How Grapevine Gathering uses Australia's rising talent to flourish and expand
While their debut year in Perth was topped by international heaviness, the heavy movers shining early on were all local talent.
There's an age-old balance in the Australian festival market between filling a lineup with international presence and local acts. The former category, as we've found over the years, are often the ticket movers - they're rare, festival-exclusives that tour Australia once a year max, versus local acts which would tour even up to once a season, including festivals - while the latter category, local acts, consistently find themselves as festival high points, regardless of the international talent often billed above them on the posters.
Take Grapevine Gathering, for example. Since launching in Victoria's Yarra Valley in 2017, the festival have used Australian-heavy lineups filled with some of the best talent the country has to offer - The Preatures, Bag Raiders, George Maple, Running Touch in its inaugural year - and have used the momentum since to expand and grow, launching a New South Wales leg the year later with a lineup topped by The Wombats, while this year, they expanded further into Perth's picturesque Swan Valley.
By now, the festival has a tried-and-tested model that highlights that aforementioned balance between international and local. In its first year, those Australian names above were matched with Claptone and Nora En Pure; last year, Tkay Maidza, Client Liaison, Miami Horror and Young Franco sat side-by-side with The Wombats, and this year, Two Door Cinema Club made their return to Australia among Flight Facilities, Crooked Colours, Mallrat and Touch Sensitive.
The festival sold out, as expected. Two Door Cinema Club are among a niche collection of acts - like The Wombats - who consistently draw Australian crowds regardless of how often they're here, with this year's return to the country arriving with a full, brilliant new album under their belt too. Meanwhile, the Australian contingent covers some of the country's best: Flight Facilities and Crooked Colours are white whales of the electronic world, while Mallrat and Kira Puru early on are stars of tomorrow; a glimpse of the future shining brightly undisturbed by the long-time favourites above them.
Arriving at Perth's Sandalford Winery for its debut venture on the west coast last weekend, it was clear that Grapevine Gathering's unstoppable festival model was presenting something special, perhaps a byproduct of the festival's organisers - Untitled Group - being heavyweights in the Australian festival realm (Beyond The Valley, Pitch Festival). Every single facet of the festival, from its aforementioned lineup to the intricate art design brought to life in stage production (something you don't often see from festivals in the first year, let alone years in development), felt refined and built upon to its maximum level.
Two Door Cinema Club, as expected, were class. In their decade-long career as one of indie-rock's modern trailblazers, the group brought their latest record - this year's rather experimentally-built False Alarm - to life; the album's thick grooves and danceable nature a step away from the work that defined their early glow-up, but one that seemingly glistens on the live stage. "We have the luxury of four albums now, and if you look at a lot of what we’ve been through, especially as we get older, songs from the first album seem to get faster and faster every year with some changes in there," they said on their growing live show when we interviewed them earlier this year. "There are quite a few different rhythms going on which just brings a whole different feel to the setlist and I think that’s a real big thing now - an album that in a couple of years it’ll bring a nice dynamic to the set that freshens it up."
However, as incredible as Two Door Cinema Club are as a slick international band on the live stage, the real brilliance came from the Australians early on - something we're finding time and time again, with one festival after the next. Flight Facilities are well-known for the live show at this point - they were one of the earliest adaptors of the full-scale electronic live show in Australia, alongside RÜFÜS DU SOL - while Crooked Colours lept off the mark with what feels like the next chapter of their live show, reinforced with an entirely new record under their belt, being this year's Laganta.
Earlier on in the afternoon, rising rap talent Arno Faraji - a rapper putting Perth on the national, hip-hop map as he continues - was a no-show, unavailable to make the festival due to flight difficulties. It's a shame too, because between acts such as Flight Facilities and Mallrat earlier on, it seems that Grapevine Gathering catered to every pocket of Australia's commercial music world - pop, electronic and with Arno, rap - only for the latter to be unrepresented with Arno's pull-out, notable considering the genre's domination throughout 2019 on both an international and national level.
In saying that, however, the two festival highlights came shortly after Arno Faraji's no-show. Kira Puru and Mallrat are names we've been going on about as being the future of Australian pop music for a while now, and there's a good reason to that. Together, they're two rising stars the exuberate the brilliance of local pop; their hooks amongst the strongest in the country and their tall-standing presence a highlight at every festival despite on-stage technology meltdowns due to the glaring, pre-summer festival heat.
Kira Puru's set was all-class, all-sass. Blazen in a multi-piece black suit, Kira Puru's star-power translates perfectly into the live setting; the confidence that stretches across her discography - the choir-backed Why Don't We Get Along a recent highlight of which, arriving back in September - brought to life once again when it's marked with her live band behind her.
With Mallrat, however, it's easy to see why she's an artist tinkering on the edge of an international moment. With a new EP under her belt - September's Driving Music - her set was a unique mix of vocal-led intimacy and openness mushed together with the summer-blaring hooks that define many of her discography's highlights, with many of them getting time to shine at Grapevine Gathering.
For its debut year in Perth, Grapevine Gathering showcased potential to be a festival that does the near-impossible: actually stick around. There's a slim picking of Australian musicians who can routinely do the festival route and still sell tickets, and Grapevine Gathering tapped into all of them and then some, using big ticket-movers like Flight Facilities and Mallrat to bring people in, while letting those that often don't visit the west-coast - Kira Puru and Big Words early on, most notably - time to shine on a unique festival stage we don't see enough of in Perth.
It would've been great to have the local acts have a little more room to shine - Mallrat's set, for example, felt like it wrapped up just minutes after it started - but considering its a one-stage affair keeping a large crowd centred and focused on one act a time, that's hardly a thing to complain about.
Now, comes the question of where Grapevine Gathering can head next.
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