BIGSOUND 2018: The Best Sets of Brisbane's Big Week
From the big names of Paul Kelly, No Mono and Kwame to some of Australia's most exciting young-guns, this year's BIGSOUND was full of highlights.
All photos by Tay Kaka.
There’s a couple of phrases said almost every minute within the BIGSOUND Festival and Conference grounds. “Nice to meet you” and “what’s your email?” are definitely two of the most common, but neither more-so than “fuck, I wish I could cut myself in quarters to see more acts.”
Stripping back BIGSOUND’s 100+ strong list of talent into that handful you can physically catch each night is a daunting task, especially when many of them are being billed as the next generation of Australian music’s front-runners within their respective genres. Finding the ‘next big things’ is what BIGSOUND does best after all, with many of the festival’s alumni – Flume, Courtney Barnett and RÜFÜS DU SOL among them – now being some of our biggest artists both nationally and internationally.
In 2018, head festival programmer Maggie Collins – who in 2019 will be joined by triple j’s Tim Shiel and twntythree’s Melody Forghani in the newly-announced programming team – put together a line-up that is the embodiment of the future, no matter what the genre. Acts like G Flip and East Brunswick Girls Choir are already breaking out internationally, while artists such as No Mono, Kota Banks, Eilish Gilligan, Kwame and Loose Tooth have filled up ‘acts to watch’ lists for months. As expected, many of these high-profile acts exceeded expectations. For example, Kwame’s bouncy and energetic live show was quickly one of the favourites, while G Flip’s highly anticipated set was more densely packed than the showcases offering free booze. That said, some of this year’s most heavily discussed performances were acts that received little coverage pre-festival – Hachiku, Moaning Lisa and Kaiit shining in particular, despite playing shows that may have been more sparsely packed than the festival’s front-runners.
Naturally, however, there's always that handful of acts that shine particularly strong and this year, in my eyes anyway, they were a diverse bunch. On the electronic side of things, Snakadaktal side-project Two People proved to be worth their weight, while Kota Banks, HANDSOME and RAAVE TAPES had some of the liveliest sets of the week. Likewise, this year's BIGSOUND event proved that Australian pop is in its own lane - with Eilish Gilligan, Erthlings and again, Kota Banks shining brightly in their respective sets. After a particularly electronic-heavy emphasis in 2017, this year's more guitar-saturated billing gave us a bunch of brilliant names - Cry Club, Moaning Lisa and Milk! Records' East Brunswick All Girls Choir and Hachiku among them. Oh, and Paul Kelly crammed as many humans into The Zoo as possible for a surprise (although heavily rumoured) set on the Wednesday night.
Dive into the full list of our BIGSOUND 2018 picks below - this bunch are 100% going to be the future, whether you like it or not.
When diving into BIGSOUND's 2018 stand-outs, it's hard to look past Two People. Made up of Melbourne's Phoebe Lou and Joseph Clough, who you may remember from the now-defunct cult Australian favourites Snakadaktal, the duo were one of the heavily discussed highlights of this year's event, previewing new material from their forthcoming debut album in between old gems and their recently released pair of singles, I'm Tied To You and Something To Talk About. Performing alongside a guest drummer, Two People's set was one that let the music talk. There were little invitations of crowd interaction, just their soft and percussion-driven electronica that reminded us why they're an act everyone is going crazy about in 2018.
Although one of the smaller acts from this year's highlights, Cry Club didn't come to mess around. Despite having only one major single under their belt, the aggressive and catchy Walk Away, Cry Club proved their place on this year's billing with a lively and energetic set that really pulled all the punches. In their live show, the Wollongong post-punk duo - made up of vocalist Heather Riley and guitarist Jonathon Tooke - channel the aggression and energy of their recorded work but emphasise it ten-fold, showcasing their strengths in the live format with a blazing set of unreleased highlights (and Walk Away, of course) that definitely ripped the lid off Netherworld on its opening night.
If you're yet to catch Eilish Gilligan live, do it. With a run of brilliant singles topped off with this year's irresistibly catchy S.M.F.Y. and Patterns placing her as one of Australia's leading newcomers, the Melbourne musician's live show takes the drama of her recorded work and puts it in the forefront, whether it's the slight, Lorde-esque nuances in her vocals or the way she moves and acts out lyrics on the stage, her backing fully get into the show too. It wasn't just me that was impressed either. Talk to anyone that caught one of Eilish's sets across the week and they'll definitely have her in their lists too - she's well and truly one of the next big things.
Australian pop was one of the leading genres of this year's BIGSOUND, and if it wasn't Eilish Gilligan (or CXLOE - who I, unfortunately, didn't catch over the week) that caught your attention, it was definitely Kota Banks. Bringing her left-field club-pop to Fortitude Valley for a pair of shows, Kota Banks' set is all about the energy. Backed by a DJ, Kota Banks' set packed the liveliness and animation of some of the world's leading pop-stars but with a slick club twist, with singles such as her bubbly 2017 highlight Holiday and cuts from her 2018 mixtape PRIZE - such as the confident and self-assuring I'm It - unmatched in terms of the swagger and confidence she brought to the table this year.
While it's easy to go on about how fun RAAVE TAPES are live, it's important to note the other thing they emphasise - safety. Playing in a graffiti-stricken venue typically held for the heavy side of rock music, the Newcastle three-piece and Pilerats favourites paired their electro-punk-esque sounds with messages like "have a safe night, be aware of your surroundings, and respect everyone next to you!" from frontman Joab Eastley, or highlighting the 'anti-dickhead' message of singles like SUDS before diving into them. Throw in an unexpected cover of Alice DeeJay's Better Off Alone, and you have a fun show that you know you'll be safe at.
There's always that joke of the suited men from major labels crossing their arms and stroking their chins at the back of BIGSOUND sets, but Erthlings definitely had the most of them. The teenage four-piece, who just signed to Future Classic's management roster off the back of their debut single and set-closer Bridges, treated the industry-heavy crowd to one of their first ever shows, with the HAIM-esque group bringing stripped-back indie tunes and promising, pop-centric epics alike as they delivered one of the most densely-packed crowds to BIGSOUND in its second day. Keep an eye on them; they've definitely got a lot of promise and potential behind them.
Following suit from RAAVE TAPES' wholesome BIGSOUND set, Canberra four-piece Moaning Lisa welcomed a similar vibe when they capped off triple j Unearthed's second-day showcase before Slowly Slowly came through and tore it to shreds. With highlights including their debut single Carrie (I Want A Girl) and their equally great second single Good (which I still believe should be called 'Great'), Moaning Lisa's dreamy, Hatchie-like shoegaze-pop was one of the easy highlights of BIGSOUND, which when paired with their incredible messages of queer empowerment and female pride, gave us one of the most important - and best-sounding - sets of the week.
Kwame - the MVP of BIGSOUND. There's no denying that the Western Sydney rapper was one of the most-talked-about acts of this year's BIGSOUND, with each of the rising star's showcases following ripples of "that was the funnest set I've seen" throughout the crowd in the moments after. From tracks like his early-2018 break-out WOW to his recent NO TIME, the rapper brought an energy unmatched by any other artist at BIGSOUND, jumping and leaping across the stage even when the sound cut out at the tail-end of his final set - a victory lap of sorts on his 21st birthday of all days. DO. NOT. MISS. A. KWAME. SET.
With her debut EP under the name due out in two weeks, Sydney's HANDSOME has become one of our favourite acts of 2018. Singles like the Joyride-featuring Late Night Ball Game and Save Some Love have spread messages of self-love, privacy and queerness, with the former message in particular coming through her BIGSOUND set. Backed by another two members, HANDSOME's show was a bright and confident spectacle of her The XX-esque sound, bringing these messages into the live realm with one of the most welcoming, open and unapologetically fun crowds of the week - a very rare treat at BIGSOUND. Definitely keep an eye out for her No Hat, No Play EP when it arrives on September 14.
East Brunswick All Girls Choir
To be completely honest, I wasn't planning on catching Melbourne four-piece East Brunswick All Girls Choir at BIGSOUND. However, at the end of the week, they were one of only two artists I ended up catching twice. Running through tracks primarily taken from their recent debut album Teddywaddy, the group - who also supported Courtney Barnett on her national album tour - were an easy highlight on the more rock-flavoured side of the things, captivating audiences as they bounced around the valley for a number of sets across the week, including the closing Milk! Records party - which featured another sure-fire highlight in Hachiku (below). Definitely listen to their debut album if you haven't already.
I'm honestly not sure what I was expecting from No Mono, knowing that their debut album Islands Part 1 has been one of the most beautiful and spectacular to come from Australia so far this year. However, whatever I was expecting, No Mono eclipsed it. In what was easily one of the most beautiful sets of the week, No Mono gave us a touching and intimate performance that showcased the angelic beauty of Tom Snowdon's falsetto, which really hit its peak in a heart-wrenchingly emotional cover of The Righteous Brothers' Unchained Melody, which if you don't mind me, would like to request be played by the two Tom's at my funeral. Thanks.
While Australia is definitely the focus of BIGSOUND every year, this year saw a couple of internationals placed amongst the 'best sets' team too. Among them, was Singapore's Linying, who put on a dazzling display on her electronic-leaning, indie-pop sound at the Hear65 Singapore Showcase. Showcasing highlights from her 2016 EP Paris 12 and her forthcoming debut album - which includes the 2018 singles Tall Order and Paycheck - Linying and her band put on a performance comparable to electronic's live elites like Little Dragon, making a crowd move despite her music yet to really take off within Australia. If she comes back, definitely jump at your chance to see her.
Much like her label mates East Brunswick, Melbourne-via-Germany-via-Detroit musician Hachiku wasn't one I was planning on seeing in the lead-up to BIGSOUND. However, I'm super, super glad I did. Playing tracks from her debut, self-titled EP and the following singles since, the rising musician was backed by a full band at BIGSOUND, where she brought her glimmering, self-described 'glitter pop' in a way comparable to influences such as Grimes and Perfume Genius. It was fun, exciting and captivating, and even if you weren't too familiar with her work - like I admittedly am - you could tell she's got her sights set on her following her influences up the ladder of DIY pop.
Paul Kelly played a surprise set at The Zoo on Wednesday night. He played new ones, old ones, released ones, unreleased ones. He is also one of the great Australian musicians, so I really feel like I don't have to explain why his set was good - it just was, it's Paul Kelly okay.
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