Southbound 2016: Like It Never Left

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I’ve always felt that camping festivals would provide the ideal environment for the complete festival experience – there’s something about waking up with a party at your doorstep that just feels right. After years of not actually getting round to giving this idea a crack, Southbound’s stacked 2016 lineup seemed like the perfect place to start.

There was a certain buzz surrounding this year’s festival, with a number of factors combining to leave festival patrons eager to sink their teeth into the 12th episode of Busselton’s famous festy. After the cancellation of Southbound’s last instalment due to surrounding bushfires in January of 2016, this year’s festival could not come soon enough, a thought apparently shared by organisers who moved forward the dates by over a week. On top of this, festival goers were to be offered an extra “Day 0” – a newly introduced half day of performances to serve as a warm up before the 2-day main event.

As soon as the first day of proceedings swung around, I quickly realised this was no warm up, despite the fact only one of the three stages was being utilised. The fast-rising Perth group POW! Negro kicked things off with one of the highest energy sets I’ve seen in quite some time. The group’s unique rap-rock fusion sound was eaten up by the growing crowd, with dynamic barefoot frontman Nelson Mondlane projecting an audacity and vigour which seems to fall somewhere in between Tyler, The Creator and Rage Against The Machine’s Zack de la Rocha. I managed to bump into Nelson later on and had a quick chat about his musical influences, with him citing Tyler, Earl Sweatshirt and Koi Child amongst others.

After spotting her at a servo on the drive down to Busselton, Tash Sultana hit the stage next and was clearly in her element, delivering one stellar vocal performance for the crowd. Performances by Discovery: Daft Punk Tribute, Remi and Cosmo’s Midnight followed before Hermitude closed off the first night. While the stage was set for a trip down memory lane playing some of Daft Punk’s classics, Discovery’s new-age twists on these well-known songs somewhat missed the mark, with many of the remixed drops not resonating with the crowd and the highlights of the set coming purely from the originals being played. That being said, looking on stage to see two DJs rocking those helmets and “Technologic” being played, it’s hard not to enjoy yourself. Hermitude provided the highlight of the day and ended the opening night with a bang, with a set packed with droopy, choppy synths, drops that slap, and even soulful piano breakdowns backdropped by a tent full of soul-claps.

Day 2 began right where the first day left off, and brought with it an influx of people who had arrived for the main two days of the festival. This influx also brought with it a sea of flowy Coachella-esque outfits and enough “Nice Gary” chants to fill the MCG on Boxing Day (largely thanks to the two guys dressed in full cricket whites).

After catching the end of Comedians vs Rappers at the comedy tent, which saw comedians and rappers going head to head freestyling disses at each other, The Smith Street Band were first on the agenda for the day. Not having seen them before, I was soon notified of their cult-like following which was clearly evident by the antics that were seen in the mosh area, which was full of topless bodies crowd surfing. Despite an off key performance of one of their fan favourites “Ducks Fly Together”, which prompted their lead singer to announce that they were searching for a new guitarist, the band delivered a hugely well received show that saw the crowd swell to an enormous size. This crowd then saw female singer/rapper Tkay Maidza perform an impressive live performance, with her crisp rhyming performance of “Switch Lanes” serving as a great takeaway from the set.

Annoyingly, the sheer volume of talent on the lineup inevitably led to a number of clashes, with Koi Child, Tkay Maidza and Just A Gent all overlapping on the second day. However, due to the close proximity between stages, Southbound’s setup mitigates any effect of any clashes enabling patrons to see a little bit of each act relatively easily (gone are the days of the 20 minute mass migration between stages at Future Music). Because of this I was able to catch a good portion of Koi Child before heading over to the Hightide tent – a DJ-oriented stage tucked away behind the bar area – to catch Just A Gent and Odd Mob (e.g. over two hours of throbbing bangers) remixing the likes of Flume, Flosstradamus and more. Over at the Leftys stage L D R U had the whole tent grooving with renditions of “The Tropics” and “Keeping Score”.

After watching electronic extraordinaire ZHU deliver a heavy set including an extended edition of the hit song “Faded” and closing with the song largely responsible for his success, “Working For It”, Sticky Fingers were set to close the proceedings of the night at the main stage. In light of the recent turmoil within the group, stemming from abuse accusations against the lead singer, their Southbound appearance was regarded by many as potentially being the group’s final show. However, after a slow start and with the crowd not fully vibing to the music, I decided to quickly check out what Thundamentals had on offer over at the Leftys stage. To my surprise I walked into an absolutely electric atmosphere, with the MCs casting a spell on the crowd with their rhymes and crowd interaction, with every member of the crowd appearing to know every word off by heart. Closing with performances of The Hilltop Hoods’ “Cosby Sweater” and their own “Something I Said”, they concluded their set by urging the crowd to go over and see their friends Sticky Fingers for “one of their last shows”, essentially confirming rumours of an imminent split.

I took their advice and was immediately grateful, with the final 20 minutes of Sticky Fingers proving to be an incredibly intimate and vulnerable performance from the lead singer, Dylan Frost. With the set finishing with stirring renditions of “Liquorlip Loaded Gun” and “Forget My Name”, before an emotionally conflicting performance of the reflective but optimistic reggae favourite “Australia Street”, the band delivered an incredibly honest performance leaving the mood of the crowd rather sombre, a peculiar atmosphere for the end of a festival.

With the slightly overcast weather of the past two days replacing itself with a fine sunny day, the laidback summer vibe of Southbound was fully amplified on Day 3. You wouldn’t have guessed that the same people had been partying for the third day in a row judging from the antics of the mainstage crowd for The Bennies. The admittedly drug-oriented set began with a performance of their pro-marijuana anthem “Legalise” which saw the lead singer smoking a joint on stage and urging members of the crowd to follow suit, from which it became clear that security at the festival had some room for improvement. In accordance to traditions formed at past Bennies concerts, the show saw countless fans jumping on shoulder sculling beers from shoes, thongs, hats – you name it – in an effort to get their efforts projected onto the on-stage screen to the rupture of the crowd. Containing over three dozen shoeys and a new years countdown 2 days early, the set proved to be the one of the most memorable and fitting Southbound sets – one that doesn’t take itself too seriously and just enjoys the moment.

If HWLS drop a killer set at a festival but no one is there to hear it, did it even really happen? That’s the question I was asking myself after Ta-Ku and Kit Pop’s side project delivered an impressive hip-hop infused set at the Hightide stage, to a crowd of no more than 50. After touring Europe with Flume earlier this year, it was a real shame for such a good performance to fly under the radar of so many, however luckily this didn’t dampen the spirits of the lucky few that showed up as the dancefloor was still buzzing.

Sydney DJ/Producer Kilter then laid down a blissfully summery set which included live saxophone, guitar and percussion – the last of which was continuously imitated by a nearby audience member rather ambitiously. Following this lesson in drumming, San Sisco and The Cat Empire delivered what can only be described as a damn good time over on the main stage. San Sisco is one band that you can consistently guarantee a great time at, with their music always getting the crowd in the best of moods. Southbound 2016 was no different. While I must admit I chose to see The Cat Empire largely to hear their classic “Days Like These”, the entire set held up to the level of this one song, with their reggae-jazz influenced sound keeping the crowd bouncing for the full hour.

After catching a glimpse of Drapht’s highly interactive show which never verged on disappointing the crowd of die-hard fans, headline act and festival-closer Peking Duk took to the main stage. After 3 days of anticipation, the Aussie DJs delivered a set that not only lived up to the hype but eclipsed it. Beginning with their biggest hits “Higher” and “Say My Name”, any punters who thought the duo may have gone too hard too early were quickly proven wrong with the remainder of the set dabbing into a wide concoction of music from hardstyle and tripstep to the Lion King theme and wedding-favourite “Twist & Shout”. It’s no secret that Peking Duk know how to get a crowd up and about and that’s just what they did, rounding out 3 days of good times in spectacular fashion.

Retaining its status at WA’s premier camping festival, Southbound 2016 delivered everything you can imagine from a festival of its kind: a friendly community setting, a relaxed happy-go-lucky atmosphere, enough musical talent to more than fill your appetite, and a layout which combats the festival-ridden issue of clashes. If it wasn’t already on your to-do list, pack your tent and hit the road for next year’s festival. It’s a guaranteed good time.