Early on Friday evening, Monster Monster started the festivities with a set of his usual indie-rock inflected hip-hop. Joined by frequent collaborator Saint Surly, the two traded brief snippets of music back and forth throughout their half-hour set. It's an act that they've been performing for about 6months now, but this Fiesta slot was certainly the most natural they've made it sound. Previously they've had some difficulty pulling off the transitions between each act's turn in the spotlight, making their sets somewhat erratic at times (though the actual pieces of music they've played individually are usually pretty great). They must have been working hard on the flow of their set, as the changes generally seemed very natural on this particular evening. At times it was actually difficult to figure out which of the two artists was providing the basis of the track and which one was providing accents. This was probably furthered by the fact that neither act played many of their recognisable songs, which would indicate that the set contained mostly new material (perhaps from their upcoming collaborative record).
Lion Island have been building up a bit of a buzz over the past few months. Having recently released their debut EP, Berlin, the band have been expanding their sound from its somewhat Beirut aping beginnings. Many of the newer songs in their repertoire add an almost post-punk rhythmic quality to their gypsy folk, without turning the band into yet another Arcade Fire wannabe (so far). Some of their earlier songs hinted at this mixing of influences, most notably the EP's title track with its delayed electric guitar and soaring arrangement. Now the band is taking these ideas further, with more varied instrumentation and more complex arrangements. While you can still hear the band searching for their core sound, they seem to be getting closer with each show.
Having recently gone through some fairly significant personnel changes, Mr Maps returned on Saturday from a few months' worth of downtime with a slightly different slant on their kaleidoscopic version of post-rock. Gone are unpredictable drummer Sangdae Yang and guitar effects guru Nick Smethurst, respectively replaced by Jacob Hicks (otherwise known as the frontman for Re:Enactment) and Shem Allen (of Skinny Jean, although his was apparently a one-off appearance, with Smethurst's full time replacement being cellist Briony Luttrell). The end result is a leaner, rockier sound - at least for this show, things might change again once the cello is introduced. Most significantly, Hicks is a more traditional and harder hitting drummer than Yang, although he shares the previous drummer's frenetic style. The band are every bit as entertaining as they used to be, and have thankfully used the downtime and lineup changes to introduce some new material into their set.
DZ earned a place on the Fiesta bill via TripleJ Unearthed (along with Drawn From Bees whom I missed because... well, I'm not really much of a fan). Having last played in Brisbane at the launch of their Ruined My Life EP last month, at Fiesta the two young men were in substantially more cohesive form (thanks to a 3pm start time at an alcohol free event). While they were still probably the most ragged band to grace any of the three Valley stages over the weekend they have their own form of tightness, careening along with their groove-punk riffs, threatening to fall apart but instead crashing back together when the big moments come. And boy, do those big moments come. Every single song has at least one point when that immense riff enters and the drums start pounding even harder than before. They're an incredibly entertaining live band, but the songs are catchy enough to remain in your head after the live spectacle has been forgotten.
Having recently released their debut full length Set Your Bones, Butcher Birds took to the SAE stage around the middle of Saturday's festivities. They started their set with the same one-two combo that opens their album, displaying their muscular 'sludge-pop'. I haven't seen the band very often since their new drummer, Donovan, joined their ranks, but it's clear that he gives the band an extra degree of punch. His brief cameo on lead vocals halfway through the set also helped to break up the rest of the sludgier material, providing a welcome blast of punk rock. The rest of Butcher Birds' slot was filled with their usual slow-burning riff rock, with Stacey Coleman's gruff, smokey vocals meandering around the edges. Most of the time their music isn't especially melodic or hooky, being mostly reliant on the physicality of raw volume and the sluggish mood that it all creates. As such, late-afternoon on a bitumen street probably isn't the most conducive of settings for the band to be performing. Still, they put on their standard solid performance.
Although they've been around for a decent amount of time I'd never actually seen White Mansions before, despite the fact that I'd heard a lot of positive things about the band. I figured I should remedy this, and so I made sure I was in attendance for at least part of their Fiesta set. I'm glad I did, as they're a good band - classic sounding songs that remind one of 70s AM radio, but played through distorted garage rock and with a vocalist (Dave Ross, ex-kt26ers) who splits the difference between John Darnielle's stand-and-deliver approach and Dave Grohl's recent full throated bellow. A friend of mine mentioned The Replacements as a possible reference point, and such a comparison makes as much sense as any other.
Disco Nap is the new vehicle for ex-Iron On co-frontman Ross Hope, and much like Kate Cooper's An Horse (and very much unlike Ian Roger's No Anchor) his new music sounds a lot like his old music, with a couple of minor tweaks. Where Cooper paired things back for her new project, Hope has gone in the opposite direction, adding a handful of new textures to his fairly comfortable indie-rock. I must admit that for the first few songs I wasn't really into Disco Nap, it felt like a less successful rehash of Iron On that kept many of that band's more annoying aspects but without the quality of songs. As the set went on this feeling gradually eased and I began to enjoy the music, though it's certainly true that Hope is yet to write anything for his new project that is as good as 'Playing Hard To Want' or 'Fifty-Four Equals Two Hundred' (though there were some songs that showed some promise). It's only early days for Disco Nap so we'll see how it all develops.
Returning that morning from a show in Sydney, Little Scout launched their new EP Different From A Distance as the sun set on the valley. It was an enviable time to be performing, with the low ambient light mixing with the colourful stage lighting to wondrous effect (although the possibility of rain threatened to cut things short at any moment). It suited the recent developments in the band's sound, with their old pseudo-folk pop gradually giving way to a slicker indie rock sound, positing them as the middle ground between twee-indie bands ala Belle & Sebastian and the stadium sized atmospherics of U2 (or, if you were inclined to be less kind, Snow Patrol). They played a largely laid back set that drew equally from both of their EPs, finishing with their JJJ hit (and still best song) 'Dead Loss'.
There's very little to say about SixFtHick that hasn't already been said. The twin vocal attack of the Corbett brothers generally makes a strong initial impression, but it's the music behind them that holds your attention. The label they've given themselves, 'cane punk', is as apt a description as any, appropriately conjuring thoughts of Queensland's deep north. The music has a rough, brutish post-punk edge, calling to mind bands like The Birthday Party and The Jesus Lizard. The Corbett's don't have that same tortured howl of those bands' Nick Cave and David Yow, but they certainly attempt to create the same level of on stage intensity of the aforementioned frontmen (or at least as close as they can get at an outdoor, family event).
As the night closed on the outdoor stages, inside The Troubadour newly formed folk group Epithets provided a bit of a comedown for those present. Rising out of frontman Nick Smethurst's solo act Let's Not (But Say We Did), the new band presents the singer's songs in a more fully fleshed form. The added strength of the band suits Smethurst's music, as the restrictions placed on him by having to interact with three other musicians seem to give him direction and confidence. No longer are songs interrupted by apologies, while both the guitarwork and singing are stronger. The intricately finger-picked folk is given more weight and a clearer structure by the addition of bass guitar, Simon Reynolds' drumming finds the perfect blend of complexity and understatedness, and the violin fills in any remaining sonic gaps.
Playing under the Sunday midday sun (and wind), Carry Nation perform their threadbare folk to a small crowd who are mostly standing in the shade provided on the sidewalks. Starting out as the solo project of Jessie Warren, they've gone through a couple of incarnations before arriving at their current point of a second guitarist and two doo-wop style female backing singers. It's about as minimalist a sound as you can get from four musicians, leaving the songs as the central focus. Jessie's songs are memorable enough to be able to withstand this spotlight, with her voice coming across as a blend of the breathy Holly Throsby and the 'quirky' sultriness of Beth Gibbons.
Texas Tea are probably Brisbane's most recognisable country act and genuine local favourites, and so returned to a similar slot as the one they played at last year's Fiesta. They mostly stuck to their more upbeat numbers, such as 'Billy' and single 'Macy & Me', ignoring more introspective tracks like 'The Daredevil's Lament' and 'Cane Farmer's Song'. Generally I prefer their darker songs so I was slightly disappointed, but I can understand why they chose to do such a set when large portions of the audience would have been unfamiliar with their music. Still, a few more downbeat songs might have helped to provide a little bit more variety to their performance, which was a little bit monotone. Despite that, their songs are always strong and Kate Jacobson's voice is always a joy to listen to.
Dot.AY was certainly one of the more 'out there' acts performing at Fiesta this year, with his Gameboy created chiptune music. I was looking forward to hearing Alex Yabsley's 8-bit beats blasting through a sizable PA, and for the first half of the set this is what the crowd was treated to. It was effective and the gathering crowd seemed to be enjoying it, with a healthy amount of dancing occurring in front of stage. Unfortunately in the second half of the set things started to fall apart, with the penultimate song featuring vocals that were mixed at about double the level of the backing track, robbing the song of its energy. This was followed by a long break caused by both of Yabsley's Gameboys crashing when trying to load the sequence for the final song. By this stage a good percentage of the crowd had lost interest, resulting in a frustratingly lopsided set from one of Brisbane's more interesting musicians.
Playing the final slot of the Fiesta, Brisbane's garage soul supergroup The Horrortones brought an appropriately fun filled close to the weekend. By this stage I was almost dead on my feet, and I was likely not the only one. Something special was needed to get the crowd's attention at the end of Sunday evening, and The Horrortones did as good a job as any at providing it. With a set consisting solely of covers, the band ploughed through the songs with infectious enthusiasm. At that point of the weekend their music was the perfect blend of familiarity and celebratory energy.
Thanks must go to the organiser's of this year's Valley Fiesta. It was without a doubt one the most enjoyable event of its type that I've attended. With any luck they'll be able to reproduce it next year.