Bella Reviews: Essential Festival 2009

We were two girls. They were 25 bands spread over three rooms in the Exchange Hotel. Our task was to attend Essential Festival and live to tell the tale. But there was a complication. Student poverty dictated that we must brave Essential without the aid of glorious alcohol. It was going to be a long night.

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6.00pm – Cloud Control
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Cloud Control are probably one of my favourite bands right now and I was excited to see them live. As we ran down the stairs of Oxford Art Factory, the dulcet tones of “Death Cloud” were already floating up back to us. Oxford Arts has the uncanny ability to put me in a bad mood the moment that I step into it. Somehow though, the magic of Cloud Control was SO strong that it was able to counter the legions of douchebags who’d been drinking vodka redbulls since 3 in the afternoon.

Cloud Control @ Essential Festival

The Clouds played a beautifully mesmerising set that had everyone in the crowd smiling, and occasionally, dancing. When at last I heard the familiar jingle-jangle guitar of my favourite song, “Buffalo Country”, I was very nearly in love with everyone in the room. Cloud Control recently signed a deal with Ivy League Records and are working on their debut album. If this set was anything to go by, the release is going to be something really special.

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6.30pm
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Cloud Control left the stage and the spell was broken. We suddenly realised we were stuck in Oxford Art Factory without the power of the Clouds to protect us and no band for 30mins. And so we did what any self-respecting individuals would do in a panic of that magnitude. We ran across the road to Brighton Bar…for water.

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7.00pm – The Holidays
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Half an hour later and we felt confident enough to head back to Oxford Arts. Unfortunately, The Holidays did not hold the same magic for me as Cloud Control. I can only speak for myself though, a quick glance around the room showed a crowd thoroughly enjoying themselves.

The Holidays @ Essential Festival

For me, The Holidays just sounded like any old ‘indie’ band trying to emulate some mediocre group from Merry Old England, like the Kooks or something similar. A few catchier numbers showed potential but could not hold our attention for long. We took some snaps and left, unable to stand the slurred cries of, “Play ‘Holiday’! Nahhh, play ‘Holiday’! NAAAH, PLAY ‘HOLIDAY!’” from some drunk guy behind us any longer.

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7.30pm – DZ
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On the other hand, DZ made Essential Festival TOTALLY worthwhile! I’d heard many good things about this Brisbane duo but had not yet had a chance to see them live. Suffice to say, expectations were high and they still completely surpassed them.

With the guitar and drum kit combo, you could perhaps liken them to The Mess Hall. In reality though, DZ are like nothing you’ve ever heard before. They have a ferocious energy mixed with a “don’t care” attitude, tearing through the upbeat set like men possessed. The sound was so unbelievably loud and abrasive that I’ve had a ringing in my ears for three days and don’t particularly mind. New favourite band? Yes indeed.

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7.50pm – Belles Will Ring
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We had to skip the last ten minutes of DZ to catch our favourite lo-fi psych rockers, Belles Will Ring, play next door at Spectrum. I’ve seen the Belles play so many times but am never disappointed. They treated the crowd to a lovely mix of old and new music, including all the favourites from Mood Patterns and a selection from Broader Than Broadway.

Belles Will Ring @ Essential Festival

I am always blown away by the complexity of the melodies and harmonies in a Belles set, displayed most eloquently in “The Coldest Heart.” That song is an absolute masterpiece, it literally gives me the shivers. Too soon the Belles were announcing their goodbyes and we left Spectrum in quite a mellow and contemplative mood.

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8.15pm
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And what better to do in such a mood, but eat pie? Hello Pie Face, my friend. Hello pie stack with mushy peas and gravy. I wish we’d taken a photo of my dinner, it was epic. Totally saved my life. I love you Pie Face.

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9.00pm – Theredsunband
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Okay, I’ll admit this now – I have a massive girl crush on Sarah Kelly. She is absolutely divine. I don’t want to, you know, with her, but if hers was the only voice I’d hear for the rest of my life I think I’d be pretty content. Armed with a gorgeous pixie haircut and shiny red guitar, Kelly was breaking hearts then mending them all over the place. Forget the hair, that girl can play some serious guitar.

The redsunband @ Essential Festival

The set included all my favourites from The Shiralee, including “Heartbreaker”, “Hymn To An Empty Room”, “The Eagle” and my most favourite of all, “Like An Arrow.” I don’t want to overstate anything, but it is probably the most perfect song ever written (I have the lyrics scribbled onto my bedroom wall.) Hearing it live, with Sarah’s beautiful haunting voice, was almost TOO much. I once heard SPOD say that if he had the talent and the voice, that would be the exact song he’d write. Me too.

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9.30 – SPOD
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Speaking of Spod, it was time to head back to the Spectrum stage where the man, the legend, was about to casually start blowing minds. Spod was accompanied by his full band, The Orsumators (a super group made up of members from the Tucker B’s, Richard in Your Mind and Wolf- er. well, Palace of Fire.) And as usual, the Spodster was also joined by lovely lady dance troupe, the Orsumettes (tonight performing as a duo.)

Now, I’ve seen a lot of Spod shows in my time. In fact, since the beginning of 2008 I’ve barely missed a single show (I’ve even flown down to Melbourne for one.) But this was not your average Spod show, (average being one with glitter, confetti, cat masks, streamers, bromance and/or partial nudity) because it was all that and MORE. If for some reason you were not in attendance – I actually pity you.

Spod @ Essential Festival

Spod opened the set with “So Exciting”, flanked by his two foxy dancers dancing up a foxy storm. The crowd was hooked. But nothing could prepare them for what was about to happen. Spod called his old buddy Andy Clockwise up on stage to perform a song about Sweden, appropriately titled, “Sweden.” Despite the fact that they probably hadn’t rehearsed or played together in donkey’s years, the nordic rock went OFF. Shit got real, alright? The precedent for the rest of the show had been determined, it was officially the best night of anyone’s life.

Hit after hit, we heard “Norx” (a song about boobs), “Cats!” (a song about cats), “Blubberponies” (a song about overweight ponies) and were even treated to a BRAND NEW, as yet untitled song which was ah-may-zing (and will possibly be named Doves?) The real treat of the night? Both lovely Orsumettes took to the stage for “2131 (Ride Wit’ Me)” to provide a sexy double-duet with Spod. So who’s gonna ride with you? Oh, PICK ME!

Spod @ Essential Festival

After everyone’s favourite, “DEAD” (the Orsumettes did a little pantomime with toy guns- cute!), Spod cheekily told the crowd to ask for an encore. “ENCORE!” They roared, “ENCORE!” Spod shrugged, “Oh I dunno, like we’ve already left the stage and shit.” (They hadn’t.) “I GUESS we could do an encore!” (They did.) Spod proudly boasted that it was easy to get up and play a song with lots of notes, but to play a song with just one note – a monophonic song – that was a real challenge. But if that was a challenge, what CAN’T Spod do? They played, “Makin Party” – a song where the majority of the lyrics are the song title and there are no chord changes. It was the best thing my ears have ever heard. Spod ended the set by kicking down the microphone stand and jumping up to play guitar on the drum kit. (The only thing possibly cooler than watching Spod trash the stage was witnessing Daniel Boud calmly reach out a hand to catch the mic stand. DUDE! He was so casual, it looked like he did it all the time. You know what, he probably does.)

Spod = 1, the rest of the world = 0.

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10.00pm – Dappled Cities
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I don’t know much about music, really. All I know is what I like, and what I don’t like. And I don’t like Dappled Cities. Why? I cannot tell you – but they have always gone completely over my head. I can’t help but feel I am somehow missing the point. Like being told a meaningless story that finishes with, “oh, you just had to be there.” But I’ve been there, and I still don’t understand. I’m just one person though, and lots of other people clearly enjoyed the set. Oxford Art Factory was so jam packed that we could barely squeeze inside!

Essential festival wrapped up? It was a fairly decent night out. Kind of a pain going between three rooms, especially stressful to get into Oxford Arts. The definite highlights were DZ and Spod, thus I now live in hope that the two bands will one day merge and form a super group called SpoDZ. Imagine the carnage. WORLD DOMINATION!”

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Photography by Macarena Miranda

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