Listen Out 2019: How rap's collaborative history stole the show
As expected for a lineup including many of hip-hop's brightest flames, Listen Out was overpowered by rap music's dominance.
Header image and all in-article images by Liam Fawell (LHD Visuals). Follow him on Instagram.
Even before Listen Out's 2019 leg kicked off, we knew hip-hop would steal the show. Over the last few years, the festival's gradual acceptance of hip-hop's next generation - placing acts like RÜFÜS DU SOL and Skrillex alongside BROCKHAMPTON and pre-Astroworld Travis Scott - eventually led to a lineup that encapsulates the genre's new wind perfectly, encompassing the many facets the future of rap can take from the commercial (Schoolboy Q) to the experimental (JPEGMafia); while acts like Slowthai and LEIKELI47 occupy lineup positions that once, would often fall to off-kilter house producers or live dance acts.
It's a change represented in many Australian lineups this year, reflective of the genre's worldwide dominance beginning to make landfall in Australia (it's currently the world's most popular genre, taking the title from rock music last year) and our country's increasing local rap talent pool as a result of this; Coda Conduct, Miss Blanks and Triple One perfect fits for a greater lineup also including R&B titan 6LACK, Australian favourite Denzel Curry and viral-star Doja Cat.
"Listen Out’s tried-and-tested festival model only sets to grow into this dominative, hip-hop festival space," we said with its lineup release earlier this year, and while festivals like Rolling Loud and Drip World suffer messy roll-outs and cancellations, Listen Out looks set to strive, with the success of this year's rap talent suggesting that in a few years time, Listen Out may be able to completely transition into Australia's first successful rap festival without the gimmicks - no nostalgia-bait or mass-artist-cancellations needed.
From the opening acts, it became clear that despite being a festival headlined by two titans in dance music - Flume and Diplo - it would be hip-hop to steal the show, despite a rocky beginning marked with Denzel Curry's Melbourne cancellation. Many of the festivals' non-rap highlights came early (JEFFE, for example, introduced herself to Perth in a live setting in her first west-coast performance), but as did many of the festival's hip-hop scene-stealers: LEIKELI47 drawing comparisons to a new-age Missy Elliott, and Miss Blanks being... Miss Blanks - a force in the Australian rap realm that has seen her triumph over Laneway Festival (among others) in the past.
From here, rap's dominance over Listen Out Festival only became clearer. On the 909 stage, the hat-trick of forward-thinking rappers of the future - JPEGMafia, Slowthai and Doja Cat - proved unstoppable, the first of these three standing out with one of rap music's most engrossing shows, demonic screams and pit-jumps all-in. Elsewhere, on the mainstage, you'd find exactly the same; a Wafia appearance the stand-alone act wedged in between Triple One's unstoppable west-coast return and Denzel Curry, who re-established his status as one of rap music's best live performers with an entire new album under his belt.
Later on, while acts including Set Mo and Cosmo's Midnight attempted to shift Listen Out from a rap-centric festival to something a touch dance-ier at night, rap's increasing power amongst the festival only felt more established. Schoolboy Q and 6LACK held down the genre-fort on the mainstage showcasing two very different brands of the genre and the sounds it encompasses, while the highlights of Diplo and Flume at the festival's tail-end came when they embraced their rap music sides; Diplo pivoting his set from house and big-room early on to classic rap favourites by its middle, and Flume enlisting Reo Cragun for a live performance of his latest work.
In saying that, however, the time when rap music's status at Listen Out stood out the most, was the time its flagbearers did something you often won't find within dance, pop or indie music festivals: cross-set appearances. It comes down to this idea of festivals creating 'experiences' rather than straight-forward sets, a reason why Coachella, for example - known for its often-unlikely on-stage pairings and guest appearances by everyone from Kanye West to Tupac holograms - is such an in-demand, internationally-recognised festival while others of a similar size aren't lumped into the same status.
At one point, amongst the chaotic energy of JPEGMafia's Australian debut, Denzel Curry jumped on stage to perform their collaboration, VENGEANCE. Then, during Slowthai an hour later, Curry makes another appearance - the strength of their surprise collaboration Psycho increased ten-fold in a live setting. Returning the favour later on, Slowthai's appearance during Denzel Curry's set sees the festival's second performance of Psycho, while his infamous cover of Rage Against The Machine's Bulls On Parade triples in viciousness when it's performed alongside Slowthai and JPEGMafia.
This musical pollination is something Australian festivals could - and should - tap into more, just look at the success of Matt Corby's star-filled set at Splendour In The Grass, or Client Liaison bringing out Tina Arena - for some reason - at the same festival. Even within the festival and its hip-hop domination, the sets featuring this friendship-built collaboration stood out; Schoolboy Q, for example, feeling left out from the appearances and the chaotic energy that comes with it. It's something common at festivals known for its hip-hop embrace - Rolling Loud USA, for example - and with Listen Out continuing to flourish in this space, expect to see more of it.
Listen Out 2019, in photos:
Follow Listen Out Festival: FACEBOOK