If you accidentally ended up at one of the many mainstream events that were on this past weekend, and are looking to reclaim some indie cred, read on. Sydney’s first Stamping Grounds Festival was held on Sunday at Manning Bar, featuring 20 of the freshest bands we’ve got, with something for everybody. Really, I stayed the whole 11 hours and watched every band, so I can guarantee it.
First up were the winners of the My Sydney Riot band competition, (Baudelaire). Despite looking nervous as all hell, the three of them played very well to the smattering of people that had turned up at the start. They had some peculiar lyrics, but great guitar work, avoiding the riff-built structure that most bands fall into. The only real issue I had was the apparent distance between the band members – they rarely even glanced at each other (let alone attempted to talk to the audience) which gave an odd sense of detachment. However, I’d chalk this up to their nerves.
Next: Spirit Valley, a guitar/drums duo who played mostly instrumentals, which was fortunate, because I could barely understand a word of the lyrics (the singer has quite a growl). This didn’t end up being a problem, though, because the two of them managed to create some really interesting pieces of music. What made them even more impressive was how developed and textured the sound was with only guitar/drums/voice. The best example of this was their song “Death”, which wasn’t as morbid as it sounds.
Fait Accompli get extra points straight away for playing with hangovers, and no sleep. They describe their sound as ‘soul punk’, which may be the most unexpected combination of genres ever, but it explains them better than I can. The group had a very natural presence on stage, and actually spoke to the audience which is always a plus. The highlight of their set was their supremely badass drummer, Ms Skarlett, who pulled focus with her savage playing even though I couldn’t hear her backing vocals. They did have a strong connection with each other, which made them fun to watch.
I never thought I’d enjoy a rap-rock group, but all in all, She Rex were really impressive – my personal favourite of the day. Frontwoman Nikkita was fierce as fierce, with an overwhelming amount of confidence. She easily transitioned between rapping the verses and belting out the hooks, and absolutely owned the stage. As expected, there were some stupid comments made about her body language (because only male rappers get to have exaggerated body movement, obviously), but even those folks were won over by the end. They got the audience involved in a call-and-response type chorus (‘Black skies/blue lies/neon lights/high life’), and performed a killer cover of Rage Against The Machine’s “Killing in the Name Of”. They’ve a new single out for free download on their Soundcloud called “11th Hour”.
After this, it was back to the Main Stage for the band Particles. I tried to give them a chance, despite their sloppy lyrics and dull instrumentals, but when one song, “Slip Stream” opened with the line ‘Everyone knows she’s a slut’, I switched off. Sexist slurs will get you nowhere with me, boys.
I also wasn’t a big fan of the next band, Berkshire Hunting Club, but not because of derogatory comments. These guys were here for the hardcore kids, pulling out a set so loud that I was forced to leave the room and watch through the window. And watch I did, because singer/screamer Matt Browne was taking audience participation to the extreme, tackling people to the floor and crawling about and lurching all about the room. It got a lot of cheers. I’ve no doubt that they played exactly how they wanted to, but it wasn’t my thing. If you like that aggressive performance style, definitely check them out.
Graveyard Rockstars came out dressed like zombies, with fake blood on their clothing and white face paint. They had song titles like “In Death We Lust”, “Beyond The Grave” and “Dead On Arrival”, and throwaway lines like ‘The devil may care but I don’t’. In many ways, right down to the vocals, they made me think of a more hardcore My Chemical Romance. Unfortunately, a lot of people had gone outside at this point and missed their set, giving the band what was probably the worst crowd they’d ever had. I got the impression that they were disappointed by the lack of people too, but they still gave it their all.
Due to some last minute changes to the schedule, the next band on was another all-girl rock group, this time of pop-rock stylings. Baby Grand felt like a cross between The Runaways and Lillix, with the attitude (and dress sense) of the first, and the more accessible sound of the second. Vocalist Samantha has a punchy voice that is very well complimented by their harmonies, and she’d often jokingly sing to her bandmates. It was great to see how much they were enjoying being on stage.
Then, Casino Rumblers. Weirdly, that describes their sound exactly. In addition to drums and guitar, there was saxophone, trumpet, and a double bass – the last of which was played by singer Dave Bean. And, holy shit can he play. In addition to technique, Bean pulled all kinds of stunts with the instrument, holding it above his head, spinning it, even climbing on top of it while he played. The band charisma and high energy tunes got people on the floor, dancing, even throwing in a raucous cover of Wayne Walker’s “All I Can Do Is Cry”. They were one of the best acts of the night – do not doubt them.
B Massive were on just as the sun went down, which only added to the already powerful atmosphere of their music. They played fewer songs than most of the other bands, because their pieces were longer, but – they were never once dull. The exceptionally well-balanced construction of their songs allowed every aspect to shine in different moments. Some young guys in the room mocked them early on in the set, but by the end they were head-banging along to the music, which definitely says something about their ability. According to their facebook page, they’re putting an album together, and I know I’ll be picking that up whenever it’s released.
Then it was back to the metal with The Lazys, who, despite their name, did make an effort. Unfortunately, they just weren’t that interesting, so their attempts at audience participation (asking, ‘can you get involved with us?’ six times in a row…) didn’t work. On the positive side, they had a lot of energy, and set the record for the most devil horns in one performance that day.
Fouulhauwk were very similar to Berkshire Hunting Club (who had played earlier), but felt less developed. He had the throw-yourself-into-the-audience part down, for sure, but didn’t have a grip on the screaming – which was, regrettably, the main element to their set.
Aside from plugging their merch too early (before they’d even played a song), Black Devil Yard Boss played a decent set. The Melbourne trio have a sound of more ‘old school ROCK’, making me think of AC/DC. The standout track from their set was the new single “Black Devils Rising”, which I thought best encapsulated their style. I felt they were used to bigger and more enthusiastic crowds than the one they got. Turns out they were giving away free copies of their debut album, so I picked one up.
Doc Holiday Takes The Shotgun were excellently goofy. It was like your friend’s father had gotten drunk and was now dancing in front of your friends, but better. Everybody joined in with the fun, though they had to dodge the microphone stand when their singer began swinging it above his head. When they announced their last song, an audience member jokingly yelled out, ‘but you haven’t taken my shotgun!’, which should give you some indication of the positive vibe they created.
Melody Black’s first song didn’t grab me, but their second did. With it, they showed off a much stronger group dynamic and better use of their instruments. The guys were obviously really enjoying their performance – even when their drummer broke part of his kit, they used the opportunity to banter with the crowd. I enjoyed everything in their set, particularly their cover of “Ballroom Blitz” by Sweet, which got more people to dance down the front.
Little Bastards describe themselves as a ‘party country hoedown’, which is actually the best way to think of them. They were completely at ease on stage, joking around before they even started (‘We haven’t even sound-checked… But I did take my shirt off!’), and all through their set. People danced according to the music – the best way I can describe it is as a “barnyard moshpit”. Seriously. They were probably the most in-sync band out of everybody there, both instrumentally and in their vocal harmonies – they even ended up playing a little overtime, because the crowd demanded another song.
Next up was Cash Savage & The Last Drinks, who played 5 excellent country songs. The trundling instrumentals perfectly complimented Cash’s gravelly voice, giving them a very textured sound. The highlight of their set – in fact, one of the highlights of the day – was the heartbreakingly gorgeous “Mama’s Lament”. With Cash’s voice and Kat Mear on violin, this stunning piece brought a hush over the entire bar, including right out onto the terrace. Stunning.
At the other end of the mood spectrum were Gay Paris, who were so contagiously charismatic that the audience actually picked up frontman Luke Monks and held him in the air. His energy and overflowing personality did not falter, and his banter between songs was the most entertaining of the day (‘The best way to succeed is to accessorise!’). Their dirty-rock was wildly entertaining; definitely recommended if you’re after something gritty to dance to while you clutch a beer in one hand.
The final act of the night was the Melbourne ‘death-hop’ (I know) group Over Reactor. Ezekiel Ox demonstrated the true power of a frontman. The audience was in his palm, and he moulded them into whatever he wanted – a dancing crowd who screamed along to the chorus of “I Like Getting High” (it’s ‘I like – Getting – Highhhhhh’), to a support group who backed him up in convincing the sound guy to give him time for one more song. They got one of the loudest rounds of applause of the day, deservedly.
With so many acts, there was always going to be differing levels of quality, but overall, the day had a high standard of music. Many venues and festivals close their doors on younger bands, so events like this really need the community’s support. It’s unfortunate that more people didn’t turn up, but you’ll know better next year.
Photo of Fait Accompli by Sabina Rysnik.