Music

How UNIFY stepped up in 2017 to become one of Australia’s most vital festivals

What do a burning bible, DJ Ötzi’s ‘Hey Baby’ and surfing on a recycling bin have in common? They were all present at one of the most truly unique festivals in Australia. SAMUEL BAUERMEISTER reviews UNIFY 2017. All photos by Nick Hargans.

Towards the middle of January last year, my friends and I started packing up all of our tent and belongings into our tiny Toyota Corolla and making the long drive back from Tarwin Lower to Sydney.UNIFY 2016 had made us exhausted: we had violently collided with others with joy when Parkway Drive demanded a wall of death and crowd-surfed when Neck Deep played ‘Can’t Kick Up the Roots’. As we started our 12-hour trek, I asked myself how UNIFY would be able to top it in 2017. One year later, I’m very happy to say that 2017’sUNIFY delivered.

This is a festival curated by a team of people that are absolutely dedicated to the joys that heavy music can bring. They listened to last year’s complaints of the heavy dust present in the arena, and they provided showers for the punters and had ice available for the BYO drinks. This was all on top of adding a day and a half of music and significantly increasing the amount of patrons.

As soon as the gates opened, a heavy cloud of rain began to roll in. Ocean Sleeper were the first band to warm up the crowd and despite facing a smaller crowd and a slight delay given the heavy rain and wind, they were able to keep spirits high through their heavy rendition of Danny Brown’s ‘Smokin and Drinkin’.

A quick changeover later and one of Sydney’s most promising up-and-coming acts Justice For The Damned were up. Through chaotic beat-blasts, head- banging guitar riffs and an incredible stage presence, the band were able to prove why they should be on everyone’s radar.

“UNIFY, what the fuck’s up?!” screamed Columbus frontman Alex Moses to a heavily growing crowd. Playing through a catalogue of songs from both their Downside of Being Honest EP and latest record Spring Forever, the band brought in the punk goodness early.

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The adoration people share in this musical space was even present just walking through the campsite, where complete strangers would welcome you with open arms and ask you to pull up a chair, drink a beer with them, and discuss that ONE band that you need to listen to. I haven’t been to a single environment where everywhere you turn, are groups of people willing to adopt you in their circle of friends (despite the occasional token festival dickhead). Community is at the heart of whatUNIFY stands for, and it’s the way that the festival holds you in its warm embrace like an old friend that sets it apart from other music festivals.

“This is a festival curated by a team of people that are absolutely dedicated to the joys that heavy music can bring.”

The afternoon of day one saw powerful sets from the likes of Polaris, King Parrot, Counterparts, Ocean Grove and House Vs Hurricane, however it was when the sun slowly began to set and The Getaway Plan got on stage that things rocketed up six gears. Playing through the entirety of 2008’s Other Voices, Other Rooms, the band showed no signs of ageing with vocalist Matthew Wright sounding better than ever as he balanced his nostalgic 2000’s emo-styled screams with clean vocals. The fans were patiently waiting for the moment they played ‘Where The City Meets the Sea’ and as soon as it came on, the crowd sang along so loudly that it was probably heard from the Tarwin Lower IGA.

Not a band to be upstaged, Letlive kicked off their high-octane set with vocalist Jason Aalon Butler crowd-surfing inside a yellow recycling bin. As far as set lists go, the band didn’t disappoint, breezing through tracks from Fake History, The Blackest Beautiful and If I’m The Devil….

Next up was an explosive set from Every Time I Die. ‘Underwater Bimbos From Outer Space’ set the perfect mood as the opener, as armies of crowd surfers were flown to the front of the barrier like ritual sacrifices to the band.  Keith expertly belted out Brandon Urie’s guest section in ‘It Remembers’, and ‘Moor’ remains a set highlight –  the evil piano riff echoing around the arena.

Crowds rushed into the now fully packed arena to get a glimpse of headliner Northlane – and they didn’t disappoint, opening the show with the iconic bass line of ‘Dispossession’. What followed was a set of textbook tight set, hypnotising stage presence and plenty of sing-alongs. The hour-long set contained a surprising amount of songs from their debut record ‘Discoveries’ which had the crowd roaring the words back to the band.

The end of their set saw the band play a new song titled ‘Intuition’, giving the punters a little teaser of what to expect from the band in the future, before they closed out day one with their anthem ‘Quantum Flux’.

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Day Two saw a large crowd of exhausted individuals rush to the breakfast stalls and then to Triple J Unearthed comp winners Pagan, who proved to be the best hangover cure. Bare Bones were on stage shortly after and crunched through a fantastic cover of ‘Guerilla Radio’, followed by tight performances from Drown This City and The Brave.

Canadian Punk lords The Dirty Nil blessed the stage next and performed one of the most unique sets of the entire festival, while Saviour celebrated the release of their new record ‘Let Me Leave’ with a dynamic performance.

Party veterans Deez Nuts had some of the loudest crowd sing-alongs and movements, and hardcore crowds morphed into a pop-punk crowd when English lads Moose Blood got on stage. Performing tracks from both Blush and I’ll Keep You In Mind, From Time to Time, there was something for everyone in their bright and tight set.

It may have been Trophy Eyes‘ first Australian show since the release of 2016’s successful album Chemical Miracle, but you weren’t able to tell that it was the first time the band had played some of these songs live.

Despite the new direction in the bands latest material, transitions between songs were fluid – like the punk-driven ‘Bandaid’ melting into the soothing ‘Heaven Sent’. If there’s one moment I’d relive during my time at this years UNIFY, it would be to watch the band play ‘Chlorine’ one more time.

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When asked about what they were expecting before their set, Luca Brasi guitarist Patrick Marshall said “We won’t know what to expect…we’re playing with a lot of heavier bands so we’re not sure if the crowd will like us”. Marshall’s worries would’ve been at the back of his mind and he walked on stage to a bustling and lively crowd, ready to singalong to the Tassie legends. While a few songs for their older fans were present, it was the bands emphasis on last year’s If This Is All We’re Going To Be that got everyone energised. ‘Aeroplane’ and ‘Say It Back’ were treated with anthem-like adoration.

A captivating set from Storm The Sky followed as the mosh pit morphed into a dance floor for the bands catchy new electronic-meets-rock sound, and Aussie punk legends Bodyjar were on hand next to give out heady doses of nostalgia.

Thy Art Is Murder, quite simply, dominated the stage. Vocalist CJ McMahon surprised the entire crowd when he walked on stage, announcing his return to the band. Despite not playing with the band since late December 2015, he performed like he had never left, opening up the gates of hell for ‘Holy War’. Thy Art had one of the festivals most memorable moment when someone from the crowd threw a bible on stage. McMahon picked up the bible and threw it back to the audience, telling them to take it and burn it. Shortly after, someone raised a burning bible in the air, got on the shoulders of the crowd and crowd surfed to the front.

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The arena looked at capacity when Violent Soho opened with ‘How To Taste’. “We grew up in the punk scene…and we’re really excited to be playing to a bunch of people that are into that collectively” said vocalist Luke Boerdam before reaching the stage. Beers were thrown, shoes were lost and the other peoples sweat stuck to our shirts as everyone sang along to a series of songs that have now become ingrained in Australian culture. There was a tight balance between songs from WACO and Hungry Ghost but the biggest highlight came from the surprise appearance of ‘Love Is A Heavy Word’ which had the crowd jumping for joy. If you want to understand why Violent Soho is adored by just about everybody in Australia, you should’ve seen their UNIFY set.

It was finally time for main headliners Alexisonfire to grace the stage. . The Post-Hardcore veterans played as if they had never stopped back in 2012 with a no-holds-barred set of their greatest hits. Opening with their signature Young Cardinals, the band flexed their muscles and demonstrated their brute force as an army of raised fists joined them in unison. ‘This Could Be Anywhere In the World’ quickly followed and crowd excitement was at an all-time high. While it’s easy to state the obvious that guitarist and vocalist Dallas Green blew everyone’s mind by his pure perfection, it was heavy vocalist George Pettit who kept the crowd intoxicated with nostalgia through a set that could’ve lasted hours more. The band closed of Unify 2017 with an epic encore of Happiness By The Kilowatt that saw Pettit ) pick up each microphone stand on stage, break it with his back in half with and then quite literally, drop the microphone on stage to their set and to Unify 2017.

It’s hard to stress the sheer importance of Unify each year. As we see the transition of other genres into the mainstream, metal and punk have always been considered the constant outsiders in the musical family. There’s a sense of calm and relaxation amongst the chaos when a group of like-minded individuals (in a music sense) gather together each year and establish this unique bond with each other. UNIFY is the embodiment of heavy music, it is a celebration of togetherness, unity and fellowship amongst people from all different circumstances. And as my friends and I packed up all our belongings in the tiny Toyota Corolla, I asked myself: how would UNIFY top this in 2018?