Well-curated and beautifully designed.
Sugar Mountain was a pleasure to be at.
I’ve only ever been to the Victorian College of the Arts for university subjects (partaking in the very academic subject “Glee Singing” there. It’s exactly how it sounds) so it was at first a strange feeling being there for a music festival. However, as the day wore on, it became so very right.
From start to finish, here was the day.
Sugar Mountain self-describes as “A Summit of Music & Art”, and it certainly didn’t cut corners with its adorably-painted food stalls, pink foam and balloon installations, and picturesque stage designs. Each stage had entirely its own persona. There was the intimacy of The Theatre, the block party vibe of V MoVement, the main Dodds Street laneway-style stage and the whole Boiler Room set up. There was a lot more exploring to be done, including the discovery of a secret club room run by Absolut and the Laser Room (which did not live up to its name in excitement).
The first call for the day was wandering into The Theatre to see Sui Zhen and her band, all dressed in white. It wasn’t long before we noticed three girls, equally all dressed in white, inconspicuously yet conspicuously standing very still to the side of the room. They slowly and purposely made their way across the room, striking pre-choreographed poses and dance moves – at one point amusingly falling on the floor at the feet of unaware crowd members. Her sterile, pastel-washed videos broadcasting in the background were just as mesmerising and people-watching from my lecture theatre seat meant I barely had enough eyes to watch the actual music and Sui Zhen’s girlband dance moves (similar to her other band No Zu). The set culminated in Sui Zhen and her bandmate Ashley Bundang wrapping themselves around two of the dancers and literally being carried off stage. The kookiness was real.
Next up was the charming ALTA at the V MoVement stage, who delivered a boiling level of beats under the hot sun. While singer Hannah Lesser serenaded the crowd, producer Julius Dowson melted our faces with some very danceable bass. The Belligerents were also ready to dance back on the main stage, as demonstrated by some truly dramatic moves being pulled by lead singer Lewis.
Being torn between Big Scary and Jack River meant a quick dash across the venue was necessary. Luckily we caught ‘Palo Alto‘, which Jack River absolutely nailed. Unluckily, it left us wanting more, of which there was none. The first-world problems of clashing set times. More conflicting emotions came with seeing Kučka, who was both inspiring and depressing as she made us wonder about the injustice of how some people are naturally so gifted, leaving the rest of us losers talentless.
After the angelic Kučka, a rippingly good rock band was in order to carry us through the rest of the evening, and Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever was primed to serve. For having such a convoluted name, Rolling Coastal Fever Blackouts Coastal Rolling Fever Blackouts (you get the point) played a super tight set and geared us up to dance our little hearts out to Pantha Du Prince, Black Cab and The Avalanches.
So much for Splendour in the Grass touting The Avalanches‘ appearance as their only Australian show. They’ve been gigging it up, and as they say, practice makes perfect. They’ve tightened up their set from how it was at Splendour in the Grass. It was suitably excellent for a legendary crew like The Avalanches, and a suitably excellent way to finish the day.
Many conversations were thrown around during the day, drawing similarities between Sugar Mountain and Laneway Festival or – if you take a more cynical perspective – similar to what Laneway “used to be like”.
So, before the inevitable capacity expansion and too many big names are attracted, if you like your venue fresh, and your bands fresher, make a lusciously sweet trip to Sugar Mountain.