Gizzfest at the Coburg Velodrome

In 2015, Melbourne based seven-piece band King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard produced their first instalment of Gizzfest, a small, day-long festival comprised of various acts and groups.  The festival’s return was long overdue, and emerged again in Melbourne on November 26th 2016, studded with over 25 local and international groups, including domestic favourites Pond and The Murlocs, as well as psych-rock import, White Fence (USA).  Held at the Coburg Velodrome, the return of Gizzfest accommodated a hefty crowd, a vast increase from the OG Gizzfest, which was held at the intimate Barwon Club in Geelong.

From the Gizz tunnel a great throng did emerge

The Velodrome, traditionally used for recreational health and fitness, was veiled by a collective puff of smoke and the mist of cracking beer and cider cans. Upon entering, the Panache, Flightless, Aarght, and Moontown ‘sheds’ were humming along, with less well-known suits (editor: this means bands you old farts), though it was the main stage which created the most hype. Jaala opened the stage, with sultry, jazz-infused vocals lulling the crowd into a hazy warmth beneath the spring sun.  But it was ORB whose performance created a path-setting prelude to the day that lay ahead; which was to be full of swaying bodies induced by heavy baselines and cheap beer.

Wandering back through the crowd for The Murlocs’ performance, I was given the pleasure of running into Broderick Smith, the lead man behind Australia’s Carson, whose blues-rock ‘boogies’ dominated the Australian festival scene from 1970-73, including the Sunbury festival in ’72.  Smith’s son, Ambrose Kenny-Smith, is the blues harp and keyboard player for Gizzard, and the vocalist for The Murlocs.  Ambrose’s vocals at times sound as if his throat were coated with glass, projecting a classic dirty blues sound, accompanied by the harp which almost seems like a mere extension of his arm.  The group performed crowd favourites, ‘Space Cadet’ and ‘Rolling On’, whilst demonstrating Ambrose’s proficiency on the harp with ‘Control Freak’.

“Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows!” No wait, that’s The Murlocs

American acts Mild High Club and White Fence made their Australian debut at the festival.  Mild High Club impressed those who enjoy indie-rock, á la Mac Demarco, but failed to attract those who came for a good boogie and not a slow swaying.  By way of contrast, the psych rock of White Fence was charged with sweeping riffs and intense beats, drawing back a larger body of people as the afternoon crept into evening.

Next was Perth group Pond, who had returned from their hiatus for the performance. Front-man Nicholas Allbrook picked up right from where he left off—with peculiar attire draped over his small frame, which bounced and threw itself around as if suspended by strings which were being tugged from the stage beams.  The hype intensified with their classic hit, ‘Giant Tortoise’, though this number was put into stasis by an impromptu “10 minute break” (that was really 30 minutes) so security could reinforce the barriers before the stage.  It was humbling to witness the good natures of the band, who tried their best to entertain the agitated audience, with Allbrook and Jay Watson chatting to us, telling obscure anecdotes and jokes.  The beat was revived after the barrier was reconstructed, and so too were the good spirits.  Whilst it was disappointing that they had to omit a song or two so as to not drift from schedule, Pond maintained an incredible stage presence, making me rekindle my appreciation for them, and a hankering for them to conduct their own tour ASAP.

Solo act Boulevards maintained the crowd hype through pumping dance beats and peculiar yet impressive dance moves, whilst Gizzard members began assembling and tuning their instruments in the background.  The crowd stiffened, as each person tried to inconspicuously ward off others who were trying to push closer to the front.  Positioned front and centre, there was a brewing sense of fear due to the impending reality of becoming shoved around in the near future, but my excitement muted the voice of reason which told me to escape the swarm of bodies.  True to form, Stuart Mackenzie signalled the beginning of the set with his ritual ‘Yup-yup’ yelled into the microphone, whilst Ambrose, also true to form, looked slightly mortified and concerned about the dense wall of people before him. The reverberating riff of the opening track, ‘Gamma Knife’, lead a friend and I to share a look of adrenaline charged concern, knowing very well that the tempo of this track was to induce a flurry of limbs and long hair in our faces.  Pulled and thrown from every angle, the faint of heart quickly scrambled away as the tracks progressed, and I became increasingly thankful for my steel caps and tightly secured backpack.  The experience of moshing to Gizzard, in what is affectionately known as the “death circle”, may seem unattractive when experiences from within it are recollected, though there is a strange appeal to it and the catharsis that it induces.  Control over your body is overcome by the overwhelming power of collective movement, and it’s easy to be completely absorbed in the experience.  However, for those that preferred not to partake in this, the velodrome’s angled ramps provided excellent positions for viewing; which also provided additional means of entertainment between acts, as the odd person was seen skidding to the floor as they lost traction along the steeper edges.

Gizzards, upside-down people, Lizards and so on

The group is one of few bands who have dual drummers, with Eric Moore and Michael Cavanagh bouncing away with incredible synchronisation and intensity, while Mackenzie throws himself upside-down every now and again, as the performance defies both gravitational and musical norms of conduct.  Accompanied by Jason Galea’s colourful and mesmerising projections, King Gizzard have undoubtedly maintained their incredible stage presence and sense of intimacy which I first experienced long ago in their first 2013 performance at the Tote.  One of the most enjoyable aspects of every Gizzard gig is the array of familiar faces, with whom you have shared many a mosh pit with.

As the medley of ‘I’m in your mind, I’m not in your mind’, and Cellophane from the 2014 LP I’m in your Mind Fuzz drew to a close, the dreaded utterance “this is our last one, guys” came.  Shocked (whilst also somewhat dehydrated and battered), a look of disbelief flicked across the faces of all, despite the group having been playing for well over an hour.  The night closed with their latest release, ‘Rattlesnake’, as Mackenzie swapped instruments to his newly acquired microtonal guitar, which apparently means something impressive to those schooled in music, but I just admired its interesting shape and sound.  Gizzard’s ability to continually impress those who are musically educated as well as those who are not is perhaps the reason for their multiplicity of supporters over the years, and why I always find myself returning to their shows.

Shuffling slowly, the buzz wore off as the mess of long hair and black jeans made its way to Batman station.  Even though the return home is always painful and convoluted, there is a sense of comradery on the train, with onlookers often flashing the crowd a look of judgement or concern.  Discussion of the day filled the carriages, then shifted to a collective longing among aching moshers, who had been going for over 11 hours, to haul themselves into bed.

Gizzfest 2016 surpassed all expectations, and the Coburg Velodrome embraced its new career as a music venue with great success.  The information of tour dates of The Murlocs, ORB, and King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard are coordinated by Flightless Records, and can be found on the Flightless Records page.

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