“Rock is dead” seems to be the popular catch-cry of some of the music industry’s favourite fossils in 2016. Dad rockers like Gene Simmons and Flea lament the demise of a genre that’s long-ailed from a lack of innovation and an overabundance of bands peddling the same old musical formulae.
With that in mind, last night’s #NorthWake show at Sydney’s Big Top would have deadset blown the lamenters’ dicks off…
The final show of the chart-topping metalcore acts’ joint Equinox tour was more rock n’ roll than anything this country has seen in a long time (and I realise that saying that will probably give some scenesters the urge to vomit, but that could also just be the one-too-many Fat Yaks you downed at the bar last night amirite?).
To begin with, unlike the majority of touring rock acts whose shows are packed with middle-aged Triple M listeners so much so that you have to play “spot the under-35er”, last night’s show was the exact opposite.
The huge Luna Park venue was crammed to near-capacity with an all ages crowd propelled there by the combined might of four of the best heavy acts Australia has to offer: Ocean Grove, Hands Like Houses, In Hearts Wake and Northlane.
The bill was very literally a mini-UNIFY Gathering, stationed inside the heart of Sydney’s iconic light-spangled freak show. And like the umbrella brand of the iconic UNFD label, the vibe of the bands onstage was infectiously Unified, with multiple musical collaborations and words of appreciation spoken for one another across the night.
As a result, we all felt like freaks together.
Fresh UNFD signings and Melbourne odd world experimentalists Ocean Grove knocked their opening slot out of the ballpark with a frenetic high-energy stage show packed with a setlist of crushing, schizophrenic hip-hop-meets-core tunes.
The band’s roster is literally choccas with kooky and entertaining identities, but bassist/clean vocalist Dale Tanner had a particularly mesmerising stage presence which was only amplified by his outfit choice. Sporting a violently green shirt and hair to match, the dude performed with the intensity of an epileptic, metal Ninja Turtle.
Next came Hands Like Houses, dishing up a set packed with tunes fresh off their new album Dissonants. These guys have always been effortlessly energetic and captivating on stage, but 2016 finds them more formidable than ever before because they’re packing an arsenal of the biggest and best tunes of their career.
As HLH pelted the crowd with one heavy, danceable banger after the next, it was all too easy to get swept up screaming along with frontman Trenton Woodley (and your mates/the randoms beside you) to the onslaught of infectiously singable choruses, particularly those of their fark-off huge singles, I Am, New Romantics, Colourblind and Glasshouse. In conclusion, my vocal chords are shredded today and it’s all Hands Like Houses’ fault.
The set’s only downside was that the front-of-house mix could have been a bit louder. C’mon sound guy.
I, like many others, utilised the gap between sets for a sneaky bathroom break, and ended up running into a mate in the foyer. As we were chatting, the stage inside the auditorium lit up and In Hearts Wake smashed into their Earthwalker track Gaia, triggering a LITERAL FUCKING STAMPEDE back into the Big Top.
Legitimately, at least 50 people turned and sprinted at full pelt to make sure they didn’t miss a single fucking second of IHW’s set. Now that is some seriously dedicated fan shit.
The Byron Bay lads performed a huge set heavy with Earthwalker and Skydancer tracks plus the occasional classic thrown in, and the dual vocal assault of Jake’s earth-shuddering screams and Kyle’s sky-high cleans were radio-perfect as ever.
In true IHW style, there were also some surprise WTF moments. Specifically at one point when they started blasting the goddamn William Tell Overture as some random kent in a rainbow sombrero, poncho and fake donkey burst onto the stage and started Tokyo-drifting round trying to gee the crowd into a massive circle pit.
Shit was turnt, but it soon gave way to mass feels as everyone waved their phone lights high and belted Wildflower in unison.
Finally, it was Northlane‘s turn, and as far as their standalone performance went, it was the highlight of the night (which — considering how bloody good the others were — is saying something and then some). The Sydney act’s live sound was beyond huge, and having their intricately woven yet heavy AF compositions blasted at your face was like a non-stop 40-minute sucker-punch.
One of the most incredible things about their live sound was the realisation that bottle-rocket frontman Marcus Bridge carries the vocals single-handedly. His vox are humongous without the addition of extra harmonies (although Hands Like Houses’ Trenton Woodley did appear to add an awesome high harmony to Rot and Ocean Grove’s Luke Holmes cameo’d on Masquerade).
But the frontman also got plenty of help from the crowd, who sung along just as enthusiastically to the band’s Node tracks as they did to their pre-Marcus oldies.
Finally, the unholy alliance that we’d all been waiting for: Northlane and In Hearts Wake collided on stage to deliver the foretold Equinox. They opened up the gates and welcomed us to mayhem with a sound so huge you could feel it in your guts.
Members from both bands switched it up in front of the minimalist backdrop and swirling lights to serve up the full suite of monster tunes off their freshly minted collaborative EP, complete with a double-kit drum-off and climactic rainstorm of glitter confetti.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a fan who left the Big Top that night feeling dissatisfied by this leviathan lineup of locals, who have so much in common beyond the bounds of this standalone tour.
Despite fluctuations in genre, each of these bands plays an aggressive, innovative and slick style of heavy music powered by distorted guitars and challenging, at times politically-charged lyrics. They’re clearly resonating with a generation of fans who are jack of the shallow pop and flaccid indie tunes dominating the radio airwaves, and it’s brought them together into a burgeoning music-based counter-culture that could easily explode into a stadium-filling movement if these bands keep kicking arse at the rate they currently are.
TL;DR: Rock is still very much alive. It’s just evolved into a different kind of monster, and Australia has some of the best monsters there is.