Golden Plains is like an adventure video game. Akin to Far Cry or Red Dead Redemption, walk through the front gates and a big playground awaits. Whether you’re camping in the distant Tom Mankeys or right amongst it at Top Camp, there’s enough of an expedition in traversing the campground before you’ve even arrived at the supernatural amphitheatre.
Settling into the Meredith suburb of Mulwaverley, punters were zipping around like rats in a plague getting their campsites set up. Aunty had prepared a behemoth in 2020 and the lure of Hot Chip, Pixies, Stereolab, Sampa The Great, Weyes Blood and more had everyone in a spin. On paper, revellers were in for an absolute treat. So, did everything stack up?
The tradition of the smoking ceremony and Welcome to Country has become a special ritual to commence both Meredith and Golden Plains. Keeping punters’ feet on the ground, understanding the significance of the festival and the corresponding site is imperative in appreciating what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.
Teeming with youthful energy and enough riffs to sink a ship, Pinch Points ignited the Golden Plains flame with a vibrant set full of grit and candour. The rapidly-improving garage punks were the ideal kickstart to a festival that historically relies on guitars to commence proceedings.
From there, a carousel of Melburnians ventured on and off stage. Parsnip had the crowd in a psychedelic spin with their ’60s-inspired sound. A band a few years on from the festival opener, Parsnip owned the stage and performed like a band who have really come into their own.
The most fulfilling moments come from those performers humbled by their opportunity. Golden Plains provides a platform for unheralded locals to reach a larger audience and it was Melbourne dark wave alchemist Simona Castricum who arrested the curious. The performance wasn’t without its faults but it was the relatability of it that resonated with the crowd. The lyrics were resounding, the beats were heavy and Castricum was loving every second of it.
As afternoon became night, Ezra Collective brought London jazz to the amphitheatre and the party was officially on. Performing a cover of Shanks & Bigfoots’ 1999 classic ‘Sweet Like Chocolate’, an iconic film clip of the late 20th century flashed before our eyes. Whose got a sweet tooth?
Following the dynamic instrumentation of Ezra Collective with the tranquil Bill Callahan was a curious billing and it seemed the first half hour of Callahan’s performance fell on deaf ears as punters struggled to jettison their post-dance euphoria. As the sun set and Callahan’s serene backdrop glowed, punters eventually settled in for a performance that was strewn with dry wit and honest balladry. ‘So Long, Marianne’ had the crowd arm-in-arm belting out its inquisitive lyrics: “Now so long, Marianne/It’s time that we began/To laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again.”
A crowning moment occurred when the recently-reunited Stereolab took to the stage. The art-rock pioneers of the ‘90s electrified the amphitheatre with sounds that overwhelmed the soundsystem at times. The performance wasn’t without some unwelcomed feedback – take moments in ‘Miss Modular’ – nevertheless Laetitia Sadier and her troupe of music mad scientists delivered something special. ‘French Disko’, ‘Metronomic Underground’ and ‘Lo Boob Oscillator’ are undying classics.
Through the inimitable Sleaford Mods, where vocalist Jason Williamson’s belligerence made us feel like an unwelcome visitor, we were treated to something unwitnessed in the amphitheatre. Telling us the “fuck off” on countless occasions, Williamson swayed from left to right brushing the sweat off his head like a jittery figure from Trainspotting. What a dude!
Electric Fields have come a long way over the past twelve months and their Saturday night headline slot was well deserved. Preachers at heart, their messages can at times seem overdressed and cheesy, but you can’t deny their commitment. Their performance grew with strength as it went along and culminated into a heroic display of electro-pop. Zaachariaha Fielding… my oh my.
As people arose from their tents to sniff out the first frostie of day two, those who didn’t make it for Yirinda were treated to the wonky pop of J. McFarlane’s Reality Guest. Frontwoman and former Twerps member Julie McFarlane explores all crevices of the sonic spectrum to produce sounds that make you feel like you’re in a planetarium of sorts. The music is so irresistibly catchy and was the perfect kickstart to Sunday’s festivities.
My morning venture to the tucker tent meant Mwanje’s performance was viewed from afar. The following act would bring with her plenty of anticipation and the size of the crowd mirrored that. The yearn for Weyes Blood was rich – fans squeezed up against the barriers to reserve their spot.
What ensued was an impassioned 45 minutes as the songwriter’s famed 2019 album Titanic Rising was on full display. Melodically, her music is raw – for Blood’s vocals are the centrepiece of this folk adventure.
After tears were shed, Bananagun brought things up a notch with their ten-piece psych cavalcade. The entire set seemed to morph into one as songs extended into seven, eight and nine-minute territory. Hips were shaking and arms were flailing as the crowd revelled in the musical odyssey.
Civic are one of Melbourne’s hottest punk bands and the four-piece thrashed and bashed through their 40-minute set with all the unruliness they’ve become known for.
Joe Camilleri & The Black Sorrows took to the stage at 4.10pm and from there, the stage was set for a big afternoon. British drum and bass king General Levy was teeming with energy when he took to the stage. Some curious samples aside (looking at you Justin Bieber and Ed Sheeran), this was the cultural adventure Golden Plains needed. The festival has become famous for its eclecticism and the billing of the jungle-inspired Levy was the perfect encapsulation of this philosophy. “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi.”
Evelyn Champagne King’s 40-plus year career was documented a lot throughout her performance. Constantly thanking the crowd for their support – “You made this song number one” – the set was largely predetermined. That didn’t take away from the energy King brought to the show and ‘Love Come Down’ and ‘I’m In Love’ literally brought the house down.
A trip to the sunset strip to witness the final glimmers of a beautiful Sunday meant Sampa The Great was missed, but given she’d already performed twice in the supernatural amphitheatre (once at Golden Plains 2016 and Meredith 2018) it wasn’t as if a rare opportunity was overlooked.
Finding our positions for Pixies, the Willy Wonka soundtrack ‘Pure Imagination’ rang out through the amphitheatre and Golden Plains had officially become a fairyland. Colourful totem poles and funky costumes were vivid with colour and the rainbow lanterns loitered above our heads like inquisitive oompa loompas. My mind was open and ready for the Sup's next offering in this euphoric stage of the night.
What ensued however was a tiring 80-minute set of the Boston band’s signature grunge. There were three or four classics strewn throughout the set – take ‘Where Is My Mind?’ and ‘Here Comes Your Man’ – but just as punters were coming up, this quickly grounded any euphoria. There was no audience interaction either, so we weren’t quite sure whether we were watching world-class luminaries or robots. Pixies’ esteem can’t be denied but I can’t help but feel the effervescent Stereolab would’ve been better suited to this party-starting slot.
Thank the lord that Hot Chip were waiting in the wings. There was no more suitable band to assume the final band slot for Golden Plains 2020. Kicking off with ‘Huarache Lights’, the band ran through all the classics whilst also lifting the lid on A Bath Full of Ecstasy highlights, ‘Hungry Child’, ‘Spell’ and ‘Melody of Love’.
Visually, Hot Chip are like a bunch of eight-year-olds in the schoolyard. With Owen Clarke zipping around the stage and frontman Alexis Taylor jumping between the stage installations delivering his signature falsetto, this was a visual spectacular. Then they played ‘Over and Over’ and I was done, deceased, finished. Fuck.
Melbourne favourite Prequel delivered a tight DJ set of house party classics – cue Outkast’s ‘SpottieOttieDopaliscious’ and The Shapeshifters’ ‘Lola’s Theme’, to name a few – before UK luminaries Floorplan gave Golden Plains a house music education. It was heavy, resounding and the perfect cherry on top of everyone’s experience.
It was then time for the legendary DJ Sprinkles to transport the remaining mutated punters into the next stratosphere. Her ambient-heavy set was big but by 5:30am this reviewer was done, kaput, finito.
Across two nights, Golden Plains crammed in a genre-busting lineup of acts from all corners of the globe. It was diverse, divergent and digressive; it was triumphant and confounding. As festivals around us crumble, it’s occasions like Golden Plains that offer a glimmer of hope. Thank you, you big beautiful thing, never change for the world.
(All photos by Anna Madden)