When it comes to regional music festivals, you don't get much bigger, nor more exciting, than the travelling circus that is Groovin' The Moo. From the crowds to the bands to its general atmosphere, I have to say that Groovin' has fast become one of my favourite annual Australian music events. So it was with great anticipation that I returned to Maitland for the second consecutive year, to the Fouth Annual Groovin' The Moo Festival.
As I arrived at Maitland Showgrounds, The Holidays (who recently returned from a jaunt to the USA) could be heard ripping it up in the Moolin Rogue tent. I made it in time to catch the last few chords of their final track, and the crowd seemed to be eating it up. No surprise, but when it was barely midday, you can never be too sure what to expect. Much like last year, however, it was already quite clear that these would be crowds ready and rearing to support Australian music.
Nowhere was this clearer than on the main stage where The Jezabels had just launched into things. Like The Holidays, Hayley Mary and the crew have just returned from an international tour, ripping up Canada and the USA along the way. They're sounding better than ever as a consequence, and it sure helped that there was a massive crowd there to support them, fist pumping to just about every track. "Easy to Love" came on early with the fist pumping kicking into gear during "Mace Spray". It's great to see the band having reached a point where just about every track they play is known by the crowd; a bonafide hit-filled set that included "Hurt Me" and ended with "Dark Storm". A track from their forthcoming album was also included in a set that was nothing short of a triumph.
Our first international guest of the day was Triple J darling Darwin Deez. Last seen in our country for Parklife, Darwin returned with much of the same: tracks off his self titled debut broken up with hilarious dance routines to tracks like Miike Snow's "Animal". "Contellations" and "The Bomb Song" were rad, while "Radar Detector" saw the crowd lose their minds as the set drew to a close, introduced by a spoken word interlude, making reference to the jerks the song was written for. The music is still all a bit samey for my taste, but Darwin and his band - who seemed to include TWO bass guitarists, one of whom, Mash Deez (Michelle Dorrance), can fly kick like nobodies business - never fail in keeping things interesting.
With a main stage broken into two, a la BDO, the music never stopped, and Datarock hit the stage as soon as Darwin wrapped things up. The Norwegians are nothing short of epic in their performances, with drum and saxophone jams thrown in throughout, epic introductions to their tracksuits, and "Time Of Your Life" farewells. "Fa Fa Fa" and "Computer Camp Love" remain crowd favourites, while a personal favourite remains held in "I Used To Sance with my Daddy". An entertaining set as always - they are one band who was meant for the stage.
Another of the artists to have recently returned from SXSW (proof that GTM are hot on the pulse of "who's hot right now...") was Sampology, who brought his monster themed mash up audio visual spectacular along for the GTM roadshow. Always full of original choices, hilarious videos and plenty of moments or the crowd to let loose, today was no exception. Featured in the portion of the set I saw was: the Jamie XX remix of Adele's "Falling in the Deep", the Doctor Who theme with video of himself headbanging, Kanye mixed with "Whoomp! There It Is" and the "Bouncy Bouncy Crimp" from The Mighty Boosh. He also brought on guest Tom Thum, a talented beatboxer, who the crowd really enjoyed. The set was an easy highlight if the day.
Running alongside a sold out Australian tour, Washington's Groovin' The Moo appearances have been proving a massive success with crowds. Opening with "Clementine" and finishing things up with "Sunday Best", today was no exception - but having seen the performer quite a few times in recent months, I spent most of her set admiring Brighton-based sextet The Go! Team. While the band weren't quite able to get the flame burning any brighter than following their initial success, this is a group who have remained relevant all the same, continuing to produce music unlike anyone else in their genre - one which shall henceforth be known as "The Go! Team genre" - because I couldn't even begin to try and pigeonhole them into an existing classification. Dance, Indie, Rock, Hip-Hop, Noise, Trance... hell, even Bollywood - it's all there! "Huddle Formation" and "Ladyflash" got the crowd dancing, but it really was a party from start to finish, as they churned out tracks off all three albums.
House of Pain followed back on the main stage, and were the one band of the day who didn't seem connect with the crowd. It's not to say they didn't get into it... it just didn't quite feel all there. Even jams of Dr. Dre's "The Next Episode" or Tupac's "California Love" didn't seem to work the magic it should have. EverLast whipped out his hit "What It's Like", because he never got to tour Australia under the solo moniker, and it was here the crowd showed their age: most didn't know it. I, however, was singing along to every song. Oh 1998, how I miss thee. Things were cranked up to 11, however, with "Jump Around" came on... a track which has been a party anthem, a staple of DJs around the world, ever since it was released in 1992. A highlight of the day? You betcha. All in all, a great live band... just too young a crowd.
As a contrast, Architecture in Helsinki had the crowd in the palm
Of their hands, surprisingly garnering the biggest, most enthusiastic sing alongs of the entire day! Who would have picked it? "Heart it Races" was an intoxicating success, though the moment that literally stopped the show was when some douchebag decided to climb up a pole in the tent, forcing security to cut the music until he got down. The band were not impressed, but the crowd treated it as just another reason to "go apeshit". All in all, a stupidly energetic, amazingly fun set. Gyroscope, meanwhile, flung out all their hits to the crowd, closing things up with "Snakeskin" and adding in a "Beds are Burning" Midnight Oil cover for good measure.
With the majority of the crowd packing the Moolin Rouge tent for The Aston Shuffle and Art vs Science (who brought lasers!), the main stages seemed relatively quiet for The Drums (pictured above) and Gotye. Both put on great shows, however, with The Drums ripping out "Let's Go Surfing" about halfway through, seeing the crowd grow in size and enthusiasm. These Triple J kids love their hits! Gotye, meanwhile, focused on his best known tracks, while delivering a few newbies from his forthcoming LP. Stripped down to a four piece, with no background video, this was Gotye at its most basic, but nonetheless sounded effortlessly wonderful. "The Only Way", "Coming Back", "Thanks For Your Time", "Eyes Wide Open" and "Hearts a Mess" were among the best known tracks to be played, while newbies included "Smoke and Mirrors and "I Feel Better". The latter was much like "Learnalilgivinanlovin" (which closed out the set), while other new tracks gave more of an electronic edge. Birds of Tokyo (pictured below) put on their festival shoes and delivered a performance up to their usual high standard, with "Silhouettic" closing things up.
International headliners The Wombats (pictured in header) appropriately opened the set with "Our Perfect Disease" - the opener from their new album This Modern Glitch. "Kill The Director" was next, followed by "Laura", "Jump Into The Fog", "Techno Fan", "Backfire at the Disco", "1996", "Moving to New York", "Anti-D", "Tokyo (Vampires and Wolves)", before closing the set out with "Let's Dance to Joy Division" - to which we were told to "go crazy like you're a dog with rabies". And we did. For most of the crowd, this would be the set they'd go home and tell all their friends about - mixing things up between both albums, they wouldn't have disappointed a single person in that crowd. Between the crowd interaction and the music itself, this is one band who brings it live.
The move away from The Wombats showcased the only negative note of the day: the site layout. While greatly improved on last year, there needed to be an entry point to the 18+ area near where the VIP bar was. This would have assisted in flow issues when people were trying to leave the main stage area, but were rather aggressively blocked by some Bliss n Eso fans. Difficule to explain properly, but those who were there will know what I'm talking about. It was an unnecessary bottleneck, but with this being the only gripe of the day, the organisers should be terribly proud of a near perfect event.
It was a pity UNKLE (pictured above) clashed with The Wombats and Bliss N Eso, because this was easily the most impressive display of true musicianship the festival would see. Creating vast cinematic spaces, alongside aspects of rock and roll, hip/trip hop and electronic, UNKLE create hypnotic, epic music with an impressive visual show to boot (there was a 3D Nick Cave!!!). Led by James Lavelle and Pablo Clements, they were playing to a crowd who didn't seem to know what to make of it all... which is a pity, but thankfully I'll get to experience their set in full on Monday night at the Opera House... stay tuned on that one.
I have to give organisers a lot of credit for the festival giving their closing spots to Australian acts. Over in the tent, Drapht gave hip Hop fans another moment to shine, while Melbourne's Cut Copy (pictured below) closed out the main stage. "Feel The Love" opened up their set, while "Corner of the Sky" (off their new album Zonoscope) was mixed up with favourites "Lights and Music", "Hearts on Fire" and others. It was a standard Cut Copy affair... wonderful if you're a fan, nothing too impressive if you're not.
With Groovin' The Moo, I have bid adieu to a massive festival season. Beginning with Field Day, the last 4 months have taken me through an incredible wide array of live music from around the world, and I couldn't have picked a better way to bring this season to an end than Groovin'. With both its roster and the crowds reception, Groovin' The Moo is a true celebration of local and international live music. Regional crowds don't always deliver, but in Maitland they have certainly found a way.
Photos by Johnny Au