Every year, Melbourne ranks right up there as the world’s most liveable city in The Global Liveability Report. It makes sense, then, that the most inhabitable metropolitan on Earth would pack in the entertainment. On a weekend dominated by action at the Australian Open, Sugar Mountain was proof that Melbourne has room – and an audience – for more.
The one-day music festival takes place just a few short steps away from the city centre – fittingly wedged between buildings at the Victorian College of the Arts. It was a space the niche festival certainly filled, both with music fans and an assortment of visual elements, food trucks, and three very different stages.
Boiler Room was a constant jam of those looking for a dance party. In typical fashion for their live stream setup, people gathered around the DJ decks on all sides for sets from electronic-meets-weird producer Project Pablo, retro-throwback body shaker Dan Shake, Running Back label head Gerd Janson, American boundary pusher Honey Dijon (who absolutely commanded the stage), and a final genre-bending finish from Shanti Celeste. Even if you aren’t into DJ sets, the continuous lineup of talent and the joys of people watching made the Boiler Room stage a centre-point for the festival.
If you were able to (politely) fight your way through the sheer mass of moving bodies, you were rewarded to some respite from the Australian sun. Inside the darkened Merlyn Theatre, an entirely different situation unfolded to the debauchery outside. Laurel Halo cast an imposing presence with her minimalist layers, including glitched and building vocals. A performance art installation from Justin Shoulder x Corin x Tristan Jalleh was one of the highlights of Sugar Mountain – a strange, uncomfortable undertaking involving a lengthy quote from The Devil Wears Prada. It made you wonder if you’d passed out from heat stroke and envisioned the entire thing in a fever dream. It also made you sad that so many people probably missed the fleeting performance.
Following the art, rising Iranian-Dutch artist Sevdaliza delivered a set to a room full of already adoring fans. The artist certainly isn’t afraid to embrace her sexuality, delivering it in abundance and accompanying it with a powerful voice. It’s trivial to compare her talent, but it’s also hard not to think of Amy Winehouse meeting the Kardashians with some serious Lana Del Rey vibes. If her very first Australian tour is any indication, she’ll be conquering stages across the world in a matter of months.
On the Dodds Street main stage, Sugar Mountain highlighted Australia’s heritage with sets from Kardajala Kirridarra – a four-piece successfully mixing traditional music with pop electronics – and A.B. Original. The latter delivered socially conscious hip hop, playing well to a crowd of appreciative fans. If you ever wished Run The Jewels were more Australian, they’d certainly fill a Killer Mike/El-P void in your heart.
Jamila Woods brought together Melbourne’s outsiders with the early birds bopping to Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” as they waited for her four-piece band to set up. It was a soulful set that proved worth the wait, her songs unfolding like honey-glazed poetry. From there, the R&B out of Chicago gave way to hip hop from Brooklyn. Joey Badass showed up in a big way – celebrating his 23rd birthday, the Pro Era kingpin provided an energetic performance the crowd was happy to give back in kind. “The energy out here is incredible,” he told us midway through the set. “I love this mother f*cking city, I gotta say man.”
The day came to its sweaty culmination with a headlining performance from local favourites Cut Copy. You didn’t have to look far throughout the day to find the four band members enjoying all of Sugar Mountain’s offerings. Their appreciation for the festival showed, with vocalist Dan Whitford thanking people for showing up to support live music and proclaiming the fest to be one of his favourites in the world. It’s easy to see why and they made sure to end things on a high note.
Cut Copy brought with them 2017’s Haiku From Zero, as well as a deep back catalogue of hits. It was an hour’s worth of material that truthfully could have stretched on for much longer. It’s hard to imagine another group delivering a closer as powerful as theirs – ending the set with three certifiable bangers: “Out There On The Ice”, “Meet Me In A House Of Love”, and (inevitably), the triumphant “Lights & Music” and its careening guitar lines.
With that, Sugar Mountain ended as you hope all good festivals do – arms triumphantly raised in the sky and a dumb (but deserved!) smile plastered on your face.
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