Frankly! It’s a Pop Festival

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Frankly! It’s a Pop Festival graced our fine Powerhouse this last Saturday past, bringing with it an enviable lineup of some serious pop bands. In the last year or so my definition of ‘pop music’ has done a complete backflip. So, I can understand if you’ve read this review so far and thought “hells no! A pop festival??” But, Zeders, fear not – this is pop music at its purest, with just plain mother fucker catchy tunes. The lineup was made up of Fabulous Diamonds (Melb), Guy Blackman (Melb), Surf City (NZ), Crayon Fields (Melb), High Places (US) and Xiu Xiu (US). I found it interesting that there seemed to be a pretty decent crowd right up until Xiu Xiu played – perhaps the lure of pretty and colourful fireworks got people’s attention. Lawrence English who curated the festival certainly did a great job at piecing together this fantastic pop festival!

Fabulous Diamonds
One of the things that really struck me about Fabulous Diamonds was there skill in keeping repetition interesting. Sure, there songs are a collection of one drum beat and a keyboard riff that slowly develops over a period of about 7 minutes or so, but for some reason I find it really easy to get into it. I thoroughly enjoyed their set at Frankly on Saturday, much more so than at their LP launch the night before at Burst City. Fabulous Diamonds seemed to balance the right amount of tension and drone quality across their Frankly show and I’m not sure if anyone else could have pulled it off quite as well as they did.

Guy Blackman
I’m still not quite sure how I feel about the Guy Blackman set at Frankly. For a lot of the time his simple pop keyboard melodies, clean vocals and daggy jokes made me feel like I was watching my Dad perform. But maybe that was just his charm? I think I kind of appreciated it in the same sense that you can appreciate a dad-joke, and his set did get more interesting as it went on. By the last two songs, the boys from Crayon Fields had joined Blackman on stage to perform a super up-beat version of “Gayle”, which ended the set on a fantastic note.

Surf City
Surf City really carry on that classic New Zealand pop sound that is reminiscent of bands like The Clean and even Songs (yes, I know they’re from Sydney but three of them are from NZ!). There was a real particular nostalgic pop sensation that flowed through the Surf City set and I really enjoyed it. However, listening to music that makes you feel like dancing, while it’s really the middle of the day and everyone’s sitting down inside a big brick building just didn’t seem to bring the right vibe to their set. There was definitely something missing in the middle, some kind of translation or understanding where even though the Surf City boys performed really well, the crowd just didn’t respond in the way that I think they deserved.

Crayon Fields
There was something extremely wholesome about watching a bunch no particularly attractive guys play 60s inspired pop with a geeky precision! Crayon Fields are now one of my favourite bands, and I think it might be just because I feel like if I took one of them home my dad would be very happy! Their set at Frankly was really great and they injected a fair dose of renewed excitement into the festival air. Not that the previous bands didn’t perform well, but the whole timetable had been pushed forward by about an hour and this made everything feel a little rushed, like the organizers were trying to rip off a band aid as fast as possible. So when Crayon Fields played fantastically, there was a fair amount of excitement that seemed to drive up the vibes a little bit.

High Places
There were a few things about the High Places set that really distracted me from really enjoying their set. There were a fair amount of sound issues before they started playing which pushed back their time by half an hour (and actually bringing the festival back to its original playing times) and there’s always a nervous tension in the air when even the audience can tell that something’s gone wrong. Then when they started playing the mix just seemed a little bit out, like there was some phasing or something happening with the speakers… and then I realized it was all because of a photographer who was leaning his entire body against the right hand speaker to steady his camera and in doing so cutting out most of the higher frequencies and quite radically changing the sound. As a trained engineer/producer, these little things really get to me and I’m sure even those in the audience who don’t know anything about the physics of sound would have heard the extreme change in sound. As I said, I was pretty distracted through the High Places set, and so while their beats came across really brutal and meaty from their drum machine, I felt like for most of the set the entertainment value of watching two people on stage and a drum machine just didn’t hold its worth. It was real shames because their recorded works are fantastic and pack a shitload of punch, but it just didn’t seem to translate live. This, doubled up with my audiophile distractions proved High Places to be a bit of a disappointment.

Xiu Xiu
While in their stage setup, Xiu Xiu weren’t all that too different from High Places in term of two people on stage adorned by drum machines, keyboards, guitars and a few percussion bits and bobs, their live stage presence was surprisingly overwhelming. I felt that they were super intimidating on stage, especially Angela Seo. Maybe because I’ve seen her throw up for the entire 3:56 of the “Chocolate Makes You Happy” filmclip I thought ‘wow, there’s really not much these guys wouldn’t do for their art’. And that completely translated into their set at Frankly. Xiu Xiu had an air about them where they really came across as being completely there for the audience and for their music. I know this sounds cheesy, but they really ‘performed’, and it was thoroughly entertaining, engaging and exciting. Even though the crowd had maybe halved by the time Xiu Xiu graced the stage, I really don’t think it altered anything about their performance and it was really flattering.

Liza Harvey

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2 Responses to “Frankly! It’s a Pop Festival”

  1. Jacob Says:

    I heard from several people that Xiu Xiu were absolutely amazing, good to hear you thought so also.

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