe’s return he had a fully constructed guitar he had built out of tambark and other fauna, so my tip is that Joe’s dad managed to do something similar but in the form of a drum kit.

You’ve been playing for three years, but have only just recorded your first EP. Do you think this will open many doors for you?

One can only hope! It’s been hard for us to keep things consistently moving given that we have had so many lineup changes but now things have got a bit of a move on and we just want to keep the momentum rolling.

You’re just about to drop your first EP, and have a tour lined up. What else is on the cards for Incentives?

I guess just more of the same! Everything bigger and better would be the goal. Creating memories that we can always look back on is my biggest wish. I understand bands aren’t the be all and end all, so really I just want to do as much as I can during this short little time frame we have. Then when my kids give me shit for wearing cardigans I can whip out some old photos and music and say “your dad had a half decent run back in the day” hahaha.

Which song do you think I should share with readers who aren’t familiar with your music?

Hmmmmm possibly “Dawn”. We’ve had a great response to that track and Jezza has a sing on it too! It’s pretty much the only song on the entire EP with a chorus so perhaps this chorus trend may continue with the new stuff.

Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. Hopefully I’ll catch you next time you cross the ditch to play in New Zealand again!

Thanks heaps for the interview man! Probably the most fun I’ve had with an interview this entire time (had over 50 of the buggers). Hopefully we can make it out to New Zealand again soon and see you at a show.


 

Incentives links:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/IncentivesMelb/

Bandcamp: https://incentivesmelbourne.bandcamp.com/

Tour: https://www.facebook.com/events/1752335758369622/

Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/incentives-band 

 

Joseph James