If you’re unfamiliar with Unify Gathering, it’s like a summer camp/party for alternative and heavy music fans. It’s one of the greatest events in my calendar! Held annually in country Victoria, people come from near and far to soak up two big days of music featuring local and international acts. We then get eased back into civilisation with acoustic sets on the last day: Sunday Sessions. This year, an additional event was added to Unify: A pre-Unify Emo Night run by AM//PM.
Pre-Unify Emo Night
Of all the good ideas I’ve ever had, arriving to Unify Gathering 2019 early was definitely proving to be one of them. The drive in to Tarwin Lower was a breeze compared to the gridlock for kilometres of the previous year. There seemed to be heightened security upon entry, but after a car search getting my wristband and loading it with Pitcoin was easy. Phew!
Once in, I practically had the pick of the place and chose prime tent real estate near the arena to set up camp. Getting my bearings, I was temporarily adopted by “Camp Darwin” (the dudes from Tapestry) and then feasted on beautifully decadent potato cakes before the pre-Unify party began.
DJ sets to open events unfortunately never seem to attract much interest. Music was played but no brave souls took to the smaller tent space where the event was being held. It took for Caged Existence to begin before Unify’s pulse quickened and it felt like “YES. This has begun.” Bringing jagged edged intensity and stuttered rhythms, Caged Existence were a perfect fierce dive of a welcome. They nailed tracks like “Demonise” and took thick breakdowns and took them progressively deeper and darker as their set came to a finish.
Aburden were on stage second. Seeing Aburden light up in response to an excited pre-Unify crowd was an absolute pleasure to witness, and it’s clear to me the Melbourne band are on the rise; proving their stuff as more than just a bunch of emo sadboys. With their The Last Goodbye album carrying polish and professionalism, it seems like they are growing into a skin which includes anthemic singalongs with BIG crowds that was happening in front of me. All of us wild and happy, they ended strong with the fan favourite “They Say”, with Christopher Vernon singing his feature (as he was filling in on guitar for Caged Existence).
I finally got to meet Sydney-based Depth team member Andrew Cauchi in person after the set (YAY!), as well as caught up with ‘music friends’. I also surveyed the food stalls for some dinner. From what I saw from afar, Between You & Me got a lot of crowd love with a bouncing pit in response to their active and entertaining pop punk presence.
The All Nighters were an interesting addition to the line-up, really adding to a full fledged emo night. Not going to lie, I love a good cover band, and that’s what it was. Kicking off with blink-182‘s “Rock Show”, a steady set of favourites had the band drowned out by loud nostalgic voices and it was a really good excuse to dance. This made the tent feel like party central and it was a really good time!
Having said that, the pre-Unify event worked equally well for watchers opting to stand still, chatting with friends, or those fully lost in the music. I’m not sure about others, but I loved this smaller tent being there at Unify and bringing everyone together in whatever capacity they were comfortable with. It really felt like a perfect way to ease into the main event!
Though it was tough to sleep (I ended up moving my tent! And learning to wear earplugs at night. The ‘prime’ involved the intermittent slamming of portaloo doors around the clock…), I started my Friday with a green smoothie, a soy latte, and a few games of Smash Bros and Mario Kart at the Nintendo Switch stand. Very nice comforts for a camping festival, hey?! I.. did not win any of those games unfortunately. 😐
After a sweaty wait in really harsh sun, we were then allowed into the arena. A solemn and respectful Welcome To Country ceremony was held in the stage area. An Aboriginal elder shared the intention behind the ceremony and burned different eucalypt leaves, which carried unique properties, such as healing. Smudging us all with the smoke, we were acknowledging the traditional owners of the Bunurong land that the festival was being hosted on, and also being welcomed.
Better Half then began their set, opening up Unify Gathering 2019! With bouncing intensity, they were off to a relaxed but strong start. Favourites “Fixate”, “North”, and “Rest Your Head” earned a lot of crowd love. The Melbourne band also played a new song, complete with yearning guitar and a searching vibe. Casual and relaxed, this was a great way to ease into Unify day 1.
Locals Ocean Sleeper followed, feeling strong and crowd-enthralling with opener “Save Me”. The guys threw out inflatable balls to set the mood, and the hefty crowd singing of “Worthless No Purpose” showed it as a clear favourite. I would love to see this band break out into more innovative and emotionally impactful music in the future. I feel that this would have taken their set from ‘okay’ to ‘wow’ for me.
I saw Drown This City next, who started with “Bend and Break”. Feeling precise and strong, the band came across unified and cohesive, especially in breakdowns. With the crowd commanded by the stunningly-voiced frontwoman Alex Reade, there was dust flying and circle pits happening. Musically, the band created fiery paths with strength, leading into a pit of intensity. They shared a new song (“a love song”), and finished with most recent single “Third Law”. The whole set flowed smoothly from end to end and was topped off with a last circle pit as Alex shifted easily from screams to honeyed compassion.
Coming to Unify all the way from Wales were UNFD’s Dream State. I believe it’s their first show in Australia? It’s definitely my first time seeing them in action anyway! I’m probably going to repeat this, but it was HOT. I’m not sure how Dream State were coping with it, but the crowd was being hosed in an attempt to reduce the dust and keep us cool.
As well as sounding great live, Dream State were clearly having a good time. It was contagious to watch, even if someone wasn’t familiar with their songs. Frontwoman CJ Gilpin’s voice sounded amazing and she was all-in and connective with the crowd – literally at one point, by jumping in. Her on-stage expression (exaggerated movements while singing) made it feel like we were being guided through the songs with her, and easy to get into what is being shared in them. I was pleasantly impressed by this set and it was one of my favourites of the day.
“We fucking love you!” – Dream State
Hand Of Mercy were featured on the Unify bill, reuniting for a one-off set. When it was time for this must-see set to begin, flocks of people literally ran down the hill to the stage area, just in time to see the band coming in hot and loud after an orchestral intro. Vocalist Scott Bird was full of energy and the crowd mirrored this easily, showcasing the fullest mosh of the day up to that point.
Regardless of their hiatus, the set vibed as if they were hot and active in the scene. A massive crowd collectively jumped with the beat and energetic riffs and the vocalist dropped down off the stage to connect with the crowd. As the set progressed, with craziness in the crowd, mic-swinging, and punk-jumping stage antics, it was tough to know where to look. From my vantage point during “Chump” I noticed two distinct pits, most clearly in action during “Absence Makes the Heart Go Wander”. It was a massive finish for Hand of Mercy; with thunderous beats, lots of company singing along with pointed fingers, and some sweet sweet riffage.
“Who would have thought this many people give a fuck about us, huh?” – Hand Of Mercy
Last time I saw The Plot In You was at Corner Hotel in April last year with Polaris. At that time, the band seemed to just be hanging on to whatever energy they had available due to their intense touring schedule/jetlag. This one-off Australian show seemed to have them faring better, with the festival stage seeming to suit their fullness of sound. Opening with “RIGGED” and then heading into “FEEL NOTHING”, The Plot felt in strong form and it was a pleasure to move along to these songs. Really easy to sing along with, the band nailed tracks from DISPOSE as well as previous releases, before ending with “DISPOSABLE FIX”. I personally enjoyed this set, but the crowd reaction around me wasn’t off the charts. They’ve promised to return later this year, and I’m looking forward to that.
Dream On Dreamer were a(nother) set of the day that positively surprised me. Witnessing the spectacle of the band sharing “Let It In” with black confetti raining down upon us felt really good. Playing “Runaway” (another track from their latest release It Comes and Goes) shone attention toward vocalist Marcel Gadacz, who was nailing it. The song and Marcel’s approach felt really connective and tender and encouraging. He joined the crowd for an older song which I’ve since researched was “Hear Me Out” from the 2013 album Loveless. I’d never heard the song before but I was moved to tears by it, with the sense of relief and hope being palpable.
Dream On Dreamer go hard; hitting shattering breakdowns and with Marcel and Zach Britt’s vocals working so well together. In my notes I wrote “Something about this band touches me deeply”, and that I enjoyed it more than I had expected. “Stay” is where they ended, and the contrast of white confetti to the black we began with felt free and open. Loved it.
“It’s like every breath I take is a debt. How am I going to pay it back by myself?” – Dream On Dreamer
Recent single “Anti-Social” was a huge way for Sheffield band While She Sleeps to start. It sounded great live and carried an infectious intensity. Looking around at the time, a crowd was building slowly with people gradually drawing in. The intensity eased back with “You Are We”, while Lawrence ‘Loz’ Taylor kept things moving (and circling) with his great stage presence. From where I stood, I could see dust flying, occasional busting out into blast beats, and drum jumping theatrics. “Who is high as a motherfucker?” Loz asked, and invited people up on shoulders for “Four Walls”. Mega-hit “Silence Speaks” was great to witness, despite muffled sounding vocals, and was thoroughly enjoyed by everyone there in the surprisingly sparse crowd. It was “Hurricane” to end, and this short and sweet set felt nailed. I was a big fan of the crouched down eye contact/connection, where Loz watched the crowd sing back at him.
Crossfaith had brought so much hype relating to their live show, and the darkening arena was buzzing for them to begin. With a dramatic voice over counting down from 10, and an EDM-esque build up, the Japanese band took to the stage, heralded by flames, orchestral instrumental, a massive flag, and CO2 cannons. Even at the point of them having played one song (“Catastrophe”), SO much had already happened, including blasts of flames to accentuate the beats. To me it felt like the six piece had asked themselves “How can we play music, but make it as dramatic as humanly possible?” for every facet of their show. It was ridiculous and impressive. Rapid-fire video display and circle pits were slices of the spectacle. They clearly know how to put on a show and take us all with them!
Crossfaith’s band members were off-the-charts active on the stage, including the keyboardist Terufumi Tamano, who climbed up on the table while playing. Unfortunately this eventually led to a laptop propped on the table to fall down and require some intervention to get working! But even technical difficulties were handled with delicious drama for Crossfaith; introducing themselves, putting on a wild drum solo, and making it seem like part of the show. Thankfully they didn’t understand the “SHOEY!” requests. Somewhere in here, the Unify rowing team showed up!
The flame-heavy set continued intensely, with the crowd looking pretty rowdy from afar. It was a treat to see Ocean Grove‘s Luke Holmes do the Rou Reynolds feature of “Freedom”. I watched the set feeling that the extravagance of the stage show created more fascination than the music itself! Orange confetti and an orchestral electro entanglement saw us out.
When the sun sets on Tarwin Lower, the temperature droppppsssss and it had become a predictable routine to head back to camps and layer up. It was dark by the time Ocean Grove‘s set began. The first we were seeing from the Odd World dudes was flashes of footage from what looked like Ocean Grove tours. It was something beautifully nostalgic and moving, considering that this would be the last show for vocalist Luke Holmes and guitarist Jimmy Hall. While it’s undefined what is ahead for the band, that didn’t stop the set feeling exciting.
We were hit with The Rhapsody Tapes songs “What I Love About a Natural Woman” and “Beers” in familiar quick succession, instantly kicking off a massive set. Their incredible newbie “Glass Gloss” snuck in there (god I love that song), as did older favourite “Lights on Kind of Lover”. I think I danced the entire time. On stage the guys were relatively hidden by foggy lights, with flames blasting out at the front of the stage, but it was enjoyable OG antics and they were having a really good time together.
With a short set, it felt a little rushed for this to be a farewell to two band members – something that needed to be handled with significance. Regardless, “The Wrong Way” was dedicated to the departing guys, and from where I was standing it was emotionally moving. It is clear how much love the guys have for one another as well as the music and our scene of brilliantly odd people doing odd things. Closing with “Stratosphere Love” and confetti, this set left me feeling great as well as a little heavy hearted. I’m looking forward to seeing what 2019 brings for the entity of Ocean Grove.
Hellions were up next. This may be a little sketchy because I took ZERO notes during this set due to being thoroughly squished at the barrier. As one of my favourite bands (who pulled off one of my highlight sets of Unify 2018, and earned my pick for album of the year), I just wanted to take it all in! Hellions’ freshly released Rue album was front and centre of the set, with “(Blueberry)” and “Odyssey” forming their introduction to the stage. Older favourites snuck in too, such as “Hellions”, “24”, and “Thresher”.
I found the experience spellbinding. There’s something magical about Hellions. Their specific combination of people and energies makes them able to spark unity with an undercurrent of gentleness, while also being real enough to be direct, flawed, and honest in their questioning of life and human nature. This was echoed back toward them by affectionate “I LOVE YOU!”s being screamed out toward the stage, and an orchestra of voices and bodies joining in with the songs with heartfelt effort.
My noticings of the set included how often Dre Faivre was having to untangle the microphone cord that insisted on getting caught on everything possible, as well as how guitarist/vocalist Matt Gravolin has grown in his singing, perhaps even since I last saw Hellions at the Rue launch. I noticed too that even though Dre has an quality to him as the host and MC of the show, that it was truly a team effort for the band when it came to their banter between songs and moving through their set. To me, Hellions reinforce the importance of the collective in more ways than one. A Hellions set is just as much about the connection with the crowd and their experience of the music as it is of the performance itself. This great band nailed it, as they always do. Keen for more of this this year!
Unashamedly, Liam and I took a considerable break at this point after what had been a very big day running on not much sleep. At the VIP bar were extremely comfortable Jack Daniel’s bean bags, and that’s where I spent the In Hearts Wake set with a Smirnoff Pure Lime & Soda in hand. I did happen to hear a beautiful moment of a marriage proposal though! What a way to do it! Congratulations to the couple.
Karnivool were on stage next, and it was my first time seeing the Perth-based band live, admittedly not knowing their music intimately. Taking it in, their music vibed like an intricately woven fabric, with Ian Kenny’s vocals continually looping back up for air and interweaving. In my notes I wrote “How do we take this complexity? Try to keep grasp of it or let it wash over us?”. The lighting and flashes added an extra layer to it also, adding to an erraticness that I’d felt.
Though I wasn’t entirely sure how to put these songs into words, Karnivool sounded amazing; full, clear and huge, sparkling, and finding their way into my heart. “Themata” in particular stood out as brilliant and crystal clear. “New Day” closed their set – a beautiful song with multiple paths of sound taken. To me it’s the audible version of trying, failing, and trying again, before finally succeeding. I fully understand the many people who have told me that this was their favourite set of Unify.
I’d been looking forward to Underoath after thoroughly enjoying their Erase Me album. Unfortunately from the beginning of the set with “On My Teeth”, there were sound issues. I’m no sound desk wannabe, but there seemed to be distinct elements missing, even though I could get into the song because of knowing it so well. Instrumentally intense and busy, the set continued, with Erase Me aesthetic guitars.
It became really clear how tired we all were during this 1-2am set after a full day in the hot sun. It’d be really tough for an international band coming a long way to get here and having such a sleepy audience, but what else could we do? Underoath tried hard to energise us, but they themselves were jet-lagged. It seemed like the sound/mix was a lot better on the band’s older songs, but still struggled on songs like “Rapture”, “ihateit”. They ended the set with “Writing On The Walls” and hopefully had at least a few hyped and active people up front and centre to see them off.
With that we headed back to our camps to recharge and recover enough to do it all again the next day![Every one of these photos was taken by the legendary Liam Davidson, who kept going despite sunburn, and being smacked in the face by a beer while shooting Ocean Grove.]