Bassinthegrass feat. Art vs Science + Birds of Tokyo + Dead Letter Circus + More - Darwin Botanic Gardens (21.05.11)

If you’re not from Darwin, you’d be forgiven for thinking that anything like a music festival doesn’t extend its reach that far up the country. While most of the other capital cities are frequented by local and international acts passing through on tours or as part of national festival dates, the Northern Territory is left out of the loop most of the time; except for a day in May where the public gets to have a taste of some of the best Australian talent on the scene, with its annual Bassinthegrass festival.

Unbroken Expanse had the job of kicking off the festival and for a rock band from Tennant Creek, they brought noise. I’d never heard of them before today, but the band already had a loyal group of followers as they rocked out to the small amount of people who had gathered at the barrier for them. The size of the crowd didn’t deter the band at all from delivering an intense set of hard rock tunes, showing that you don’t have to have years of gig experience behind you to be able to bring a set full of raw intensity to the fore, successfully. From rock to local hip-hop, the early festival-goers were entertained by DT3, a trio of Darwin rappers. Where their rhymes came across as amateur or lacking in depth, the confidence of these guys made up for it by far. Every artist needs a platform to start on and I guess today was another chance for the trio to produce some sort of music in amongst bringing girls up onstage to dance and strutting across the stage like they’re out of an Eminem film clip. Entertaining, nonetheless.

Another staple act of almost every Bassinthegrass date is the ex-Australian Idol contestant who either didn’t win the competition, or hasn’t produced much since their stint on television. This year, it was Hayley Warner’s turn, the 19 year old runner up from 2010. Unfortunately, she didn’t shift my already low expectations of the set. Accompanied by an acoustic guitarist, Warner desperately tried to get the teenage crowd at the barrier hyped over her ‘new’ material which was unknown to virtually everybody. When she ventured into the crowd during a flat cover of “Pleasure and Pain” by The Divinyls to try and raise some sort of frenzy, it fell flatter than the rendition, partly because I’m sure nobody under the age of 20 knew the lyrics she was trying to get them to sing.

Following Warner were the Justice Crew, winners of Australia’s Got Talent. I know you’re probably wondering why I paid so much money to travel north for these acts, but I promise it gets better. I’ve never understood the appeal of the Justice Crew; I knew they were talented dancers but as far as singing went, I thought they were simply being marketed to death. In saying this, they pulled the biggest crowd of the day so far, with girls running down from everywhere, screaming for the boys. They performed freakish dance moves and well-polished choreography however, the talent of their singing left a lot to be desired. Considering they only have three singles, the dancing had to stretch out over an extended amount of time. To give them their due, the Justice Crew drew a massive crowd down to what was to become the mosh pit, and kept people there.

Sydney electro-house group and Darwin regulars, The Potbelleez were the first act to take to the stage during the hottest part of the day. Performing tracks off their new album Destination Now, as well as well-known favourites, Ilan Kidron and Blu MC sizzled together as they wound their way across the stage. While the act has the tendency to sound the same after seeing them more than once, the young crowd didn’t seem to mind.

By 4pm, the attendance level at the festival had grown considerably and there was a certain eagerness surrounding the appearance of Brisbane rockers Dead Letter Circus. The first nationally-successful rock act on the line up so far, Kim Benzie and co battled audio issues from the onset. Benzie’s vocals were drastically lower than the other instruments and even from the front of the crowd; you could tell his already strained vocals were pushing their limits to be heard properly. Sing-a-longs from the well-versed DLC portion of fans front row seemed to brighten Benzie’s and bassist Stewart Hill’s faces and they kicked into high gear for hits including “The Space in the Wall” and “Cage”.

I had high hopes for Melbourne garage rockers, British India, but was slightly disappointed by their turn onstage. Frontman Declan Melia got prompted enthusiastic crowd reactions, but the whole set remained at a level of ‘good’, when I know they’ve done way better. It was when the sun began to set that people rocked up for the last half of acts. Sydney’s Art vs Science brought electro-rock to ears that probably only heard the material thumping in clubs. Powering through songs off the successful debut record The Experiment, as well as faithful crowd pleasers (“Parlez Vous Francais?”), the trio had turn what was a wild mosh pit into something truly primal and feral.

Birds of Tokyo were the band that most people I knew had turned up for this evening. Earning their spot as festival favourites across the country this year, Kenny and the other Birds swept Darwin up in their rock majesty as they performed. I’ve seen them about three times already and was pleasantly surprised by the fact that the band had jumbled up their set list. I’ll never get sick of watching/being a part of a massive crowd singing along to “Plans” or “Silhouettic”, and tonight was no exception. With the temperature having dropped a decent few degrees at this point, the vibe was less tense, more chilled out and loose.

Following Birds of Tokyo were two of Australia’s biggest electro exports, Sneaky Sound System and The Presets. The former, now a duo comprising of Connie Mitchell and Black Angus, sounded exactly the same as they did when I saw them perform in early 2009; but I guess electronica has the tendency to have that effect, like I said before. The Presets, having begun touring again after a few years out of the spotlight, brought a great closing set to what had been a manic day and night – with their pulsating music finding its way through to every pair of feet stamping upon the dry ground.

While the majority of the music at this year’s Bassinthegrass was enjoyable, especially considering I’ve seen most of them before; the high level of underage people there ruined the rest of the atmosphere. With kids running around and teenagers getting drunk and acting out, it was even more annoying than having to deal with drunken adults at any other gig. But, for the NT Government to secure a pick of some of the best Australian acts on the scene at the moment for their annual shindig, they deserve props.