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UNIFY Gathering 2020 – Tarwin Meadows, Victoria

The key to the ongoing success of Unify Gathering is the sense of community spirit seemingly inbuilt into its DNA. On a day when it seemed that all of our weather gods had abandoned us, that ‘unifying spirit’ came to the forefront, as did a  mutual respect between attendees and organisers. While the weather made it seem like it’d be a day to forget, it became a night to remember forever.

DAY ONE

The enduring memory for most will likely be Architects midnight mainstage masterclass, and rightly so – it was wicked – but the Brighton metalcore monoliths weren’t the only ones that upped their game for UNIFY 2020. With every band that took to the stage on day/night 1 delivering the goods, the crowd were more than ready to finally soak up some bangers after a day of being battered by much needed but ever so poorly timed torrential rain. 

Necessity is the mother of invention, and so the Circus Tent stage was born into this world and at 5:40 Darwin’s Tapestry gave it a fittingly hardcore christening, with their unique blend of melodic post-hardcore finding a tent full of receptive ears. This NT five-piece were hotly tipped by a few members of my inner circle and with songs the quality of ‘Retrospect’ and ‘Dark Shade’ and a killer live show, it won’t be long till they are taking to stages this big on the regular.

Pressure makes diamonds, but tonight an opportunity seized made Diamond Construct the talk of UNIFY, thanks to a stomping set that had the Circus Tent raging from the outset. 

The world outside became an afterthought, as bodies flung themselves over the barrier and into the pit. The band tore through cuts like ‘Animus’ and ‘Submerged’. They found new fans with every note and as vocalist Kynan played instigator, inciting the nights first wall-of-death, UNIFY came alive. The sight of a guy crowd surfing on top of an inflatable shark confirming what everyone in the tent now knew – Diamond Construct had arrived.

Perth’s ascendant indie-rockers Tired Lion offered a perfect change of pace, with their fuzz-infused anthemic rock helping the burgeoning crowd find their voices. Singer/guitarist Sophie Hopes owned the stage, casually sipping away on a bottle of Jack Daniels, as she delivered hook after hook after hook. Her bandmates thrashed away, creating a frenzied energy that fit the quiet/loud dynamics of their music perfectly.

‘Dumb Days’ had the crowd buzzing creating a special vibe, as unbeknownst to us, Sophie worked through a lifelong fear of performing in tents! That announcement brought a cheer and a good old-fashioned group vocal performance of the theme from ‘Round The Twist’ before Sophie gave us all a bit of group therapy with a riotous ‘Cinderella Dracula’ to close. 

Auckland’s Antagonist A.D entrenched themselves into Aussie hardcore hearts long-ago, so it was no surprise when their arrival to stage was greeted with a mass of flying bodies, young and old alike. As breakdown after breakdown hit, the Circus Tent opened up and, if it wasn’t for the barrier, you’d have sworn you were at a floor show.

Vocalist Sam made the mission statement clear – telling bigots, xenophobes, homophobes or any other prejudicial types to “get the fuck out of the festival”  while commanding the chaos in the pit below. ‘Coffin Keeper’ and ‘No Justice’ were the highlights, but the whole set was choice.

After a brief break to score a tea and some hot chips, I met and hugged a Pikachu and then suddenly a wild Silverstein appeared! Busting onto the stage with the confidence of a band that knows they have 20 years of bangers to call upon, Silverstein launched into ‘Smashed into Pieces’ and the room caught a musical time machine back to the peak MySpace era.

My inner screamo heart came beating out of my chest, along with thousands of others, as Shane Told launched into the opening words of ‘Smile in Your Sleep’. Entering their 20th year as a band, Silverstein have never looked or sounded more youthful, with fresh cut ‘Burn it Down’ slotting seamlessly into a career spanning set of bangers that turned Unify into one giant emo night. Having recently signed to UNFD, the band promised to return to Australia more regularly, and if the response to ‘My Heroine’ is anything to judge it by, Australia is pretty damn hyped for that!

UNIFY has a knack for getting behind bands just as they are about to break big, and in 2020, Triple J favourites Dear Seattle are set to blow up on a national level. Given the chance to play a rare late-night festival set, they let the tunes do most of the talking, and they were definitely talking the UNIFY crowd’s musical language.  There’s a Violent Soho level of song quality at play with these guys, with frontman Brae Fisher’s instantly memorable vocal hooks and knack for wordplay, creating a kind of vortex in which literally every word simply must be sung at the top of your voice.

For half an hour, UNIFY was caught in that vortex and it was a wonderful, warm, communal place to be. From the urgency of opener ‘Daytime TV’ to the tongue-in-cheek lyrical wizardry of ‘Maybe’ – “I don’t want to go to university, coz I don’t think they offer a fuckwit degree” – and the reflection of ‘The Meadows’, Dear Seattle’s knack for songcraft is on full-display. In a star making set full of highlights, perhaps none will live as long in the memory as seeing a crowd of heavily tattooed metal fans singing at the top of their lungs to a Missy Higgins song, but amazing as their rendition of ‘The Special Two’ was, closer ‘I Keep Dreaming’ shows that Dear Seattle have plenty of timeless anthems of their own to get famous for.

As the clock struck midnight, the clouds parted, the full-moon appeared and Architects launched into a menacing display of emotive metalcore mastery that had the mainstage pit in a state of constant motion. The hits came quick and fast with ‘Death Is Not Defeat’, ‘Modern Misery’ and ‘Nihilist’ and Architects’ unique connection with Australia was on full-display as modern metal icon Sam Carter spoke from the heart about his sorrow for the destruction the bushfires have caused and his anger at the ineptitude of the government’s response to the climate emergency.

A loud “fuck Scomo!” chant erupted and it was clear the UNIFY crowd was well behind the message as ‘Naysayer’ brought a new level of intensity to proceedings. In a crowded genre, Architects’ grasp of melodic dynamics has always set them apart, and the likes of ‘Holy Hell’, the gargantuan ‘Gravedigger’ and anthemic ‘Downfall’ show both their technical and melodic wizardry working in perfect unison, resulting in undeniable modern metal anthems. Guitarist Josh Middleton will never be Tom Searle, but the Sylosis shredder looks absolutely at home now in his role slinging the axe for Architects, and his connection with Dan, Alex, Sam and Dean ensures that the legacy of Tom’s music lives on.

Architects share a connection with returning heroes and Saturday night headliners The Ghost Inside too, and ‘A Match Made in Heaven’ is dedicated to them, inspiring an arena wide Ghost Inside chant and then total carnage when the breakdown hits. In a set of absolute ragers, this might have been my favourite, with every single member firing on all cylinders and the crowd responding in-kind with some bonkers activity.  Departing the stage briefly, before returning for a heartwarming encore of ‘Gone With The Wind’ and a chill-inducing ‘Doomsday’ (preceded tonight by the entire arena sitting down as a mark of respect for Tom and the remaining band members, a moving callback to Architects 2018 Unify performance) Architects reaffirmed themselves as worthy of sitting atop modern metals throne, leaving Unify 2020 with a memory that will last a lifetime. 

DAY TWO

Waking to the sound of cockatoos doing their best Sam Carter impressions, day two proper of Unify is a much kinder proposition weather wise than day one, so with a triple espresso in hand I joined the bleary eyed masses in the arena to catch Triple J competition winners, Reside, who made the most of their 20 mins in the spotlight. If ‘The Light That I Found’ is anything to judge it by, the future’s bright for these Melbourne punk rockers. Weighbridge follow, delivering emotion drenched alternative sounds, that seems to be a lot of people’s choice for breakfast soundtrack.  ‘Gaunt’ is a great time. 

If the coffee didn’t wake me up, Sleep Talk’s heartfelt punk rock songs sure would have. ‘Everything in Colour’ and ‘Slowfade’ are gems, with the weight of UNFD behind them, they could be one to keep your eyes on in 2020. 

Brisbane’s The Brave brought their barrage of metalcore bangers next, inspiring some of the first pit action of the day. These boys get better every time I see them and today is no exception – ‘Desolation’ crushes. Kublai Khan TX storm into our lives with their punishing brand of hardcore punk, bringing hardcore kids of all-ages to the front for a good old-fashioned throwdown. These Texas natives fire with military precision. When ‘The Hammer’ drops, UNIFY knows what’s up! 

Columbus fill the heartfelt pop-punk vibe, with a thousand or so fans filling the circus tent for a set of feel good hits of the supposed summer, ‘Say What You Want’ is treated with the reverence of a genre classic. 

Knocked Loose were arguably THE hardcore band of 2019 with A Different Shade of Blue taking pride of place on many scene luminaries’ album of the year lists, and so it’s no surprise to find an epic crowd awaiting their arrival to the main stage. Not a band known for fucking around, they launch right into laying waste to the evening. There’s nothing particularly fancy about what they do, and that’s part of the charm. It’s impassioned, warts and all hardcore that bleeds both venom and authenticity. When ‘Belleville’ drops, the pit erupts with a constant stream of bodies come over the barrier for the remainder of the set.

‘Oblivion’s Peak’ is dedicated to the LGBTQIA community to rapturous applause, while ‘…And I Still Wander South’ is absolutely punishing. At just 25, Bryan Garris and co. are veterans of the hardcore touring circuit, and that experience shows. With seemingly endless ambition, and all the right voices in their corner, 2020 could be the year Knocked Loose blow up in a way that hardcore bands aren’t supposed to anymore. Departing with ‘Counting Worms’, they set the bar high for the acts to follow.  

Passing by on my way to get some food, I catch Between You and Me playing to a dedicated group of fans in the tent, there’s a real sense of connection Between You and Me and the crowd and they all seemed to be having a lovely time.

One of the rad things about UNIFY is watching bands careers develop through the years. Void of Vision graduated from openers to early evening mainstage drawcard and their ascent has been absolutely earned – ‘Babylon’ bangs,  ‘Disturbia’ sounds immense, their cover of Slipknot’s ‘Psychosocial’ brings that nu-metal stomp and ‘The Ghost in the Machine’ sees vocalist Jack Bergin scale the scaffolding to get a better look at the huge pit that’s opened up.  Dedicating their set to the firefighters protecting the state, Void of Vision delivered. 

Eat Your Heart Out’s brand of pop punk/rock has been earning praise globally and this evening they show Unify why with a polished but emotive display that makes the tent feel like a party. ‘Carousel’ is pure sugary pop-punk bliss, with its positive affirmations a perfect match for the communal vibe. ‘Conscience’ is similarly sunny, Caitlin Henry has the perfect voice for this genre, and the band know that there’s just as much value in not playing at times, as there is in playing. Excitable on stage and with hooks for days, I’m super keen to see where things go for these Newcastle exports.

Stray from the Path have been a live favourite of mine for over a decade and their groove infused brand of hardcore had main stage area bouncing from the get go. Frontman Drew York is a constant blur of motion with his rapid fire delivery giving every syllable a sense of importance and urgency. Before they speak a word you can tell this band stands for so much more than tokenistic sloganeering, and their hostile brand of musical activism is a breath of fresh air amidst a poisonous political climate.

UNIFY is absolutely the space for their hard left politics and the crowd is absolutely fucking ready to join the revolt. ‘Fortune Teller’ and ‘Kickback’ off of 2019’s superb Internal Atomics are incendiary live, as is ‘Outbreak’, with the pit in full-swing, Sam Carter makes his considerable presence felt on a combustible ‘First World Problem Child’, while Tom Williams’ guitar work powers a violent ‘Badge and a Bullet’.  Not since letlive. in 2017 has a UNIFY set felt so positively politicised. If you’re wondering where the next great protest band is, Stray From the Path are your answer.

Nature called, so I sadly missed a fair bit of The Beautiful Monument’s set, but I have it on good authority that it was yet another step up for the band and the few songs I did catch were certainly indicative of that. Most importantly it seemed both crowd and band were having the time of their lives, so I’m sure we’ll cross paths again next year. 

Tonight Alive take to the stage and within moments the crowd is a mass of smiling faces singing very word of “I Disappear.” When “Wasting Away” came next you knew the next hour was going to be a joyful celebration of a career kicking into its second decade. Jenna McDougall shines, and it’s so refreshing to see a positive, happy, inspired artist at the peak of her powers. “World Away” with its message of self-empowerment speaks volumes, the refrain of “My life is what I make it” reverberating around the mainstage and clearly hitting home for some. 

Being billed as ‘Tonight Alive and Friends’, kind of made it an open secret that we’d be seeing guest performers, most had Matt from Hellions in their predictions, but I’m not sure many would have foreseen his appearance being to perform ‘Little Lion Man’ alongside Maz from Brisbane powerhouses WAAX. That’s what happened though and it was an absolute bop. ‘Lonely Girl’ turns back the clock, before ‘Crack My Heart’ is dedicated to the ‘divine feminine energy’. Jenna lets hers run wild with the most triumphant performance of the track yet, hopefully inspiring others to follow in her footsteps. Marcus Bridge from Northlane fills in for Corey Taylor on ‘My Underworld’, and as two of the most pure voices in Aussie heavy music come together in harmony, we witness an iconic moment. After a year off of touring, Tonight Alive are clearly rejuvenated and read to bring their life affirming anthems back to life.

Polaris rise to prominence is one of the more impressive climbs of recent years and tonight’s set feels like the beginning of a seemingly limitless payoff. An enormous crowd explodes to life the moment the Sydney crew hit the stage with ‘Hypermania’. Our friend the inflatable shark crowdsurfer is back in action and this time he was joined by Pikachu and a T-Rex, as a massive circle pit forms and is set off at the command of master of ceremonies aka vocalist Jamie Hails. Body after body goes over the barrier and I find myself smiling at what this band is becoming. A heartfelt speech to continue to unite and love in such hard times, is given wild applause, before ‘Masochist’ drops and people from all walks of life lose their shit in unison. Saying farewell to The Mortal Coil album cycle, Polaris close out with ‘Lucid’ to which the crowd loses their collective mind. With an album dropping 21 Feb.. A headline set beckons. 

Northlane need no introduction to the Unify stage, having headlined themselves in years past, their set is nothing short of an audio visual assault on the senses. Trippy light sequences mesh with prog-metal soundscapes as they dominate with a scorching ‘Details Matter’, ‘4D’ sees a groove take hold with a few rather lubricated members of the crowd trying their hardest to look anywhere near as comfortable and cool while losing their shit as every single member of Northlane does onstage. ‘Freefall’ shows off Marcus’ insane vocal chops with histrionics aplenty, before ‘Rot’ and ‘Quantum Flux’ activate the pit. Perhaps nothing shows off the post-metalcore monster that Northlane have become quite like penultimate track ‘Talking Heads’, it’s an absolute barnstormer. 

The Ghost Insides return to the Australian stage was always going to be THE iconic moment of Unify 2020. Their recovery from life threatening injuries following a horrific bus crash was noteworthy enough, but the ability for them to get back up on a stage, especially in the case of drummer Andrew, who lost a freaking leg, is testament to pure human determination. Playing just their second show back after four years of hellish uncertainty, The Ghost Inside seem both humbled and heartened by the size of the crowd before them and as they launch into opener ‘Avalanche’,  you see the realisation come over the faces of band members and fans alike, this is really happening! ‘Unspoken’ and ‘The Great Unknown’ are as powerful as ever, and the crowd responds by moshing so hard the earth shakes.  When vocalist Jonathan Vigil catches breath and speaks about what this return to the stage means to the band, a few of the more masculine looking men in attendance start shedding tears of joy, which they sing through when ‘Dear Youth (Day 52)’ drops with the first chorus setting off one of the loudest singalongs of the festival. 

Jonathan and bassist Jim Riley again took a moment to speak of how inspired they are by this second chance at life, with Jim revealing what it was like to be the one who escaped physically unscathed, and reaffirming just how blown away he is that they’ve managed to make it all the way back to a festival stage. Drummer Andrew is singled out for deserved praise for willing his way back behind the kit, before ’33’, a song fittingly about the power of music to connect people and give life purpose, brings the pit back to life. Jonathan professes love for Australia, for being the first country to ever truly give a fuck about The Ghost Inside, affirming that’s why we were chosen for the first show back outside of home. ‘Mercy’, ‘Dark Horse’ and ‘Move Me’ sound monstrous, and the promise of new music on the way in 2020 gets a huge response. 

Thanking us all one final time, The Ghost Inside close the curtain on Unify 2020 with a powerhouse performance of ‘Engine 45’, as the final notes ring out, there’s an aura in the air, one that reads ‘anything is possible.’

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