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Live Review + Photos: Yours & Owls festival, 2016

Day One

Shining Bird / KLP / Nicole Millar / Tired Lion / Thelma Plum / Stonefield / Antwon / Kilter / Sampa The Great / Client Liaison / Hockey Dad / Ladyhawke / The Sonics / The Jezabels / Co

Day Two

Pagan / Horror My Friend / The Pinheads / Bec Sandridge / The Hard Aches / Totally Unicorn / Chastity Belt / Vera Blue / The Coathangers / Big Scary / Skegss / Tkay Maidza / Bleached / DMA’s / PUP / The Living End / Black Mountain

Stuart Park, Wollongong 01/10/2016 – 02/10/2016
Review & Photos: Peter Zaluzny

A few years ago, the owners of a little Wollongong live music venue called Yours & Owls decided to put on a music festival – and boy would you look at it now. Two stages, over thirty bands from around the world, and 5000 punters rolling through the gates on Saturday and Sunday of the October long weekend.

With so many major fests gone, the small, boutique scene is doing a roaring trade, and Yours & Owls truly upped their game this year. Combining the cream of Australia’s local crop, a handful of internationals and more female musicians on stage than most of the competition can muster up combined, Yours & Owls brought together a fantastic festival in picturesque Wollongong.

Day One

With the weekend spit across fairly definitive lines, Saturday was the day for people that enjoyed something slightly softer, with their riffs wrapped in indie and electronic tones. Call it a guilty pleasure perhaps, but musicians like vocal-driven indie-pop singer-songwriter Nicole Millar, are infectious. When it’s half-past two in the afternoon, and she’s dancing to uplifting beats for thirty-minutes straight, it’s impossible to walk on by without having a little party.

It’s interesting, despite the influx of drum-driven electronica and syth-pop, the humble six-string still manages to make an appearance most of the time. Even Kilter, the one man beats band who’s drum and sample work exists purely to fire up festival crowds at sunset (which he does a damn good job at), even pulled a friend onstage to bust out a few roaring guitar solos, much to the crowd’s delight. Later in the night Ladyhawk’s guitar vocals and, pretty much everything else on stage, was swimming in synthy effects and poppy reverb. But while the music was on point, she seemed a little distant and frustrated on stage, which unfortunately culminated in a massive audio-blowout during “Paris is Burning.”

But despite the abundance of poppy stuff, the rock crowd was well represented on day one. Shining Bird’s experimental, almost psych-pop pop was a nice gentle way to ease into the day, whereas brutally-honest, 90s-tinged, indie-rockers Tired Lion, who played about 90-minutes later, had the crowd up and about. Pumping from a similar vein as the alt-rock of yesteryear, the Perth four-piece reinforced their position as a band everyone should keep at least one eye on over the next few years. Now if only they’d release a full-length record.

Stonefield are one of those bands that could have been huge, but they decided to disappear for a while after touring their well-received debut. Clearly the break didn’t matter to most, because the Yours & Owls set picked up exactly where they left off, with the same number of adoring fans screaming the lyrics along with the sisterly quartet. That said, classic rock has “rock” in it’s name for a reason, and even though Stonefield can riff with the best of ‘em, their stage presence is surprisingly sedentary.

80s new-wave revivalist maestro’s Client Liaison, who’s outfits are just as suave as the music, won the award for out-dancing the massive audience that turned up for their show. Tight set, tight moves, tight threads and tight tunes, this is a genre that risks falling into a big bundle of cheese, but when Client Liaison take to the stage, they willingly dive head first into the dairy and stylishly burst out the other side.

Kinda-local lads (they’re technically from Windang) Hockey Dad drew “probably the biggest crowd ever,” with their modern indie surf-rock combo. As the fans loudly sang, and the boys on stage refused to let the smiles fall from their faces, the set started to feel like one of those special shows, where you’re watching a band on the cusp of an explosion. One where you can’t help but think this will be the last time they aren’t on the main stage at any given festival – and damn did it feel good to be a part of that.

Original proto-punks The Sonics were downright incredible to watch. Not just for the music, but for the fact that the band are still touring with 3/5 of the original lineup, over 50 years after releasing their influential debut Here Are The Sonics. The best singers and swingers were singled out by saxophonist Rob Lind, who pointed and grinned at hard-partying punters. There were too many people to acknowledge by the end.

The Jezabels have had a bit of a rough year, following a cancer diagnosis that put the European tour on hold, right before their new album dropped in February. But when the synthy-alt-rock four-piece walked on stage and kicked off the show with “My Love Is My Disease,” everything that had happened just melted away. Clearly excited to be back on stage, Yours & Owls fest. was immediately awash with the energy and enthusiasm of leather-clad frontwoman Hayley Mary, as The Jezabels pumped out one of the best sets of the weekend.

One of the best, yes, but Cog who closed-out the festival for fans of heavy music, edged them out for show of the day. With a national reunion tour behind them, the show was classic Cog at its peak – a band who were well and truly back in their groove after a few years away. Simultaneously atmospheric, haunting, aggressive and exciting, this wasn’t a set that thrived on nostalgia, no. It was a show that gave Cog the opportunity to show everyone that they’re opening up the next chapter in their career. If the frenetic mosh, flying hair and fearless crowd surfers were anything to go by, Yours & Owls fest. was well and truly on board.

Day two

With the indie synth day now a memory, blurry-eyed punters returned to Stuart Park on Sunday for day two of Yours & Owls fest. Aka, the day of riffs and pits, and it was heartwarming to see a considerably larger crowd come through the gates for such and occasion.

Melbourne black ‘n’ rollers Pagan gave early risers the heavy jolt they needed to wake the f**k up (seriously who has that much energy at midday?), with the help of their new best friend, Drew from Totally Unicorn. Then, Horror My Friend, who were as much a comedy act as a rock outfit, pumped up the main stage to a couple of hundred devotees, including half a dozen dedicated moshers determined to start a circle pit. Turns out the South Australian lads were happy to leave their dark city behind, for a place that actually had power.

The Pinheads returned to Yours & Owls fest for the second year in a row, although this time their reckless garage Britpunk show didn’t end with any photographers lying unconscious in the pit. This time, their frontman made sure to to only risk himself, although there were a few close calls when his mic stand joined him in the crowd. About an hour later, The Hardaches played a set that was less about stage presence, and more about loud sing-alongs with heavy alt-rock tracks that tore at the heartstrings. To be fair though, anything that followed Pinheads would seem subdued by comparison, but the Hardaches fans made up for it with a hot, sweaty dance in the sun. Despite it all, that band has a way of making you feel like everything is going to be okay.

Following the feels, Totally Unicorn, in all their shirtless glory, took to the stage for one of the most anticipated sets of the weekend. Noisy, screamy, chaotic party punk with champagne and confetti showers, Unicorn live is just plain wild. There were constant circle pits, crazy moshing, and a frontman who spent most of the set in the thick of it. Every song was a hit! Or so they said, but whether or not that was true seemed irrelevant (it probably wasn’t true), all that mattered was the potent energy that peaked when fans started skipping with frontman Drew’s mic lead, and again after guitarist Aaron somehow crowd surfed while playing guitar for an entire song. God knows how that began and, more importantly, how everyone survived.

When The Hard Aches followed The Pinheads, it kind of made sense. At least they’re both heavy enough to compliment each other. But putting the low-key, indie-rock/pop stylings of Chastity Belt after Unicorn was an error in scheduling. They’re a good band, however, the whole thing felt far too bland while the post-Unicorn adrenaline wave was still roaring across the sea of punters.

US female punkers The Coathangers picked things up again, although the performance wasn’t quite as intense as the Internet hype suggested. Still, it’s been a long time since the old school, garage-surf vibe with slightly discordant harmonies has worked its away across the Australian airwaves, and it’s nice to see it back in the fore at the hands of such talented musicians. Plus, anyone that writes lines like “you’re so dramatic, wishy washy” is definitely worthy of the surf-punk flame.

Back on the main stage, Big Scary were neither big, nor scary, but they synthy keyboard driven beats were a great way to relax, before wandering over to the smaller stage for Skegss – the latest laid back reverb heavy Aus-rock band. It comes off as a little dumb, hell that seems to be the point, but when a motley crew of punk-swooning, life-loving dudes get on stage and sing rock songs about getting high, is anyone really in a place to deny it? No, even if one of their most popular songs was “just about eating food, hey.”

Continuing with the day’s punky overtones, Bleached were a little more modern than the other riffy offerings before sunset, with a little bit of every genre including alternative, indie and pop dipping their toes into the punk pool. By this point, people were starting to feel tired, it had been a long weekend after all, but bands like Bleached kept people awake by forcing them to bop along with their infectious rhythms and, frankly, impressive head banging. The only time bassist Micayla Grace stopped thrashing around in a blur of hair, was when she had to sing.

If you’ve seen one DMA’s show, you’ve seen them all. Their incredibly tight, impressive live set doesn’t change all that much, they always somehow manage to perfectly recreate their indie Britpop sound on stage every single time. It’s flawless, and that’s why people keep turning up in droves to see them. That said, they did seem considerably more energetic at Yours & Owls, which was their first home-soil show in months, and it was nice to see them break the quietly spoken DMA’s persona every now and then, to let themselves have a little fun.

Throughout the weekend, one band’s name kept popping up whenever you asked someone who they were here to see. “I’m so keen for PUP!” And rightly so, the Canadian party punkers were an absolute blast to party with into the night. Maybe it’s a Canadian thing, they seem to be high on life (and nothing else) all the time, but pulsing tunes with pretty punk harmonies and band members with big ol’ smiles spread across their faces was worth the wait.

Perhaps it’s a bit of a cliché, but The Living End deserve the title of Aus-rock legends. The veteran band who’s driving rockabilly sound defined the soundtrack of so many 90s teens, came out to a deafening roar with a set list overflowing with classics. How do you fire up a mosh? Start the show with “Second Solution” and watch the place go f**king nuts. Still, there are few moments in Aus-rock history, than watching thousands of people tap into their youth, to sing along with “Prisoner of Society.” Frontman Chris Cheney had been fighting a few issues with his voice, his doctor had told him to skip the shows and take a break (or so he said), but he decided to battle through and although that did make a few songs sound a little rough, The Living End pushed through, with all the usual double-bass climbing antics. They could have played for another two hours and no one would have objected – except perhaps for Cheney’s doctor.

That was the moment Yours & Owls peaked for the rock, metal and punk fanatics. But there was one more band worth watching, a little Canadian outfit called Black Mountain, who were in the business of psychedelic, stonery Sabbath-style tracks with warbling vocals, long guitar solos and all-encompassing analogue synths and keys. Equal parts heavy and hypnotizing, they were the perfect band to end the weekend on, and while the dedicated few stood on their feet fanning out of Black Mountain, most grabbed one last beer, put their feet up, and let themselves drift away at the end of a very, very big weekend.

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