REVIEW + PICS: FOMO Festival | Riverstage, Brisbane

Written By Sam Murphy on 01/11/2016

Australian festivals are in an interesting state right now. The bigger ones are crumbling while some of the smaller, boutique ones are thriving with a formula that many have attempted to replicate but very few have been able to successfully. The tendency for organisers when festivals are struggling is to give people more - more stages, bigger acts and more side-attractions. Often it’s unsuccessful, reeking of desperation rather than a genuine attempt to improve punters festival experience.

In its inaugural year, FOMO at Brisbane’s Riverstage took the opposite approach to giving more and instead decided to give less. It offered a tightly curated lineup of like minded artists compacted to just one stage meaning punters were of the same ilk and once at the festival they weren’t dispersed across the grounds instead bundling their energy into one stage.

A festival that gives less may not sound immediately appealing but it became apparent very early on that this was a winning approach. Throughout the day the crowd saw full sets giving the same kind of vigour and energy to the early acts as much as the headliners. By having everyone dancing in front of one stage it felt like a strong community and reassured the enthusiasm that young Aussies have for local and international electronic music.

Early on in the day, as the blistering sunshine flooded down on Brisbane, local heroes had their chance to shine. uv boi kickstarted the tempo with a hyperactive set, Benson turned the party vibes to 100 and Anna Lunoe proved exactly why she’s an International tastemaker with an expertly curated set. The day hit an early afternoon peak though with Adelaide rapper Tkay Maidza, who’s already kicked off 2016 with some of the finest sets of her career. On a bill that includes international heavy weights, it’s honestly hard to tell that just over a year ago Maidza was nothing but a local hope opening festivals. On the Brissy stage, she looked in her elements lapping up the adoring crowd and hitting them with a perfect balance of attitude and sweetness.

This flaring energy was only to be matched later in the day by grime superstar Skepta who brings the same kind of attack to his verses as Maidza. This was the final show of his Australian tour which, by all accounts, has been wildly successful and he brought it. From That’s Not Me to Back Then, he looked more determined than ever to make this show one to remember, leaping from the ground at times and constantly demanding, “more energy.” Sometimes artists blame the crowds for a flat show but you get the feeling Skepta would only blame himself. Luckily there was nothing flat about his set. There were death circles and all-in rap recitals as he played to the already converted grime fans and made believers out of the newcomers. Shutdown has been a highlight of the summer all around the country and it was no different in Brisbane with the crowd word-for-word matching the Boy Better Know boss as he acknowledged FOMO as one of his favourite crowds. You’ve got to hand it to a crowd who's able to turn up so hard at this time of the afternoon but you’ve also got to hand it to Skeppy.

Boys Noize rolled on from that bringing an aggressive set of techno full of invading beats and shattering synths. These are the kind of sets that thrive in the darkness but here a heaving crowd made it hard to fault what he was doing or at what time he was doing it. The set was mostly bereft of lyrics and it’s amazing to see a crowd of youngsters respond so well to electronic music that’s this interesting and left-of-centre.

From one extreme to another, Jamie xx took to the stage for a sunset set, bringing disco vibes from the get-go with Idris Muhammad’s Could Heaven Ever Feel Like This - the track he sampled on Loud Places. Music can be so elated by its surrounds and this was the perfect example of this with the time of day interacting beautifully with Jamie’s set which moved from disco funk to garage and melodic deep house as the sun dipped its head below the hills of Riverstage. A spin of the xx’s remix of Florence + The Machine’s You Got The Love was an early set favourite but things really ramped up us the emotional keys of The Rest Is Noise ricocheted around the crowd. That was only heightened as he brought Gosh in over top a thudding techno beat only to pull it out moments later and let Gosh forge forward with its racing tempo. Jamie xx is a master at swelling hearts and by the he rounded out the set with Loud Places most were loved-up. As the disco ball glimmered and the crowd stood hands held high to the tracks triumphant chorus, it was hard not to feel startled by the whole experience. Loud Places is an amazing standalone song but Jamie had built its surrounds so expertly that by the time it dropped goosebumps seemed the only appropriate reaction.

Flight Facilities had the unenviable task of following that and while their adoring fans made it a stunning set it was never going to be easy wedged in between Jamie xx and RL Grime. Still, they did a formidable job, creating after-dark lullabies that put stars in the eyes of each punter particularly with closer Clair De Lune. Special shout out to Owl Eyes who is a mesmerizing performer and brings a certain wonder to each Flight Facilities performance.

If you’ve ever seen an RL Grime set you know that you’re in for a ramped up performance, but it’s hard remember exactly how intense his sets get. He’s taken his unique blend of R&B, trap and techno and turned it into a live set that plays perfectly to the masses proving that you don’t need EDM predictability to make mainstage electronica. Along the RL Grime journey he gave us moments of pop (Tove Lo’s Habits), hip-hop (Drake & Future’s Jumpman) and anthemic trap (his collaboration with What So Not, Tell Me), offering a little bit of everything all wrapped cohesively in the RL Grime aesthetic. By the time Core hit the crowd was descending into madness, overwhelmed by intensity of the set. There were people climbing on tents, creating death circles and burning shirts as he successfully stirred madness. Security contained the crowd but as Core reached its peak with a drum ‘n bass drop, there was no stopping them as they moshed with a fervent purpose. He brought the set to a close with his remix of The Weeknd’s The Hills, turning the heat up even more with flames shooting from the stage. Outside of EDM, it’s hard to think of any electronic artist who garners a crowd reaction like this in Australia. After another successful Aussie tour, it’s quite possible that the next time we see him here he’ll be playing massive venues fit for superstars.

Festival organisers BBE have championed RL Grime in Australia for a while now and as such he was a fitting headliner for their first ever festival. FOMO didn’t offer an obvious lineup but it correctly predicted what Aussie audiences would want on the day from discovering newbies to raving to big names on the verge of superstardom. The music was one thing, but from an organisational point of view the festival seemed to go on without a hitch which is surely more than you can ask for a debut event. In the case of FOMO, less is undoubtedly more and bigger festivals attempting to cater to everyone should take note.

All photo by Brayden Smith (BCS Imaging).