Words By: Anthony Worrall
On Saturday night, the Rosemount Hotel hosted the Grand Final of the Big Splash competition, with Moon Puppy Blues Band, Segue Safari, POW! Negro and Moistoyster all vying for the prize. Overall, Moon Puppy Blues Band finished fourth and Segue Safari third, while Moistoyster were the runners-up and POW! Negro were the eventual winners of the Big Splash 2016. 2015 WAM Song of the Year & Big Splash Enchantment Award winner Beni Bjah also performed.
What should be considered as one of the biggest nights on the WA music scene calendar did not disappoint – while one act had to win & one had to come fourth, there was very little difference in talent & quality between all of them.
The unlucky first slot of the night didn’t turn out so badly for second-placed Moistoyster, who played a lively set to an unfortunately small crowd. Their beach-rock slacker vibes were a great start to the night. Drawing influence from garage rock acts like Wavves, they delivered power & intensity in a way that it seemed effortless – their look matched their lax, surf-rock style, however extended psych jams in songs such as ‘Angel’ showcased their true musical ability.
Up second were Moon Puppy Blues Band, who delivered tight, dreamy psych-blues grooves that massaged the ears. The set’s highlight was ‘My Trailer Park Sweetheart’, a song that showcased the strong melancholy baritone sound of the vocalist, which sounded like a blend between indie-folk artist Beirut and Devon Welsh from Majical Cloudz. They closed with a high-intensity instrumental that erupted from the tense grooves they’d been playing all set. It was a shame they finished fourth, however as a young group, they should go on to do bigger & better things.
After a brief break, the six-piece jazz-hip hop & eventual winners POW! Negro played a fiery set that was entirely deserving of their eventual accolade. Energising the crowd & spitting lines with the passion & conviction of Zac de la Rocha at his peak, lead vocalist Nelson Mondlane immediately made an impression and turned the previously slightly ambivalent crowd into a bouncing mass of energy. The instrumentation was as volatile as it was impressive – it acted as a smooth, tight rhythmic platform upon which Mondlane lyrically bounced all over, while also instantaneously transforming into pulsating & intense breakdowns. This range was incredible to witness – one minute they sounded like the smooth, jazzy expansive audio velvet of Kevin Parker-produced Koi Child; the next guitarist Lachlan Dymond was smashing out a Tom Morello-esque guitar solo over a powerful nü-metal groove. This change of dynamic & style also occurred more gradually within songs, particularly one where the band rasped to an almost post-rock-like crescendo, led by a rasping saxophone lead. The majority of their material was from their upcoming EP, set for release in October.
Before Segue Safari launched their set, there was a brief interview with last year’s winner, Jacob Diamond, who offered interesting insight into how the competitive structure can affect mindset & performance. Afterwards, Segue Safari rolled out and sounded the best this writer has ever heard them. Maybe it was the reliably excellent sound setup at the Rosemount, but their lush, textured chorus-y sound was instantly and consistently delicious & delightful. This sound has become their trademark – it’s very rare for a local band to have such a developed sound, and to see it performed in such an excellent fashion was incredibly rewarding.
While the judging panel of Bob Gordon, Jennifer Aslett, Caitlin Nienaber, Mitch McDonald and Vanessa Thornton decided on the final standings, Big Splash Enchantment Award & 2015 WAM Song of the Year (for the song ‘Survivors’) Award winner Beni Bjah took the stage. His abrasive, hard-hitting hip-hop was without doubt the most socially conscious music of the night, with absolute banger ‘Survivors’ highlighting the disgraceful treatment of indigenous Australians by white governance. One of the most important social issues facing Australia today yet simultaneously completely ignored in public political discourse, the unforgiving fashion in which Bjah described his personal experience & advocated for greater understanding of indigenous culture was confronting yet motivating. This concept of minority social groups voicing their experience through music is a core idea of hip-hop, and it was a shame to see Bjah not in the running for the prize with the other acts.
Finally, the outcome was delivered, and as expected, there were mixed emotions across the four finalists. While POW! Negro deserve nothing but praise for their entirely deserved reward, the other three groups are all still thoroughly entertaining and talented acts, and will go onto big & greater things as well.