About 18 thousand bright young things got undressed on Saturday morning, filled their tanks with sugar and carbonation, shelved a few goofballs and made their way into a non-descript Wickham Park for This That.
It’s a music festival centred mostly around beats. Building beats. Dropping beats. Growing beats. Matching beats. Beats of every size and shape and colour, painted in glitter and catching the rays of the sun.
Most of these bright young things were merely a twinkle in their father’s eye in the year 2000 when Portland psych-pop band The Dandy Warhols released a single called Bohemian Like You.
With tongue-in-cheek earnestness, the global radio hit documented not just the hipster culture of which the Dandys were inextricably emblematic, but of a time in one’s life when cares were centred on cheap cars, break-ups and part-time jobs. Bohemian Like You imbues a forgotten innocence and a distant adolescence.
The mundane slings and arrows depicted within may ring true today, but it’s hard to imagine those lyrics written in 2019. They seem so anachronistic despite their relatability. The concerns of the youth now lie elsewhere, in tension between the composition of Instagram posts and impending climate catastrophe.
The Dandy Warhols are the lone international band on the second instalment of Scene & Heard, sharing a bill with a classy and enduring bunch of acts – Wolfmother, Eskimo Joe, Magic Dirt, Jebediah, Even, Alex Lloyd and Sneaky Sound System.
This is the same festival site as This That, but it’s unfolding the following day, on a Sunday, economically sharing This That’s infrastructure. Though the crowd appears only a third the size.
The elephant in the event is that Scene and Heard is a nostalgia-fest for “Xennials”, that sliver of the population that are neither Gen X or Millennials, born into an analogue childhood and living into digital adulthood. Birthdates are between the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.
And it’s hard to ignore this feeling. When Jebediah dutifully deliver crowd-pleasers like Leaving Home, Harpoon and Teflon, we’re revisiting Slightly Odway, a record that’s 22 years old. A record that, were it a human, would probably have a This That ticket: tits out, on a bloke’s shoulders, screaming at Peking Duk.
And all power to it.
The calibre and musicianship of Scene & Heard’s line-up is fine. World-class, in fact.
But the line-up is also a mirror, and in this mirror one might feel the reflection of their own mortality. One might bracingly observe the marks of each slow repeated slap from the backhands of time, thwacking softly and largely unnoticed.
The music of this era has aged well. Eskimo Joe’s anthemic closer From the Sea is as arresting as it was upon its release in 2004, when it was voted to #3 in the Triple J Hottest 100. The spot claimed by Travis Scott’s Sicko Mode earlier this year.
Alex Lloyd, with full band, revisits his seminal 1999 debut Black the Sun, performing most of that album before progressing to his more ubiquitous hits Green and Amazing.
It is a stark reminder of how strong that record is, crunchy and atmospheric, at times feeling like a palatable, folky take on Nine Inch Nails’ aggressive and fetishistic industrial rock.
Magic Dirt have made a triumphant return to the live arena. Singer and guitarist Adalita is as compelling a performer as ever, one of those humans that you can’t imagine in any other context than full-blooded rock splendour.
Passing her in the “real world”, like the produce section of your local supermarket, without her axe in hand, would likely be a reality shattering, brain-melting experience. Like seeing Chrissie Hynde in a hardware store.
Pace It is the set’s highlight, a blistering and dizzying rock song.
And yet the elephant remains. Something feels different, irrevocably changed. When seeing these bands over 15 years ago at Sydney’s Homebake festival, when these songs were on Triple J high rotation, a part of our daily lives, they felt so very vital. They meant something extraordinary. These bands whipped Homebake’s audience into sweat-soaked frenzies.
Now, these former Homebake punters reunite and buy tickets for Scene & Heard and they watch and smile, mid-strength tinnie in hand, tapping their feet, reminiscing. They’re not crowded at the foot of the stage, crushing into each other to maintain proximity to the rock gods before them. They’re sitting on picnic blankets and in deckchairs, chilling. They’re relaxing.
And, one might wonder, how does this more considered response affect the energy of those on stage?
It was a big deal when The Dandy Warhols headlined Falls Festival in 2005. This reviewer was there, in Lorne, with my old friend Molly, amongst a sea of people equally enraptured by the four-piece’s rolling, narcotic dreamscapes. A shifting ocean of reverence bathed in shimmering psychedelic grandeur.
It’s hard to spot that reverence at Scene and Heard. The Dandy Warhols are immediately hampered by technical difficulties.
They lose power in sections of the foldback and front-of-house having barely played a note. The sound crew does their job and The Dandy Warhols finally get the show on track with Styggo and a series of their biggest hits – Get Off, Godless, Plan A, We Used To Be Friends and the aforementioned Bohemian Like You.
But the sound issues have eaten into their set-time and, sadly, it feels like the quartet is only just warming up when they get to a sizzling version of Every Day Should Be a Holiday and Boys Better. Then their time is up.
Wolfmother, led by the wailing vocals, voluminous hair and unrelenting riffage of Andrew Stockdale, appear and quickly rip into Victorious. Stockdale is quick to address the elephant.
“People say this is a nostalgia festival… fuck that shit.”
And it’s easy to understand why he’d reject this notion. Wolfmother continue to release new music (as do The Dandy Warhols, who put out a new record this year). New Wolfmother even features in the set. Chase the Feeling is a fresh tune, released as a duet with Jet’s Chris Cester.
Its riff is an absolute doozy, though the towering spectre of Tony Iommi casts its shadow across it, just as it has loomed over the majority of Wolfmother’s output.
But Stockdale has amassed a shed-full of industrial-strength sledgehammers, and they’re in full force at Scene & Heard. Woman, Apple Tree, Dimension, White Unicorn, Colossal.
Through clouds of smoke, Stockdale stalks the stage and assaults his guitar. The closer, Joker & The Thief, electrifies the crowd with a level of enthusiasm that’s rarely been seen or heard throughout the day.
If the festival wasn’t set amongst a residential area, the volume might have been louder, really hitting you in the chest and damaging your ears in the manner all great rock music should. But, like the rest of the day’s music, it’s fractionally too quiet.
Scene & Heard delivers the best line-up of bands of any festival held in Newcastle this year. But perhaps it’s also a reminder that our relationship with music changes, as does its role in our lives, and that time reshapes or replaces its importance with wistful fondness.
This fact is not necessarily good or bad. It might just be the way things are. But, still, it’s nice to revisit a corner of our lives and to pay respect to what a certain time meant.
The alternative is far worse.
Find out more about author Nick Milligan.