Something Unlimited: Review
The team behind Something Unlimited know how to make a first impression. Entering an unlit room, black cloth walls and a low frequency hum drew us into the largely vacant interior. Except for, shrouded in neon-pink fog, a mound of analogue televisions that flickered kitsch, nostalgic psychedelia in the corner of the room. In the kind of black/white, old/new, high/low contrast that we would come to see throughout the day; the next room was a blindingly white caricature of 90’s decadence. Hollywood mirrors, serves of champagne, oysters and piles of flour were offered to all attending.
With a cold glass of bubbly in hand, we continued into the ‘Studio’, the first of two stages, to find a dark room strewn with white mesh above and around us, as well as in front of the stage. This thin veil separated us from the artists, constantly pushing our attention away from the people and back towards the music, the art. No doubt, all aided by the mind-bending 3D visuals projected onto the mesh.
Exiting the Studio, serene fluorescent lighting covered the walls of the ‘chill out’ space, while an impromptu set was being performed on a grand piano adjourning the end of the bar. Through another dark corridor and into the ‘Main Hall’ stage the Ying/Yang theme continued as light bathed the immaculately preserved hall from the second-floor balcony. Unlike the sister Studio stage, the Main Hall was sparsely decorated, opting to feature the architectural character of the Northcote Town Hall instead. Australian fauna bookended the stage whilst a quadraphonic arrangement of Funktion-One speakers accented the boundaries of the dance-floor. Venturing into the crowd the placement of speakers provided a truly immersive experience, however, auditory delight rapidly declined outside the centre sweet spot.
Even outside, amongst the food and drink, the attention to detail prevailed. For the entire day, one floor above the main bar, a glass boxed office space acted as a stage for actors mocking the money-centric mentality too many event organisers possess. If more festivals took these kinds of creative risks, where emerging artists across forms could interact with the receptive and excitable audiences that festivals attract, the festival scene – and arts scene as a whole – would be better for it.
This experimental ethos lent itself to the lineup, which pushed the contemporary, genre-bending sounds alongside the traditional, older jazz and funk. The linear funk grooves of Sunnyside provided an easy soundtrack to the start of the day, and though Adriana’s world disco was a sonic treat, the crowd was lacking, clearly not quite ready for the moody Studio stage. It wasn’t until DJ JNETT pumped some energy into the Main Hall that the whole festival started to kick into action. JNETT’s serious and focused composure was reflected in her set, one tasteful and umph-worthy selection after another, giving her an easy ID of the day in Ivan Conti’s Bacarau.
Of course, in a day tinged with an experimental attitude, there’s bound to be some missteps. Enter Lady Blacktronika. Almost the inverse to JNETT, Lady Blacktronika stumbled through a set of shallow and tinnie EDM that reminded us more of Mortal Kombat than an innovative music festival. It seemed more time was spent discussing tracks with the hypeman that fist-pumped beside her than mixing or selecting them. The same lack of focus could be said of the night’s closer, Rick Wilhite, whose ability to select an amazing track was quashed by his blatant disregard for mixing and obliviousness to set crescendos. At times he held the floor with soulful house like Atjazz’s remix of Rain, but then he’d become distracted by his own stage presence. As he finished with Louie Vega’s You Are Everything, the lyrics - “I want to thank you for everything you’ve done for me” - seemed more directed at himself than anyone else.
However, not all the internationals left us confused, with Urulu carrying audiences through to the night with a consistent, electro-driven set. Left to contend with Mildlife and Wax’O Paradiso - two local favourites that suited the reverb of the Hall and delivered the high quality grooves we’ve come to expect of them - Urulu drew an impressive crowd nonetheless as he moved into the left-field but no less danceable techno that the night needed.
Across the whole day, it was without a doubt Sui Zhen and Loure that shone through in the dark Studio and complemented the artistry of the festival. Sui Zhen’s passionate vocals and astonishing live technicality produced a sonic journey of cosmic proportions, given a new sense of profundity by the infinitely changing modular projections above her. That in a single day we can at once experience this futurism and next thing see the jazz-infused house of Loure is a testament to the diversity of this lineup. Loure’s brassy productions were treated to a live jazz band; placing them alongside the man himself made this set the most impressive of the day, bouncing between old and new sounds in a room packed with sweaty and satisfied revellers. We weren’t the only ones with goosebumps during the live rendition of his smooth and dreamy Keep It Real.
Before the festival even began, the festival’s social media presence was curated, inclusive and loud; expected artist profiles led on to posts spruiking the crew behind the sound, lights, projections, food, wine and scents. This was what immediately caught your reviewers’ attention, the idea of a genuinely holistic approach to a festival, one that goes beyond the music to create a complementary, artistic experience. From the gesture of a drink and an oyster on arrival to the careful attention to detail in the curation of musical and visual artists, it was refreshing to attend a festival that not only lived up to its own hype but exceeded all expectations.
Words: Sam Varian & Quillon Simpson.
Photos: Natalie Jurrjens (@nataliejurrjens)