Review: Experimental artists thrive at Sugar Mountain 2017

January 25th 2017

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Sugar Mountain is the only interstate festival that has me pilgrimaging back every year.

Beginning life in 2011, SM has progressively grown to become one of Melbourne’s most memorable boutique festivals because of its diverse and unique range of international musicians and artists. 2017 was no different.

Starting on the gentler side of the music spectrum, I spent the beginning of my SM experience soaking up a handful of sets in the theatre stage, home to the festival’s more experimental-minded artists.

Sui Zhen’s left-of-centre electro pop funk is the type of sound that will keep you hanging on for more. Her set, complete with pastel drenched visuals, deadpan sunglass-wearing crowd performers and soulful saxophone, had a captive audience feeling thankful they turned up for doors at an all day festival.

American modular synth artists Suzanne Ciani and Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith continued the dream-state vibes in excellent fashion, enchanting us with their ephemeral and complex compositions. Suzanne Ciani’s set in particular, while a bit rougher around the edges than Kaitlyn’s, left me convinced of the magic and raw power of modular synthesis, as a top-down camera provided a full view of the nuance of her work.

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Next was American cellist Kelsey Lu. Known for her precise looping and unflinchingly personal lyricism, her work has been championed by Solange – and from her live performance, it’s easy to see why.

Delicate yet forceful, melodic yet abstract, Kelsey Lu plays in many minds, but focuses them all into a raw and wistful performance unlike any other I’ve seen.

I eagerly lapped up the dance tunes of Canadian producer and singer Jessy Lanza. Her electro-pop beats spawned a sizeable mass of dancers that raged through her entire set, finally reaching soaring heights with the beaming track, ‘It Means I Love You’.

Sugar Mountain’s cathedral-esque Boiler Room stage is a sight to behold and a must attend for any dance music fans. Taking over the carpark space this year, the Boiler Room has grown to become one of the festival’s main draws, maintaining a consistently large crowd throughout the day with sets from CC: Disco!, Baba Stiltz, Mood II Swing and Palms Trax. A particular highlight was Mood II Swing dropping disco classic ‘Free’ by Ultra Naté at the close of their set, elevating an ecstatic crowd to euphoria levels.

Finishing the night was the blissed-out technicolour collage of the Avalanches. An absolutely killer replacement for Blood Orange when he pulled out near last minute, this was the perfect top to a killer evening in the sun.

Usually, when I leave a festival, the first thing I do is shed off the sticky wristband that has been wrapped around my arm all day. But not for Sugar Mountain. For Sugar Mountain, I indulged in the memory just a little longer, because the time spent there was just too darn sweet to let go off.

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