Yours & Owls Festival
1st & 2nd October, 2016
Stuart Park, Wollongong NSW
Being a resident of Wollongong for a few years, I can’t help but marvel at how fast this festival has grown. Never having attended myself until now, even I can see that from its humble beginnings a few years ago to the two day format it now boasts, the explosion in popularity has been amazing, even attracting a few international acts, such as PUP and Black Mountain from Canada. With all of this growth for the festival, the rock and metal scene within it have expanded as well, which is exactly what will be reviewed henceforth!
Saturday – 1st October
First up on the rock agenda was Perth based grunge band Tired Lion, looking very much like their namesake before their set. They weren’t going to let something like that deter them though, oh no! As soon as they started playing they seemed to transform into a whole other entity; the harsh, grungy tones of their first song swept over the crowd and the band started to get more upbeat with every bar. Being the only person in the crowd dressed in black and sporting a metal shirt (today was He Is Legend) I couldn’t help but marvel at how different crowds interact with music. Personally Tired Lion make me just want to slowly headbang and sing along, but the crowd was having none of that; deciding to twirl around and jitterbug like it was a swing dance in the 80s.
Vocalist Sophie Hopes even commented on the crowd saying that they were apprehensive about playing but “This crowd is sick… So chill.” Continuing with their set, each member of the band got into the groove of the festival and looking markedly more energetic, finishing with fan favourite ‘I Don’t Think You Like Me’, eliciting an enormous cheer and instantaneous dancing from the crowd. Hopes’ voice sounded stellar throughout the entire show, but the rising and lilting on the closing lyrics was something that the studio versions fail to grasp and I feel insanely lucky to have seen them in Wollongong, getting me all the more excited for the rest of the festival.
Next band up for review was COG, a massive six hours later than Tired Lion, so I was pretty unimpressed by this point, especially as the everything that had been on display so far today was extremely off kilter with my (or any metalhead’s) regular tastes. Deciding to fill that time with drinking was definitely the best idea I’ve ever had.
Approaching the stage, I couldn’t help but notice it was shrouded in complete darkness, how very COG, to create such an atmosphere. Artificial smoke began belching into the night, obscuring the band as they walked onstage. Flynn Gower is well know for his vocal range and it was without a doubt on display tonight; spotlights cut through the smoke and gloom and the primal power of his voice was unleashed. Eventually the drums kicked in, sounding like they were sourced from a tribal community deep in the jungles of the Congo, resonating and deep. When the strings finally joined in, the image had finally completed itself; the dreamy, raw soundscapes of COG had arrived.
It was never apparent until seeing them live for the first time (right now), but every song they play is a wondrous journey through a proggy experiment that culminates in a climax of full on rock riffs and emotions. ‘Run’ showcased this formula expertly; a slow, building song that crescendoes beautifully with Flynn Gower’s voice ululating in time with the tribal toms of Lucius Borich. ‘My Enemy’ brought their huge choruses to the fore, another true trademark of their music. The crowd got seriously involved in this one, singing all the words without error, I even saw a crowd outside the fence shouting along while trying to peek through the the chain links and fabric. COG haven’t been on the stage for long since their reunion, but it doesn’t show, it looks to be almost second nature to them. A brilliant way to cap off the first day.
Sunday – 2nd October
It was an early day today, dragging myself out of bed to see my most anticipated act, Pagan, at 12pm. Hailing from Melbourne and partway through a tour supporting Totally Unicorn, the blackened rock and roll quartet were set to smash faces and wake everyone up, a perfect start to the day. Kicking off the day with a song off their upcoming album The Book of Spells, one couldn’t have asked for anything better. Filthy rock and roll riffs exploded from the stage while the sufficiently wonderful and brutal vocals of their front woman rent the air above us in two.
As a precursor for later in the day, Totally Unicorn vocalist Drew Gardner burst onto the stage, adding his own screams and barks to the aural thrashing that was being played out in front of me. This was good though as it seemed to inject some life into the band. Their last song, ‘Good Grief’ fucking ripped. My personal favourite, the whole band got into it; the bassist duelling with the front woman’s higher screams that continued on and on until the last few chords had finally dissipated. If you’ve never heard or seen this band, I implore you to check them out, there is no possible way you’ll be disappointed.
After a short break of drinks and catching the end of Horror My Friend (they’re alright), listening to the background noise of The Pinheads and The Hard Aches (would not recommend), it was finally time for Totally Unicorn, the pig shaped diamond in the crown of Yours and Owls Festival’s entire lineup. Coming towards the stage, you’re attacked with a spectacle of pink crepe streamers arrayed over the stage and eventually, the rainbow garbed presence of Drew Gardner. Without warning the chaos of that is a Totally Unicorn show erupts all around me, the crowd parting to form a moshpit and subsequently mashing back together. Gardner standing atop a speaker installation, spraying champagne over those below.
“The next song is a hit, they’re all hits” was the motto of the next hour, which seemed to be true, as the crowd got behind every song that was played. ‘Old Cute and Purified’ lumbering in on its percussion based introduction was warmly received before devolving into one of the coolest songs the band has ever written. Gardner in the middle of the crowd, a giant circle pit opens up around him, opening another bottle of champagne and doing the worm while his bandmates stride atop stage installations; the carnage is inconceivable. Garbed only in his underwear and the the dregs of four or five beer cans, Gardner waltzes between the acrobatics of the pit, truly a sight to behold.
Set closer ‘Cool Dads with Cool Sons’ was, if possible, even more ‘off the chain’ as everyone in the crowd and band got involved. Every member of Totally Unicorn (besides Michael Bennet, bit hard to move a drumkit) took to the crowd, spinning, spazzing around and never missing note. A microphone cord was used as a jumprope at one point and a guitarist was held aloft by the crowd and confetti exploded into the air during the finale of the song. Totally Unicorn are one of a kind and thoroughly deserve your attention and adoration. Get on it.
Not wanting to get too drunk, I migrated through the festival for the next few hours, taking in The Coathangers and Skegss (would also not recommend) before settling on the Living End. Never being aware that they were Australian, as I was never a huge fan, this came as quite a surprise, not so much as learning that they play with a double bass though. They were competent but that type of punk, rocky, music isn’t really my thing, so I made my way back to the Jeb Taylor stage to await the coming of the beasts that are Black Mountain.
Cultivating much the same dreamy, spooky atmosphere that COG manufactured the night before, Black Mountain waltzed on stage to darkness and the haunting notes that make up the beginning of ‘Mothers of the Sun’, my personal favourite of theirs. Hauntingly slow at times and disgustingly grungy and doomy at others, this is exactly what I needed to cap off the day. The dreamy voice of Amber Webber dispersed throughout the night air, twisting and twining with the smoke before settling upon the crowd, lulling everyone into a drug like stupor. Her vocals and the guitar tone are aspects of this band that need to be applauded but as the night wore on, the thing that stood out most to me, were the drums.
Faster song ‘Florian Saucer Attack’ highlighted how skilled this man is on the skins, as the quick and quirky rhythms pulsed and accentuated the thick, dirty sound of the guitars. Seeming to be a well known number by the crowd, the crowd getting behind every virtual valley and mountain of the band’s music, moving in time with the guitars and swaying to the beat of the drums. This is because one thing is certain; Black Mountain can fucking shred. Witnessing an almost three minutes solo within a song was a dream come true, an acid dream come true. Having come all the way from Canada for such a short spectacle, I am wholeheartedly appreciative that they came to Wollongong of all places and bestowed upon us their dark magicks.
Overall, Yours and Owls Festival this year saw some of the heaviest offerings that the festival has had on its lineup to date, but Soundwave it is not. Don’t go expecting Gojira or Anaal Nathrakh. However, it is certainly growing, and with it, an identity of variety, which metal is definitely a part of. I am happy to say that I attended and if the festival continues on this path, you’ll see me walking alongside it.
Photos courtesy of Ian Laidlaw Photography