Friday night, the beginning of the Labour Day long weekend – it’s a night in Adelaide where various university sportspeople from around the country are ambling down Hindley Street in drunken masses to celebrate the final day of UniGames and there’s also an assembly of university musicians from around Australia gathered at Fowler’s Live to battle it out in a competition of their own. The National Campus Band Competition is a competition which has seen bands including The Vasco Era, Eskimo Joe and Jebediah take the winning title out in past years, showcasing the best music to come out of Australian universities. Prizes included $1000 cash, five days recording at the renowned Chapel Lane studios in Adelaide, as well as five days accommodation at The Manse. Sweet deal, right? As it turned out, the selection of bands up in the final round were eager to get their mitts on first place and churned out some impressive sets of original music.
I arrive just as Mr Speaker and The People Party is taking full advantage of their short set. I wasn’t expecting to have this much hip-hop/funk thrown at me this early in proceedings, but it immediately quashed all previous notions of a live band competition containing six bands performing variants of the same blend of indie and metal music. Although there was barely a handful of a crowd inside Fowler’s main room for the band, Mr Speaker and co didn’t let this affect the level of energy they brought to the stage; understandably, if you’re fighting for the winning place in a competition, the best logic is to try and get the crowd and the judges onside early on, but these guys seem to perform this way naturally. The two front men bantered with each other effortlessly and bounced between rapping and some excellent harmonies. Following on from what a ripper opening act was a selection of acts which accurately demonstrated the different levels of music experience, both in terms of stage persona and originality, which was spread amongst the assembly of young musicians.
There were some highs – Sydney’s Milkk for instance, were fantastic to watch. The ‘minimalist’ trio really stepped up to the plate and proved their worth amongst every other vocally-led group in the competition and blew me away, to be frank. It’s not too far-fetched say that any minimalist, post-rock act is going to stun people into watching, purely because nine times out of ten, the audience is likely will need to adjust their perceptions in order to fully appreciate the music. Milkk, however, pushed through this instrumental barrier and performed a set which was tight and innovative; although they didn’t take out first place, I would love to see them perform again. Perth’s Bishi Bashi were the final act onstage, but provided another high point for me – they had that classic Getaway Plan type of thing going and brought a lot of positive energy at a point in the evening where things were well and truly starting to wind down. Plus, I always enjoy a drum effort – ten points automatically there.
The competition was not without its lows though; I wouldn’t go so far as to say bands as a whole were complete shit; rather, there were obvious moments where certain elements or members of bands just weren’t executing at a competing level. Canberra’s Dahrnoir stood out as the band who encapsulated this feel to a tee; although separately, I could pick the pros out of each of the five musicians, as a whole, they seemed to constantly be drowning each other out. They weren’t crap as performers, but they needed that EXTRA bit of time practicing and refining before they’d ever be considered as winners of a competition like this. But, what would I know…
As I hung with the judges (all local industry professionals) and observed their umming and ahhings over who deserved the title the most, I felt extremely relieved that I was not in their position tonight, that I was merely here as a local music fan. After much debating, South Australia’s representatives, Walking With Thieves were crowned the winners of the National Campus Band Competition. I know what you’re thinking; how original, the Adelaide band taking out the title in a final based in their hometown. I get that, but although clearly, the rockers had the hometown advantage and pulled the biggest crowd of the night, they were the most cohesive performers. Cameron Johnson showed signs of strain as his vocals battled mixing issues, but nevertheless, the four-piece kicked all kinds of ass within the realms of their timed set.
As another year of the National Campus Band Competition wrapped up, I felt hopeful that the local and national scene is indeed continuing to thrive with quality music. I was sad to see that some of my top picks didn’t make it tonight, but it was fun to watch such an eclectic group of bands take to the stage and offer up such differing style of music. I hope to see some of them come back through Adelaide over the next year or so, as there was so much potential existing with so many of these artists, it’d be a shame to see them fade before they get the chance to truly take off.