Review: Sydney City Limits Festival, 24 February 2018
It’s no secret that the festival circuit in Sydney has not been an easy place to succeed in recent years. Mainstays such as Parklife, Big Day Out, Soundwave, Stereosonic and Future Music have all fallen by the wayside, victims of falling ticket sales, ever-increasing legislative restrictions and requirements placed on promoters. Regional festivals like Groovin’ the Moo, Falls Festival and Unify Gathering have begun to fill these shoes, but there’s really no replacing the beauty of seeing your favourite artists a $30 Uber ride from home
Enter Sydney City Limits, the fledgling, first-year festival making no secrets of its major player aspirations by co-opting the name of a perennially successful festival in Austin, Texas. With a diverse lineup ready to cater to any and all musical tastes, Sydney City Limits was certainly not aiming for a niche market, and, despite a 37 degree Sydney summer day, punters showed up fresh-faced and eager.
Showing their fingers clearly on the pulse, Triple J Unearthed unleashed local boys Pist Idiots onto the lineup. Pulling a respectable crowd for their midday timeslot, the 4-piece stomped their way through their booze-soaked anthems such as ‘Leave It At That’, ’99 Bottles’ and fan-favourite ‘Fuck Off’.
The last-minute replacement for Young Thug, who withdrew due to visa issue, Tkay Maidza had no issues pulling a crowd. Less impressive was the sound for her set, a completely inaudible drum kit seeming to drain some of the integrity and brashness from the performance.
Winston Surfshirt brought the first genuinely unique sound of the day, with a thoroughly inspiring horn section creating vibe that can only be described as deeply cool. Smooth vocals sat perfectly between the brass and the low-key synths of the rest of Surfshirt. A cover of Outkast’s ‘Roses’ certainly didn’t go astray, one of the first songs of the day to truly get the crowd moving under the punishing Sydney sun.
For those who wanted something a little more musically challenging, Thundercat provided a funky alternative to the stoner-rock of the Dune Rats on the main stage. The recent Kendrick Lamar collaborator brought his musical A-game, endlessly riffing on a 6 string bass through a myriad of pedals, and while it was hard to discern specific songs, there was more than enough musical genius on show to leave the crowd open-mouthed. Jazzy and fun, constantly reminiscent of a Dream Theater interlude, Thundercat brought a level of class and maturity to Sydney City Limits that would have been lacking otherwise.
Back on the main stage, Sydney locals Gang Of Youths walked out to one of the biggest crowds of the day, frontman Dave Le’aupepe arriving onstage wielding his gorgeous, white with gold trim hollow body Gibson like a weapon. As always, the Gang know how to put on an inspiring show.
Vance Joy was on top of his game, and had even added some excellent frills in terms of a horn section. It wasn’t lost on anyone at the festival that they were the first in the world to see the ‘Riptide’ singer after the release of his latest album, Nation of One. Despite the exclusion of past favourites like ‘Red Eye’, ‘Emmylou’ and ‘Snaggletooth’, the most diverse crowd of the day were all happy to educate themselves on his new set of soon-to-be-classics.
The biggest disappointment of the day, Future, walked off stage five minutes into his set, reappearing 15 minutes later. By that point, though, half the crowd had made their way to Ocean Alley, who, conversely, were the biggest surprise of the day. Feeling almost like a modern, tasteful take on nu-metal, they seamlessly blended heavy guitar work with a danceable groove.
Its been said a million time before, but Beck is truly one of the most amazing musical chameleons of all time. Halfway through his set it became apparent that he was borderline rapping, and somehow it seemed absolutely natural. His music is far broader than anyone else on the bill, yet still outstrips all others for pure comfort in his own skin, a feeling he imparts perfectly upon his audience.
Sydney City Limits certainly intends to become a staple of the starved Sydney festival circuit, and what better way to show this than to close out your inaugural year with the one-two punch of Justice and Phoenix. Both acts absolutely commanded their audiences, Phoenix pulling out a masterclass set of of hits while Justice, backed by a stage set of Marshall stacks, made a very clear point to rock music traditionalists; when carried out by experts, electronic music can mix it with the best of them.
A wildly successful first year, a diverse audience and even more diverse list of artists, it definitely isn’t too soon to chuck Sydney City Limits on your calendar for next year. They’ll be back.