For those jostling for position in the crowded fields of hardcore, metal and the intersectional …
UNIFY Gathering 2019 might be the fifth instalment of the country’s only punk rock and post-hardcore camping music festival, but for some, it was a weekend of firsts.
It was the first time experiencing a 14-hour road trip with a promiscuous trailer packed to its edges with Kmart’s entire camping catalogue. It was the first time car-pooling with people who didn’t necessarily share the same tastes in music (which made for amazing conversation!), and the first time ingesting a personal annual quota of Maccas in the space of a few days (three chocolate thick shakes and immeasurable $1 hamburgers—no regrets). But hey, it’s Unify, it’s okay, and what happens at Unify, stays at Unify.
Except for the music. The music is what brought together 10,000 people from all parts of the country and the music is what needs to be shared with those who didn’t make the Festival. With the carefully cultivated blend of Aussie post-hardcore, pop-punk and indie-rock acts joining the international contingent of the same genres, what Unify Gathering 2019 ended up being was a sublime sandwich layered by different flavours and suited to different palettes, something for all.
Unify Gathering 2019 was the place where a guy wearing a [fake] horse head would rock out to Pagan with no judgement, the place where over a hundred sweaty blokes would add to the dust clouds of Tarwin Lower, Victoria, Australia, by kicking up a frenzied circle pit at Gravemind’s behest, and when Bananas in Pyjamas would lose themselves to Every Time I Die with no chill, before Taking Back Sunday made us feel 17 again, reminding us of wistful days gone by.
Of course, The Gathering is the kind of place where when exposed to such countless choices of music and such a variety of characters, all meshed together in the middle of nowhere for three days beneath the scorching sun, you’re gonna get distracted. You’re gonna find yourself playing toy soldiers with two chicks leading rubber ducks on leashes, you’re gonna laugh at the guy who’s so wasted he keeps falling down, and you’re gonna want to indulge in some of the epic food vans and enjoy local cuisine, like Ryan Gozleme (nom!). So here follows an account of some of the choice performances of Unify Gathering 2019. While you guys read, the rest of us will be sleeping it off until next Summer!
FRIDAY 11TH JANUARY, 2019
Backs to the audience, an ambience growing, Dream State slowly turn to the swell of the music and break into their enthralling offering of post-hardcore! What stands out about these guys is just how deeply frontwoman CJ Gilpin seems to feel the music—and how desperately she wants her audience to know she sees they feel the same. Launching herself over the barrier more than once, Gilpin put herself into the hands of her fans, touching as many outstretched fingers as she could. The energy, love, and showmanship only climbing the greatness ladder, the band and audience toppling over the top and breathless by the set’s end.
HAND OF MERCY:
Have you ever seen one of those commercials for a minty mouthwash? The character gargles with the stuff and their whole face blows away or some such thing? That’s what Hand Of Mercy do from the word go! Blown away by volatile beats, boom bass that shook the ground (literally), even the gnarly feedback from the stage tied in well with their insanely sweaty performance. Hand Of Mercy hand you energy and aren’t sorry for it.
THE PLOT IN YOU:
Drawn by the steady pulse of their opener, the crowd slowly moved toward the stage for The Plot In You. As more members came one by one onto the stage, the lights started shaking, the band started playing, and the heads started banging to the doldrums. Amidst smoke and strobes, The Plot In You made their mark as the day’s standout act to this point, post-hardcore performed like its a very precious thing to the Ohio outfit.
DREAM ON DREAMER:
Dream On Dreamer aren’t a reunion band but they had that level of jollity, ardure, happiness. No strangers to the Unify stage but they seemed to play with the fervor of a band that have fought for their spot. Dream On Dreamer played very much to the crowd, getting people involved and making their performance something that wasn’t just to be watched but an experience to be shared.
The buzz surrounding Japanese electro-core Crossfaith was immense. People were talking about this set right up until the band hit the stage like an unexpected explosion of fireworks. They are relentless, they are slick, they are exhilarating … They had an abundance of technical difficulties that meant their set was cut short by 15 minutes. Urgh. But the small injection we got of Crossfaith was utterly worth the wait. Crossfaith / Baby Metal co-headline show, anyone?
The last performance from our favourite Aussie nu-metal group before the departure of guitarist Jimmy Hall and vocalist Luke Holmes was always going to be done in style. The pyrotechnics Ocean Grove brought to the stage would have singed the eyebrows off the first 200 or so people in the pit, it was hot, hot, hot! Ocean Grove oddly didn’t play many songs penned by Luke, this was mostly a set fronted by Dale Tanner, but it was a heartfelt and thrilling show to watch, many of the audience reluctant to see this version of Ocean Grove disband.
What an utter ruckus created by the Sydney post-hardcore outfit. Throwing out bangers from their latest (and best work to date) album, Rue, Hellions weren’t ashamed to take a poll as to how many of their audience have bought their latest work. A little self-indulgent? Maybe, but Hellions are the kind of band who justify a little ego stroking because of just how hard they worked that stage.
IN HEARTS WAKE:
In Hearts Wake performed at Unify Gathering as part of their current Summer Setlist Tour and weren’t afraid of showing the love as they knocked out bangers from latest release, Ark. Facilitating a proposal for longterm fan Ainsley to her boyfriend, Eden (he said yes!), In Hearts Wake added an aww factor to a performance that wasn’t short on love and gratitude.
Billed as their first East Coast show since 2016, it was an underwhelming return to the live stage for Karnivool. Granted they’ve always had a mystical ambience to their more down low songs, and a certain kind of grit to their wildly electric numbers, but even massive hits like New Day and Set Fire To The Hive didn’t have that usual spark to it. Nice to see you though, guys. Hope you’re back again soon.
Another anticlimactic performance and a disappointing end to the first day of Unify. Thankfully we had enough action and boisterous music to satisfy our need for a sensational audio experience, because Underoath, at Unify all the way from Tampa, Florida, were another group marred yet again by technical difficulties. Try as he might, vocalist Spencer Chamberlain was washed away by poor equipment and was forced to overcompensate, and lead guitarist Timothy McTague suffered with not being heard for at least the first three songs. Needless to say, it was a sad state of affairs and not the usual zealous performance we’re used to experiencing from Underoath. Ah well, onto the next day!
SATURDAY 12TH JANUARY, 2019
Yours Truly win the award for most ambitious song writing—catchy guitar riffs, raucous rhythms, and elaborate melodies in the vocals, they’ve got pop-punk down pat. But the massive sounds we’re used to hearing from the Sydney band were at times unobtainable and unrecognisable. Maybe being signed with UNFD will afford them more opportunities to refine their large-scale live performance techniques so none of their passionate sound is lost.
Their first major performance since they rebranded from Easy Life, After Touch rocked a slicker production and heavy sound that went over well with the crowd. Though this new sound is more cerebral and atmospheric, this live performance had more energy than their former hardcore-leaning iteration.
The dry plains of The Pit should certainly by now be without grass, thanks to the dust storms stirred up by Gravemind’s dedicated and frenzied circle pit. Weighing in heavily on the grimmer end of the deathcore scale, Gravemind’s raucous performance was nothing if not delightfully disgusting.
There’s no doubt about it, Pagan made converts to their church of chaos today. Transfixed by their uniform melodies and blindingly brutal riffs, Pagan showed that their cult following is well and truly deserved and the hard yards they put in in 2018 should be deserving of a look at least once. Unify was the perfect opportunity for that and Pagan’s performance was blissfully unadulterated!
The last of the bands that day with a 20-minute set, Stand Atlantic’s set was criminally short. Swept sweetly away by the docile tones of their music, all too soon were our heads pulled from the clouds and our feet (reluctantly) back on the ground. There was no performance of their hit Skinny Dipping (instead offering a sweet rendition of it in their acoustic performance during the Maton Sessions on Sunday). Short set be damned, Stand Atlantic made the absolute best of their appearance and were definitely one of the best loved bands on the bill.
What to say about Endless Heights except they are bat-shit crazy in the absolute best way! Singer Jem Siow is flamboyant in an intricate and involved way, his red hair flying across the stage—kind of like when a dog shakes but all you can see is hair. Defying all logistical odds Siow managed to usurp even Every Time I Die in terms of his energy. Christian Hrdina meanwhile, holds the award for the single most energetic guitarist to take to the Unify stage. Ripping bass and crunchy drums. Love it!
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Nah, just frontman Stevie Williams, channeling his inner Spiderman, launching himself into the crowd, climbing scaffolding and generally monkeying around. Despite the fact the rest of the band are comfortable in the knowledge that all eyes are on Stevie, they still perform top notch, particularly bassist Hanny J who rips it as if she is the frontman. Utter legend!
An absolutely exhilarating performance given by one of Australia’s best indie-punk exports. Doing the country proud, WAAX looked like they were living their best life, particularly frontwoman Maz DeVita, who threw herself about in time to the music like a rag doll being vigorously shaken. WAAX did the country proud with this appearance, for sure!
Unfortunately for the Detroit indie-rockers, their set was a tad on the bland side and given how rocking some of the tracks in their arsenal, this show was a disappointment. Citizen were definitely the romeos of the rodeo, melancholic, morose, and a tad on the emo side. They may as well have played an acoustic set.
No matter how much hardcore you’ve listened to, Turnstile will always make you feel like you’re listening to hardcore for the time again. Frontman Brendan Yates is hilariously ridiculous, a real life Disco Stu, the audience stoked and provoked by his unwavering and animated energy. Turnstile’s songs are standard fare for hardcore but have some colourful flourishes like chimes, synth, strings, aiding and abetting the more traditional flow of hardcore and were amazing to see, particularly the efforts from drummer and percussionist Daniel Fang and bassist and percussionist Franz Lyons.
Definitely a band suited to the daytime because they have that bright poppy, summer vibe—sickeningly sweet pop-punk vibe that didn’t really sit well with the anathema-tic bangers and gripping hardcore of the remaining bands on the bill. State Champs were a good opener for Trophy Eyes, however.
Every single Trophy Eyes song has a sense of unity to it. The band cascaded through bangers like More Like You, Lavender Bay, and closer Friday Forever, the rapturous crowd uniting with them in one voice. It’s a sight to see and a joy to behold when an ocean of people are stirred by the music of one group, who then ride the tide of joy they’ve created.
EVERY TIME I DIE:
Phwoar! Get a load of this! An absolute riot was the show put on by Every Time I Die. Frontman Keith Buckley launching himself into the hands of his audience, guitarist Jordan Buckley simultaneously mounting the stage speakers. Encouraged by the band, the audience created a running circle of death, as wide as the stage and as brutal as the soundtrack on show. The meeker lambs of the ETID flock huddled tentatively at the circle’s edge, watching the dust storm rustled up by the more hardcore of attendees. Carnage. Beautiful, contagious carnage. Performing It Remembers, which features Brendon Urie of Panic! At The Disco on the studio version, which offers the song a very pop centric falsetto singing, not only did Buckley perfectly emulate Urie’s singing style but he made it feel completely natural to the rest of the song’s southern hardcore feel.
TAKING BACK SUNDAY:
In the wake of the release of 20, the album to mark 20 bright and successful years together, Taking Back Sunday broke open the treasure box of memories. For Taking Back Sunday, the night was about friendship, good memories, hard times, bad times, looking back, and moving forward, crying and smiling together. Vocalist Adam Lazzara even shared this sentiment addressing the audience, saying, “We have travelled all this way to play for you, the soundtrack of your youth and whatever age you find yourselves at now.” That’s the beauty of Taking Back Sunday’s catalogue of anathemic punk rock bangers—they are simply timeless. Taking Back Sunday reminded us of everything that was great about the days behind us, and instilled in us a nervous excitement for the days to come.