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[Review] MONOLITH FESTIVAL @ Bella Vista Farm, NSW 20/08/2022

The inaugural Monolith Festival kicked off in Brisbane last weekend to a fantastic crowd. The all Aussie lineup is helping us warm up to festivals and live shows becoming a more regular occurrence, once again.
7 bands, 1 stage, NO clashes! 

The morning’s weather is less than ideal, a grumpy sky and some rain make any punter nervous about the day ahead in an open field in Sydney’s west. As the clock edges closer to the gates opening, the skies open to a beautiful blue, just for us.
Today’s venue, Bella Vista Farm is a large open green ground, with sheep grazing behind a fence, and natures amphitheatre at the foot of a hill, this is where the stage can be found. With only 1 bar, 1 merch tent and a few food trucks it is not regular festival programming today. 

I walk the perimeter on my arrival, making sure I absorb every aspect of the festival set up by the legends over at Destroy All Lines, I get a drink and prop myself on the hill to watch Perth based, experimental prog rock group Yomi Ship, kick off the day.
Yomi Ship are the first of 3 instrumental acts on the Monolith line up. Yomi Ship demonstrates to audience members that although vocals give a band more depth, they are not always required. As we observe and take in Yomi Ship’s ripping riffage and melodies as they perform songs like Seamonkey, Ice Drake, and S.H.A.M.A.N. as we appreciate the level of musicianship. 

The day is under way and with less than 30-minute change over intervals, we are treated to another healthy dose of live music with Reliqa. Their energy was infectious and thank goodness as the dampness of the ground had made everyone quite uncomfortable, we are on our feet! Sydney-based rockers came out with guns blazing. Front woman, Monique Pym’s energy does not come down once. There are many headbangers in the crowd, including one blue Power Ranger! With Mr Magic and The Halfway Point, Reliqa encourages punters to hustle closer to the barrier. Every song after this, including Safety, which was only released last week, is said to be a brand-new tune. 

The enigmatic and hefty introduction to Tundra introduced Sydney’s Sleepmakeswaves, an instrumental rock band with members Otto Wicks-Green on guitar, Lachlan Marks on guitar, Tim Adderley on drums, and Alex Wilson on bass, keys, and electronics. Sleepmakeswaves‘ heavy and layered sounds were pushed out into the crowd in melodic and energising waves, bringing skilful professional riffage! They played a well-balanced show, with tremendous energy and seamless transitions between songs. The air was painted with melodic and intricate works of art by the songs The Stars are Stigmata, Traced in Constellations, Great Northern, and Something Like Avalanches. Sleepmakeswaves left its impression on audiences with long-time fans happy and plenty of new fans excited to hear their most recent song, Pyramids, a gorgeous heavy piece. As they approach the microphones, used only to speak with the crowd, they are humble and appreciative of all in attendance. 

Plini is up next, rounding out the instrumental acts of the day. I have known about their music for some time now and their reputation for being astounding musicians. We audience members are being intoxicated by Plini songs like I’ll Tell You Someday, Every Piece Matters, and I cannot forget the fan favourite Electric Sunrise as their immaculate arrangements pulse and soar off the stage. They bring a different energy to the other 2 instrumental bands, and really stand out. 

The sun begins to descend behind the hill as the Ocean Grove backdrop is raised. Being the band, I most looked forward today, I leave the height of the hill and enter the pit for the madness about to ensue. From the moment they burst on stage with Superstar the energy of the day is lifted, and atmosphere altered as the crowd bellows in excitement.
OG stand out on this line up, as their flavour of nu-metal/rock/punk/oddworld is quite different from the other acts. Although I commend the organisers for throwing this incredible wildcard.
Front man Dale Tanner’s energy is endless, as soon as I see him wearing dark blue coveralls, I know we are in a world of trouble and there is a big performance coming. (Fever 333 fans will understand!) A packed set of hits including Junkie$ and Sex Dope Gold are thrown our way, opening the moshpit instantly. Bass player Twiggy Hunter was recently released from hospital although it did not hinder his performance, with a beaming smile from start to finish he lends backing vocals to many songs while holding down the bass with a style like no other. We are so glad he is on the mend!
Drummer Sam Bassal treats us to a fantastic solo on the song, Guys from the Gord, as we are swept into Thousand Golden People. It is an interesting song with a hard-hitting intro, some borderline rapping from Dale progressing into a huge chorus for the crowd to join in on.

Before they hit the stage someone asked me what genre Ocean Grove are, I simply replied ‘yes’.

The only criticism I would have of their performance would be the lighting. It is back lit so extreme that I can only see Dale’s face when he is close to the drum riser, otherwise he is but a shadow on the stage. For a performer who is constantly moving and bonding with the crowd, it was a shame to not see more facial expressions and connect with the enigmatic front man especially being on the barrier.
Ocean Grove performed a tremendous show that will be hard to top, bringing psychedelic vibes with Ask for the Anthem and their collaboration track with Brisbane rockers Dune Rats, Bored. Concluding with their legendary song Sunny, which I am singing at the top of my lungs. Go ahead and put that song on now and tell me you do not want to scream the chorus.
The unconventional and funky flavours and electrifying energy of Ocean Grove made a lasting effect on attendees of the Monolith Festival. The sun was still in the sky as Ocean Grove took to the stage, as I turn around, we are covered in darkness. I leave the pit out of breath, elated and beyond happy. 

The crowd has amassed monumentally, ready for the two big acts to close out the day. It did not feel like all that long before Cog are before us. Fans begin to sway and fill the front of the stage as Bitter Pills begins with its lengthy and mysterious opening. 

COG‘s set, which is shaping up to be an excellent blend of their very early bangers that have stood the test of time and later material the crowd has fallen in love with, is best described as melodic, heavy, and intricate. We get to sing along to Anarchy Ok and What If, after the ferocious nature of Ocean Groves set the energy is lower and the songs longer as they create an ambient atmosphere.
The Middle and Open Up, two more recent songs, seamlessly blended into the nostalgic setlist. Bassist Luke Gower and vocalist/guitarist Flynn Gower bounce off each other, seeming extremely happy to be on stage together once more. The sense of comradery is extremely evident up there tonight. I am incredibly impressed by their ability to play almost identical to the recorded version.

Closing out the set with favourite Bird of Feather we are all singing in unison. For a track that was released in 2008, it seems the whole venue know it word for word as friends and strangers are arm in arm singing at the top of their lungs. This track transports me back to high school and I could not be happier to be here today with my best friend, as we dance around and adore every moment. 

As Karnivool‘s performance time drew near, a sheer black curtain went up, not blocking the view of much at all. The instrumental for Fear of the Sky began to play, lights and shadowy figures began to appear. As the stronger beats slowed down, the curtain fell, revealing Karnivool in a haze of light. The audience went wild! 

It’s no surprise most of the punters are here for Karnivool. Spotting Karnivool shirts at the train station, bus stop and more and more at the festival as merchandise is purchased. Fans are utterly devouring Goliath, Animation, Set Fire To The Hive as they swing their arms, dance, and headbang in the pit.
Ian Kenny’s vocals are astounding. If you have listened to but 1 Karnivool track and attempted to sing along, you quickly realise how difficult those songs are. Add on a festival appearance, cool wind snapping at your face and a smoke machine filling the stage every few minutes, Kenny keeps his top-tier vocals throughout the performance.
Simple Boy is an example of his remarkable vocals, as the crowd help, singing it as loud as they can. 

Kenny praises the superiority of Australian music. We all yell in unison. Who would have thought COVID lockouts would ever occur, and now that Karnivool is entertaining us as they have never left the stage? The drums of Steve Judd are strong and beat throughout the farm, he is hitting those skins so hard I question if he will need a change out midway through!
Roquefort and Themata from 2005’s album of the same name, Themata, are very evident crowd favourites. As a DJ of Sydney heavy clubs, I played/heard Themata every week for my entire 20s and I am brimming with nostalgia. The crowd dances and throws their fists to the sky, smiles across everyone’s faces until they close out their set with New Day. 

Karnivool is not done with us yet. The Aussie legends return to the stage for two more tracks for the hungry crowd who were whipped up into a frenzy more by with All It Takes, one of their more recent and heavy from 2021. With Fade, the great concert came to an end. The crowd went wild, making the most of the evening’s final song.
The audience was content by Karnivool, but they eventually wanted more! A tribute to the renowned Australian progressive rock group. 

The first Monolith Festival in Sydney went down in history for many as the black-clad crowd, many in Karnivool shirts by now, exit the green pastures of Bella Vista Farm. Without a doubt, the day was a huge success, each and every band put on outstanding performances that captured the attention and hearts of all.  

The size of the festival was spot on, no clashes meant every act got the attention they deserved and a moment to shine. A free shuttle bus was parked outside the venue to transport the droves home or to the pub safely, to no doubt, recall stories of the day well into the night and year.
Here’s hoping Monolith becomes a festival staple. 

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