It’s poor form to talk about weather when reviewing festivals, but in extreme cases it alters their architecture. The twelfth Golden Plains, held outside the regional Victorian town of Meredith over the weekend, was hot: 35 degrees on Saturday; 27 on Sunday.
It meant Adrian Sherwood’s heavy reggae dub sounded best booming over the hills from the shade of your campsite. It meant squinting into the blazing sun during Rocket Science amped up the fizzy electrics of their wild garage rock to alarming levels. It meant Thundercat’s endless flurry of bass notes added to the oppression. And it made watching King Krule a little more exciting simply because the sun was finally going down.
The weather might change the way we interact (or don’t) with the line-up, but it's still the organisers’ mixtape. This year they had it perfectly weighted.
We’ve seen Gareth Liddiard wring his guitar for years at Golden Plains and sister festival Meredith. Tropical Fuck Storm, his new outfit with Drones bandmate Fiona Kitschin, ropes in Lauren Hammel (High Tension) and Erica Dunn (Harmony, Mod Con, Palm Springs) and the quartet sweatily opened the festival in sizzling Saturday heat. With the scuzzy skronk of You Let My Tyres Down and Chameleon Paint early highlights, it was weird when they detoured into Drones’ tracks like Tamam Shud and Baby Squared. TFS don’t have that band’s firepower, and alongside the squalls and bleeps drifting through Tropical Fuck Storm’s new tunes, they scanned as surprisingly tame anyway.
If there was a note, chord or progression as yet unplayed on the Golden Plains stage across its 12 year history, virtuoso LA bassist and singer Thundercat found it and packed it into an onslaught of fiddly fretboard gymnastics that would make a guitar shop employee blush. At 4pm, in peak heat, it was the aural equivalent of sunstroke. If there was one minor blight on the Saturday scheduling it was the dramatic, nocturnal-minded theatrics of Perfume Genius aka Mike Hadreas, left to emote in the afternoon swelter – a set better suited for a time when the skies had darkened. But Hadrea’s incredible vocals and commitment to realising his keening electro-pop vision on songs like opener Otherside and the gorgeous slow jam of Fool were still singular enough to impress. Cruelly Hadreas finished as the sun began its descent. Archie Marshall of King Krule and his ragtag band loitered on for an engaging set that veered from adolescent punk to dark lounge to whatever the excellent Drum Surfer is. Marshall’s deep voice, at once snarling and laconic, held it down as the six-piece expertly blew through something like indie jazz-punk to deliver one of the moments of the festival.
No one would accuse Scottish instrumentalists Mogwai of being virtuosos but their vibe when locked in is overwhelming. I wondered if their moody existential post-rock jams could possibly work on a Saturday evening approaching party hour, but it worked as a perfect palate cleanser – provided you were standing in the landing zone. Hunted by a Freak and Party in the Dark showed their pop predilections, but it was the towering sonic monoliths of Mogwai Fear Satan, I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead and the blitzing Helicon 1 that seemed to make the ground lift a few feet.
I traded watching the Preatures for a scenic ride on the Meredith Eye ferris wheel, and listening to the band’s tame run at sassy, classic rock from great distance, I couldn’t have been happier. Default headliners the Avalanches collected the majority of the festival’s punters and stretched the Amphitheatre to capacity. They were good, if not great – the show reliant on a kaleidoscopic audio-visual presentation of pre-recorded tunes that happened to have a band kind of playing over them. But saying the Avalanches aren’t a great live band means nought when classics like Frontier Psychiatrist and set closer Since I Left You buoy ten thousand people dancing in the Amphitheatre. The joy of those songs live, however they're being transmitted, remains unassailable.
A handful of pink cocktails, laughing fits, and avoiding-glitter-paint-being-swabbed-on later, Melbourne DJ MzRizk kept the vibe going with a super-fun set that came on strong with a suite of G-Funk classics sending the place into rapture; UK sound-nerd Floating Points did a danceable deep-vibe into sub-frequencies that approached a level where I was pretty convinced he can make specific parts of the body vibrate on command; and by the time Toni Yotzi was an hour deep into her tech-heavy set I reluctantly called it a night.
Sunday morning brought a balmy 27 degrees and a good spell in the shade. Woodford folk singer Leah Senior’s honeyed voice sounded delicious from the tent, and by the time I was upright I was bummed to see the tail-end of Waterfall Person. The Melbourne performer divided the campsite with her array of kooky tricks and jokingly wandering on and off stage. Locals ruled the afternoon: Wet Lips, resplendent in matching gold outfits, tore through a set of hooky punk between pausing to have chats with the crowd; after reuniting in 2014, Rocket Science proved sorely missed, with frontman Roman Tucker sweating through suit and tie to bring a pulverising rock set that could pass for kick-ass newcomers, despite a decade since their last release; and Jen Cloher in a perfect lazy afternoon slot, the breezy hum of Regional Echo setting the tone for a dappled afternoon on the hill surrounded by eskies, rugs, a makeshift pool table and two red-headed kids in fluoro facepaint desperate to send bubbles floating over the crowd. Even Cloher snarling through Strong Woman and Great Australian Bite – which devolved into a lengthy guitar freakout at the hands of guitarist Courtney Barnett – couldn’t disturb their stream of soapy orbs.
The afternoon was crowned by beaming Ghanaian performer Ata Kak, aka Yaw Atta-Owusu. The 58-year-old came to prominence in 2011 thanks to DJ and blogger Brian Shimkovitz, aka Awesome Tapes From Africa, re-releasing Ata Kak's long-lost, lo-fi DIY cassette Obaa Sima. The chintzy electro-rap title track became an underground hit and Atta-Owusu was encouraged to start playing live. The naivety and sheer happiness of that unlikely sequence was intact and entirely part of Ata Kak's infectious charm. “Do what you want,” the grinning, grey-haired Atta-Owusu told us. “If you want to dance, dance. If you want to somersault, somersault.” If there was any room in the mass of people delighting in the sweet scene, they might’ve. A sea of boots waved him off.
Sunday night returned the virtuosos. After a searing, drone-rock set from the Black Angels, baroque-pop wizards Grizzly Bear seemed emboldened. Opening near 9pm with the melodic skip of Losing All Sense, the band amped up their precise, knotty songs with unexpected moments of true muscle and heaviness. Ready, Able from 2009’s Veckatimest built to a wall of noise, and the majestic, soaring Two Weeks inspired a rapturous all-in singalong to the stars.
Gifting Indigenous top-end rapper Baker Boy a half hour slot between Grizzly Bear and Big Boi proved inspired. With a live band and b-boys working hard behind him, Baker Boy had the crowd on a string, making the perfect hyped entry for Atlanta rapper and Outkast member, Big Boi. “Oh shit this place is lit,” he correctly said just a few minutes in. Shutterbug, In the A, and Chocolate glided into Outkast classics Ms Jackson, So Fresh, So Clean and The Way You Move, and the party was officially on. Fifty-year-old soul and disco queen Barbara Tucker capped it soon after, standing bold in a giant afro and gleaming silver catsuit and belting out a flawless stream of tech-laced disco reworks in I Wanna Dance with Somebody, Beautiful People and a live cut-up take on Respect.
It’s never not wonderful to behold the eclectic carousel of performers organisers spin through Golden Plains, each small marvels within the marvel. Another year, another triumph.