Festival Review: Castaway – Thompson Bay, Rottnest Island (11.12.16)

The lead up to Castaway Festival was looking a little grimmer by the day as people scrambled to sell tickets, and the weather forecast fluctuated out of favour. But there’s nothing that rekindles that mix of festival excitement over seeing some killer acts, and a splash of anxiety over whether you’ll peak too soon, quite like a welcoming drum and samba line. As each boatload departed the ferry to embark on the coastal reserve of Rottnest Island to shiny smiles, cracking tin drums and deceptively blue skies it was easy to forget expectations and just soak up the paradisiacal location.

The festival itself, set up within the courtyard of Hotel Rottnest and extending right down the sandy beach of Thompson Bay where the main stage awaited, came off like a bit of a convoluted maze, keeping your quads active as you circumnavigated limestone walls and steps, but in a good way. Something Metric have always delivered with their boutique festival events is providing a space for everyone. The sand was all yours to throw off your shoes and go crazy, or take the time to chill in the shady bars, or succumb to the glitter booth, you weren’t all confined to a one size fits all stage area.

Opening the afternoon to a low key crowd, Palais kicked things off with an ideal balance of electronic mixes keeping the vibe light on the breezy coastline. Pulling singer Luna May up on stage mid set to perform an unreleased single off his upcoming EP turned it up a notch as the dreamy vocals flooded over the venue, and the energetic basslines enticed more punters onto the sand. Throwing us two live collaborations in one day, Phoebe Gunson, better known as one half of Phocal, joined for track “Instant Crush”. Apparently being his first live set, while still exporting songs on the ferry over, it was easily a great start to the day and really set the vibe for the coming acts.

Morgan Bain took everyone by surprise, starting on the keys he furthered the marvel of a one person orchestra as he combined bassline loops, classic piano and beatboxing into a flawless set. As girls thread their flip flops around their ankles and a couple of pirates took to the sand, Bain moved confidently through his tracklist, entirely upturning what would normally be perceived as festival music. “Hush” was preluded by a sentimental shout out to the partially brutal history of the island, declaring it a dedication as he finished with a cheery, “Fuck Captain Cook”.

The drum sticks were raised high as Bag Raiders hit the stage, turning the spacious beachfront into a churning crowd of glitter infected bodies. An established summer staple, it seemed everyone was ready for each track that followed through the set, winding their bodies with imaginary flutes as “Snake Charmer” rang out before girls were up on shoulders for “Sunlight”. A few rain drops fell astray unnoticed while “Shooting Stars” finished the set, voices booming out along to the chorus lines.

The mid point of the day started to visibly separate those who had been going since the early morning, while the bar areas began heating up. The opening low capacity had passed and the negatives of using existing infrastructure over tailored set ups was really showing; I saw dozens of punters clustered in bar lines for the majority of Jarryd James‘ set, though the bathroom situation was thankfully alleviated by portoloos brought in (complete with tropical palm frond makeovers).

James carried out most of his set centre stage, thundering keys and percussion projecting the soul pop further than the pure vocals. Though the music seemed a little too calming after the bouncing beats of Bag Raiders, his hit single “Do You Remember?” brought out a massive response, half the crowd on shoulders as we all swayed to the brooding anthem.

The final headliners of the day really brought something else entirely, as the treacherous grey clouds finally closed in over the festival, Gang Of Youths exploded on stage with a tremendously infectious energy; frontman David Le’aupepe teasing the front rows as he spun from one side of stage to the other while guitarist Joji Malani was poised on the edge of the speakers. The crowd were unstoppable as each song opened, voices singing along while punters stood on shoulders before crashing back into the throng. “Strange Diseases” saw Malani descend into the crowd guitar still in hand while, not to be outdone, Le’aupepe leapt out for a crowd surf as “Magnolia” left us all in ecstasy.

The promised storm rolled in as festival-goers scattered, heading for the ferry lines home, the safety of a mates boat in the bay, or practically, to the bottle-o for another case. Castaway is a well-designed idea, not always totally nailing it in the execution but at least it looks damn good while doing it. As a Santa in shorts got the ferry singing to distract from the turbulent ride home, the festival was well worth the day trip, and it will be interesting to see what the end of Summer instalment holds.

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