Sugar Mountain '18: Review
As a meeting ground of the modern arts, Sugar Mountain, an acclaimed, ‘summit of music and arts’ is naturally in perpetual flux to remain contemporary. The shifting face of the Victorian College of the Arts entails both confusion and excitement. Confusion, as last years entrance on Dodd St now features the tail end of the 2018 editions balloon laden ‘main stage’, excitement for what lies hidden within. A quick pit stop and short walk round the corner found us once again within the grounds of, genuinely one of, if not perhaps our favourite one day festival in Melbourne. While the face changes, the essentials remain the same.
As a festival which takes a keen interest in sporting gasconade art installations at each turn, the attention to detail in the production of the festival is second to none and the whole festival site is incredibly effected with a gentle nuance. It may be easy to assume that the festival grounds of Sugar Mountain on Saturday simply fell into your lap as pretty as they were, but in actuality, they are the result of extensive, meticulous effort having been dedicated to it - they were understated and beautiful and a real distinction to the day. Sugar Mountain’s scheduling has, I believe, always been a source of pride for the festival's directors. The philosophy behind it I cannot properly articulate, I think it's something like between MOR Melbourne hipster but with a legitimate ability to curate a lineup sourced with both pioneers of bygone years and favourites discovered from a deeper inspection of unfamiliar names on the festivals music bill each year.
The evolving exterior of Sugar Mountain brought to us a new Boiler Room set up. Less spacious than last year perhaps losing engagement with the crowd, but the added exclusivity of the pit where the booth sat contributed to a more overall intimate ‘Boiler Room vibe’. Crowds banked up on the steps, dancing in uncomfortable proximity in a courtyard spotted with trees… those attending Sugar Mountain with a Boiler Room experience in mind certainly had it guaranteed. Tasked with beginning the ‘Boiler Room experience’ for many punters on the day, Eclair Fifi battled with a seemingly troublesome booth but as crowds filtered through into the courtyard she quickly ensnared their attention into the pit with an assortment of intrepid electronica. She won the early afternoon crowd quite definitively when in-between two techno cuts she pumped out the unmistakable, wonderful dance floor inducing bongo’s of ‘Hotline Riddim’ which signalled a chockers Boiler Room pit until its conclusion later in the night.
The raw power of modern artistic outputs was felt in full force in the Merlin Stage. A retreat from the sun into what I believe to have been a lecture theatre saw Britains Actress working a labyrinth of cords and analogue dials into the offbeat electronic compositions he has forged his good name on. Backed by an enormous lighting display the dark, cool room inside felt infinitely refreshing.
Tempted back into the light by a Boiler Room debut from Soothsayer Sydney sider Love Deluxe who began the official broadcast for the day with a mixture of, house, funk and Italo disco numbers - a personal highlight came in the form of Fantastic Man’s (the fantastic man who followed him on the Boiler Room stage) Cuica inspired ‘Snake Charmer’ which fit perfectly into an afternoon of sun-kissed boogies.
A brief intermission to satiate a hankering for meat and beer, both of which were satisfied by Sample IPA’s and some Brazilian BBQ respectively had me return to a day at Sugar Mountain which was in full swing. I mentioned that I was fond of the scheduling opinions of the Sugar Mountain honchos and found this sentiment ratified with Project Pablo enchanting crowds with the smooth sounds of Cybodelics 'Adventures of Dama', but the day was truly turned on its head with the arrival of Dan Shake. Opening with Chain Reaction’s 'Dance Freak' is a certainty to kick-start any party and Dan Shake dispatched a set which felt like it started ‘the party’ a good five or six times over, never did I feel that classic, smile-inducing moment like when he moved between DJ Nori’s '80’s Drugs' to 'Brighter Days'… good grief that's a knockout 1-2.
Its safe to say that for a lot of people Gerd Janson was the main course, the big cheese - der Kaiser. Faaaaark that man reads a crowd well, from the get-go the audience was well under his spell. I had hinted to my suspicions that Gerd Janson may be in fact, a musical shaman in previewing Sugar Mountain. In review, he almost certainly is. It’s rare that a selector can have such a profound effect on an audience, Gerd Janson hosted a rich, compelling tracklist inclusive of Hot Chocolate’s ‘I Just Love What You’re Doing’, Slam’s ‘Vapour’, Four Tet’s recent release, ‘Question’ and Christian S’ ‘Do You Do’. The dream is to one day understand music like Gerd Janson, his sets have an infectious flair, he has a devastating sonic charisma it’s almost impossible to become completely encapsulated and lose yourself in his selections.
Going from strength to strength Melbourne was treated to a performance from a true relic of dance music, Honey Dijon. And Honey Dijon truly is a relic of the culture. One of the most seminal, defining figures of her era, Honey Dijon still maintains an inspiring, undying passion for music which was evident throughout, impressive considering she’s been in the bunker since her tween years. Her set felt anachronistic but far from relevant, like it had been plucked straight out of the golden rave years of the great US dance cities of Detriot, New York and Chicago, I think we genuinely got a small glimpse into Chicago in 1987 when 'the Creator' vocal sample from Larry Heard’s ‘Can You Feel It?’ Blared out of the Boiler Room sound system. It was fast-paced, emotive symphony of selections and appropriately, carried messages immense power and weight (she sampled Dr. King's 'I Have A Dream'). As an artist who has carved a path for so many who have followed her Honey Dijon’s importance on the circuit, not just for her musical IQ, but for her awareness as a role model simply cannot be understated - it was just as much an education as it was a joy and privilege and was all of the above in droves.
And then there was the man of the hour, entering his self-described ‘Jordan year’, Joey Bada$$ took to the Dodds Street stage on his 23rd birthday. Coming on stage ten minutes later than scheduled may not prove to be a smart move for many artists, luckily, if anything it worked in the man’s favour. After relentless chants of “Joey” from a crowd that was refusing to stop growing, he emerged from side stage into an absolute frenzy. Wasting no-time to kick into gear, and clearly not ready to slack off due to his birthday (like that mate who uses their day as an excuse to get out of anything and everything), Joey ordered the mosh-pit to get rowdy, and boy oh boy did they respond. A man known for his stage presence, Jo effortlessly had the crowd in the palm of his hand, and to no surprise. However, there was something even more impressive about this set than just purely energy and hype. Sugar Mountain was treated to a much more polished performance, by a rapper who has grown significantly since his last shows here in 2014. Instead of solely clever wordplay, hard-hitting punchlines and a ‘flow sweeter than vanilla’, we were this time also able to witness Joey delve into a more emotive, heartfelt performance. After releasing All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ in April last year, it was evident Joey had accepted his role as not just a lyricist in the rap game, but additionally someone who can inspire his fans to break-through the injustice they are exposed to and speak out against what they believe is wrong, particularly among current American political issues.
Re-live the full Boiler Room broadcast from Sugar Mountain: