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An imposter’s guide to Groovin The Moo

Sunday, 11 May, 2014

“How ya feelin’, Bendigooooo!” the artists yelled at me. As a Melburnian, their greeting made me feel somewhat like an imposter, intruding Bendigo’s intimate carnival and bringing 10,000 of my closest city mates with me. But despite the busy traffic and the distinct scent of Melbourne fashion, Groovin The Moo (GTM) still retained its charm as a regional festival. With that said, the artists didn’t let the modest surrounds inhibit them, well and truly giving the crowd more value than their $100 ticket price suggested.

While international acts Dizzee Rascal and Disclosure were the big drawcards, my immediate friends and I were mainly here to see some up-and-coming local acts, presumably before they become too expensive to see in Melbourne. On our way up to Bendigo via the Calder Highway, we cranked on the most recent Hottest 100 compilation, hoping to find one or two GTM acts on the playlist. Instead, we were pleasantly surprised to find one GTM after another, among them Vance Joy, Kingswood, Thundamentals, Illy, The Kite String Tangle, and the perennially underrated Andy Bull.

Bull’s set inside the Moulin Rogue tent was our first stop for the afternoon, and set the tone for the rest of the day. The pianist-singer defies gender stereotypes with his unmatchable vocal range, hitting notes no man has ever reached before. How Bull does so remains a mystery, but most in the crowd were too busy appreciating his instantly catchy hits to worry about the mechanics of his vocal chords. Late in his set, Bull promised his long-coming debut album would be out soon. One suspects this may be the only thing standing between him and mainstream popularity.

Loon Lake took over that stage an hour later, providing an unlikely highlight. Boasting a Bendigo connection, lead singer Sam Nolan and his band were ecstatic about performing in front of their local parish. Those in the moshpit looked to be having even more fun, beating lime-coloured beach balls above their heads, and ramming one another in a circle of death. Aside from a few blood noses, this was all fun and games. Moreover, it was a fitting visual accompaniment to Loon Lake’s fast-paced and guitar-heavy set—which included energetic covers of Taylor Swift’s ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’ and The Darkness’ ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love’.

Rather than persisting with the next act, Parkway Drive, my crew and I opted for the polar opposite: Vance Joy. When James Keogh and his accompaniments came to the stage, thousands watched and waited for the one song they knew, which of course was his finale. The Murrumbeena artist opened with some of his second-tier tracks, permitting the ‘real fans’ to boast that “I know this one—and it’s better than Riptide. In between his two bookends, the restrained Vance Joy produced some of the least noteworthy banter you’ll ever hear at a concert, while ambling through his limited catalogue of originals and a lacklustre cover of Master Apprentices TV-ad classic ‘Because I Love You’. The crowd was having none of it, drowning the singer out with murmurs of impatience and festival shenanigans, until he finally concluded with his piece de resistance. There’s no doubt that Vance Joy is one Australian act to watch in the future, but music goers may be advised to wait a few more years before seeing him live.

As the night sky started fading, the quality of acts increased, as did the smell of weed in the air. In fairness, the GTM organisers adopted a laissez faire approach to patrons, one that is sure to encourage them to make the festival a yearly ritual. Aside from stringently checking bags at the gates, the presence of security inside the showgrounds was minimal. Whether or not that was intentional is unclear, but it fostered a pleasant experience for the crowd, most of whom were well behaved. More than that, the crowd defied youthful stereotypes, dressing sensibly and warmly. I must admit I breathed a sigh of relief when I realised I wasn’t the only male patron to pack a beanie and oversized coat.

These pieces of clothing proved their worth at 4pm in the afternoon, when the weather turned chilly and the big names hit the stage. Architecture in Helsinki did their best to divert the crowd’s attention away from the cool breeze with loud blue and yellow outfits, synchronised dance moves, a brass section, and at least four synthetisers. While some of Architecture’s studio recordings can be a little unorthodox, their live interpretations made the songs instantly accessible. Their hook-heavy B-52’s-esque pop-dance numbers made it easy for unacquainted passers-by to find themselves singing and dancing along to a previously unfamiliar melody.

The next act Karnivool couldn’t have been a greater contrast. With the darkness settling in, and the rain finally breaking through, their set had an apocalyptic feel to it. Lead singer Ian Kenny, protected from the deluge by the stage roof and lauded by stage lights, may as well have been a deity. Beneath him, long-haired men wrestled with one another to get within arms reach of the versatile Australian frontman. Judging by the expressions on those fortunate enough to make physical contact with Kenny, it looked like a deeply spiritual experience, as though they were touching the cloak of Jesus himself.

Within minutes of Karnivool’s conclusion, The Naked and Famous were up on the Channel [V]/Triple J double-stage, an innovative design feature that allowed the festival to run smoothly without any filler time. The sound desk didn’t do the group any favours, ramping up the bass and drowning out Alisa Xayalith’s cute New Zealand accent. Otherwise, the five-piece gave a solid performance, even if their synth-rock songs still all sound the same.

They were followed by The Jezabels, whose string of inoffensive, calm rock grooves are fast making them a staple in the Australian music diet. As opposed to The Naked and Famous, who rely so much on their instrumentalists to build up to epic choruses, The Jezabels are all about their front woman Hayley Mary. Similar to Kenny an hour before her, Mary owned the stage, looking oh-so-cool with her tight black dress, fringe, and uninhibited dance moves.

Having already seen what we came here to see, my friends and I detached ourselves from the crowd. But for many punters, the party was only just getting started. My friends asked me how and when Dizzee Rascal became such a big deal, and I couldn’t give them an answer. But judging by the size of the moshpit and the stage presence of Dizzee and his cronies, I could see his appeal. Whenever Dizzee commanded his congregants to bounce, they bounced. And when he launched into ‘Bonkers’, the mammoth crowd echoed his every word. Myself included.

We left soon afterwards, having made a group decision that both The Presets and Disclosure were overrated. But realising we had just broken the golden rule of festivals—don’t leave before the headliner acts—we made sure to address our sins. Before our night ended, we jumped back in the car, cranked the Triple J CD back into the drive, and skipped to track five: ‘Disclosure – When A Fire Starts to Burn’. In doing so, we saved ourselves another two hours of waiting. Besides, it was a lot warmer in here anyway.

Groovin The Moo is Australia’s only regional musical festival. Over three weeks, the festival took place in five regional Australian towns including Bendigo.

Triple J’s Hottest 100 Volume 21 is available in all good CD stores.