Tarwin Meadows is in the middle of buttfuck nowhere.
A sprawling dustbowl out in the south-eastern Victorian shticks, surrounded by dense bushland, rambling cattle farms and sleepy fishing spots.
And it’s an odd day for the quiet pastoral town of Tarwin Lower, because a legion of rowdy metalcore fans has suddenly got the townsfolk outnumbered almost 50 to 1.
Today marks the second ever instalment of UNIFY – A Heavy Music Gathering. 19 bands are performing across two SOLD OUT days, the summer sun is spewing dry heat down upon the earth and 5,000 psyched punters from all across the nation are descending upon this quaint little patch of dirt.
And let me tell you, witnessing such a horde of tatted-up, ear-stretchered, black muscle singlet-wearing scenesters amassing in the middle of the Straya’n bush is truly a sight to behold.
Nothing says “hardcore” like getting in amongst it with all of the dry grass, blowflies and cow shit, after all.
But there was plenty more than just that extraordinary sight to love about UNIFY 2016.
You couldn’t help but grin as over-enthused punters unloaded their cars with industrial-sized beer bongs and more tinnie slabs than they could hope to carry, taking full advantage of the festival’s BYO policy.
And it was heartening to finally see some the heaviest bands in the country performing on a festival stage that wasn’t marred by a massive sign bellowing “NO CROWD SURFING”.
Hell, there’s even something to be said for the rustic experience of taking a piss inside a roasting, urine-soaked port-a-loo.
But, looking back, the festival’s relaxed attitude also let it down in a few minor ways as well. With only one stage, the 20-30 minute changeovers were a real buzzkill, with punters forced to spend almost six hours of the festival twiddling their thumbs.
Festivalgoers without cash money also went hungry on the Sunday when UNIFY’s one and only ATM machine went out of service and none of the food stalls on site took Eftpos.
Finally, as one last point of critique, the festival’s whole format felt a bit – well – odd. The monster 13-act Saturday bill was such a marathon that hangovers were starting to set in by the time that superstar cover band The All Nighters took the stage at 1am, while the 4-hour ‘Matinee’ performance on the Sunday seemed like something of an afterthought (sure enough, around half the attendees were either too disinterested, bushwhacked or piss-wrecked to rock up).
But despite a few small blemishes, you’ve still got to hand it to UNIFY.
The organisers cared about their fans, and went to great lengths to look after them. They supplied sunscreen to make sure no one got burnt, a constant supply of fresh water to make sure no one got dehydrated, breathalysers to make sure no one drove drunk, and great music to make sure everyone was having a good time, all the time.
And in a post-Soundwave Australian festival scene that seems to be increasingly dominated by events where live music is reduced to just one small part of a broader “cultural experience” (alongside things like “artisan markets”, art installations, gourmet food options, craft beverages, “wellness workshops” and other such fanciful hipster wankery) it’s refreshing as all fuck to go to a music festival that is simply about nothing more than a bunch of mates getting together and listening to their favourite bands.
As the guys from Tonight Alive told us backstage, “It’s a family, community vibe and everyone’s here to do the same thing, which is really, really cool.”
And that was definitely the overwhelming and powerful feeling on Saturday night.
Under the stars, with dust coating our throats, stinging our eyes and covering our entire bodies – singing our lungs out and moshing our necks off to Parkway Drive – 5,000 people were unified.
Check out Music Feeds’ yearbook awards for Unify Gathering, Class Of 2016, below.
From inciting moshers to rip off their shirts and swing them around their heads helicopter-styles, to bizarre coconut cameos and spontaneous usage of the term “mongoose”, Hellions’ set was a non-stop LOL riot of sweat drenched groove riffage and hell-raising shenanigans.
One member of the crowd – who was clearly nursing some form of grievous leg injury (despite positioning himself smack-bang in the middle of the moshpit) even felt compelled to start pumping his crutches in the air in a show of approval. Legendary status unlocked.
BIGGEST ALL ROUNDER
In Hearts Wake
The Byron Bay lads performed a huge set that ticked all the boxes. Both Jake’s earth-shuddering screams and Kyle’s melodic vocals were bang-on, the energy was intense, the vibe was electric, the setlist was a savvy mix of songs both new and old and – in true IHW style – their show was also full of surprises. From Jake appearing onstage toting a loaded T-shirt gun, to the fellas unleashing an avalanche of black beach balls into the crowd, it was – from start to finish – impossible to look away.
Battered, bruised, sunburnt, hungover and sore. Killer weekend. #unify2016 ❤️ A video posted by Jess O’Connor (@jess_aprettymess) on
Tonight Alive Tonight Alive have always been the pop-punk world’s star pupils, but from the outset of UNIFY it was going to be interesting to see how their infectious pop-laced music would go down with the Parkway Drive purists. Though one of the few Aussie bands on the lineup not signed to the UNFD label, Tonight Alive didn’t only hold their own with the bands who were, they pushed the bar even higher for every band who hit the stage after them. Jenna McDougall was arguably the most energetic front-person of the entire festival, jumping, kicking, screaming and dancing all over the impromptu scaffolding without missing a single note. As she told the crowd at the end of her set, “I never thought I’d see guys in hardcore singlets singing along to a song like To Be Free”. But they sure as hell were doing just that.
Oh Jenna ❤️✨ #tonightalive #unifygathering #bestnight #tobefree @axlgram13 A video posted by Aleks (@aleks_halfelven) on
Ocean Grove One of the coolest highlights of the whole festival was during Melbourne hardcore act Ocean Grove’s set early on Saturday afternoon. Things got a bit hairy when their wily-maned bassist – at the behest of his missus – decided to give his long locks the chop, live on stage.
Stray From The Path US hardcore act Stray From The Path played a killer set, giving it absolutely all they had, but the music was frequently broken up by frontman Drew York delivering rousing speeches and ranting against everyone from Instagram posers to convicted paedophile Ian Watkins. But there’s no need to shut the fuck up Drew, we could have listened to you all day.
Stray From The Path was fucking lit! So glad I got to see them live!!! #shahtravel #virginmelbournetrip #unify2016 #unifygathering #strayfromthepath A video posted by Mohammed Shah (@parashahmore) on
MOST TOUCHING MOMENT
The metalcore heroes played their second-last show ever at UNIFY 2016. As expected, their set was an emotional affair, beginning with a restrospective video montage looking back on all of the band’s accomplishments and shenanigans over the years (to the soundtrack of Green Day’s Good Riddance, no less) and ending with frontman Michael Crafter bringing his partner and four-year-old daughter out onto the stage and serenading them with the final song of the set.
BEST WALL OF DEATH
Make Them Suffer
Make Them Suffer’s wall of death was fucking hectic. It happened during their finale and created an actual fucking dust storm. JUST LOOK AT THAT SHIT:
Make Them Suffer kicking up dust! #unifygathering #makethemsuffer A video posted by The Racket (@triplejracket) on
BEST STAGE DIVE
Hands Like Houses
A lot of bands stole the show at UNIFY 2016, and Canberra rockers Hands Like Houses were one such. Their set was energetic and captivating from start to finish, but one of the greatest moments occurred when frontman Trenton Woodley dove into the crowd and continued to sing with pitch-perfect intensity as dusty-handed fans exalted him above the moshpit. As he said himself, his shirt was light blue when he left the stage, and black by the time he returned.
The US pop punk act took the stage in the searing heat in front of a reduced crowd on Matinee day, but that didn’t stop them giving it their fucking all. The dudes delivered a rousing, high-energy set that yanked timid punters out of the shade and into the sweltering moshpit to share in the positive vibes.
Confession Feat. Winston McCall
Possibly the most poignant moment of the entire festival came when Confession – who had already made fans emotional on account of it being their second last show ever – performed their track Fuck Cancer.
Frontman Michael Crafter introduced the song, explaining that it was inspired by his experiences losing his father to cancer and helping his mother through her continuing battle with the same disease. The topic also had particular resonance with punters this week of all weeks, with the pain of losing three entertainment industry legends to cancer within a short space of time – Lemmy Kilmister, David Bowie and Alan Rickman – still all too fresh.
But the Fuck Cancer message was delivered with even more power and intensity when Crafter was joined by Parkway Drive frontman Winston McCall. Their collab was absolutely awe-inspiring stuff.
Even better, the whole thing was capped off with a laugh. After the song ended, Crafter had a not-so-subtle dig at Winston’s new hair do: “I’d like to thank Justin Bieber for joining us,” he joshed.
Fuck cancer! ft @winstontmc #unifygathering #unify2016 #crafter #confession #winston #parkwaydrive #fuckcancer #fuck #cancer #unifyspam A video posted by Lachy Davis (@lachydaviss) on
It was great being able to see these two share the stage one last time. @crafter618 @winstontmc #fuckcancer #confession #parkwaydrive #unify #unifygathering A photo posted by Mitchell Debenham (@debsonthekid) on
Michael Crafter and Winston McCall Fuck Cancer @confessionhc @crafter618 @winstontmc @unifygathering #endofanera #confession #unify #unifygathering #fuckcancer #crafter #mccall #mosh A video posted by Melissa Crooke (@melskittles) on
The All Nighters Feat. Trenton Woodley Allstar cover band The All Nighters performed a half-hour set of well-known songs voted for in advance by the UNIFY fans. An honourable mention must go to their rendition of Weezer’s Buddy Holly featuring Frenzal Rhomb’s The Doctor. But Trent from Hands Like Houses reappearing to guest on a Panic! At The Disco classic took the cake.
Ticket to Unify = $150 Petrol to drive to Tarwin Lower = $40-ish Trenton from HLH rocking out some Panic! With the cover band last night = Priceless What an epic weekend #unify2016 A video posted by Dave Parker (@thisisdefective) on
BEST CIRCLE PIT
It was never going to be anyone else. Frontman Winston McCall, dissatisfied with the crowd’s circle pit efforts, demanded a massive 1,000 person pit be formed in the middle of the Tarwin Meadows field. Of course, they obliged.
Prior to launching into Vice Grip, Winston commanded everyone who hadn’t already had a go at crowd-surfing that day to jump up and pour themselves over the barrier like a human waterfall. And it wasn’t just humans either: inflatable boats, boogie boards and even several otto bins had a go.
BEST IMPROMPTU SINGALONG
Shoutout to the DJ responsible for spinning tracks in between the tedious 20+ minute changeovers between sets. He or she slayed it, blasting crowd-pleaser after crowd-pleaser. Punters sang along en masse to a lot of the tracks, but the biggest and best singalong easily occurred during John Farnham’s classic You’re The Voice. Who knew so many metalcore dudes and dudettes were big Farnsy fans?
MOST LIKELY NEVER TO BE INVITED BACK AGAIN
The Tiger snake that terrified bands and staff backstage on Saturday.
Gallery: Unify Gathering 2016 / Pics by Darren Tan