I’m in Melbourne for the weekend. Not for the food, not for the wine, nor the beer, but for live music. I’m in Melbourne for The Pleasure Garden festival, held yearly amongst the parklands at St Kilda. I’m a long way from Brisbane, and I’m calling The Pleasure Garden home for the day.
After a brief, expensive pit stop along St Kilda’s trendy breakfast eateries, my feet follow the tram line down to the water. Catani Gardens to be specific, which sits alongside the St Kilda Pier, and is a stone’s throw from Luna Park and the Block Apartment Complex, as seen on Channel 9. I make my way into The Pleasure Garden, not by the front entry, but by way of a side entrance as directed by the friendly security guards. I cannot find said side entrance, so I do a brisk side step into the festival thanks to my handy Media lanyard; my route I will forever keep closed. I’m thrusted into a foreign world, a festival unlike anything I’ve experienced before. The Pleasure Garden is a fusion of different festivals, and in such, the crowd is a melting pot of different costumes, personalities and demeanours. Nestled amongst the towering palm trees are makeshift beds, decorated with flowers and fauna. Green garden vines intertwine around pop-up bars, brightly coloured streamers hang from every surface possible, and fairground rides loom over the passer-byers below. Pleasure Garden attendees are dressed in a mix of steampunk and high fantasy, equipped with steampunk goggles, elf ears, top hats, and macabre wedding attire. They twirl hula-hoops, blow bubbles and dance with sticks. And of course, the classic minimal festival fashion that is only allowed socially in the confides of a music festival makes an appearance.
I waltz up to the main stage for The Senegambian Jazz Band. Armed with a Kora, lead singer Amandou Suso accompanies his traditional West African instrument with African vocals. The five-piece band beautifully mix traditional African music with funk and jazz, as Suso stands front and centre soloing on the 21-string instrument. His fingers move with precision as they gracefully dance across the strings, the funky bass and hip-hop styled drum beat giving early punters enough reason to get up and dance.
I stumble across Adrian Eagle, a young MC whose reggae and world influenced beats have brought in a sizeable crowd. I only catch the last couple tracks, but Adrian Eagle’s musical influences are clear in his music. Sampa The Great shortly makes the stage amongst a roar of applause. Her band are packed tight on the small stage, but they’ve given enough room for Sampa to dance across the stage. Armed with her mic, she spits well crafted hip-hop bars against her musical backdrop of R&B and soul. She commands attention from centre stage, her band doing an excellent job supporting, whether it’s vocally or instrumentally. Smooth bass lines pluck under her vocals, lush keys and ambient cymbals elevate her music. The sun is now beating down on The Pleasure Garden, and I am worried about the lack of sunscreen I have on my pale, freckled skin.
I tear myself away from Sampa The Great and I grab a $9 beer. If I continue, I’ll be broke by night. Nestling my beer in hand, I have a cheeky look at the house-music stage. Situated at the back of the festival, a small group of dedicated discoers twist and groove to the repetitive bliss of house-music. The DJ is even standing in a makeshift cubby house, how ironic. But, unless you are amongst the deafening bass of the speakers, the noise is often defeated by the tuning, sound check, and eventual music, of the stage across the hillside. It’s a chaotic mess of sounds, but something unavoidable in a small festival.
Katchafire are on the main stage when I walk back around, the crowd has doubled in size. The New Zealand reggae band confirm after every song that we are all moving to the same vibrations. They are a solid roots reggae band, mixing elements of hip-hop, funk and soul into their music. I admire the solid horn and percussive backing to their music, but their melodies and chord progressions aren’t anything new to the genre. And once again, I’m told that we are all moving to the same vibrations.
I move back to the smaller ‘Aurora’ stage for Haiku Hands. The name rings a bell, though I’d be lying if I said I was familiar with their music. Going off names though, I’m expecting a lot of visceral hand movements accompanied by three-lined poetry with a precise syllable formula. Luckily, I’m wrong. Haiku Hands make the stage after a Doc. Brown looking DJ mixes some interesting and obscure beats. Four women begin to dance across the stage, their faces covered with a mask that is equal parts rave-ware and traditional Nepalese attire. This is Haiku Hands. The women scream into the mic, and strut across the stage with a bossy sass that is further reinforced through their lyrics. Haiku Hands spit some cleverly sassy bars across their rave-house styled beats, thanks to Doc Brown out the back mixing and scratching dance-worthy tunes. I’m taken aback by the performance I’m witnessing. It’s a confident, strong, sassy and infectious performance even has me dancing. And I’ve only had one beer.
Northeast Party House are next to be acquainted with the large crowd in front of the main stage. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen NPH, and while I’ve enjoyed their performances, their music has always sounded the same to me. They make the stage dressed like they are about to do a photoshoot for the latest ASOS campaign. I’m not complaining, I shop on ASOS occasionally. The bass riffs are catchy, mimicking the thick bass lines of house-music. Vocalist Hamilton-Reeves struts across the stage, his silky-smooth demeanour echoing that of his voice. The guitars play memorable riffs, accompanying synth heavy ballads to create dance worthy rock tunes. Their singles Calypso Beach, Youth Allowance and The Haunted are crowd pleasers. The band ask the crowd whether they want to hear a Blink 182 or Metallica cover. The cheering response is too close to call, so the band decide to play Blink’s Dammit. I’ve heard better Blink 182 covers at the pub on a Friday night, NPH don’t do it justice.
The day has been riddled with delays in setting up the next act, and it’s getting tedious as the crowd patiently wait for Confidence Man to make the stage. The roadies are working tirelessly, but something must be wrong. After 20 minutes passed their scheduled time, the semi-nude, black hatted bee-keepers of Confidence Man take to their respected instruments. They play a dancey little number before Janet Planet and Sugar Bones run onto the stage, dressed in matching white attire and dancing synchronised moves. The crowd erupts once more. The thick bass is deafening as I manoeuvre in the pit for a good photo. Singles Bubblegum, C.O.O.L Party and Better Sit Down Boy have the crowd dancing up and down. Meanwhile Janet and Sugar thrust awkwardly and twist about in their now trademark dance moves. The pair leave the stage, Clarence McGuffie and Reggie Goodchild continue to play their instruments until the front duo return after a quick costume stage. Now dressed like a sexier Men in Black combo, the pair continue through their list of hard-hitting dance tunes. My personal favourite being their latest Christmas tune, Santa’s Comin’ Down The Chimney. As I now stand towards the back of the packed crowd, a pair of mature ladies dressed in their fluoro gear from the 80s pipe up and say, ‘what the hell is this?’ before breaking out some modern dance moves. They enjoy Confidence Man.
The Melbourne summer sun has now passed, and a mighty wind has picked up causing the limited clothed attendees to shiver in their boots. The smell of salt fills the air from the neighbouring beach as the wind howls passed my ears. Who would have thought I’d need a beanie in December? I’m a long way from Queensland.
Xavier Rudd, my most anticipated act of the day, makes the stage. Sitting behind his polished didgeridoo, the man gazes upon the crowd before picking up his guitar. Hollow organ keys accompany him alongside a smooth bass and a clutter of various percussive instruments. Beginning with Honeymoon Bay, his softly husk voice ascends into the air. His accompanying band play a large part in his live act, especially when Rudd plays newer material like Rusty Hammer, a very percussion driven song. The woody timbres of each individual instrument add further texture to Rudd’s already rich music. The crowd roar as Rudd begins to blow into the didgeridoo, once again adding another element to the tapestry of sounds on stage. His rolling rhythms are accentuated with barks, howls and whistles, continuing the techniques of Australia’s First People. Rudd begins to move about on stage, arming himself with his didge in one hand, as the instrumentals begin to pick up pace. Rudd’s set has become a roots dance party, he jumps about on stage after blowing a deep roar into the didge. The crowd are in a trance, Rudd brings us back down as he begins Follow the Sun. An excellent set from one of Australia’s leading roots artists.
It’s now time for the final act of the day, The Temper Trap. It’s been years since I’ve listened to The Temper Trap, but I hold Sweet Disposition as one of the best tracks of the past ten years. The band begin Thick as Thieves from their 2016 album. Vocalist Dougy Mandagi is pitch perfect on the mic, the driving bass is thick behind his strong vocal performance. The band are in tune with each other on Love Lost, the drums keeping the pace as each instrument has their individual moment to shine before coming together to create a cohesively rich sound. Trembling Hands is a personal favourite of mine, the soaring vocal melodies elevated further in a live setting. Mandagi commands the attention of all present, we are in awe of the performance. The Temper Trap continue through a ‘best of’ set list, combining their best tunes from their near decade long career. Fader and Drum Song are highlights, but nothing compares to Sweet Disposition. As elements of the infamous delayed guitar riffs begin to appear, everyone except those nestling two beers in their hands grabs their phones and launches them high into the air. The repetitive guitar riff begins, and soon Mandagi’s falsetto becomes lifted further as the crowd sings “Sweet. Dis. Pos. Ition.” The bass kick thunders from the speakers, the bass notes are crisp and full. Not a syllable goes unsung by the crowd. We are taken through the highs and lows of Sweet Disposition, The Temper Trap holding our hand through the euphoric journey. And then it’s over. Just like that. And The Temper Trap leave the stage amongst a thunderous applause.
The Pleasure Garden is, in a way, a uniquely Melbourne festival. And this is coming from someone who trekked from Brisbane. It’s odd, but entirely unique. From the fusion of costumes hanging off attendees, to the fairground rides, to the people dressed as Medieval court jesters roaming around with platters of fruit; or the hula-hoop dancing that occasionally occurs in the crowd and side of stage, or the bloke blowing flames out of his trumpet: it’s a melting pot of festival oddity. And because of that, The Pleasure Garden is a safe space for attendees, and rarely is that feeling evident when you attend a festival. Sure, you can say that on your marketing material to better promote yourself. But to feel safe, to be comfortable to act yourself no matter how odd, amongst thousands of people, is a special trait to have. The Pleasure Garden is a pleasure to attend.