From the Kaiser Chiefs’ perspective, I’m sure we looked like a frenzied rookery of frozen penguins. Rooted to the spot and huddled together to collectively combat Canberra’s near-zero night-time temperatures, the horde of young and old, natives and pilgrims, hipsters and bogans bounced about to spite the cold and celebrate the closing act of 2012’s Groovin’ the Moo (GTM).
The touring festival, still very much in its infancy, began plodding along Australia’s various ‘regional centres’ in 2005. It was only two years ago that the University of Canberra earned itself a leg on the cultural cow’s annual cross-country journey.
Setting up Triple J’s and Channel V’s Udder Stage side-by-side was a good choice by organisers, allowing the festival’s herd to move between the day’s main acts without much effort. San Cisco’s set was absolute warmth. The crowd bubbled. The Fremantle four-piece played earnestly. Hell, I’m sure the sun started shining with a touch more intensity too. The band’s exceptionally youthful frontman, Jordi Davieson, told the crowd of a brilliant idea he had on his sleep-deprived and chilly trip to the Moo – “hot Red Bull.”
Big Scary followed suit, belting out tracks that alternated between alt-rock, guitar-driven ferocity and piano-led sincerity. After a shaky start, the two quickly seized the crowd with the seasonally-appropriate ‘Autumn’. In between blinks, Matt Corby began crooning to an ocean of swooning women. Upon unleashing the first few bars of ‘Brother’, the sea seemed to rise as dozens sprang up and sat atop shoulders, gently swaying back-and-forth.
The Maccabees, the festival’s first imported act, next took the stage and delivered a resounding encore. The five-piece revelled in enormous-sounding indie sock songs with soft-spoken, almost mumbled lyrics. Though I initially took their brevity for British turgidity, they quickly warmed to the crowd, cheekily admitting that they “didn’t always get the words right”.
A little later in the afternoon, 360 appeared in the Moolin Rouge – the festival’s lead location for drunken lads. Like herded cattle, a swarm of punters crammed under the tent to witness the Melbournian rapper in action. While his set was tight and punchy, I left early as he bellowed to the crowd, “yo, who wants to hear me rap over some Skrillex?”
To my delight, Ball Park Music threw me into one of the most cathartic festival sing-a-longs I’ve ever had the pleasure of being a part of, exclaiming at the top of my lungs: “I haven’t had a friend in years/I only have sex with myself.” Cromack explained that his song ‘Sad Rude Future Dude’ was “for all you wankers out there – and I don’t mean those guys that drive fast cars and wear shiny jewellery.” Canadian Folk gods, City and Colour, followed the Brisbane six-piece and helped wind back the manic intensity with some smooth acoustics and honeyed singing.
Screaming to the crowd, “If you have any drugs, I want you to take them now”, Bluejuice launched into the riff-heavy ‘Medication’. Employing Tron-esque glow-in-the-dark body paint, rave lights, nudity and more energy and heat than a thousand cans of ‘warm Red Bull’, the quintet from Sydney transformed the crowd into a bouncing sweaty horde barely aware of the hypothermic temperature.
Hip-hop juggernauts, the Hilltop Hoods ran through a slew of singles from ‘The Nosebleed Section’ to ‘Rattling the Keys to the Kingdom’. Veterans of the scene, Suffa and MC Pressure toyed with the crowd to mixed results. During his tour of Australia, Kanye West prematurely ended tracks only to replay them if his crowd didn’t meet his quota for keen. Kanye, the ‘King of Douchebags’, did this twice – the three-piece from Adelaide couldn’t do three songs without pulling the stunt.
GTM went a long way to help promote the Young Turks of the Australian music scene. It was the Kaiser Chiefs, as stalwarts of British Indie, though, that nearly stole the entire show. Climbing pylons, breaking cameras and jumping on a fucking tilt-a-whirl during a song, Ricky Wilson certainly didn’t believe in phoning it in.
Due to its relative smallness, GTM managed to strike a balance between epic and intimate over its one-and-half stages – a complaint frequently levelled against Australia’s premier one day festival, Big Day Out. Despite the numbing cold – that isn’t hyperbole, by the way – GTM managed to squeeze every last drop out of its performers.
Indeed, rather than sounding like glorified support acts, a healthy heap of the early-afternoon Aussie bands managed to hold their own against the festival’s international heavyweights. Punters dragging their feet to Canberra expecting a festival as boring as its host city were pleasantly surprised; the day (and night) was certainly milked for all it was worth.