Unify Gathering 2018: Review & Photos

Depth Magazine had the pleasure of attending Unify Gathering 2018: A three day camping festival for heavy music enthusiasts in South Gippsland, Victoria. This is how the experience went down for us.

Day 1 – Friday 12th January

The weather forecast for the Unify Gathering 2018 weekend was a gloomy one. Heavy grey clouds loomed over us as we (very) slowly entered Tarwin Meadows. The air was still buzzing with excitement though, as well as flies, as attendees individually dragged in our gear from the car park and chose our preferred campsites.

The skies released their bounty with my tent in mid-setup, making it a race for this amateur camper to have it set up before it filled with water. My towel intended for showering became a mopping up towel to save the tent. Soaked to the bone with no way to get dry but my home for the weekend established, I made my way to the arena.

I was keen to get to the stage in time to see Mirrors. We spoke to the relatively new band last year and it’s been exciting to hear them evolve with the release of “Circus”. The Gippsland based band took their role of opening the festival in their stride. Mirrors were already in action when I got to the stage, going for it and seeming to be strongly vibing with a very decent crowd, considering it was merely 20 minutes after opening. The guys surprised us by having Belle Haven’s David De La Hoz join them for “Bring Me Home” (as is on the Fools Paradise EP). “Circus” especially went off, and the moshing of Unify had begun. The entire performance was smooth, fluid, and easy and I considered it to be a decent start to Unify!

Before Sienna Skies were on stage, I went to load my Unicoin (the Unify Gathering’s means of currency using wrist bands). Unfortunately there was something going on with the system which meant I missed a lot of the set. Once loaded though, Unicoin was a really straightforward system and money/cards/wallet/purse was one less thing to remember or lose. I’m new to Sienna Skies and from what I saw, they offered up a set that was aggressive, strong, and mosh inspiring. Their melodic elements were a favourite feature.

Belle Haven have won a lot of love with album You, Me and Everything In Between; a snapshot of professional and personal complications that they’ve endured in recent history. They brought songs from the album to life at Unify. The Melbourne band’s set was captivating from end to end, feeling fluid and high vibing. Based on the smile on his face, drummer Jake was clearly happy to be there, as were all of the band, putting on a strong set complete with synchronised guitar throwing and extra percussion interludes. Days later I still heard people talking fondly about ‘those overalls’ that David wore. Laura Wirth snapped Belle Haven in action:

Kentucky hardcore band Knocked Loose are one of those bands where you watch people stretching and warming up in the crowd before the show and you think ‘yep’. Because if you know the band, you know what’s coming. Needless to say, hype was massive for this set and so was the pit. The first circle pit of the day happened in this intense and beautiful set.

 

Click to view full sized photos from the Knocked Loose set, all shot by Rowan Donohue.

 

Already flying high on hype and hugged by wafting clouds of the herbal variety, we then waited for Polaris, sharing admiration with those beside me for the Sydney band’s recently released album The Mortal Coil. We weren’t disappointed. The set was breathtaking and cohesive, with a seemingly never ending stream of crowd surfers going by. With supreme cleans, intensity and a massive pit, it’s clear that ‘Shirecore lives’, with Polaris putting on one of my favourite sets of the festival.

Polaris’ setlist was: Lucid, Relapse, Regress, Consume, The Slow Decay, Casualty and The Remedy. Click thumbnails to see full Rowan’s shots of the set in full size:

 

Because there’s a single stage, there’s breaks between sets giving time to move around the grounds, finding friends, going to one of the bars, eating, or checking out the stalls. I stayed near the arena for the majority of the festival, wearing a path along the left of the stage. Please note how I do not mention portable toilets. Let’s not talk about them.

The main bar in the arena was a large circus style tent which was a cosy place to shelter from rain, shade from sun, and meet people, as well as drink. The ease of the Unicoin arm band and abundance of bars meant that my Friday night soon became somewhat.. hazy.

Byron Bay band 50 Lions were up and the rain didn’t stop their fans from going hard at it, soaking up the effort the band were pouring out. It was breakdown city, with a huge pit and a great set.

Melbourne’s Behind Crimson Eyes were another new-to-me band. They brought impressive intricacy in their sound by way of guitar work. Despite having a smaller crowd in their drenched set, they came across as strong and vibrant, connecting with the audience.

I didn’t make the Four Year Strong set, but Rowan caught the Massachusetts high energy band, who were there at Unify playing Rise Or Die Trying in full to celebrate it’s 10 year anniversary of release.

I caught part of the Tonight Alive set and was struck by the mesmerising vibe this band gives off. Sharing a sense of compassion relating to insecurity, they struck a chord with their audience and pulled off a strong set; a perfect celebration for their Underworld album which was released on 12th January via UNFD. Rowan’s gorgeous photos show the sheer reverence of this set. Click to take a closer look.

 

Architects were a band I was keen to soak up, wanting to let the experience wash over me. I wasn’t disappointed, noting the band as feeling expansive and coming across as a very tight and united front, working as one unit. The setlist was: A Match Made in Heaven, Downfall, Naysayer, Broken Cross, Deathwish, Gravity, These Colours Don’t Run, Phantom Fear, Nihilist, Gravedigger, with Doomsday and Gone With the Wind as encore.

At times the Architects set had them feel raw and entangled and that was when I took the time to watch them from further back. They spoke about their bandmate Tom and his passing, and what music means to them. It was moving to tears; we were all drawn into this with them and sharing the heart-wrenching and special moment, with Rowan’s shots capturing the feel of this.

 

‘Nostalgic bliss’ was how I described Parkway Drive‘s set. Despite the set being late in the day, there was a lot of energy being spent in the crowd who were lapping it all up and going deep and dirty in the pit. The band’s 2007 album Horizons was a turning point for the band and wholeheartedly worthy of celebration in their ‘Decade Of Horizons’ set at Unify.

Day 2 – Saturday 13th January

My day two started.. slowly, shall we say. I caught the end of Dregg, and from what I saw, it was WILD. They were keen to wake us all up, bringing big energy and owning it. To be first up on day two and have a crowd that massive and that hyped says a lot about a band.

 

Maybe the rain played a part here, but Sydney band Arteries’ set didn’t seem to grab the crowd. They brought their all and played a musically impressive and heavy set, but unfortunately it felt like a disconnect to me, with no mosh to speak of. A more intimate setting may have given more connectivity behind what Arteries were sharing with their music.

Having then ducked under the circus tent of the main bar to hide from the rain, it was sweet ass riffs coming from Save The Clock Tower’s introduction that drew us all out. Despite having technical difficulties, this (new-to-me) band won us over and were funny, engaging as well as brilliant musically, making me want to check them out. [Here’s their Spotify link to save you a search.]

The Beautiful Monument know how to blend ethereal elements with boldness to inspire an intriguing mystique about them. There were gorgeous and massive waves of connection with the crowd, making for a powerful set, despite the occasional off note vocally.

I was feeling less ‘crusty’ by the time Sydney’s Dear Seattle powerhouses hit the stage, but they kindly started on the slower side to warm us up. How can you not sing along to Dear Seattle songs? I described the vibe of the set as grounding; feeling at home with these guys and having a solid good time of it too. “The Meadows” was the big finish for Dear Seattle’s set, with “So Weak”, “Cut You Deep”, “Afterthought”, and “Concrete” played beforehand.

Newcastle’s Introvert put on a strong and assertive set. These guys go hard. I’d been hanging out to hear “December” live and it was was brilliant. The set flowed well which made for stunning moments of vocals in isolation. Their set ended on a ‘wow’-feeling high, inspiring new listeners. [Here you go, Spotify users.]

Rowan captured Introvert in action. Click to see them in full size:

 

Outright as a band offer such a powerful voice for those they feel need it. For one example I believe they were the first (only?) band that acknowledged traditional owners of the land that Unify Gathering was being held on, as well as having the legendary Nina Simone as inspiration for “No Fear”. Rock solid roars tore up the arena, having the crowd captivated by the band’s punk intensity and assertions for empowerment.

Young Lions bring something inspired in their set. From the get go it was a blend of warmth, high vibes, and magnetic frontman Zach Britt, sharing the best of their Mr Spaceman album. Zach goes to great lengths to connect deeply with Young Lions’ audience, literally making contact with them as he leans into storytelling mode, rendering us spellbound. We joined Young Lions on their 4.20 bliss out and the whole set felt relaxed and comfortable as well as inspiring.

Rowan’s photos of the set share some of the magic that was:

 

Perth’s Cursed Earth presented at Unify with Mark Poida of Aversions Crown on vocals without any explanation as to why during the set. We look forward to Cursed Earth making a statement about their band’s line-up when they’re ready. Regardless of any controversy, the band threw out an impenetrable and aggressive wall of sound in their set, perhaps the roughest pit of the festival. Uncertainties or rumours seemed irrelevant when it came to the music: the Cursed Earth army were in action, kicking up dirt in wild appreciation with their mosh insanity.

 

Void Of Vision have really hit onto something incredible with Disturbia, the EP the Melbourne band released in November via UNFD. Their set felt like a huge party for the EP, with orange Disturbia tees thrown into the crowd and the setlist thoroughly embracing the intense brilliance of the EP. The Melbourne fireballs brought huge, contagious energy and a spot-on performance across all band members (I adore those clean vocals). With massive pits, vocalist Jack crowdsurfing/crowdsinging, climbing the scaffolding, and doing a shoey, the set was as action packed as their music is. These guys leave nothing behind and this breathtaking set was a stand-out of the weekend.

Void Of Vision’s setlist was: Ghost In The Machine, Grey Area, Spite, SUN//RISE, Purge, You Will Bring Me Down, Nightmare.

 

I was off having a chillout sesh while UK pop punk band Roam played. Rowan snapped the set, sharing wih me that the band played well and the crowd were really into it. He appreciated the high energy of the set, especially the huge air the frontman gets with his jumps. The band have been touring Australia with Knuckle Puck.

 

Seeing Being As An Ocean was surreal, having played a lot of Waiting For Morning to Come since it’s release in September. It was just as beautiful of an experience as I’d hoped: Velvetty cleans and gritty anguish wrapped up in bass pulses. It was a warm and goosebumpy experience with moments of stillness. A mesmerised crowd bearing witness to it all, under the piercing gaze of frontman Joel. Goosebump city.

 

The release of “Fireworks” had me keen to check out Make Them Suffer, with their unique sound. Appearing through the smoke on the stage at Unify, I noted that the band felt like layers of complexity, with a lot going on. It was engaging; watching and waiting to see what would happen next, and soaking up the seductive synth, sexy bassist and gorgy song structures. There were delicate moments but also a massive circle pit and a wall of death. Their set was high energy, relentlessness, serenity mixed with aggression. It really was all here. Clearly as a band they are all in, in this beautiful chaos. I loved it.

Make Them Suffer’s setlist was: Vortex (Interdimensional Spiral Hindering Inexplicable Euphoria), Uncharted, Widower, Let Me In, Ether and Blood Moon.

 

I was far far back of the arena during Knuckle Puck. Most distinct from that distance was their huge drums, intense and change-inspiring. A blood nose emerged from the pit. They had Alex from Roam join them on a track, and played tracks from new album Shapeshifter. This was high energy pop punk with the entire audience seeming to be jumping in unison.

I find myself mesmerised when I watch Stick To Your Guns, and their set at Unify was no different. As well as never seeming to stand still and seeming like they could crash into each other at any minute, this is one passionate band. They mean what they say when they sing that they’re ‘married to the noise’. They are 100% behind their music and expression, with frontman Jesse Barnett referring to it on stage as a “necessary artform”. These guys have unwavering strength and belief in what they’re doing and are forceful in sharing their messages. They recognised the power in all of us there at Unify backing this musical expression and how important it is. Side note: I’m no audio technician, and I don’t know if it was to do with where I was standing in the arena, but I would have loved for Jesse’s voice volume to have been a bit louder in amongst everything. “NOW I MUST LIVE WITH THE HURT!” was extremely satisfying as far as pit calls went at Unify.

 

Seeing Hellions was a spiritual experience. Words are hard here, for I lost myself in the set which was glorious from end to end. I’m deeply in love with Opera Oblivia and to be out under the stars in the darkness, feeling and hearing thousands of hearts and voices around you belt out “We are born and raised as cattle to be the same..” was beyond divine. Unifying, indeed. One of the coolest things of the set was the news spilled that Hellions have made a new album. They then proceeded to play new track “X” for us.

It was Hellions’ third Unify but my first time seeing them at all, with Endless Heights‘ Jem Siow helping them out on guitar. I cried several times through this impeccable set watching these passionate and free spirited creatives doing their thing. It was particularly moving when Northlane’s Marcus Bridge shared his gorgeous voice on “Nightliner Rhapsody” (which he has covered before), then with all of us belting out the chorus of “Quality Of Life”, and the beauty of “you’re still here” rippling over all of us. This set was a beyond amazing experience and hands-down my favourite of the festival.

 

I caught my breath back the circus tent and watched Canberrans Hands Like Houses from afar. They had a strong start despite some technical issues. The crowd loved them and were fully into the experience, even with the wind and cold picking up. Frontman Trenton drew our attention to the festival name, speaking about how music unites us. That idea of mutual appreciation, acceptance and uniting compassionately through music (without letting our experiences disrupt another person’s experience) vibed through their set. I still do not know why bread was thrown on stage and I’m a huge fan of seeing a band deflect the (honestly predictable and annoying) “SHOOEY SHOOEY!” chant with a Star Wars joke.

 

When I found myself back closer to the stage, with all of us singing along under the stars to (sometimes daggy, yet perfect) tunes the DJ had picked, those messages of uniting and acceptance and ‘being happy if you want to be’ was washing through me and it was a beautiful thing.

The Amity Affliction were the last of the night, with toilet paper rockets firing back and forth starting us off on a playful note. I found it hard to get into the set though, and the cold eventually got to me, deciding to call it a night on a high before the set was over. From what I saw, the guys of The Amity Affliction didn’t seem to be giving much away/over to the crowd, feeling like they were just playing their songs before starting to gradually loosen up. I wasn’t a fan of the way the backing track sounded either, even if thousands of happy moshers didn’t seem to care at all. I hope that later in the set by the time I was back at my tent that the Amity guys were giving their all to their fans hanging out in the cold for their set.

The Amity Affliction’s setlist was: Severance, Stairway to Hell, I Hate Hartley, Youngbloods, Anchors, Chasing Ghosts, Bondi St. Blues, Open Letter, Don’t Lean On Me, Lost & Fading, Pittsburgh, Death’s Hand, All Fucked Up, This Could Be Heartbreak, I Bring the Weather With Me.

 

Day 3 – Sunday 14th January

There were a lot of weary souls on the last day of the Unify Gathering. While many had already left, those interested in soaking up the last of the offered music parked themselves on the grass in front of the acoustic stage, under blue skies, white fluffy clouds and with a soft breeze blowing.

It turns out that ‘acoustic set’ loosely translates as ‘hang out with musicians who are uncomfortably awkward in close intimacy without the safety of loud amps and crashing drums, and hear their bad jokes and banter’. I say this with love, because it was great.

Belle Haven started things rolling in a very casual (and ‘Belle Haven family’) way and it felt like we were sitting in on a jam session between Christopher and David. They played gentler versions of tracks from You, Me and Everything in Between as well as having a friend of theirs Bree join them for a ‘wow’ cover of Paramore’s “Decode”.

Dear Seattle‘s Brae Fisher and his gorgeous sounding guitar joined us next, sharing new tracks (YES!) and intimate versions of tracks from their self-titled EP that we know and love. Very cool hearing tracks like “Afterthought” while warmed by the sun and seeing birds soaring high overhead.

I’d not heard Chasing Ghosts before, but the genuineness, honesty as well as the ‘go fuck yourself’ themed songwriting from these bearded messengers of mortality and hope won me over. The sun was really heating up by this point unfortunately, which was not a good thing considering the acoustic set area had no shade.

Introvert had the full band on board for their acoustic set which was a cool way to get to know the band for people (like me) who are pretty new to them. We joined in the “ugghhh” chorus of seediness, listened to their stories, and were impressed by the powerful pipes and gorgeous harmonies. Warm vibes abounded, and I won’t mention the ‘thongy’, because it’d be cool if that doesn’t become a thing.

With my skin searing, I surrended and migrated to the circus tent for Young Lions‘ set. The Young Lions guys seemed far more familiar with the whole acoustic thing and were either less nervous banter-ish or I just couldn’t hear it from where I was. Gorgeous notes floated out over us and gave chilled vibes from which to farewell Unify Gathering 2018: A huge long weekend and unforgettable experience.

All photos by Rowan Donohue unless specified.

Kel Burch

Creator and caretaker of Depth Mag, Kel uses her superpowers of empathy, word-weaving, and feeling everything deeply, to immerse herself in music before returning to reality to write about her experience with it.

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