Words: Alex Capper
Photos: Henry Gosper
Listen Out festival opened its national tour in Melbourne last Saturday with high expectations. Now in its third year, the dance/hip-hop festival is in full swing and the Melbourne weather gods blessed us with a perfect day for it.
The sun was shining, complementing the new location in St Kilda’s shoreside Catani Gardens beautifully, drinks were flowing and vibe was at an all-around high.
Everything was going to plan.
Until the music started playing.
To say the sound system at the Catani Gardens was merely average would be sugarcoating it.
For the vast majority of acts, the volume of their performance was akin to background music at a 50th birthday party.
So I guess the festival did live up to its name after all, as punters spent more time trying to ‘listen out’ for their favourite acts rather than just enjoying the music.
Sorry… (not sorry.)
But in all seriousness, if there is one thing that a music festival has to get right, it’s the sound system.
When I’m at a dance festival and I can have a perfectly normal conversation with the person next to me when I'm just metres away from the stage, there’s an issue.
Punters all around were fuming for the volume to be increased and the Listen Out Facebook event copped an absolute hammering of abuse.
Listen Out responded claiming that the nearby residential neighbourhood was a factor in the sound levels.
So, here’s a tip:
Don’t have a festival in a residential neighbourhood.
Anyway, with all that behind me, let’s get on to the music.
First up was synth-pop duo Client Liaison. I loved these guys at Splendour and their performance at Listen Out only increased my adoration.
Client Liaison are so vibrant and charismatic that they never dull or bore. Whether it is their outfits, their retro-sweat dancers or having Tom Tilley, host of triple j's Hack, slappin' da bass, Client Liaison know exactly how to captivate a crowd.
Next up was Melbourne producer Roland Tings, who gets the award for best DJ dance moves of the day.
Tings has an eclectic grasp of house music and operates with intricate subtlety in creating his spacious and lively beats. I feel as if he’s pretty new to the festival scene, so keep checking him out as he gets his handle on larger crowds.
I was able to catch a bit of Atlanta hip-hop duo Rae Sremmurd. With a set littered with hip-hop covers and telling everyone to get up, it was pretty much the typical 'gangster' rapper set for performing to a bunch of Australians.
Perform songs that are better known than your own and act really cool so we can feel really cool too.
Following on was Sydney producer Hayden James. I heard a few of his tracks and was keen to check him out. Now, I’m unsure whether it was his actual set or a result of the technical sound issues, but his slot felt like a generic house set for 5 pm chilling on a beach.
Bright colourful melodies with some light bass: decent but hardly remarkable.
I'm still keen to check James out at another time when I can get a better scope of his set but for now, meh.
Now, if there was any act that suffered the most from the subpar sound system, it was undoubtedly Odesza. The Seattle duo was one of the more hyped acts on the line-up and they were failed miserably by the sound system.
Their drops had little impact and it was extraordinarily difficult to make out their melodies over the surrounding murmur of the crowd… and I was 15 metres away from the stage.
It’s a real shame, as though Odesza are known for their imaginative remixes, it’s their live show, complete with drums and keys, which is their calling card. They are definitely deserving of another chance.
I shifted stages to catch London deep house duo Dusky. With their spray jackets and hoodies, Dusky had the London look down; their set was exciting and fast paced and really brought the crowd to life. Thanks to their experience, the duo definitely know how to read the crowd and had everybody grooving. Hit song ‘Careless’ was absent but I don’t think anyone really cared.
At this point I was faced with a painful clash: Joey Bada$$ or SBTRKT.
Since I wanted to have my cake and eat it too, I went to both.
SBTRKT’s DJ set synced perfectly with the urban jungle, as his grooves were some weird amalgamation of darkness and tropicalia. I feel as though SBTRKT has done a stellar job in carving a niche out for himself within house music, which is arguably the most difficult of genres to do so. Armed with his iconic mask and sentient lighting, his cred was only reinforced by an impressive set.
I left early to catch the rest of Joey Bada$$’s set. The 20-year-old hip-hop wunderkind from Brooklyn has been riding quite the hype train recently and was out in full force for Listen Out. Equipped with boisterous beats, Joey showed off his lyrical capabilities with reckless abandon in what was an energetic performance.
That being said, while the inner sections of the crowd were clearly huge Joey fans and loved every second, in the outer sections a lot of people seemed rather indifferent.
For all the talent he has, Joey has some work to do in separating himself from other rappers on the live scene. But hey, maybe it’s just easy to blame it on the sound system.
Nevertheless, keep an eye on Joey Bada$$.
For the last act of the day, we were greeted by the multi-talented Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino. The stage was decorated with colourful LCD planks, which hid his live band to ensure everyone’s attention was squarely on the main event.
Childish Gambino has carved out his own unique niche within the pop-rap market. For every tune he raps with technical savvy, he follows up with immense choruses that incite mass sing-a-longs, something few in the business can do.
On top of all this, Gambino is a real triple threat when it comes to performing. He can sing, dance and rap equally well. With an animated and passionate delivery, Gambino had complete control of the crowd throughout his entire set, leaving punters begging for more.
Childish Gambino’s star is rising rapidly and deservedly so. Set of the day.
Overall, Listen Out has genuine potential to be an incredible festival with a unique market.
However, the inadequate use of the sound system left many punters wondering how good it could have really been.
Listen Out could have been great.
Instead, I’ll settle and say it was just decent.
Alex Capper, once affectionally called by Ross & John of 3AW as the '7 foot fucker', loves the Essendon Football Club, stalking reddit and dabbing. He thinks he can speak French, but he can't.