You’re in one of two places Saturday 19th August, hooking into the five-foot swell under the blue sky of winter or charging in through the gates of Gold Coast’s Shakafest. The festival’s inaugural year was a hard act to follow, however with Grinspoon as headliners we found Miami Tavern’s car-park a sold-out swelter thanks to Rabbit Radio, Fiik Electric Skateboards and Wedge Head Events. Surf rock, hip-hop, grunge and progressive rock are well at home in the Gold Coast’s heat, and to complement, as is the 8-foot vert’ ramp lingering in the background. As the PA signals the final moments of sobriety, the Dickies, Fiik, Sk8sox & RedBull skate teams are letting fly an arsenal fit for the Park Series. With Aimee Massie, Aussie Phil and Ian ‘Eithy’ Davidson shredding early we were left with a flavor that promised more as the first chord struck home from the main stage.
Gold Coast natives Radolescent kick off the day with hard-riffing guitar heroics. A modest crowd shuffles about the stage, early birds with early beers. The trio of surf punks burn through insolent numbers from their debut Ep Scrape Ya Plate. "Look where we live this is sick!” frontman Isaac Atkinson exclaims, gesturing toward the creative conversion of his Shakafest surrounds.
Grounded in a bedrock of hard grunge and heavy blues, the scraping vocals of Trapdoor Tim Appleby serve as the group’s abrasive centrepiece. Gravelly and guttural, he conjures a gospel, moan worthy of heavy grungemen Cornell and Vedder. Backing him are dirty wails of dual guitars Talis Letts and James Barnes. Their contributions are in turn nailed to the floor by the powerful rhythms of bassist Rhys Barnes and drummer Baidon Howell who perform with dive bombing precision.
Brisbane brothers Brad and Christian Hemingway claim to have been making music since they were old enough to grasp an instrument. There could be an element of truth to it too, they trade melodic vocal lines and fast-talking rap verse with effortless ease. Along with their backing group, they embrace a grab bag of influences and project their own cooked fusions outward upon the audience. Hemingway begin with rocksteady party anthems before rendering a cover of The Avalanches’ sampladelic ‘Frankie Sinatra’. Their take is perhaps a little cruder but catches perfectly its vaudevillian essence.
It’s about two o’clock, the crowd really begins to filter in. With Violent Soho’s ‘Viceroy’ blareblasting over the PA, patrons are beginning to fire themselves up. Seizing this energy WAAX’s Maria DeVita takes the stage. Underscored by a basic sincerity and power, the group are unquestionably one of the most formidable live acts Brisbane currently has to offer. Possessed with berserk energy, she screams at her audience. “HOW THE FUCK YA GOING, YOU SHAKAFUCKS?!” Cheers. Nobody inhabits a stage quite like she does, projecting colossal waves of pent up aggression. DeVita leaves an impression. It feels like she's singing with absolute conviction.
At first, it seems like it’s the group’s newest material, from this years’ Wild and Weak, which creates the most excitement. That is until ‘I for an Eye’. As the chest pumping energy of group’s formative single still spills out over the sound system, the crowd erupts. As the set draws to its close Maria informs the crowd that due to earlier scheduling delays the band has only been given time for one last song. They play two and the look of resignation upon the stagehands’ faces suggests it’s more than feigned theatrics.
Within its dimmer confines, the Shark Bar stage provides a secondary space for up-and-coming talents. Exemplary, Brisbane’s Voiid pummel away with primitive buzzsaw punk. There’s a definite throwback to the Ramones and all those the group begat. It’s delinquent rock which turns convention on its head. Irreverent vocalist Anji Greenwood is flanked by guitarist Kate McGuire and bassist Antonia Hickey, that is when she’s not climbing the crowd barrier. There’s only one volume – loud. The quartet may put forward a sense of nonchalance but equally, they have complete command of their musical domain. Delivered with brunt force, the crowd interpret the group’s sonics as an open invitation to throw themselves into their own mess of head-banging delirium.
As an all-star game of beer pong occurs backstage, Tired Lion play before the ever-swelling crowd outside. There’s some technical delays but the group charge forward anthemic as ever. Sophie Hopes is a force to be reckoned with. Performing latest single ‘Fresh’ she breezes effortlessly between pleading purrs and gut-wrenched screams. Lead guitarist Matt Tanner recoups from the loss of a blown amp with some majestic fretwork. With Dune Rats’ BC Michaels assuming percussionist duties, they cover Blur’s ‘Song 1’ as a statement in support of marriage equality.
With Butterfingers in full swing outside, Pandamic play to rock’s true believers upstairs. These Brisbane boys keep things straight and simple. Playing from the gut, they build songs around a simple rhythm, riff or phrase. For most group’s this would be a sure-fire formula for garden variety rock, yet Pandamic’s results are catchy as hell. With three vocalists at their disposal, they move as a single unit while steaming headlong into a catalogue of jumpy anthems.
They’re followed by Dear Seattle, another rock band plain and simple. They deliver their set with churning angst, energy, and expression. Deeply felt, the performance centres around towering alt rockers performed with a ferocious honesty that could easily stand aside that of groups like the Smith Street Band. While their crowd is receptive even frontman Brae Fisher is quick to acknowledge he’s eager to get through the set. Why? Because DZ Deathrays are about to play outside and he doesn’t want to miss out either! Good one, Brae.
By now it’s dark. A chill hangs heavy in the air. The festival has well and truly reached its capacity. As a punter, you might find yourself locked within a crowd bristling with human energy. Revelry abounds while you jostle to maintain your coveted stage side position. The features of each new face meet yours, eyes glazed and painted with knowingly abandoned smiles. To your left a female patron ducks groundward. She’s either vomiting or passing out, her friend explains, but assures you it’s all okay. To your right is a 6-foot-something of a man well into his 40’s. He looks dangerous but makes a point of leaning forward to give you an indecipherable compliment. Others are simply excited, singing karaoke with the PA with as much enthusiasm as they given any band while liberally consuming drinks.
Mid-soundcheck DZ Deathrays’ Shane Parsons glances up from his guitar. He strums an open chord to test it out. Does he know what he's getting in to? Simon Ridley stoops over a set of drums he will later trample. For now, he’s drinking a can of beer. They open, bashing into latest single ‘Shred For Summer’. The reaction is immediate. Its larger than life drum figure incites excitement while the remainder of the group crash their listeners’ heads into a mass of stormy guitar riffs. The further the group move into the set the less the audience becomes constrained. A total blinder of a song, ‘Gina Works at Hearts’, sets them further alight. As it thrashes out all manner of projectiles are flung in every direction while an endless supply of crowd surfers erupts from the sea of bodies. ‘Gina’ carries the revelation that this is music custom-built to quicken the blood and move the body. DZ may be approaching the status of veteran band, but they still feel like two guys straight out of teenage wasteland.
The night is dark, as is the stage when the music drops abruptly from the abrasive PA. Slow hitting, yet progressive, resonating rock riffs deliver a heavy sound through the entire encampment as vets Pat Davern and Joe Hansen strike the match. With select few opting to dance where they could, the masses ramped forward toward the flash of red and green as Phil Jamieson joins the Shakafest stage. Kristian Hopes dents the air with the clash of titanous sticks on kit, Grinspoon have arrived.
It’s difficult to remain centred as the wave of 3000 people flare with head bangs and forked fingers, yet there’s something humbling in the way generations merge to witness the return of an iconic Aussie band. The conflagration completes itself, the circle comes round. Not only do we sit mesmerized, so too does the talent who set the afternoon alight with art of their own. With alt-banter and comical Jamieson suave, the night is rivet with coarse throats, a fact that intensifies as the lick of ‘Chemical Heart’ busts forth. With a united crowd with a united voice the next five minutes dissolve into ecstasy.
At last, as the night dampers the jets of white and red confetti ignite and paint the audience, shakas raised. The pitch that is the cry for more resides and our headliners retreat. The night is suddenly younger than we thought and the short haul to Shark Bar’s after party begins with fanatical cries for more.
Review - Riley Fitzgerald and Jake Sandtner
Photography - Jake Sandtner