REVIEW + PICS: Listen Out | Sydney

Written By Sam Murphy on 10/05/2015

For three years now Listen Out have delivered a lineup that balances between the unknown and the uber popular. It's paired Disclosure, Flume and Chet Faker alongside then up-and-comers like AlunaGeorge, Tkay Maidza and Golden Features. 2015's lineup skewed more towards hip-hop in line with its headliner of Childish Gambino but still perfectly suited the people's favourite Gambino with newcomers iLoveMakonnen and Rae Sremmurd alongside a collection of dance acts.

Sydney delivered its first really hot day of the season for its leg of Listen Out which made it truly feel like the start of the festival season. Centennial Park is a beautiful location for a festival and the two stages make it easy to move between acts. Apart from the odd difficult crowd member, it's one of the easiest festival experiences going.

Basenji was a late addition to the lineup after Lido dropped out but he probably should've been there in the first place. His Trackpad EP is one of the best local releases of the year and he brought that to the stage with malleable, cute sounds providing the perfect mid-arvo soundtrack.

iLoveMakonnen was a bit of a risk booking for the festival given he hasn't found a huge audience here yet away for his track Tuesday but he brought it on Saturday. He was charismatic and full of energy without reeking of any nonchalance unlike so many hip-hop bookings these days. Tuesday was an obvious highlight but he had the goods to fill a full set.

If iLoveMakonnen seemed charismatic, rap brother duo Rae Sremmurd tripled that. The pair have boundless energy and bought a set of tracks that perfectly matched that. Drawing from their debut SremmLife, it seemed like they had an endless amount of hits. From No Type to their break through No Flex Zone, they had punters going nuts. We're sure these shows go off in the US but given Australia's hip-hop community is far smaller than there, it seems we did a pretty damn good job bringing it for the boys. It was only fair giving how much they gave to us.  

From hip-hop to dance local favourite Hayden James pulled a huge following for a set of basically all unreleased, new material according to the man himself. He basically brought a DJ set with a few live components but it was more than enough to have punters from back to front dancing. As the day reinforced time and time again, local audiences are loving homegrown dance more than anything else right now and when James dropped Something About You they made it feel like a worldwide hit. 

ODESZA were last here in January but their return less than a year later was more than welcome even without much new material to share. Amongst a lot of DJ sets, the pair bring the full live experience to the stage, thrashing away on drum pads and synths, facing each other as if in a dual. It’s clear that their live set is continuing to evolve with each of the tracks bound by expansive intros or outros. As the sun went down, the visual of the whole thing got more and more spectacular. They're the kind of act who could easily put on a stunning performance at the Sydney Opera House and then hype up a festival crowd. Hayden James made an appearance for their remix of Something About You but it was Say My Name that had everyone smiling from cheek to cheek.

Alison Wonderland has had a phenomenal year. She released her debut album Run, has sold-out two of her Warehouse Project tours and has also played international festivals like Coachella. Even if you’re not a fan of her recorded stuff it’s pretty hard to deny her live show. We’ve seen her four times this year and every time she’s left everything she has on the stage. She’s her own hype girl and she does an amazing job, exuding more energy than anybody on the Listen Out lineup. She told us her songs were about everything from depression to having sex with an ex-boyfriend - everything about her feels completely human and it’s refreshing. The title track to her album was the highlight of the set, blasting the crowd with its mighty chorus but snippets of RL Grime and a remix of Duke Dumont’s Ocean Drive also went off.

As the darkness well and truly set in, the crowd was reaching peak levels of excitement. Drinks were swelling, people were climbing scaffolds for a better view and smoke was blaring out of the stage as SBTRKT took to the stage. Interestingly the most common complaint during his set was that he wasn't playing live nor much of his own material. Those people had obviously not read the text in the brackets next to his name. It was a DJ set and as far as they go he did a damn good job. He mixed in a few of his originals with some of the year's biggest tracks delivering a hugely diverse set. New Dorp New York sat beautifully alongside Jamie xx's Gosh and Kendrick Lamar's Alright. If anything we learnt SBTRKT has a dope music taste and that was more than enough for us.

At this point the crowd split between Childish Gambino and Golden Features for the finale. We chose the latter purely for the success story of going from the bottom of the lineup basically in 2014 to the top in 2015. Made up mostly of dark, deep house the enigmatic producer was met with adoration. He may not have the most extensive back catalogue but what he has so far has earned him many dedicated fans. Night sets obviously showcase him in his prime and for the most part he was triumphant. Finishing with Telescope he gave us plenty of reasons why he'll be in the upper-echelons of the Hottest 100 this year.

No doubt all those at Golden Features felt a little FOMO at the thought of missing Childish Gambino but that's a compliment to Listen Out. With just two stages they threw hard decisions at us all day proving that despite the diversity of the bill there weren't many acts that could be missed without regret.

Listen Out 2015 earned Fuzzy a third gold star and while there are improvements to be made next year (sound levels for one), it's hard to imagine the festival season kicking off in any other way now.

All pics by Brayden Smith for the interns.