New Years Eve’s are traditionally unplanned, last minute events, involving clubs or house parties especially in laissez-faire Brisbane. This year was different. An independent music festival at the Powerhouse, brazenly named No Years! had tempted me and many others with its bill: twenty-one bands in total, comprised of fourteen local , five interstate and two international acts at a lovely New Farm location. Could they pull it off or would it be another New Years fizzer?
The party has already been going for four hours by the time we make it to the Powerhouse. Seriously a 2pm start? That’s brutal for what is often the longest night of the year. As soon as tickets are picked up I’m confronted with the choice of two stages. I go down the left rabbit hole and emerge in the surprisingly capricious Powerhouse theatre and am assaulted by the Detroit meets Gold Coast rock city garage of young duo The Bleeding Knees Club. The drummer sings lines as basic as the chords: “I was so proud/I was so high/I was so loud/I could die”. Maybe if I was 20 years old and had never heard of The Stooges, or even say The White Stripes, I’d be more excited but instead I exit before I become a member of the bleeding ears club.
Sydney’s Parades are on the main Turbine Platform which affords patrons three levels and three sides of access. This complexity of viewing makes perfect sense for Parades’ abstract pop music. They remind me of a more vocally harmonic Foals, for both their use of percussion, colourful guitar lines and epic peaks. The sonic waterfall effect of their debut Foreign Objects is largely successful but the mellifluous female vocals which are large part of the attraction of their tribal dream-pop on that record are absent in this four piece incarnation.
I missed Love Connection when they played the Hangar in May and reports then were mixed. Tonight they play their psychedelic, hazy shoegaze well enough but I’m drawn to the spectacle more than the music. Like a low rent Flaming Lips their shtick sticks. The drummer is garbed in a safari hat and Hawaiian shirt, streamers and bubbles are strewn into the crowd, the singer/guitarist wears a wicker basket on head for one song and most ingeniously fires a home made smoke cannon made out of a garbage bin. If they can create music as inventive as their set props they’ll be onto something.
Modular man of the moment Jonathan Boulet released a beautifully crafted DIY dream folk album in 2009. Stepping out from the drum kit with Parades its full rock out with your docs out for the Boulet live experience with six band members and not an acoustic guitar to be seen. The Boulet Band shares some similarities with Parades particularly rhythmically, they have a standing drummer/keyboardist as well as traditional drummer, but some of the subtly of the record is lost. Whether this is Boulet’s, who resembles a young Courtney Taylor-Taylor, new direction or just his usual live experience, time will tell. He closes with the masterstroke single “A Community Service Announcement”, which combines one of the best riffs of the decade with heavenly harmonies and “Here we are we are/Are we on top?” refrain. Yes, for one song at least, you are Jonathan.
I miss Brisbane synth siren Seja and Sydney electronic act Seekae as I take food and liquid refreshment then head back to the main stage for The John Steel Singers. Despite being Brisbane’s next big thing for the last three years or so I’ve willfully avoided the band. With recently released debut album Tangalooma produced by no other than Robert Forster getting plaudits it was well and truly time to acquaint myself with the act. Tonight the multi-instrumental five piece are augmented with Little Scout’s Melissa Tickle which makes for three sets of keyboards, enriching their already expansive sound. “Overpass” and “Evoloution” use brass to create classic rock/pop in the tradition of the Kinks circa Preservation Act 1. Tim Morrissey is the defacto lead singer but vocals are also shared with guitarist Luke McDonald and guitarist/keyboardist/trumpeter Scott Bromiley. There is an astounding amount of multi-skilling in not only The Steel Singers but all of the bands today. Keyboardists play violin and percussion, guitarists swap their six string for keyboards, drummers step out from behind the stool and become front men and everybody, barring the odd bassist or drummer, sings, either in a lead or supporting capacity. Mono-skilled musicians of the world your days are numbered. It’s already a feel good set when they unveil a raucous cover of The Saints’ “Know Your Product” which as Tim points out is a standard for rock bands with a horn section, before the chugging, falsetto chorused single “Rainbow Kraut” sends everybody into histrionics. Mr Steel your singers have done you proud.
It’s a testament to the faith in the talent that the promoters have in local band Oh Ye Denver Birds who have only released a series of singles, the latest being the lushly crafted “Your Sacrifice”, to their name that they’re the penultimate act before the two headliners. The Birds craft dense soundscapes incorporating syncopated percussion, violins, and computer loops set around the vocal harmonies of singer/guitarist Dom Stephens and keyboardist/violinist Kat Gough for a Caribou meets Couteau Twins/Dead Can Dance experience. That is until the last song when a local rapper comes onstage to get down with the “niggarz” in the audience – that would be the predominately middle class, white, Gen Y audience – for an ODB cover. It’s a bizarre event, which we’ll put down to a bit of New Year “let’s fuck this shit up” novelty.
It’s edging closer to “the countdown”, the time you either love or dread on NYE, and I’m torn between the two headliners who will both see in the New Year. In the blue corner we have Shout Out Louds, Stockholm’s indie pop kings, here on their final leg of their Work album tour. In the red corner we have newcomers, psych-electronic Texan’s Neon Indian whose debut album Psychic Chasms has been a late find but consistently on the stereo this week. Inspired by the musicians on stage I plan to do both and start with the Swedes who I last saw in 2007 at The Zoo. Any doubts that they won’t be able to top The John Steel Singers have evaporated by the second song when Adam Olenius climbs onto the thin steel barrier balanced only by an arm from a fan for half the song. It’s not exactly Bono at Suncorp Stadium but it’s gutsy and typifies the passion Adam and his companions put into the set. After four songs, there’s a slight lull with “Paper Moon” and I look at my watch, see it’s ten to twelve, so make double time find to my friends in the red room.
While Neon Indian are surprisingly easy to get into venue-wise, getting into their music proves more difficult. Too far back? Too much expectation for the midnight countdown? No chemicals, hallucinogens or alcohol in my bloodstream? Well yes, probably all of the above. They seem to be doing a good job of recreating the lo-fi electronica meets ’70s soft rock/’80s synth of their record but I’m an indie popster at heart so after the clock strikes midnight, which it does with a distinct lack of fanfare (a few streamers handed out does not make a NYE midnight make), I return to my Swedish sweethearts.
So what makes Shout Out Louds so damn perfect? Well they have beautifully rendered songs of nostalgia in “1999” and “Parents Living Room”. Falling out of love songs “Impossible” (“I don’t want to wake up knowing I don’t have a future” gets to me every time) and falling in love songs such as “Fall Hard”. All of these have choruses to die for. Some have cowbells and rolling toms. Most have great synth or organ lines played by a keyboardist who is aloof or shy and looks like she came straight out of a Bergman movie. I adore, nay, love the Shout Out Louds. Seeing them once every three years isn’t enough. I want to hide in one of their guitar cases and hitch a ride back to Stockholm where we can all live together in a government subsidised apartment, sip red wine to ward ourselves against the cold while listening to them play songs and regal me with stories old and new. After a surprise encore the fantasy ends and as foreshadowed earlier in the set by “Candle Burned Out” the band leave us with a hearty “Gott Nytt År!”.
And a Happy New Year it was too. While milling about outside scrapping over the last hot dogs on offer I realise what a well organised and well behaved festival/NYE it has been. Apart from inevitable bar queues it was remarkable easy to move around the stages, the crowd were respectful, happy and surprisingly lucid. I saw no fights or people passed out and broken bottles were largely avoided. That in itself was a small miracle. As I walked across New Farm park with my friends I was excited by the prospect of another festival next, er I mean, this year, although dismayed that I’ll have to wait another 364 days for it.