Festival Review: Listen Out - Centennial Park, Sydney (27.09.14)

After a successful first year, Fuzzy's Listen Out continues to put forth the case for festival down-sizing, standing with just three stages and a cleverly curated line up to ensure that we got just as much variety as a more excessive festival. A bit more niche and thoughtful in it's structure, the day played out with very few hiccups and once again focused on quality over quantity, exposing the direction of the summer festival season and the styles which are getting the most shine this year.

2014 has certainly seen more of R&B seeping into the dance world, with sparse, thick bass and well-placed handclaps painted over the more woozy, drugged-out production that comes from acts like Shlohmo who had the 909 stage bopping along to his increasingly exciting set. His recent EP with R&B star Jeremih has proved to bring the best out of this hot-ticket producer, bringing late-night electro-R&B to the afternoon crowd.

Meanwhile Yahtzel was having fun over on the main Atari stage by giving Eminem's "Without Me" a surprisingly well executed dubstep twist, dropping the highlight of the 4pm slot until another Aussie rolled around and stole the show. Ta-ku took over the 909 stage with ease, delivering impressive remixes of nostalgic R&B hits from the likes of 112 and Janet Jackson, and throwing in fun hip hop hits like Twista's "Overnight Celebrity" and Drake's "Over". With a blend of his own work and classic cuts, the set was a continuation of the preferred style of the day and Ta-ku did it just a bit better than all the rest.

Over on the themed Crate Diggers stage by Red Bull Music Academy a large shiny stage was set up as a boombox; each act would pop into the cassette deck and play through their chosen style. Purveyors of fine dance Motorik were taking us through an entire history techno as I wandered over, drawing in a decent crowd but then losing it once Chet Faker took to the main stage. Driving much of Australia's current obsession with soul-dipped electronica, Chet stands as one of the biggest drawcards of this festival tour, justifying his popularity with an essential hour of him bearing his soul over glitchy productions and smooth instrumentals. Whether the Melbourne artist is stripping "Drop The Game" to it's bare bones or hitting home runs with "1998" and "Talk Is Cheap" - the latter riling up the expected sing-a-long that was a perfect moment with a beautiful horizon to the stage's left - Chet knew exactly how to meet those high standards he is often held to. The Listen Out promoters certainly placed Chet at exactly the right time, knowing that we all wanted him to soundtrack our sunset with that irresistibly smooth voice.

Over on the 909 stage, local hip hop DJs Halfway Crooks knew exactly how to warm the crowd up for ScHoolboy Q, playing through a ratchet, DJ Mustard-driven selection that included festival drop-out YG and pop-rap star Kid Ink. ScHoolboy takes a more party-centric approach to performing than label Kendrick Lamar, as evidenced by his constant screams for the lively crowd to "turn up". His fanbase was strong here, rapping back the majority of his set as Q led the party through hits "Collard Greens" and "Break the Bank" with his snarling, potent flow. Q even dipped into Kendrick's cataloque with "mAAd City" before closing with "Man of the Year" and "...Oxymoron".

Four Tet closed out the 909 stage with a bit more complexity than his fellow Listen Out acts, stringing a house-focused thread throughout his short 45 minute set while the Crate Diggers stage was in capable hands, headliner Joyride playing through 90s (and early 2000s) R&B/hip-hop like TLC, Mariah Carey, Destiny's Child, OutKast, Dr Dre, and Big Pun.

It's not until you run between the three stages do you realise how well Listen Out have done to funnel the crowd based on which style they prefer to end the night on. Although the majority were obviously crowding around the Atari stage to get a glimpse of Flume's only Australian shows for 2014. Future Classic's boy wonder fit his live show out appropriately, matching the tremendous pressure that his popularity often brings, with a live show that never felt excessive but had all the bells and whistles of a true spectacle. His monstrous remix of Lorde's "Tennis Court" was a new, welcome addition, as was surprise guest George Maple who Flume brought out for a new track and her own, brilliant, "Talk Talk" (which Flume produced). Though it was the now timeless "On Top" and "HyperParadise" that remained the highlights.

Listen Out continues to showcase how far thoughtful planning and a tighter focus can go in the festival circuit. Where bigger festival's can easily trip over their own lofty ambitions, Fuzzy have managed to balance the fine line between a boutique festival and a larger-scale event (like the former Parklife), placing Listen Out as a promising start to the 2014 summer festival period.

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