Listen Out descended on Melbourne over the weekend, situated within the lush Royal Botanic Gardens. Although perhaps awkwardly close to the Shrine of Remembrance, it proved to be the perfect location for a sunny Saturday soiree just out of sight from busy St Kilda Road. With a lineup that included up-and-comers like Tkay Maidza playing alongside sudden spectacles like Zhu and well-established favourites like Flume; Listen Out saw lovers of electronic and hip hop music alike come together for a day of deluxe beats.
Adelaide MC Tkay Maidza kicked things off at 2.30PM on the 909 stage. The young rapper emanated a raw nervous energy on stage, admitting that this was her first Melbourne festival performance. The early Listen Out punters were a very forgiving crowd for an inexperienced performer who was still learning the ropes on stage – the crowd seemed to enjoy the warped and distorted rustafaric beat of tracks like ‘Handle My Ego’. Maidza’s current single ‘U-Huh’ helped to invigorate the sparse but attentive crowd. Although at times Maidza let an anxious laugh slip, she simultaneously managed to entice the crowd into stomping along to ‘Brontosauras’ while she was joined on stage by a troupe of dinosaur-onesie-wearing dancers.
Scottish hip hop trio Young Fathers followed Maidza’s opening set, taking to the stage in matching white shirts and black pants — a little like a barber shop triad. The crowd soon learned that there was nothing standard or static about their stage presence through their restless energy. Fan favourite ‘Get Up’ showed off the trio’s erratic dance moves. The three performers, Alloysious Massaquio, Kayus Bankole and ‘G’ Hastings, managed to maintain just the right amount of mystique on stage to captivate punters and cement their place as one of the most intriguing acts on the bill. While it seems that they burst onto the r ‘n’ b scene while no one was looking, if their performance at Listen Out is anything to go by they won’t stay under the radar very long. Closing out their set with a track from their 2013 EP Tape Two, Young Fathers knew exactly how to tone it down with the rhythmic, soulful performance of ‘I Heard’.
While the crowds had seemed a tad sparse earlier in the day, Chet Faker’s late afternoon set certainly drew punters out from wherever they had been hiding In the three-and-a-bit hours since the gates opened. It seemed that the crowd had almost doubled in capacity, which says a lot about Faker’s widespread fanbase. His careful combination of slowed-down beats and soul-grazing lyrics seemed to resonate with those in attendance, providing the perfect late afternoon calm as the sun began to recede.
Well known for his swooning transformation of Blackstreet’s ‘No Diggity’, Faker essentially made the song his very own; this was all the while evident through the crowd’s adoration during his rendition. While many were probably expecting longtime friend and collaborator Flume to join him on stage for the pair’s single ‘Drop The Game’, Faker was instead left to his own devices. But with this said, the crowd weren’t shy of chiming in and singing along. As the sun sunk down the skyline, Faker’s performance drew to a close with a smooth and tender recital of ‘Talk Is Cheap’ taken from this year’s debut album Built On Glass. Faker was definitely one of the few acts on the bill able to get an entire audience to (drunkenly) sing along with him; this track producing the biggest and loudest joint effort from the day.
Faker was perhaps an odd choice to warm-up the crowd for the elusive Zhu, but perhaps Listen Out was merely trying to demonstrate their diversity as far as electronic acts are concerned. Either way, it was clear by the size of the crowd that the fresh producer has garnered himself quite a fanbase, or perhaps just a legion of curious festival-goers. What do we really know about Zhu anyway? He (or she?) materialized at the beginning of this year following a few tracks that trickled onto Soundcloud and has chosen to remain anonymous in a bid to be judged only on their music.
Zhu even went as far as to perform behind a curtain on stage as to uphold his mystery, although it was a feat that seemed to go unnoticed by a lot of the crowd. It seems that the whole ‘hidden-identity’ angle has been played out a little too much in the electronic scene as of late. From masked beats bandits like Daft Punk and The Bloody Beetroots to SBTRKT, anonymity has somehow become the goal of young producers. Whether or not the hidden identity is merely a publicity stunt is another question entirely, but it has certainly drawn attention away from the music — which was supposedly not the intention.
In his world of secrecy behind the safety of the curtain, Zhu dropped the opening beats of his breakthrough tune ‘Faded’ from his only release so far, the NightDay EP. It’s a track that was almost impossible to evade for the first half of 2014, and Zhu’s audience proved total animosity doesn’t have to mean that the whole audience won’t be familiar with every bass shuddering thump of your song. Thrown in among the booty-shaking set were a few of the producer’s popular remixes including Lana Del Rey’s ‘West Coast’, as well as an Outkast mashup titled ‘Moves Like Miss Jackson’; containing samples from ‘So Fresh So Clean’, ‘The Whole World’ and ‘The Way You Move’. The highlight of the set came when the man behind the curtain mixed in one of his newest tracks, the sparkling cover of Chvrche’s ‘Gun’ which only surfaced online around a week before the festival.
Flume seemed like the obvious choice to headline the boutique electronic affair. The Sydney producer’s popularity has shown no sign of decline while his earliest fans seem to have a cult-like grasp on him. While he’s certainly no stranger to the festival circuit, this is the first travelling event that Flume has earned the headline spot on. Unlike Zhu, there is very little mystery about Flume (i.e. Harley Streten).
Opening with one of his older tracks, ‘Sleepless’, Flume provided the perfect opportunity to ease the crowd into a hit-heavy set which featured many tracks from his self-titled 2012 debut album. In the midst of his own tunes like crowd favourite ‘Holdin On’, Flume dropped many of his popular remixes including his reworking of Disclosure’s ‘You & Me’. The highlight of the set, however, came when the producer was joined on stage by singer George Maple, who gave a captivating performance of her single ‘Talk’. Maple’s guest appearance certainly boosted the set and delivered a change of pace to a so-far impersonal set. Connecting with a crowd via a laptop is something that most producers never quite achieve; although Flume comes pretty close.
Accompanied by visuals that resembled some kind of spaceship, as well as a Daft Punk-style helmet, Flume managed to keep the music as the main focus and the crowd in the moment; savouring every euphoric beat. Rounding up a headline-worthy set with ‘On Top’ followed by his remix of Lorde’s ‘Tennis Court’, Flume showed the crowd how he’s earned his position at the forefront of Australian electronic producers.
For an entirely stripped-back, downsized version of a festival, Listen Out has shown why bigger is not always better. With its small stages and convenient layout, everything ran exactly to schedule; paving the way for other festivals to follow suit and trim them selves back. Listen Out was a day filled with subtle highlights and exceptional moments, like Young Fathers fitful dancing or a crowd 7,000 deep attempting to harmonise with Chet Faker.