BigSound 2017: Night 1 – West Thebarton do SA proud

Posted on: Wed 6 Sep 2017

Our Music Director Luke Penman is in Brisbane for BigSound – Australia’s biggest music industry conference – and will be checking in over the next few days.

Here’s his wrap of Night 1:

My laptop doesn’t update the timezone automatically and I miss Donny Benet’s afternoon set. He’s playing again tonight but it’s at the same time as West Thebarton’s showcase and I can’t miss that. He’s also playing Thursday night, closing out the Black Bear Lodge stage, clashing with Hockey Dad, ALTA, sleepmakeswaves, Mansionair, Tigerilla, The Creases, MUTO and more. Bloody hell.

90 artists are performing in official showcases tonight, but there’s plenty of afternoon parties and unofficial gigs around town. Clashes galore.

Everywhere you go, people are simultaneously scanning the room while attempting to avoid everyone else’s gaze. Hoping to make eye contact with the right person and no-one else.

We’re at The Brighton and finding more South Australian friends. Lewis from Yewth. Leigh and Tom from Against The Grain and more.

We go through the usual questions – “Got any meetings booked?” “Who are you looking to see tonight?” Some people, it turns out, are not here to do some Music Business™ at all. Some people are just here to party.

WAAX take the stage, smashing out a late afternoon set like it was midnight. Singer Maz pulls no punches, screaming every note with perfection as the band tears through tunes from their latest EP. “We’ll be back here tonight at 10:40,” Maz informs us. I can’t even begin to imagine the dedication it takes to keep your vocals in shape enough to do that twice in a day.

Fast forward to 8pm and I’m at The TBC Club watching Annie Bass. A former South Australian, Annabelle Weston performed on a few songs on Oisima’s debut album. She’s nailing her own songs, but I’ve gotta move on.

I only manage to catch one song from Blessed and as soon as he’s done I’m checking if he has any other showcases this week. His recordings have a big Bloc Party vibe, but here he’s mixing R&B-style attuned vocals with a Prince-esque rock n roll swagger. Plenty of people are dancing. He’s clearly got a few fans in Brisbane tonight. He’s already my go-to answer when anyone asks for tips on who to see in the next few days.

I walk past a pair of strip clubs and realise I’ve taken a wrong turn. There’s nothing like visiting literally any other city in Australia to make you appreciate the ol’ Square Mile. Sitting out the front are a surprising number of people having particularly in-depth conversations for 8:51pm on a Tuesday.

Back to The Brighton for West Thebarton. This is the stuff showcase dreams are made of. Conditions are perfect – there’s stacks of people, the sun’s gone down but it’s still warm, the stage is outdoors and the sound is great.

I see Colin Howcroft out of the corner of my eye. Of course it’s not him, but I can’t help glancing again just to make sure.

“We’re called West Thebarton. We used to be called West Thebarton Brothel Party but we’re not anymore,” singer Ray Dalfsen says with a grin. “We’re a band; we’re a little seven-piece from Thebarton, South Australia”.

Cripes, they look like absolute rockstars. If it weren’t for the tyranny of distance in Australia making touring a seven-piece so hard, they’d be the biggest band in the world. If they were American, they’d be #2 on the bill for the next Foo Fighters mini-festival and Dave Grohl would be side of stage stressing about how to out-do them.

There’s gotta be 500 people here. The front row’s going off. They’ve only played new songs yet but the front row either already knows them or doesn’t care that they don’t. They’re loving it.

“You can see the South Australians in the audience,” says Dalfsen. He climbs the speaker stack, perhaps threatening to out-do his jump off the bar at last year’s conference. Thankfully he decides against it. Hundreds pump their fists in the air and scream along with the end of West Theb’s set, “F*ck the East man, the West is the best!”

Half the crowd is trying to work out what they’re going to have to do in their showcase to have any headlines after this performance.

I head to Oh, Hello! but Maddy Jane finished five minutes early – which is the opposite of what normally happens at these things – so I unfortunately miss her set.

Ruby Fields’s band sounds like everyone’s first garage-rock three-piece while her lyrical complexity and stage confidence belie her years. And she’s got a knack for a great hook. Definitely one to keep an eye on.

“I think Pickle Rick has been the only good episode this season,” says some dude who clearly has no taste to his friend as I walk past to line up at The Brightside, hoping to catch Dan Cribb and co’s Simpsons Tribute. Thankfully the line moves fast. For a minute there I thought maybe 30 minutes wasn’t going to be early enough.

It’s still packed out here. The Brightside outdoor stage is clearly the stage to be at this year.

“We are Sløtface. We are a band from Norway, which is a f*cking long way away.”

Either I’m going crazy or this band is mixed weirdly. I can hardly hear the guitar. Everything feels so loud-quiet… but it works. Maybe I’m just going crazy. They’re like an indie-rock version of WAAX. It’s catchy, it’s fun, and the crowd is dancing joyfully.

I head to the inside stage. It’s approaching midnight, and I’m here to see Dan Cribb and his band play the Worst Tribute Ever songs live with a whole bunch of guests, including Jesse Coulter from Grenadiers, Ray and Josh from West Thebarton, Jeremy Neale and more.

“We haven’t rehearsed”, Jeremy tells me. “Hopefully it just works.”

“It’s funny,” I say to Jeremy. “I hate nostalgia. I hate how most radio stations just push your nostalgia buttons. Even Top 40 radio does it by thrashing a song one day so that when you hear it the next day it’s already hitting your nostalgia button more than anything else. That said, if you put on a live show doing punk covers of Simpsons songs, I’ll be in the front row.”

We all sing along to every song. The night closes with a huge rendition of “Doctor Zaius”. I head back to the hotel.

The conference kicks off in the morning, but Violet Swells are playing a Tasmanian music showcase at 12:30.

Clashes galore.

Luke Penman

Other stories