Subsonic Festival 2014
It was about 1pm and the sun was really beating down by the time I was ready to see my first set of the festival. I’d had a few beers during the day and was getting into the swing of things and having a few pick-me-ups before local Sydney DJ and a member of Bondi Beach Radio’s Swerve Saturdays, Beans. Personally, although I’d never say it to his face, I think he’s one of the better DJs going around the Sydney bass scene at the moment. I made my way to the front of the surprisingly packed river stage and began adding to the growing dust cloud. The river stage was a pretty awesome little set-up, a small bamboo hut for the DJ flanked on either side by trees and on the left, the river. Behind the crowd was also a few walls set up for people to draw and paint on which, by the end of the festival, was a skewed mess of fluro and day-glo ramblings. Beans’ set was just what I’ve come to expect from him, a great mix of heavy bass tunes with a hip-hop bent. My favourite thing about his set is his ability to move seamlessly between the slower more hip-hop influenced tracks and quick jungle and dnb style tracks, which always makes for a killer drop. One tune that the crowd really responded to was Doneao ‘Big Ben’ (Ombudsman Refix).
Right after Beans, on the same stage, was another of my favourite local DJs and party crews, Lewbar & Lab5 of Qualia and the unfortunately now defunct 2flies Warehouse. The Qualia boys are well known for their creative deep house mixes, always displaying a seemingly never ending musical knowledge. The boys really pre-empted the tone of the festival and immediately slid right into a steady groove that for me would come to define this year’s Subsonic.
Next off the rank after a bit of a rest and some afternoon beers were hip-hop outfit True Vibe Nation. I was particularly excited about this gig because I’ve never managed to catch the guys in action. Their organic blending of live horns and a big band influenced sound with more traditional hip-hop production techniques really fuels the energy of their live show and make them a perfect band for an afternoon festival set. The crowd was of a decent size with a good number of people slumped around the edges of the dancing crowd, taking in the performance. I have to say the song I most took away for their set was the electrifying ‘Work, Work, Work’, which really showcased all of the aforementioned qualities
After the sun had set on the first day and the camping area was beginning to show that night time festival craziness, with an atmosphere something akin to turning the lights out in a half-hearted attempt to signal bedtime at a sleep-over consisting of a few thousand children, all pepped up on the strongest red cordial known to humans. It was in this environment and mindset that the whole camping areas collectively stumbled, danced and sang their way to disco masters Nile Rogers and Chic. The giant disco ball that was hovering above the dance floor never felt more in place amongst the lit up trees and loons dancing to all the funk and disco classics. ‘Let’s Dance’ is one of my favourite Bowie songs, and to see it performed by the guy who wrote and played the guitar lines was absolutely phenomenal. They closed their set with Chic’s popular hit ‘Freak Out’ where the stage became littered with a selection of all kinds of munters, freaks and hippies from the crowd. Then it was back to the campsite to prepare for the evenings raving with Opiou.
The kiwi born Opiou is a bit of a fixture at Subsonic and his brand of thick bass heavy glitch-hop never fails to get me on my feet. By this point it was 1:45am and the heat of the day, combined with excessive partying was starting to show. But by the time Opiou took the stage, armed with his Mac Book, an MPC, drum sticks and a guitarist, all hope of a rest was obliterated. This was also the point where I realised just how good a job the sound desk at the main stage was doing. The bass was shattering and crystal clear as the strobes flashed against the torrent of champagne Opiuo sprayed in celebration of his birthday.
The morning was pretty quiet as I didn’t really have anything too pressing until Dizz1 in the early afternoon, so I took the time to get my bearings on the festival and check out some weirdness. I have to say the river and swimming area is much nicer than peats ridge, with a massive grassy hill leading into the widest section of the river and a giant willow tree off to the right, which in the evening looks spectacular with a harlequin mess of colours shining into the hanging branches. Another awesome feature, aside from the massive bed made of stuffed animals at the back of the Paradisio stage, was a crazy garden like structure of bamboo, littered with little crow’s nests that would sit about seven people.
By the time Dizz1 rolled around I was feeling damn good and doing a pretty good job of avoiding the horrendously blistering sun. Dizz1 was great dropping lots of funky hip-hop beats and live remixes. It’s a bit of a shame that it was so hot and in the middle of the day because his set was indeed very danceable but it was a pretty big task to coax people off the grass and on to their feet, save for a small loyal following at the front. Again ‘Super-sharp Shooter’ was dropped, and even though deep house seemed to be dominating the festival, ‘Super-sharp Shooter’ was almost an unofficial anthem in my mind.
Next up was Ganga Giri, a fusion between traditional Aboriginal instrumentation and modern electronic bass music. I’d never seen Ganga Giri before and to be honest, only mildly aquatinted with them before the festival. However, their sound intrigued me enough to get me along to their show and I wasn’t left disappointed. The singer/didgeridoo player was as versatile with his voice as he was with the various effects he placed over the droning sound of the didg, along with live drums and song synth work. The highlight however was six foot five rapper who came on for a few songs, I believe they uttered his name at some point but it escapes me now, either way, he was amazing. His low was absolutely impeccable and his lyrics were just as smooth and complemented the thumping, droning sound of Ganga Giri perfectly.
Once the sun was down, Barracuda Sound Machine and Weird Together gave me my fix of dub for the evening, in replace of Salmonella Dub, who were a no show and the topic of various rumours. I don’t know why they didn’t play and won’t profess to so I guess we’ll just have to leave it at that. Weird Together were particularly great, a pretty small Kiwi band who, like Nile Rogers, invited everyone up on stage but I don’t think they were particularly prepared for the size and enthusiasm of the crowd as their bongos and a few microphones were commandeered by punters. Again, I wasn’t familiar with either band but they both got pretty big crowds and pulled out fairly good dub/reggae sets.
Finally the clock ticked over to 2am and it was time for the downright filthy, sexy, ghetto-tech production of young Belgium producer Kill Frenzy. I’m going to have to say that his set was probably the best of the festival. He dropped a host of his original productions, among which was ‘Booty Clap’ (if you haven’t heard it, go and YouTube that shit right now) with an awesome half speed breakdown. I heard people commenting that they thought his stage presence was a bit self-absorbed and I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with that but would also say that it’s not a bad thing. His dirty lyric samples and beats go perfectly with the grimy atheistic he was projecting. He closed his monster set that kicked on well past 5am with a personal favourite of mine Genuine ‘Pony’ (again, YouTube that shit).
By the time we got to the Paradisio Stage on the last night, Zed Bias had just taken the decks and the dance floor was a mess of fluro, beach toys, anything that looked mildly strange and a fair bit of skin. The crowd was absolutely mental and Zed Bias was responding to every minute of it. The sound on the stage was completely ridiculous and was quite literally ear-splitting at times; there were frequent moments when I saw a good portion of the crowd block their ears to certain frequencies. It was actually a pretty good change of pace to get a bit of garage and break beat. As patchy as my memory is at this point he definitely dropped ‘Neighbourhood’ and ‘Furrball’ and a pretty awesome mix of Florence and the Machine ‘You Got The Love’, my next solid memory after that is drinking goon through the lining of my dress while the set drew to a close and then a long stumble back to the campsite to get some sleep before the drive home in the morning.
My first year at Subsonic was certainly a crazy one and they’ll definitely be seeing me again next year. The vibe of the festival is basically ‘no rules’, which in many other environments would be a stupid idea but with the kind of crowd Subsonic pulls it works. Everyone is respectful of their fellow punters, I didn’t even hear of a snifter of a fight and even the security looked like they were having a pretty damn good time. If you haven’t been before, mark it on your calendar for next year, I’ll see you there.
By Layth Saeed
Photography by Clancy Derum