by Jake Judd
Melbournians flocked to the Victorian College of the Arts for the annual Sugar Mountain music festival. The event showcased music and arts on multiple stages, with the inner city location allowing for a variety of stage designs.
The Dodds Street stage was a classic rock set up with giant speakers blasting towards an amassed crowd. The Merlin Theater set a different tone with an indoor stage, allowing for control of both sound and light. The Boiler Room stage was set up in somewhat of an unorthodox way, in the centre of a recessed conversation pit, and then finally the Future Culture center was inside an art gallery.
The day began with an indigenous smoking ceremony at the Dodds Street stage. In the lead up to Australia Day and the controversy around changing the date, Sugar Mountain placed an emphasis on embracing diversity. Other alternative music brands were also carrying this message, rejecting the 26th of January in favor of a date that is inclusive of all Australians. Most notably Triple J national radio switching the date of the iconic Hottest 100 countdown which typically falls on what many now dub ‘Invasion Day’.
The festival was larger than previous years. According to one attendee, “the past the years the festival never went past Grant Street and kept all the stages within the VCA campus grounds which exposed more of the campus to the public.”
Early on local band Beaches rocked out on Dodds Street playing their signature psy rock. They had the nonchalant look of the Ramones with a bit of Sonic Youth thrown in. They performed tracks from their latest LP Second of Spring which is available through Chapter Music.
The Future Culture center opened with a panel discussion featuring prominent women of color discussing “the importance of continuing culture, expression and practice. Finding ways to heal through your voice, artistry and community.” The panel was made up of artists, comedians, fashion designers and rappers. A diverse occupational background, with a shared lived experience.
This commitment to diversity was very evident from the crowd itself. Later on DJ Dee Luscious, Mz Rizki and Soju-Gang played R’n’B, soul & hip hop. All in all the space functioned somewhere in between a community center and a block party.
Amongst the music were plenty of places to chill out, eat and grab a drink. Local DJ Prequel played an epic eight hour set in the Estrella Damm beer garden. There was also a wine bar and interactive art installation which included a giant communal water bed.
If there was a story of the day, it was surely the set up of the Boiler Room stage, located in the center of the ACCA conversation pit. This was the first year they had used the space in such a way. This virtually dictated the way in which the crowd would gather around the DJ. To even glimpse the DJ meant stepping down into a very intense dance area. There was little distinction between being in front or behind the DJ, with everyone facing inwards. This created a gravitational effect drawing people in, allowing for cameras to capture fans enjoying the music from all angles in true Boiler Room style.
Honey Dijon kicked off the day with some energetic tropical house; Project Pablo smoothed it off with deep house and Berlin based Melbourne producer Fantastic Man brought his distinct techno sounds.
Dan Shake laid down a classic disco and house set in the peak of the afternoon. Expertly moving back and forth between acid house and straight up 1970’s disco. At one point playing Aquarian Dream’s 1976 track “Phoenix”.
Gerd Janson also played an eclectic selection of dance, mixing “I Just Love What You’re Doing” by Hot Chocolate into “Burnin” by Daft Punk. Delivering the energy from two very different records from one to the other, it was an example of eclecticism done correctly.
Back at the Dodds Street stage the event came to a close with energetic performances from US rapper Joey Bada$$ and Melbourne dance outfit Cut Copy.
The location, the variety of stage designs and the diversity of the crowd is what made this a unique event. Now in its fourth year, Sugar Mountain looks set to be back again in 2019.