This past weekend, as the January sun bathed Melbourne in a warm glow, Sugar Mountain Festival took place at The Victorian Collage of the Arts for its sixth year. Boasting a line up that was hugely diverse in terms of gender, ethnicity and genre, Sugar Mountain drew an equally diverse crowd of punters out, who seemed overjoyed by the various happenings of the day. Sugar Mountain is one of the most unique festivals that Australia has to offer which is no accident, as we recently discovered in our interview with one of the festival’s founders. The organisers of Sugar Mountain aim to create an environment that is immersive, medium-blending, and attention grabbing. In festival director Pete Keen’s own words; “Sugar Mountain was designed to reflect the various creative circles of Melbourne, while also involving international artists and musicians that complimented those communities. We’re always trying to find the meeting point between music and art, and ideally explore that in various different ways. Year to year we try to expand on our delivery, and establish different ways of working with the environment, and working with the flow of the festival -goer.”
*Image credit Greg Holland
As soon as one entered the festival through the main gate on Dodds Street, they were transported into another world. The enormous artworks displayed around the festival-ground were bright, colourful expressions of individuality which shone like beacons. Each of the four stages had a unique atmosphere, completely different from one another. The V Movement stage was an intimate affair, featuring a line-up of dance and rap music which ignited the small crowds gathered there. Although Young Tapz played a set that was made up mostly of covers, he had the audience in a frenzy, eager for more. The ever exceptional HABITS demonstrated once again why they are one of the most important groups in Melbourne right now, and a Spank Rock DJ set provided one of the sweatiest dance floor experiences of the day, and arguably one of the most fun.
Inside The Theatre, the vibe was entirely new. A dark space which was uninhibited by the light pollution from the outside world allowed for a fully immersive concert experience. Hypnotised crowds sat in the theatre style seating, or stood absently at the front of the stage, completely mesmerised. Performances in this space by pop genius Sui Zhen, synthesiser wizard Kaitlyn Aurelia-Smith, and the phenomenal Rolling Blackouts were perfectly suited to this room, which had an archaic atmosphere. Perhaps it was simply a result of sitting in a theatre environment, but every audience member was entirely respectful of the performing artists, which allowed the space to be one of the best areas for reprise in the whole festival.The Boiler Room can only be described in one word – electrifying. Walking up the steps and across the precipice of The Boiler Room was like becoming one with a few hundred other people in a unity of movement. Packed like sardines in the sun, the assembled audience became the recipients of one of the best parties the world has to offer. The impeccably curated line-up offered by The Boiler Room organisers including Melbourne favourites Daydreams and CC:DISCO consistently ignited the passions of the gathered patrons, and the cameras set up to document the event were lapped up by many attendees who were keen for their friends at home to see their faces on the live stream. Although this was perhaps the busiest stage in terms of attendance at any one given time, there was an air of respect for one another that floated between the audience, and this meant that what could have been an overwhelming experience was very pleasant.The main stage, stationed between two of the primary buildings of VCA, was where a lot of the action went down. The dreamy outfit Methyl Ethyl played through tracks from their debut album to a delighted and ensnared crowd, who hung on their every word. Having just announced their second record, the sky is the limit for this Melbourne group, and their sheer stage presence in conjunction with the quality of their performance validates why they are fast becoming one of the country’s favourite musical acts. Hip-hop and grime artist Lil Simz dominated her set, thundering through an impressive amount of her work in a short time, and appearing genuinely thrilled to grace the stage to ecstatic fans on such a gorgeous evening. A DJ set from Pantha Du Prince was one of the most anticipated of the day, though as he had to follow the musical skill and prowess of Big Scary, his performance behind the decks fell somewhat flat. Following Pantha Du Prince on the main stage was the event that had people split down the middle. There were those who were disappointed and even angry at the departure of Blood Orange from the line-up, and the subsequent replacement by The Avalanches. But there were others who were over the moon about the addition – after all, The Avalanches are one of the most important musical acts of this century, and their stamp on modern music cannot be understated. Though their new record Wildflower fell somewhat flat to a modern audience, their influence and importance cannot be denied.Although each and every person in the crowd seemed to be delighted to revel in their set, full of their classics and new singles, there was a sense of confusion in the air. A large number of performers graced the stage, including a drummer, a bassist and a guitarist, and although these additions added a lot to the impact of their sound, one would expect a set from The Avalanches to be the demonstration of extraordinary DJ skills that their sound has always been based on. Unless you were right at the front of stage, you would not have been able to pick who was a member of The Avalanches, and who a guest. That being said, there was nothing more incredible than hearing tracks like ‘Since I Left You’ and ‘Frontier Psychiatry’ in a live setting, and the thrill was not lost on any of the punters present.
*Image credit Greg Holland
Overall, Sugar Mountain was a rousing success. Although the line-up was not as impressive as years before, and some of those in attendance seemed confused as to where they should be, many opting to sit in one spot for extended periods of time, the overall atmosphere was all consuming. Experiences like the laser room, which was literally a room of lasers which you could pluck like guitar strings to make different musical tones are unparalleled by other festivals. The enormous spray painted feature wall of The Boiler Room was an incredible feat of artistry, as were the many other installations present. As far as festivals go, few can claim to offer the level of content and line-up diversity that Sugar Mountain offers, and this is why they will continue to be one of the most important events on the Australian musical calendar for years to come.