[REVIEW] Sounds of the Suburbs // Sutherland // 03/09/17

At a time where more than a few festivals simply aren’t registering with the fact that women are people and are entirely capable of playing music themselves, it’s a truly refreshing thing to spend the first couple of hours at the fifth annual Sound of the Suburbs festival watching some impressive female-oriented acts back to back. Jess Locke, the newest signee to Pool House Records, eases early arrivals in gently; her breezy style of indie rock actively working against the brutal midday sun sizzling on the bitumen. TOTTY, by means of contrast, are living for an endless summer. Their mane-bopping garage pop is infectious, instantly accessible and thoroughly enjoyable.

This stylistic clash – a further reflection on the inherent diversity present in the current batch of homegrown music – continues on between Sloan Peterson and WAAX. The former is the erstwhile figurehead of Black Zeros, now going for something a little more retro-tinged but still with the same element of sugar-rush energy. It’s not entirely there yet, but it’s coming together nicely as she attempts to further establish a singular identity. The latter, meanwhile, come in hot with a ferocity heretofore unseen. Vocalist Marie DeVita does not stop moving across the band’s entire set, rallying punters at every opportunity and putting in the hard yards to get them moving to their slick, radio-ready pop-rock that happily flaunts its proverbial sting in the tail. With big-name support slots coming up with both Dune Rats and Fall Out Boy, one can safely assume WAAX won’t be spending too much time longer at the bottom of the bill.

Newcastle’s Fritz is all of 17. If that doesn’t immediately strike pain into your hip replacement, watching them play certainly will. Their collection of sweet, sun-kissed tunes are simultaneously indebted to youthful exuberance and can statistically out-perform songwriters twice their age. Across the way, noisy duo Blistar stomp on pedals and churn out the kind of garage-dwelling rock that can best be described – with a pun openly pardoned – as blistering. Both make way for one of the most hyped young artists around, the Shire’s own Ruby Fields. Having already sold out shows without so much as an EP to her name, Fields is making the most of the momentum attached to their name and delivering on fun half-hour of bouncy, lackadasical indie-pop. Truth be told, the live output easily surpasses that of her limited recordings available – there’s an electricity there, a spark that gets things across the line. With a choice Garbage cover (“Cherry Lips”) sealing the deal, it’s worth going out of your way to see what all the fuss is about.

Jeff Rosenstock is a beloved figure of DIY punk, who receieved the greatest acclaim of his entire career thus far with his third solo LP, WORRY., in 2016. Today marks the first day of tour for Rosenstock and his long-serving backing band, and it’s a triumph – albeit one that takes a bumpy ride toward it. Technical difficulties abound throughout the set, including Rosenstock’s guitar cutting out more than once and drummer Kevin Higuchi having a cymbal topple over. Still, things came together in time for some rousing renditions of favourites like “Festival Song,” “Wave Goodnight to Me” and the grand finale of “You, In Weird Cities,” which featured a trombone cameo from former Bomb the Music Industry! member Matt Keegan. They’re succeeded on the same stage by Bleeding Knees Club, a band who played this very festival in its early days. With a new line-up and new songs, the Club draws one of the biggest and most responsive crowds of the day. Frontman Alex Wall hurls himself into the crowd during “Problem Child,” recreating a famously-photographed moment from the band’s previous set there. Time may be a flat circle, but Bleeding Knees Club are happy just spinning out.

During their set, Wall insists that everyone seeing them should make their way over to the adjacent stage to see deceptively-named Texan trio Harlem in action. He means well, and there’s certainly quite a few in attendance that have wanted to see the garage rockers play after years of inactivity. Nothing, however, can quite prepare those in attendance for how disastrously their set falls apart. While the deficiencies of Rosenstock’s set earlier in the day endeared him and the band to the audience, Harlem’s missed cues and woefully out-of-tune guitars leave one with the sole impression that they simply didn’t care about these shows at all. It falls apart quickly, and quickly ascends to the status of the day’s biggest disappointment.

Almost two years ago to the date, a rag-tag trio of musicians that had never played with one another before uploaded a song onto Bandcamp that was literally recorded off a single microphone. That’s where Camp Cope began, and here they stand today as one of the forefront acts of the Australian emo revival; delivering brutally-honest and resonant songs to an audience that has spent the last 18 months devouring them. Every distinct intro sparks a huge cheer – Kelly-Dawn Helmrich’s unmistakable bass strum in “Done,” Sarah Thompson’s floor-tom thud in “Keep Growing” – and every last lyric out of Georgia Macdonald’s mouth is recited back at a level equal to the PA itself. The sole exception is a new song, premiered on the band’s tour with Against Me! back in May, which is filled to the brim with righteous fury and accentuated musicianship. Whenever album number two comes, we’ll be ready.

Considering many youths in the Shire will walk around in their merch regardless of the occasion, it’s no surprise whatsoever that Skegss provoke such a fervent reaction. While the crowd’s despondence during many performances earlier in the day was both confusing and off-putting, no such issues are found here as those still standing after a solid seven hours straight form a surging mass of bodies. Even those simply taking in the festivities from afar can’t help but smile as the band strum out their big, goofy and beautifully-dumb skate-punk. Thus concludes an exhausting, occasionally trying but ultimately rewarding day in Sutherland; a win for the Shire and an asset to the community at large. Party on, Suburbia.

 – David James Young