Words By: Drew Krapljanov
I am not what you would call an overly experienced camping music festival-goer, or an experienced camper for that matter. I have had the pleasure to attend the delightful Wave rock Festival in Hyden that dazzled me with an eclectic musical line-up and a friendly commune of attendees and the surreal Camp Doogs near Nannup that charmed me with a relaxed, unique personality and the welcoming nature of the hardworking volunteers. Upon arriving at the Fairbridge Camping Grounds, I was pleasantly surprised to how quickly I was directed to my camping area compared to some of the hindrances I experienced on the bus I took to Camp Doogs.
The sheer size of Fairbridge served as an excellent location to accommodate for Disconnect’s impressive catalogue of activities, events and musical acts. There were; two live music areas (one being an enormous amphitheatre and the other being a quaint chapel converted into a music venue dubbed quite adequately as ‘The Chapel’), a multipurpose Comedy/Lecture Hall dubbed ‘the Mess Hall’, a pool, roaming Arts and Crafts, a Circus and Cabaret Big Top and a general drinking chillout zone called the Secret Garden which featured a surprise DJ by Greens Senator Scott Ludlam (but more on him later).
Even though my first act on the agenda after my Tofurkey (Imitation Meat) Sandwich was Dream Pop-ers Methyl Ethel, I stopped by the Chapel to catch a glimpse of a solo set by Timothy Nelson. His impressive track record leaves no doubt in my mind that he is a talented, very capable songwriter and his performance displayed not only this, but his charm as a performer. However, the lyrical content of his music tends to fall under the dull, outdated umbrella of the heartbroken singer/songwriter archetype, leaving his solo performance to fall short of the nuanced storytelling of Elliott Smith and leaning more towards the bloated rock icons, Oasis.
Leaving the ambience of the Chapel, I sit myself down in the shade along the side of the Amphitheatre for the beginning of Methyl Ethel. The very first slot of the Festival is undoubtedly the most difficult slot to perform in and with that in mind, Methyl Ethel welcomed their audience to the 3 Day journey ahead of them with a soothing, ethereal set of meticulously crafted Dream Pop tunes. The band simmered nervously in washes of noise with introductory track, ‘Shadowboxing’ as the set took some time to find its feet. ‘Twilight Driving’ saw the band soar with confidence and ‘Idee Fixe’ brought some RnB elements into not only the band’s instrumentation, but Jake Webb’s vocal performance as he gracefully shifted between dreamy swoons and fiery rasps.
According to my notes, I grabbed a Donut from Sweet Dreams Foods before Peter Bibby was due to begin. Whilst eating, the lovely man who served me a Raspberry Vonut (Vegan Donut) discussed with me how the Donut Industry was essentially recession proof back in Canada during the Recession that was really hitting America hard a couple of years ago and how Donut Sales actually increased by roughly 25% due to the ease and accessibility of Canadian Donut Culture. If you are keen on a great donut and a great chinwag, you check them out on Facebook or their website.
Donut down, Peter Bibby up. Undoubtedly an intriguing character, Peter Bibby and his Bottles of Confidence brought smiles to the faces of the growing audience and delighted them with polite Australianisms and conversations about ‘Shoeys’ (which is the act of one drinking a drink of their choice from a shoe of their choice). With his abrasive resonator guitar in hand, Bibby displayed grace and dishevelled elegance regaling us with tales from his debut album ‘Butcher/Hairstylist/Beautician’ regarding youth, alcoholism and how they affect and influence the relationships around him both in a negative way and in a oddly uplifting way through riotous hoedowns, and soft jangly ballads.
A dense layer of fog obscured the altar of the Chapel as I pulled up a pew for the gloom of Perth Post-Rock band, FAIT. The melodramatic backdrop complemented sparse ambient compositions of Elise Higgins. ‘Halcyon’ from the 2015 EP ‘Atmosphere’ unsettled with dramatic Piano Arpeggios floating on top of whaling guitars and the Industrial stomp of ‘Surrender To’ seeped urgency. One could dismiss the band as grandiose and formulaic yet beneath the noise was a tasteful restraint and glimpses of innovation. That being said however, the precision in performing Elise Higgins’ compositions proved to be a hindrance for the live atmosphere and restricted the audience from being truly captivated.
Moving towards the Amphitheatre and away from the dirges of FAIT, I made haste toward the psychedelic sounds of Perthians ‘Pond’. In my review of Nick Allbrook’s solo set in support of Unknown Mortal Orchestra; I discussed his subdued and intimate performance of the dense and colourful studio material of Pond. Taking this into consideration upon entering their weird and wonderful world, the band successfully brought to life their oddball grandness, from the funky delights of their latest release ‘Man It Feels Like Space Again’ to the freaky noise of ‘Beard, Wives, Denim’. Not only did they perform their eclectic set with ease and finesse, but they did so with playful showmanship as their outlandish, energetic stage presence infected the audience with enthusiasm.
Pond’s set finished with the sun and Neon Indian’s debut at Fairbridge ignited the dust on the dance floor with their Futurist Funk concoctions. The band unleashed the nightlife sounds of their latest release, ‘Vegas Intl. Night School’ with ‘Dear Skorpio Magazine’ kicking things off with pounding, slippery bass lines and a freaky, stuttering 80’s electronic drum groove. The band’s frontman Alan Palomo strutted along the stage in front of his talented supporting cast through the Calypso tinged ‘Annie’ and rasped freaky pop hooks in ‘Street Level’ over wobbling bass synthesisers and retro keyboards. Despite some technical difficulties cutting their performance short and the dense instrumentation making some of the vocals inaudible, Neon Indian delivered a consistent, fiery set of unique Dance Pop songs effortlessly and ingeniously.
I decided to close my first night at Disconnect under the Circus Big Top with the thrilling ‘RISQUE’ hosted by the exuberant Magnus Danger Magnus. A Cabaret show put together by the Danger Cabaret team, RISQUE featured everything from Fire Eating by the fearless Hana Priest, Burlesque Dancing from the exquisite and extraordinarily talented Vivian Marlowe and Elle Diablo and undeniably astounding feats of pain tolerance from Circus Carnis. Danger Cabaret and all the acts of the night put on a shocking, hilarious and wonderfully entertaining show and are definitely worth keeping an eye out for this coming Fridge World in Perth.
When I entered the Chapel next morning, it was so crowded for the WAAPA Gospel Choir that I had to stand to the side of the venue with a slightly obscured view of the stage. If there is anything more difficult than performing as the first act of a lineup on the first day of a festival, it has to be the first act of the morning after a night dishevelled shenanigans. The sweltering heat didn’t dampen the energy of the choir or the audience for that matter. The choir entranced their loyal audience with a variety of impassioned gospel ballads ranging from the traditional gospel of ‘Ride On, King Jesus’ to the Impressions’ classic ‘People Get Ready’ which demonstrated not only the strengths of each individual member but their importance each member to achieve the unifying ambience of Gospel Music.
Felicity Groom was the first act to grace the Amphitheatre with her sombre, mournful dirges similar to that of Chelsea Wolfe, featuring untraditional song structures with an apocalyptic atmosphere performed by capable and talented musicians. Ambitious, reverberated guitars swelled with imaginative, tribal drum grooves that swooned underneath Felicity Groom’s soothing vocals that had a venomous tinge to them. The washed out nature of the lead guitar was sometimes too buried underneath a multitude of effects in the soft, more dynamic moments of the set that unfortunately hindered the emotional intensity of the performance and the compositions. While the compositions were diverse, moving from gentle, ominous ballads to looming, dark laments, the pacing and the atmosphere of Felicity Groom’s performance sometimes lulled sluggishly and felt meandering due to the complexity of her songs.
With 15 minutes to get to the Mess Hall, I arrived just in time for a surprise talk by Greens Senator Scott Ludlum entitled ‘Hacking the City’ that was humorous in delivery, surprisingly accessible and informative. He spoke fluently and confidently about the current issue of the growing urban density of Perth that has been affecting the rich and vital biodiversity of Perth over the past 100 years with the recent Roe 8 Extension Construction controversy being a prime example. The Roe 8 Extension is only a part of the projected High Density Urban nightmare that Scott Ludlam vividly painted with a hint of sardonic humour. By a public transport reform, making it more efficient and accessible to the public, implementing more plant life and urban foresting and internalising power with affordable solar panels, Scott Ludlam brought to life a prosperous and CO2 neutral Perth.
After an enlightening afternoon with Scott Ludlam, I caught King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard for a thoroughly entertaining performance. The crowd furiously danced a dust storm to a diverse range of Krautrock delights from the frenetic ‘Hot Wax’ from 2014’s Oddments to the kooky Jethro Tullisms of ‘Trapdoor’ from their latest release ‘Paper Mache Dream Balloon’. Despite a drawn out rendition of ‘I’m In Your Mind’ lulling the intensity of their performance, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard delivered a consistent and colourful performance.
Carrying from the eclectic weirdness of King Gizzard were the mysterious and primal sounds of GOAT and a performance that was nothing short of a spectacle. The enormous masked seven-piece band looked like mystics, shamans or hallucinations. The band’s two electric guitarists stood ominously as the duelling vocalists writhed, yelped, hissed and screeched across the entire stage, weaving between each of the band members on stage during opening song ‘Talk to God’ from their latest release ‘Commune’. The tribal grooves and looping, shimmering guitars seemed to loop endlessly entrancing the throbbing, dancing commune of the crowd. With a stage invasion by King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard during the set’s finale, GOAT united the audience with dance and a transcendental experience that was executed effortlessly and with an astounding amount of energy.
A projection of autumn leaves falling illuminates Mercury Rev as they enter the stage to a soothing, dulcet orchestral backing track. Jonathan Donahue, the band’s frontman, moved gracefully and elegantly in front of washes of noise erupting behind him. He flourished his hands as if he was a conductor through ‘Holes’ from 1998’s ‘Deserter’s Songs’ and channeled David Bowie in ‘The Funny Bird’. ‘Am I the only lonely boy to walk through Central Park?’ he sung dramatically in ‘Central Park East’ from Mercury Rev’s latest release album ‘The Light in You’ as lush, apocalyptic guitars whirred over the top of throbbing bass lines and crushing, spacious drumming. The exceedingly theatrical performance of Mercury Rev was a masterful sensory overload, paced and executed enthusiastically and was a captivating display of their songwriting achievements, both past and present.
Thankfully, there were seats upon my entrance into the Chapel for the noon performance of 18-year-old songstress, Sydnee Carter. The openhearted artist was very talkative and was eager to lure in her audience with tales of insight into the origins of almost every song in her repertoire, yet despite the thought and the work that obviously into their creation, they lacked any kind of substance or personality. The lyrical content of ‘Home’ and ‘Soldier’ were riddled with lyrical tropes that lead these songs down predictable territory that were simplistic to the point of pandering. While a capable musician and vocalist, Sydnee Carter’s simplistic storytelling pigeonholed herself into the run-of-the-mill acoustic singer/songwriter that seemed more engaging on paper than it did in execution.
Mike Goldstein, the MC of the Mess Hall’s Afternoon Comedy Marathon paid me a kindness by not ridiculing me as I entered in the middle of his routine. The role of as the Master of Ceremonies is by no means an easy task and especially on the sweltering day that it was yet Mike G did it effortlessly and wonderfully, guiding us through a massive 2 hours worth of comedic material. Cory John Rist’s subverted bohemian routine was bizarre and unique and reminiscent of a young David Byrne while Craig Quartermaine masterfully toyed with delightfully dark insights into racism and gender with a twisted finale in relation to the origins of the Rottenest Island history as a Prison Camp. Despite the massive runtime, the Mess Hall Comedy Marathon was a consistently enjoyable and diverse endurance test.
While Alicia Bognanno’s voice may not reveal it’s power and versatility immediately to you on Bully’s lo-fi debut album ‘Feels Like’, her performance in the gloomy final evening of Disconnect certainly unleashed the full ferocity of her intense rasps. She moved fluently from the unhinged screams in the climax of ‘Trash’ pierced through the walls of dissonant noise to the bitter melodic wisps in the verses of ‘Trying’. Taking influences from Throwing Muses and the Punk oddity Liz Phair, Bully’s music is simplistic, no-frills Punk Rock yet their performance displayed a fiery chemistry in stage presence and a patient intelligence in the musicality of each member, playing together for the sake of the song rather than the ego of one member. For an up and coming band, Bully showed talent and potential in their subtle and stripped back songwriting abilities and an impassioned and blood boiling vocal performance by Alicia Bognanno.
The discussion that Julia Holter was having with the sound engineers on stage about the desired levels and mix she wanted on stage served as one of the most bizarre and intriguing starts to a set at Disconnect. The drummer hilariously and sarcastically complained about the on-stage fan as the discussion was projected to the eagerly awaiting audience, poking a hole in the Baroque mystic of Julia Holter and her music. Yet when she took to stage and opened with ‘Silhouette’ from her latest masterpiece ‘Have You in My Wilderness’, the gentle and dramatic grace that emanated from the music coming from stage was gorgeous and entrancing. Dina Maccabee’s ingenious viola loops and swells rose and built wildly in ‘Sea Calls Me Home’ which waltzed softly like a jazzy Beach Boys song until shifting into a dramatic Chorus. ‘Horns Surrounding Me’ from 2013’s lush ‘Loud City Song’ while underwhelming compared to the dense cavernous production of the studio recording, propelled forward with a pulsing drum groove and exploded into a grand dissonance that oozed with influences from Scott Walker. Julia Holter gave a truly special and versatile performance with a serene stage demeanour that welcomed the unfortunately small but enthusiastic crowd, which was surprising and a shame considering her and her companion’s astounding talent.
The hype was undeniable for Father John Misty’s performance as the enormous amount of musical equipment was loaded onto the stage. The projections featured throughout every performance of the Disconnect Festival were intriguingly absent and created a more Classic Rock ambience than the hi-tech glitz and glamour of Modern Rock pyrotechnics and what have you. Josh Tillman graced the stage with what he called ‘Snake Repellent Hat’ and crooned and strutted like Jarvis Cocker through explosive set opener ‘I Love You, Honeybear’. Not only was Josh Tillman’s commanding presence enthralling and energetic but his music was flawlessly executed and intelligent. The backing band adapted to the myriad of musical vignettes from the synthpop rave of ‘True Affection’, the Gospel tinged ‘When You’re Smiling and Astride Me’ and the dark Country romp of ‘Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings’ from his debut release ‘Fear Fun’. Father John Misty miraculously managed to express the nuance and the humour of his music all the while delivering a performance that was bombastic in flamboyant choreography, thought provoking and touching in John Tillman’s deeply introspective lyrics that were heartbreaking, hilarious and captivating.
If there was one thing that had a lasting impression on me from my time at the first ever Disconnect Festival, it was how relaxed and accessible getting to and from the festival and everything happening within the festival considering how ambitious Disconnect was in scope. Arriving, setting up, packing up and leaving was virtually hassle-free and the staff and the crowd scattered around the festival grounds were friendly, helpful and talkative. If I have one criticism, it would be directed to the tent a couple of meters next to mine who couldn’t get past learning the Chorus to an awful Thirsty Merc song while I was trying to read Frankenstein.
If you are unsure whether heading to Disconnect next year – go. There is so much on offer, even if you aren’t a fan of Music or Cabaret or Comedy or Debates or even People. Actually, if you aren’t a fan of people then watch out for Acoustic Guitars and Djembes because they will haunt your many sleepless nights.