Sugar Mountain '18: Preview
Sugar Mountain is very much now part of the furniture in the Franco Cozzo ‘grand sale’ showroom which is the Melbourne Summer festival period. A celebration of the contemporary arts, both musical and artistic, the Sugar Mountain enterprise is a bold endeavour given the rich recent history of Melbourne one-day music festivals slipping to the void. At the Victorian College of the Arts and accompanying art precincts, Sugar Mountain holds a fitting residency, full of alleys and art displays tucked away in dark rooms, the beauty and essence is found in hunting through the labyrinth of the grounds and discovering the treasures in the nooks and crannies of the festival grounds. (Last year, punters were treated to an unregistered b2b from Kornel Kovacs and Palms Trax in a dark room behind a tunnel of LED Absolut Bottles)
As a celebration of the modern arts, it comes naturally that Sugar Mountain should have a strong representation of artists from one of the globes most recent, developing musical disciplines. Sugar Mountain certainly has delivered on the electronic side of their operation. Boy oh boy have they delivered on the electronic side, strap yourself in, we have much to discuss. Heavily influenced by an extremely abundant British scene with a contingent led by Dan Shake, a headline Brit who has left such a mark on the fabric of dance music with both his productions and grasp over the dance floor very little introduction is required.
Eclair Fifi fits the Sugar Mountain bill to a tee - ‘Arts & Music’. Fashion and techno, a fitting marriage. As an artist, Eclair Fifi (Clair Stirling) has designed, t-shirts for Bleep and record sleeves for Machinedrum’s ‘Vapor City’ and a Baauer 12”. As a selector, Eclair Fifi performs with equal panaché, a very nimble, extremely dexterous operator of sharp, warm techno. Seemingly destined to work crowds from the bunker, Eclair Fifi has built her career in a way very close to my heart - through radio airwaves. She hosted her first pirate show at just 16, maintains residency’s on Rinse FM, has hosted a BBC Radio One show and has a wonderful monthly show on NTS where she showcases an extensive musical knowledge which reaches much farther than the hard electro and techno disciplines - expect to be surprised. In a dance floor capacity, she has built her reputation as one of the most desired club DJ’s ground-up the hard way having plied her trade in some of the harshest, grungey, Stygian wharehouse techno clubs in Glasgow. Hardcore definitely, but one of the most reputable, legitimate techno scenes in the globe where the law of the jungle reigns supreme. DJ’s who can’t cut the mustard are left behind, those who are chewed and spat out the other side are guaranteed to be the cream of the crop, any selector who rises to the top of such a demanding circuit commands respect and is unmissable on the 20th. She also has a ‘derpy cat’, which is pretty funny.
Chilean born, based in Bristol, Shanti Celeste is yet another UK import for Sugar Mountain. With one of the better RA Mixes and one of our favourite releases of 2017, the two track E.P. ‘Make Time’ Shanti Celeste harbours an understated, relaxed, punchy flavour - a well-considered booking for the open air sun of Sugar Mountain. If you can’t get enough of her house on the day, she’ll also be hosting kick-ons for the Sugar Mountain after party at Boney.
Closing out the Brigade of Poms is Actress, perhaps one of the more talked about artists on the bill, and rightly so. Judging from his 2015 DJ Kicks, he has a vast, esoteric musical interest, something which is reflected in his music. His productions are distinctive and unique, sophisticated, so much so that Actress has the happy position of occupying a musical space that is entirely his own. Be sure that when you’re listening to Actress on the 20th, you’ll be sure you’re in a completely new year, 2018 has arrived and Actress will sound like nothing you have yet heard. In what may later be described as something to the tune of “post Detroit techno”, Actress’ (Darren Cunningham) takes the Detroit sound down a new, exciting path. He comes to Sugar Mountain on the back of a new, 2017 album ‘AZD’ which showcases brilliantly all I’ve attempted to communicate in the least eloquent terms. One has to wonder with such a stacked electronic lineup, his talents are perhaps more suited to Main Stage action, rather than Boiler Room privileges, wherever you find him performing however it may be well worth your attendance.
You would be forgiven for assuming that this may be the entire electronic cast, but you’ll be equally excited and terrified (just like when the Undertaker comes on screen) to find that this is merely the tip of the iceberg.
A European continental heavyweight is produced in Gerd Janson who is frankly just Box Office. A reputation in Europe as, in no uncertain terms, “one of the best” Gerd Janson is beginning to forge this reputation down under. Ask anyone who was at the opening edition of Pitch last year - they will tell you, and keep on telling you to the point you may wish you hadn’t have asked, that Gerd Janson is the business and, can communicate with marine life.
Our brains are re-wired, the mere sound of dolphins invigorates the most intense sensations of a wonderful night in everyone who was witness to his set. After debuting comrade and the other half of Tuff City Kids, Lauer’s ‘Philliper’ (again, one of the best releases of 2017) Janson had literally the whole festival talking about him for weeks on end in what has to go down as one of the most defining sets to have played in Australia. Come to think of it, Gerd Janson might actually be some kind of magician shaman, he certainly looks the part. It’s little wonder he finds himself one of the hottest properties in the booth presently, especially after the joint Shan disco release of Surrender (which mark my words, will be the feel-good anthem of our Summer) / Gentle Place, two tracks which yearn for Summer so much that folklore word of mouth reports say it physically parts clouds for the sun in the sky.
A quick hop across the Atlantic and we have, you guessed it, yet more names simply too good to disregard. Hailing from Canada, we have Patrick Holland aka Project Pablo, who I suspect to be a very nice young man. Not only because of the reputation of politeness which follows Canadians, but a quick listen to his productions will tell you the Holland is the sort of strapping young man who loves his Mother very much, sets the table before dinner and washes up the dishes, without being asked. Only a nice guy could create dreamy synth numbers like ‘Closer’ and ‘Follow It Up’, these are not the productions of a psychopath. Aside from projections on his character, his warm, languid house is sure to be a treat and a collection which will undoubtedly take us down unexpected, pleasant paths it is safe to say that I am very much looking forward to Project Pablo.
Further down the North American continent we’ll find Honey Dijon. It’s difficult to describe just how important this woman is to dance music. Coming from an era most of us have only ever heard and dreamt of, Honey Dijon holds company with people of the ilk of Ron Hardy, Derrick Carter and the late, great Frankie Knuckles. Having conquered beaten all of the American ‘boss level cities’ of Chicago, Detroit and New York Honey Dijon swapped Smart Bar for Panorama Bar and made her presence felt in Europe as well. DJ, producer and fashion curator, she is an all-round, jack of all trades polymath, I’d probably be correct in saying “she’s forgotten more about music than most of us will ever know”.
Locals come in the form of Fantastic Man - “part Fantastic; part Man”. Yet another name from Waving Trains who is grabbing Australian dance music by the short and curlies, and aren’t we loving it. Love Deluxe is enjoying a meteoric rise, I’m quite sure he’s not even got his head around how quickly things are moving, Sugar Mountain will see high school music teacher Mike O’Connell leave the classroom... for the Boiler Room (aawww shieet).
If you can find the time to drag yourself away from the Boiler Room stage, you’ll be rewarded. Cut Copy are trailblazers for Australian dance music, clearing a path for who knows how many following synth-pop acts. With a startling discography which is home to a huge number of Summer anthems, Cut Copy are just as much an Australian dance music artefact as they are fantastic performers who bring a new album, ‘Haiku From Zero’ to Sugar Mountain. The record is evidence of a well-matured artist, thoroughly layered and comes with the trippiest, most confusing and enthralling website.
Hip-hop has always held a place at Sugar Mountain, I’m sure none of us will be soon to forget that Sugar Mountain brought Nas to Melbourne. In a few short weeks Sugar Mountain will host Joey Bada$$ on his birthday, this could be a celebration worth seeing. The Pro Era rapper has captivated attention since 2012 when he was just 17 when Pro Era burst onto the scene with Survival Tactics a Joey Bada$$ track with the late, great Capital STEEZ. Since then Joey Bada$$ has gone from strength to strength, for someone so young, he brings with himself a huge discography. Enjoyed as a rapper of the ‘old school’ ilk artists like Joey Bada$$ may be more important than ever in these “lil” years of Gucci Gang et.al.
Joining Bada$$ and a late inclusion to the lineup is A.B Original. Having cleaned up across a bulk of the Australian music awards for the calendar year of 2017, A.B. Original have cemented themselves firmly in the musical consciousness of Australia. Politically charged at the best of times, expect to this reach a higher degree as we as a nation roll into one of the most tumultuous annual days, the 26th. Just 6 days earlier, A.B. Originals message will almost certainly leave a lasting impression.
Venturing deeper beneath Sugar Mountain’s lineup sits Fremantle’s own Stella Donnelly, who took the meaning of “2017 is my year” to a whole new level. After releasing her debut EP at the beginning of the year, ‘Thrush Metal’ propelled the singer/songwriter to a level of fame and success she had never expected. Though this sudden and unexpected rise in the ranks of Australian music has not deterred Donnelly from recognising the big issues of that very scene. Instead, she continues to use her music as a platform to deliver the most powerful of messages on the most significant of topics, including those regarding the pursuit of equal rights for both male and female artists. The five-track release helped Donnelly (unanimously) take out the inaugural Levi’s Music Prize, as the standout act from Brisbane’s ‘BIGSOUND’ festival. However, this wasn’t the end for Donnelly in 2017, playing Falls Festival across the country. In Lorne, her midday timeslot and the forecast of relentless rain didn’t stop her from brightening the spirits of all who braved the conditions (both weather and alcohol-induced kinds), filling the main stage with laughter between songs and producing an unforgettable cover of Basement Jaxx’s classic ‘Good Luck’. Her raw, bold attitude to songwriting, paired with impeccable guitar skills, all accompanied by a truly flawless voice, makes her a must-see at SM 2018. The phrase “watch this space” has never been more relevant.
If you've made it this far it should appear evident that there's a lot to talk about and there's a lot to like about Sugar Mountain's lineup this year.