Review By Nikki Eenink
Never has it felt more appropriate to recognise the People’s whose land I work and write on; the Wurrundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. Australia is home to the longest living culture on Earth, whose tradition of oral storytelling often involved song. As a music-writer, gig-goer, and story-lover – It’s important to recognise and honour that tradition, and the many ways it is carried on throughout our country. This always was, always will be Aboriginal land.
Australia is a country that is unbelievably diverse, in landscape, in people and in sound. On Saturday night, I was treated to three acts from all across the country: from the small-town shores of Kojonup to sleepy Adelaide and then all the way north to Arnhem land. I’ve never seen The Forum so full. Doors were at 7, and by the time the clock struck 8 – it was full. Strangers standing shoulder to shoulder, filling the walkways and the floor. We ourselves were so diverse. I saw two twenty-somethings in bright pink coats and red leather pants, a middle-aged man fresh from BCF rocking a cap and boardies, and everything in between.
First act of the night were WA’s own, Old Mervs. To say this duo are “up-and-comers”, is putting it lightly. With over 200,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, I’d be expecting them to become a household name tossed around along with snags at a barbeque. Major hit Cellphone absolutely rocks the crowd at The Forum. It combines King Krule-esque vocal stylings with Ocean Alley’s Aus-Rock sensibilities. Wearing baggy shirts, partially unbuttoned and jeans, these are two guys I could’ve gone to highschool with. Unbelievably chill, but undeniably polished, Henry and David are bringing surf rock back, baby. Childhood friends since they were 5, they innately understand the other, moving like a single organism. The surf-rock renaissance is back, bring it on, bruh.
Although a tough act to follow, we completely shift gears with second support, George Alice. We’ve swapped shaggy blonde hair and a slacker attitude for feminine melancholy and RnB vocals. Australia needs more women in its music scene, and Georgia Mannion took matters into her own hands. At only 20 years old, she’s already quickly soaring through the charts and quickly cementing herself as a newcomer not to be messed with. Long bleached blonde waves cascade over her shoulders as she places two hands lightly on the mic stand. The voice that comes out of her is incredible. Strong, with a gorgeous vibrato and a self-assured gentleness – she has us wrapped around her little finger. Hold On is where her voice really shines. The crowd that was letting loose and dancing is now deathly still, not wanting to break the spell she’s cast on us. My arms are covered in goosebumps. But it’s not all achingly gorgeous semi-ballads, songs like Stuck in a Bubble do an amazing job prepping us for the high-energy main act that’s about to come onstage.
It's hard to describe the hold King Stingray had over us that night. From the moment it seems like the house lights might dim, people go ballistic. Boys jump in the air, someone screams an ungodly scream, hands are thrown into the air. The anticipation is killer. And not long after, King Stingray comes onstage. This 6-piece, absolute weapon of a band are dressed so casually, it’s almost humorous. They really look like they just stumbled onstage at first. But then they play. And my God, can they play. It’s just banger after banger. The nervous shuffling is replaced with ripper guitar solos, multi-instrument changes and powerful vocals. King Stingray are a delight, in every sense of the word. The room is buzzing, nay, pulsing with energy. Constant heckles of “Yeah!” or, better yet, “Fuck yeah!”, “Deadly!” all fill the room. I moved further to the back of the room as the dancefloor became too hot for my winter getup, and The Forum looked like an ocean. Waves of sound created a sea of hands and bodies and heads, all moving together.
There are many parallels between King Stingray and another iconic Indigenous band, Yothu Yindi. Lead singer Yirrŋa Yunupiŋu is the nephew of Dr. M. Yunupiŋu. and guitarist Roy Kellaway is the son of Stuart Kellaway, who were both founding members of Yothu Yindi. The pair have known each other since childhood. The band is already heavily enmeshed in Australian music culture, King Stingray signed to The Chats’ ‘Bargain Bin Records’, after Yunupiŋu and Kellaway released the band’s first single, Hey Wanhaka. Hey Wanhaka gets a feature tonight, to thunderous applause, jumping and stamping feet. The standout of the night for me, is Dimathaya Burarrwanga’s absolutely unreal didgeridoo playing. It melts perfectly among their 6-voices, adding a layer of depth musically unlike anything else I’ve ever heard. King Stingray are clearly very connected to their Indigeneity, and it surrounds all of their songs in a way that is so beautiful and profoundly fulfilling. We are watching more than a concert, we are watching thousands of years of cultural tradition, of community building, of brotherhood.
I want to stay true to my roots / I want to stay here with you
For Australian cultural icon, Triple J’s; Like A Version, King Stingray performed a cover of Yellow by Coldplay. I didn’t ever imagine I’d see The Forum filled with perfectly in-tune clapping hands.
“We’re going to need some help with this one”, before everyone launches into Yellow. Band and audience, we’re all screaming those lyrics at the top of our lungs. They play an extended version, to give each instrumentalist the chance to leave their mark on us, and the stage. Their energy is insane, never dipping, even for a moment.
Obviously, mega-hit Milkumana goes off. People are scrambling on top of their friends shoulders to make room for more bodies on the ever eager dancefloor. The guy to my left is jumping so high he nearly touches the ceiling, and I see a lad in a bucket hat ushering his band of merry bandits onto the dancefloor. The lighting is incredible here too. Black, yellow and red circles dance around the band. They’re bathed in the colour of the Aboriginal flag, and we are bathed in blissful sound. I remember the first time I heard Milkumana, I was 25 minutes late to an appointment because of traffic, but honestly, I didn’t care. If you want the vibes of an easy summers day, this is a guaranteed serotonin-booster.
Yunupiŋu poses a question to us; “Melbourne, why is it so cold down here? We gotta leave fast, it’s fucking freezing.” Kellaway jumps in, “Western Gapuwiyak, where the sun goes down – that’s what this song is about. Getting out of the city.” Campbell Messer, their phenomenal bassist, takes to the mic; “Thank you so much for coming out tonight. Everybody raise their hands up, facing your palms towards us.” A tidal wave of hands find their way to fresh air. “Look at all those colours. Beautiful. This song is to Strangers. You and me. Brothers and sisters. We bleed together.” Yunupiŋu reiterates, “Nah, but seriously, get me out of the city.” With a laugh and a wink they launch into the penultimate track of the night; Get me Out.
Coming on for their encore, drummer Lewis Stiles does a SOMERSAULT (an honest-to-god somersault) onstage, leaping high in the air to take his seat behind the set. Let’s Go is such a mammoth way to finish. Everyone’s dancing and the band is pulling out all the stops. The tearing vocals, the unbelievable didgeridoo playing, the elegant bass-lines – not a hair out of place. It’s absolutely perfect. I see people going to leave, trying to beat the crush, but they can’t. They stand at the top of the stairs, frozen, unable to look away.
And then, it’s over, and I’m gutted. We all have more in us. It was such an unbelievable night. No other band does it quite like King Stingray. If you haven’t seen them, what are you doing? I won’t be able to get this night out of my head for a very, very long time.