Festival Review: Listen Out – Centennial Park, Sydney (03.10.15)

Trimming the fat of a large scale dance festival, Fuzzy’s Listen Out has gotten the boutique angle exactly right for the past few years. The music starts around 2pm – when most would rock up to a festival anyway – and rolls out some of the best international and local party-starters across three stages. It’s simple and quite perfect, leaving the success of the day purely in the hands of the acts performing, most of whom did an excellent job at keeping the energy up right until a show-stopping set from headliner Childish Gambino, and a show-stealing set from ODESZA.

The early hours of the festival were handled well with local acts B Wise, Client Liaison, and Basenji; all very different styles, but all perfectly appropriate for the perky spring festival vibe, particularly Client Liaison who have truly made their mark on the current Australian live music scene with their exciting, entertaining live shows.

The main Atari Stage could have gone either way when idiosyncratic trap-leaning ILoveMakonnen took the stage. An over-reliance on festival-fitted, cheesy refrains like “flip phone nokia” had the set lost it’s appeal fast, only picking up with the expected finale of “Tuesday”, a track which is nothing without it’s basic melody – and Drake. The Canadian emcee’s hit-making verse probably should have been played just to satisfy the many different squads in the crowd.

The ‘turn up’ formula of hyper-repetitive rap over bouncy production was much better represented by Rae Sremmurd; the duo complement each other so well, feeding off of each others infectiously high energy to make for a consistently engaging, exciting set. This is how you turn up, double fist pumping your way through tracks like “No Flex Zone”, “My X”, and “No Type”.

Over at the 909 Stage, George Fitzgerald and Hayden James drew the bigger crowd of the three stages. It’s clear that though a hip hop (at least a specific type of hip hop) is on trend at the moment, it’s dance music which still wins Sydneysiders over at a festival like this. James in particular, whose soulful house productions provided the right type of soundtrack to the festival.

The Atari Stage didn’t really see much of a crowd until ODESZA, who justified the hype surrounding their set with densely layered, striking productions that pulled on the best of chill wave and beefed it up with busy, emotive build ups and punches of entrancing patterns. The captivating set was designed to bring the sun down, to watching the beautiful clash of orange and blue above while that music washed over us was the single best moment of the day.

Over at the 909 Stage, Ryan Hemsworth was bouncing between bangers and relaxed, slow moving productions with plucked strings and beautiful piano melodies. Drawing on samples from Kanye to Blink 182, the Canadian producer proved every bit as valuable as his studio work.

Despite the majority of the crowd spread between Atari and 909, the Red Bull Music Academy’s presence at the festival was not one to be overlooked. The ever-changing sound of this concept stage, designed as an old school boombox, had a little flavour for everyone from fans of trip hop to those who just wanted to reminisce on Australian dance music – with everything from Muscles to Men at Work.

Alison Wonderland has made some huge leaps from the days of SOSUEME; now she’s absolutely killing it both in Australia and internationally, and this set was further proof of that. She’s in tune to what the majority of the crowd want, and she knows how to thread it all together into one thrilling rush of big bass drops peppered with a couple of cheeky 90’s sing-a-longs. Though the set wasn’t much beyond an essential festival mix, Alison certainly reiterated her worth to Australia’s festival scene.

SBTRKT had a strong hold over the crowd at 909 with a surprisingly rich selection of both old school and new school hip hop, patched in with his own tracks. It may have been billed as a DJ set, but SBTKRT definitely knows how to please his fans. The same can be said of Joey Bada$$, who had the Atari stage in the palm of his hands. The young 90’s-loving emcee is as sharp on stage as he is in the studio, only with the added urgency of his hyper-energetic performance. With his debut album now well established with fans, the dynamic between him and the whole crowd was inspired, us echoing both verses and hook as he took us through a flurry of mixtape and album cuts with that deep boom bap banging out into the evening air.

Golden Features definitely retained some of the more dance-minded at 909, but the overwhelming majority of the festival packed the Atari area for Childish Gambino, who came to Sydney fresh off a confusingly shocking appearance in Newcastle. Unlike that anger-inducing appearance a few days ago, Gambino held nothing back for Listen Out, charging out full steam, with his terrific backing band translating each of his tracks with impressive timing. Glowing from the red light behind him, the bohemian looking actor-rapper-comedian channeled all that showmanship and creativity into a display of live contemporary hip hop that while inconsistent at times with some questionable sound, justified his place at the top of the line up, capping things with fan-favourites “3005” and “Bonfire” to make a lasting impression.

Headline photo shots by Belinda Hedges for the AU review. Full gallery can be found HERE


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Chris Singh

Chris Singh is an Editor-At-Large at the AU review, loves writing about travel and hospitality, and is partial to a perfectly textured octopus. You can reach him on Instagram: @chrisdsingh.