Over the first two years of operation, Unify: A Heavy Music Gathering has become synonymous with good times, heavy tunes and a cloud of dust whipped up by the constant moshing masses.
This year it was a cloud of a different kind opening up that threatened to kill the vibe of Australia’s biggest heavy music party, as near constant rain lashed down on attendees for much of the festival’s first day, delaying the opening of the arena and making tent set up a near impossible task for most. True to the spirit of resistance that flows through the veins of most heavy music fans, the masses responded to the rain by thrusting a collective giant middle finger towards the sky, grabbing their beverage of choice and getting the hell on with ‘it’. ‘It’ meaning having the best two and a half days of their year as they were treated to a smorgasbord of heavy sounds ranging from pop-punk to hardcore to death metal and most things in between.
First to brave the rains were Ocean Sleeper and Justice For the Damned who both put on powerhouse performances for early arrivers, inspiring the first of many, rain-soaked throwdowns, before Columbus and Polaris convinced tardier (or perhaps timid) folk to turn their frowns upside down with polished, yet passionate sets that had even the most rain-soaked of viewers feeling warm inside. Then King Parrot happened and anyone who was even a little bit unsure about how the year’s gathering would unfold, given the weather, were served a tall glass of “harden the fuck up” in the form of a typically unhinged set. A rare and special energy was unleashed in the air as the spirit of Unify was awoken. Canadian melodic/post-hardcore act Counterparts took that energy and funnelled it through every single note, with a hugely responsive and still growing crowd treating the road-warrior Canucks like one of their own, shouting back lyrics and punching the air with reckless abandon.
That welcoming spirit became ‘welcome back’ spirit as House Vs Hurricane made a triumphant return to the stage, reuniting for their first show since going their separate ways in 2013. The way the crowd responded to the likes of ‘Blood Knuckles’, ‘Forfeiture’ and new song ‘Give It Up’ it seemed as if they’d never left and it’d be no surprise to many if this reunion ended up being more than just a one-time thing. The nostalgic vibes continued as the boys from The Getaway Plan took the stage to perform their debut full-length Other Voices, Other Rooms to an adoring crowd. As frontman Matthew Wright’s unique voice filled the arena you could hear his every word echoed by the largest crowd of day, as thousands relived their teenage years by singing themselves hoarse to the record’s infectious melodies. Expertly backed by guitarist extraordinaire Clint Owen Ellis (Splattering) and brothers Dan (drums) and Mike Maio (bass), Matt’s pitch-perfect performance cemented the first of what would be many memory making moments of Unify 2017, with the arena wide sing-a-long to ‘Where The City Meets The Sea’ one of the loudest the festival has experienced.
The Getaway Plan @ Unify 2017 / Photo: Nikki Williams
Following a scene love-in disguised as a festival set would be daunting for most bands, but most bands aren’t fronted by Jason Aalon Butler, which is to say every other band on earth isn’t fortunate enough to be letlive. The frantic ball of manic energy took approximately five seconds to have fans and first timers responding to his every word and dance move as he thrilled the audience with a dizzying display of musical magnetism that will ensure that attendees will be speaking about the LA native’s set for years to come. As the band played through a letlive. super fan’s wet-dream of a set-list including the likes of ‘Renegade 86’, ‘The Sick, Sick 6.8 Billion’, ’27 Club’, ‘Younger’, ‘Banshee (Ghost Flame)’ and ‘A Weak Ago’, Butler somehow found his way into a wheelie bin (which he masterfully surfed over the captivated crowd) before scaling the enormous stage’s scaffolding all the way to the top without missing so much as a single lyric. It was uncontrolled creative chaos broken up only by an impassioned message about female empowerment prior to an incendiary performances of ‘Muther’ and a plea for the crowd to take the spirit of Unify and put it into action for the benefit of the scene, before a riotous rendition of anti-police brutality anthem ‘Good Mourning America’.
Metalcore monoliths Every Time I Die had the seemingly unenviable task of following letlve. but the Buffalo natives have built a career out of being the most consistent and crushing live band in the genre, and their 40-minute set only served to further underline why. Led from the front by vocalist and lyrical genius Keith Buckley, Every Time I Die put on a metalcore masterclass that had ETIDiots doing their best to stir up that legendary Unify dust cloud, one circle pit at a time. As guitarists Andy and Jordan unleashed a constant barrage of riffs, the band and the crowd became a tangled mess of thrashing limbs as they moved in time with the monstrous grooves of a set containing the likes of ‘The New Black’, ‘The Coin Has A Say’, ‘We’rewolf’, ‘No Son of Mine’, ‘Thirst’ and of course the obligatory pit-cal inducing ‘Bored Stiff’ (of all the “Hey, there girls, I’m a c*nt”, tonight’s may have been the loudest ever). If the movement at the merch tent was anything to go by at the end of their set, ETID had taken a potentially tired, overwhelmed and wet crowd, anxious for the night’s headliners to go on and turned them into yet another group of riff thirsty ETIDiots.
After an extended change over (expertly filled as always by the DJ who kept the tunes on point during the wait) Northlane took the stage, and immediately took ownership of the night, launching into a stellar twelve track set that had the masses moshing from the get-go. Proving every bit worthy of the headline spot, Northlane ripped through a set containing new and old songs alike including ‘Dispossession’, ‘Dream Awake’, ‘Obelisk’, ‘World Eater’, ‘Rot’ and ‘Masquerade’. Vocalist Marcus Bridge acted as an orchestrator of chaos, directing the crowd while seamlessly drifting between his distinctive melodic and dirty vocal tones as hypnotic visuals provided an otherworldly backdrop for the metalcore madness he and his bandmates whipped up to the enormous crowd. Closing out the night with the live debut of new track ‘Intuition’ and signature tune ‘Quantum Flux’, Northlane departed the stage a band definitively worth of the title headliners.
Bleary eyed zombie masses were shaken back to life on day two by the ‘deathpunk’ sounds of triple j Unearthed slot winners Pagan, who made the most of their 20 minute slot with a visceral display that should ensure Nikki Brumen and co continuing their seemingly inevitable rise to becoming major players in the local heavy scene. Bare Bones, Drown This City and The Brave followed, earning rapturous responses despite battling the dual distraction of the indecisive elements and the far-too-long food-vendor lines, before Canadian rockers The Dirty Nil put on a punk rock masterclass that saw them increase the size of their audience with each song. Unknown to a lot of the crowd, the Ontario upstarts had the freshly caffeinated masses onside quickly with songs such as ‘Zombie Eyed’, ‘Wrestle You to Husker Du’, and ‘Higher Power’ convincing many to stay in front of the stage despite the heavens opening up again, with a rad cover of The Misfits ‘Last Caress’ sealing the deal for many. This may have been Australia’s first exposure to The Dirty Nil, but you get the feeling that it definitely won’t be the last.
Saviour drew a passionate crew of fans with their unique blend of pop-punk, folk and melodic hardcore, before Deez Nutz got the pit activated for the first time with their signature hardcore sounds. UK pop-punk meets emo-rockers Moose Blood drew a different, yet similarly sized crowd to Deez Nuts, with their infectious and emotive tunes borrowing a lot from the likes of American stalwarts Brand New and The Get Up Kids, but managing to maintain a distinctly British quality that gave them a unique character. The way the youthful crowd responded to hit single ‘Honey’ is an indication that big things are in store for Moose Blood in 2017.
Trophy Eyes could be THE BIG THING of 2017 as far as emerging Australian bands go and the crowd they drew to the arena in the middle of the afternoon was surely a shock to some. Make no mistake about it, the younger folk LOVE the Newcastle punkers and it’s not hard to understand why. They write great songs, full of genuine emotion that they perform with intensity and integrity. To write happy-sounding songs about genuinely confronting circumstances the way that Trophy Eyes do is difficult undertaking, but this act of musical alchemy has served them well on their two full-length albums so far and served them VERY well at Unify. To see how the crowd sung along and crowd-surfed (one kid went over 7 times in the space of the set) to the likes of ‘Chlorine’, ‘Counting Sheep’ and ‘Daydreamer’ was to see the signifier of a band about to break it big in their scene, and it was uplifting.
Trophy Eyes @ Unify 2017 / Photo: Nikki Williams
Tassie punk rock stalwarts Luca Brasi have slugged away WAY too hard for them to do anything but knock it out of the park with their prime slot and so predictably that’s exactly what they did, ensuring a constant blur of motion could be seen at the front of the pit. There’s nothing pretentious about what they offer, it’s good old Aussie punk-tinged pub-rock and it’s a beautiful thing to hear that accent singing the likes of ‘Aeroplane’, ‘Anything Near Conviction’ and ‘Cascade Blues’ back at frontman Tyler Richardson en-mass. Sydney post-hardcore act Storm The Sky wowed their fanbase with a slick performance before Australia’s most underrated punk rock exports Bodyjar encouraged many of the older folk in the audience to come out of crowd-surfing retirement with a fun-filled set of some of the best punk rock songs Australia has ever had to offer.
Thy Art is Murder were the heaviest band on the bill, but that didn’t stop them drawing a sizeable crowd. A crowd that was then given a sizeable surprise when ex-vocalist CJ McMahon walked out, grabbed the microphone and announced he was back in the band. Considering the rather infamous and controversial circumstances of his departure, this gave Unify 2017 a genuine big news moment that will trend in the heavy music world for quite a while. That the band went on to absolutely nail their set and incite the biggest pit response of the whole weekend only added to the hype.
With all due respect to Alexisonfire, Violent Soho probably should have headlined Unify 2017. That’s not just because Unify has a strong focus on pushing local talent, it’s because they easily drew the biggest crowd of the entire festival. A crowd that sung, moshed, crowd surfed, chanted, danced and fell over (it was late in the second day of a BYO festival after all) to literally every second of every song of their set. There’s nothing spectacular about Violent Soho’s stage show (except for bass player Luke Henery’s hair when he headbangs) there’s nothing notable about the way they dress, there’s nothing particularly technical about what they play, they just write bloody good songs that are instantly relatable and incredibly fun to sing along with, loudly, while surrounded by your friends in a field. They are the everyman’s band of their generation in the sense that their songs appeal to practically everyone from every genre and this slot at Unify absolutely affirmed that they’d be worthy of headliner status for this festival in the future. Nothing on this festival appeared to bring as much joy to as many people as ‘Viceroy’, ‘Like Soda’, ‘How To Taste’, ‘Dope Calypso’ or ‘Covered In Chrome’. (Extra credit for inspiring a person in a wheelchair to crowd surf too, that was rad.)
Returning post-hardcore heroes Alexisonfire were given the headliner status and they wasted no time rekindling their special bond with Australian audiences, opening proceedings with the three hit combo of ‘Young Cardinals’, ‘Boiled Frogs’ and ‘This Could Be Anywhere In The World’. Despite this being part of a reunion run, the beloved Ontarians showed no sign of rust, with guitarist/clean vocalist/arguably the most famous gentleman on the entire festival Dallas Green, sounding as pure as ever, as frontman George Pettit spat venom, and bassist Wade McNeil did his gravel-throated punk-thing, the band’s trademark three-pronged vocal attack sounded as locked in as ever as they worked through a “greatest hits” type of headliner set inclusive of bangers ‘Accidents’, ‘Pulmonary Archery’ and ‘We Are The Sound’. The still quite boisterous crowd responded as they always do in Australia to Alexisonfire, which is with a mass of sweaty, soaked, thrashing bodies and slightly out-of-key but well-intentioned refrains that well and truly earned the encore ‘Happiness by the Kilowatt’. That put a nice bow on the festival proper for 2017.
All in all, Unify 2017: A Heavy Music Gathering overcame the inclement weather to deliver a truly memorable and enjoyable experience for the thousands in attendance. I know it sounds like marketing schtick but there really is a sense of camaraderie found at Unify that I haven’t experienced at other festivals. It’s just a superhappyfuntime, with a wicked live soundtrack.
Gallery: Unify Gathering 2017 / Photos: Nikki Williams