words: Brittany Long
photos: Emily Mathison
This year I traveled from Melbourne to Wollongong for my first Yours & Owls festival experience.
Although there was uncertainty surrounding what the weather conditions for the event would be like, after a night and morning filled with heavy rain many festival goers in tents awoke a little wet. However, when the gates opened the weather only slightly dampened the mood, the sun even peeked through the clouds and the excitement couldn’t be matched as thousands of eager music fans entered the gates ready to kick off two jam packed days of festival fun, featuring some of the best in music Australia has to offer!
The early mainstage slot highlighted itself as a spotlight for up-and-coming acts.
The day kicked off on the mainstage, dubbed the Your stage, with Indie pop queen Eves Karydas. Karydas pulled a solid crowd, and dressed in a high necked blue jumper that suited the dreary weather, she was a pop of energy and the perfect way to kick off the festivities. With Karydas successfully getting the crowd grooving and warm with her infectious electronic-pop tracks including Couch off her 2018 album Summerskin and Further Than The Planes Fly. In an impressive feat Karydas single handedly caught a personalised cap thrown by a member of the crowd, almost effortlessly, the perfect conclusion to an energetic set.
Next up was Aussie rapper Kwame, and boy did he bring the energy! You wouldn’t have known it was only 2:15pm in the afternoon with the way he was fired up, sadly his high energy ultimately just wasn’t reciprocated by his crowd though!
I then swapped the Your stage for the Owl stage after being told on several occasions that Totally Unicorn were not to be missed! Wow, wow, wow! Totally Unicorn were totally INSANE! I reckon you could count the number of times frontman, not to mention a shirtless Drew Gardner actually stayed on the stage on one hand! He is all about audience interaction and boy did he nail it! A comment made by Gardner at the beginning of the set set the precedent for the entire performance ‘let’s go f**king crazy!’ And go crazy they did! Let’s talk about the pop-up tiki bar that shared the stage – I mean have you ever seen a band with a bar onstage casually sipping cocktails!? This band really brought it all, from what had to be chugging beer out of the world’s longest beer bong, to air guitar, to antics with cornflakes, headstands and everything in between! It was a bittersweet moment for the band however with the performance announced to be bassist Lee Nielson’s final performance with the band, to which the crowd joined in a tasteful chant of ‘F**K YEAH LEE.’ They definitely went out with a beer or two though and were easily a festival highlight that’s for sure!
It was a day of constant back and forth between stages, trying to navigate what was no longer grass by 3pm but thick, thick mud, making it near impossible. As a wheelchair user I would like to give credit to the festival organisers for the accessible platform at the mainstage, it is by far the best one I’ve seen in terms of being an adequate height to see over concert goers heads and still be able to see the action on the stage. However (especially in the wet) some kind of matting/pathway would’ve assisted greatly when trying to navigate between stages, a suggestion shared by some of the other wheelchair users too. Ultimately I missed out on several acts I really wanted to see because I just physically couldn’t get there, particularly those that weren’t on the mainstage, because once the ground became mud I had no choice but to stay on the access platform located in front of the mainstage.
Back over on the mainstage Angie McMahon pulled one of the larger crowds of the day with festival goers flocking to the mainstage from everywhere, it was a pretty spectacular sight. We were treated to some of McMahon’s most famous tracks including plenty from her newly released album Salt. McMahon was a crowd favourite and saw one of the highest levels of crowd participation with the audience singing every word, especially with her track Pasta. After sharing an inside game between her and her band about whether it’s a ‘boobs or butts’ festival whenever they play one, she ruled Yours & Owls to definitely be a boobs-favoured event after some considerable flashing by one particularly enthusiastic woman.
Electronic music duo Slumberjack changed up the hearty vibe and brought the special effects with CO2 cannons and sparklers in what was an electric set that had the crowd pumping. The barrier fans went absolutely crazy for them.
As the sun began to set over day one of Yours & Owls the festival goers were treated to an incredible sunset! Vera Blue’s enlightening performance left many questioning why she hadn’t played a later set, although we later discovered she made a made dash as soon as she left the stage to perform with Flume at Sydney’s Listen Out. Complete with an incandescent angel-like moving projection of herself on the screen behind her, she donned her signature unique style in a fluoro green two piece and sparkly shoes. She treated the crowd to Make You Feel Good complete with tamborine action and Like I Remember You, telling the crowd, “I want to see you dance and sing” and oblige to dance and sing they did. All The Pretty Girls was a crowd favourite and Lady Powers featuring a dedication to ‘all the ladies in the crowd.’ But of course it was her newest collaboration with track Regular Touch that proved to be the perfect finish. Vera is an absolutely exceptional performer and always puts on a captivating performance.
I managed to just catch the end of Kira Puru’s set, with Puru delighting with Molotov, and it was truly one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard! Over across the other side, the addition of the RAD BAR stage was a special touch for the locals. With the aptly named stage paying homage to and honouring one of Wollongong’s most iconic and loved music venues, the Rad Bar that is permanently closed. Sadly the thick mud meant I couldn’t actually get into the tent to see Melbourne band The Lazy Susans although what i did hear was fantastic, and the crowd seemed to love them!.
Now let’s talk about teen heartthrob Ruel, who at barely 17 is already taking the world by a storm. I’ve been lucky enough to see him headline his own shows twice now, and every time he continuously blows my mind. He is easily one of the most talented artists I’ve come across. He’s a fan favourite and he proved by the size of the crowd he pulled that he’s a favourite among all ages. Even proving to be a hit among some of the older ladies in the crowd, just goes to show it doesn’t matter what age you are! Ruel pulled out hit after hit from Dazed And Confused to Not Thinking ‘Bout You, the screen behind him also produced a visual spectacle. Featuring several of the tracks off his newly released EP which was only a few weeks old he treated the crowd to Real Thing and Face To Face which he shared was actually about stalking people on social media, and even donned his guitar at one stage. Drummer Caesar had his time in the spotlight and so did did keyboardist Rowen with a beautiful solo. Track Flames did just as Ruel intended and ‘brought the energy up’, featuring not just CO2 cannons but also a CO2 gun, the double whammy, and the crowd loved it! Don’t Tell Me was followed by Title Track Free Time which featured beautiful harmonies and some spine tingling ‘oohs’. Despite suffering some technical difficulties he soldiered through with Painkiller and concluded his set with one last song ‘I want you guys to go nuts,’ and Younger did just that.
Next up on the mainstage was Amy Shark who in true Shark fashion was dressed head to toe in her signature Adidas tracksuit. She brought along her signature giant ‘AMY SHARK’ letters too, just in case anyone forgot her name. They dwarfed her on the stage! She was pulling the cliche sayings from the moment she stepped on stage, which I thought was a unique way to introduce her songs. Kicking off her set with ‘I just wanna know, this guy here, this girl here, are you ready to mess her up?’ then launching into Mess Her Up. Donning an acoustic guitar she shared ‘some of you might not know but I’m a very big Blink-182 fan’ and how about she got Mark Hoppus to sing on her songs and ‘wakes up smiling everyday’ then launching into Psycho. Weekends was the perfect song made even more incredible with it being sung on a Saturday! Never Coming Back as a bit more sombre while Shark upped the beat a bit with Idiot ‘hey guess what I wrote this about my ex boyfriend.’ Shark appeared very honoured to be performing constantly announcing her love ‘Oh Wollongong I love you.’ A cover of Maroon 5’s Girls Like You featured a killer drum solo! While back with the cliches Shark said ‘I don’t know what it feels like for you out there Wollongong, but I’m feeling the love,’ then going on to play All Loved Up. Shark was very reflective proving herself as a bit of a storyteller, sharing how she first played ‘a small venue in Wollongong on her very first tour the Adore tour and dedicating the song ‘adore’ to the people of Wollongong. Closing off her set Amy shared ‘it feels like the shark cult is strong here, you might meet some people who didn’t experience this tonight and when you do come across this odd breed of humans, I don’t want you to be mad, I want you to tell them that I said hi!’ closing her set with I Said Hi.
The evening concluded with Golden Features and honestly I was a little underwhelmed and decided to make an early night of it. His candlelit stage was a pretty sight though.
Throughout the day’s festivities a common theme was the crowd showing a little more than one would bargain for, with plenty of flashing of both boobs and backsides. In an interesting move the festival also featured all cashless payments, the festival wristband was ‘topped up with cash’ the bracelet was then used to pay for any food or beverages purchased onsite.
Although the morning started with sunshine, by the time the gates opened it was clouded over, but that didn’t dim the festival goers spirits. Day two kicked off with four-piece alternative rockers Pacific Avenue who brought the rock and the ’70s hippie vibes. Followed by The Delta Riggs and they both pulled considerable crowds for the first sets off the rank. The Delta Riggs played Counter Revolution and between frontman Elliott Hammond dancing with the microphone stand and jumping in the air to the impressive guitar riffs it was truly the perfect start to the morning and a very powerful track. Fake That from their new record was another highlight with the band joking that ‘that’s the thing with releasing new records is you’ve gotta f**king learn them’! The beer was flowing and the alcohol was in abundance. I was very impressed by their stage presence and once again left questioning the choice to give them such an early set time, although the dedicated festival goers didn’t care!
But it was alternative indie duo The Gooch Palms; siblings Leroy and Kat over at the Owl stage who really dropped my jaw. However that wasn’t the only thing that dropped. Leroy whipped off his pants and dropped his budgie smuggler to reveal his penis in all its glory shortly after commencing their set. Honestly it was too early in the morning for those kind of antics and the crowd were very happy when he pulled it back up. The band introduced themselves by thanking Yours and Owls for ‘being the only festival who’ve allowed them to play so far’ and I think that speaks for itself. Kat is one of the coolest drummer women, feat a killer head of purple locks which she flicked back and forth several times. Their music was good and the crowd enjoyed them, with one lady flashing her boobs! Flashing of body parts was again established to be a common festival theme. Summertime was a highlight of the set.
Back over on the mainstage I managed to catch Brisbane rock band WAAX just as they finished their set. They performed tracks off their new album Big Grief and as always front woman Marie DeVita ‘Maz’ was fantastic! This band is one I will continue to try and catch every time they perform! Their stage presence is second to none and their music is something else entirely! BIG BIG FAN!
I raced back over to the Owl stage to catch Ocean Grove, well as quickly as one can wheel through thick mud that is, and I can say I was hooked from the moment they jumped onstage! This is a band that I’d been meaning to catch for a long time. Kicking off with unreleased track Junkies they announced ‘we’re Ocean Grove from Melbourne, let’s f**king do this!’ and f**king do this they did! The crowd were jumping, the music was pumping and the moshpit was going absolutely crazy. Frontman and guitarist Dale Tanner was rocking a bucket hat with the tag still attached, a new fashion statement maybe? The energy onstage was electric but it was the sense of community that was really humbling with the band inviting everyone to ‘grab the person next to you and give them a big f**king hug, no one is excluded you are all welcome’.
Next up was solo project Love Fame Tragedy by British frontman of The Wombats Matthew ‘Murph’ Murphy. Backflip saw the crowd grooving and singing every word while Hardcore was a bit of a heavier track. Murph delighted performing several tracks off recent EP I Don’t Want To Play The Victim, But I’m Really Good At It including Pills, and Bodyparts which featured a special dedication to Joel, as well as Brand New Brain and My Cheating Heart. Let’s not forget Multiply which Murph shared was written with Bastille and was a welcome addition to the set.
As Meg Mac took to the stage in her signature hat and white dress, the roar of the crowd was deafening. She delighted with Every Lie and Maybe It’s My First Time but it was the powerful track Give Me My Name Back, the first release off her new album Hope that was truly something special, the song saw the crowd joining in to sing the chorus too!
Back over on the Owl stage it was time for Genesis Owusu who entered the stage with ‘Wollongong what the f**k is up!’ They kicked off with a bit of a slower track but don’t doubt the energy because it was HUGE! ‘Initiation meetings will begin now’ and thus the Goon initiation began. The crowd were told that to become a goon they had to follow instructions. Then enacting a call and response with chantings of ‘ohhh yeah GOON CLUB GOON CLUB’ which succeeded in getting the crowd fired up. When outlining the guidelines to be a ‘goon’ the crowd were told ‘the goon will respect women in all areas and facets of life, sexists will be kicked out and possibly beat the f**k up,’ eliciting cheers from the audience. Grow Grow Grow had the crowd bouncing with the order that ‘when this song drops I need you to lose your f**king mind’ and the crowd gladly obeyed bouncing and going crazy! The solo of Sideways was pretty spectacular but it was the stage presence that was the set highlight for me, I don’t think the band stopped moving, constantly jumping up and down and all over the stage, living off the crowd’s energy. The crowd were initiated as goon members and the set concluded with the throwing of red rose petals and an outfit change.
Australian hip-hop group the Thundamentals were back over on the MainStage and started the set off on a very serious note with an acknowledgement that ‘at their last gig some bullshit happened’ and addressed it by reminding everyone to ‘keep their hands to themselves and have a good time and spread your good vibes’. Their set made you feel good with lots of festival goers up on shoulders just having a good time. Eyes On Me was a fun little track and Tuka got the crowd ‘making some noise’ when he asked who was ‘crushing really hard on someone at the moment’ before Smiles Don’t Lie. Tuka spent more time in the air than he did on the ground, and so too did Morgs!
With the festival appearance by No Mono being their last planned show I was keen to finally catch them live and very glad I did. It was such a special set, with frontman Tom donning the guitar and his voice was something else, and mixed with some interpretative dance gave me instant goosebumps, it was so hauntingly beautiful, and very special indeed.
Now Skegss – wow. They spilt the crowd up into left and right sections and from the moment they stepped onstage, and even before, the crowd was going absolutely wild!!! You had to constantly duck because there was flying beer cans everywhere! Coupled with inflatable Rainbow balls this was truly the most wild set of the day. Smogged Out was a highlight. The band were so appreciative of being there, ‘Cheers to our Wollongong mates for putting on this sick festival’. One of the band members even got his brother Billy onstage to join in playing the guitar during New York California, and in the brotherly love kind of way joked ‘he’s really shit but he will get better’.
Back over at the Owl stage I briefly caught Sydney rockers Frenzal Rhomb whom were a treat for some of the older generations but due to their clash with Courtney Barnett and then having them run late I was only able to catch one song. They joked that ‘there’s about four songs you’ll enjoy’ and one of them was Bird Dome. They told stories about how every single person who use the Internet is a f**king c**t. Sharing about how they went to some lady called Lindsey’s house and ‘it was a disgrace, there was a f**king shoe and a hat on the front lawn’, and about how they ‘thought she was down here living her best life when really she’s a wreck and the place is a mess’.
As I made it back to the MainStage Courtney Barnett was just beginning Avant Gardener and she had me captivated. Barnett was an artist I’d been meaning to see for a long time so I was glad to finally have the opportunity. Pulling a rather large crowd she delighted with Need A Little Time, I’m Waiting Here For You, and Nameless, Faceless, but it was 2018 release I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch off her album Tell Me How You Really Feel that was truly the standout for me. The inclusion of a Blues Brothers cover was a welcome addition to an already jam packed set. Depreston was a unique song featuring lots of talk about coffee and lattes, while Pedestrian At Best had everyone singing along to the chorus ‘put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you’! Bassist Mike and Drummer Dave Moody were fantastic but it was Barnett’s antics with her guitar that were truly something special coupled with some special onscreen visuals.
Special shoutout to Diego’s Donuts for catering to my late night sugar cravings with their delicious mini donuts that can only be described as ‘light, fluffy, balls of heaven’!
For the first time Hot Dub Time Machine brought ‘the best party ever’ to Wollongong to close off the festival, and there honestly couldn’t have been a better finish! With the music to Final Countdown blasting HDTM’s Tom took to the stage as the countdown ticked down to zero and treated us to some of the best music ever written like we had travelled back in time. With all the special effects including fireworks, flames, CO2 cannons, the horns and sparklers, coupled with some of the most iconic songs from 2019 all the way back to the 1950’s it was the best finish ever. A special guest appearance by Owl Eyes was a highlight, and with tracks liked Daddy Cool’s Eagle Rock, Toto’s Africa and the antics of red light green light aka a full on dance party it was truly something spectacular! Getting everyone to crouch down and then jump up was a pretty incredible sight to behold with everyone that could joining in! Hot Dub brought the music and the good vibes and was the perfect end to the weekends festivities with an all out dance party.