It’s hard to pinpoint just when Kirin J Callinan and Kris Moyes’ collaborative performance began. It culminated tonight at Sugar Mountain, but began with the production of last year’s stunning film clip for Way To War. Footage from the shoot, footage that didn’t make the cut for the video for obvious reasons, was projected above Kirin’s Sugar Mountain performance. Kirin pissing off the side of a mountain. Kirin with cum dripping from his face. Kirin masturbating off the side of a balcony. Kirin lifting weights in the shower. Kirin’s genitals shown in extreme close up. These rhythmic, GIF-style shots weren’t really shocking. We’re in the age of the internet. We’ve seen it all.
In the weeks leading up to Sugar Mountain, a huge, toned and tanned beast of a man incessantly bombarded the festival’s social media platforms with a series of shirtless ‘selfies’. He was here tonight. Front and centre for Kirin’s performance. He was part of the performance, an actor. He invaded the stage, he took his shirt off, he lifted Kirin onto his shoulders, he was escorted out by security in a ludicrous pantomime.
Word had got out in the half hour before the Callinan x Moyes collaboration was due to take the stage. Festival organisers were in a panic. Was this panic real? Most likely. In an elongated and tense explanation, Kris Moyes detailed what was originally planned for the set, a plan which was nixed by festival organisers due to duty of care. Billy, a man with photosensitive epilepsy, was to be planted in the audience. A seizure was to be triggered by intense strobe lighting. The focal point of the performance was to be the audience reacting to the man’s seizure. We were shown test footage of Billy being induced into a seizure. People were uncomfortable with this. Audience members, some obviously planted, began voicing their objections. “You’re a fucking dickhead mate.” A lady stood and delivered a damning diatribe. She, like the buff behemoth and Billy, was an actor in this performance. Later, she stormed out – not before flinging a drink into Kirin’s face.
The music was secondary to the melodrama. The music was quite good, with the backing band featuring Shags Chamberlain, Evelyn Morris, Jessica Says and more. Only four songs were performed, then the set appeared to be cut short. Was this part of the act? Kirin looked genuinely pissed off as he let his guitar crash to the floor. I still wasn’t sure what was real. Was the censorship of the epileptic seizure real, or a meta ruse? For a moment, Billy was sitting on the floor in front of me. What was he still doing there? What if they still plan to trigger his seizure? What the fuck would I do then? I have no idea how to act in that situation. Do I have time to Google ‘how to treat epileptic seizure’? It was the most uncomfortable I have been in a long while.
Theories floated around The Forum and on social media.
Kirin J Callinan was the villain. He was hated. He was hated for pushing the boundaries. He was hated for making a cheap ploy for controversy. He was hated by the people he instructed to hurl abuse. He was hated for being in control. He was hated for being out of control. He was great.
Earlier in the night, Lower Plenty opened the festival with an endearingly scrappy set. With singer/percussionist Sarah Heyward back in the fold, the four-piece performed selections from their stellar debut Hard Rubbish in front of a projected landscape of Hanging Rock.
The projection was maintained for Boomgates, which made sense during the performance of Double Natural cut Hanging Rock. As always, Whispering Or Singing was a rollicking burst of euphoria.
Phantôscopia was an intriguring and incredibly well-polished concept. Led by hooded members of Midnight Juggernauts, a series of short films were projected as the band performed a pseudo-live soundtrack. A fine combination of music, theatre and film – a tidy encapsulation of the Sugar Mountain ethos.
The seated environment of the upstairs Forum theatre prevented the crowd from dancing to the very danceable sounds of Forces, but the onstage choreographed routine by Anthony Hamilton more than compensated. Methodically manipulating, and ultimately destroying, giant polystyrene prisms, the dance troupe complemented Forces’ industrial, masculine aesthetic.
The joy emanated by ESG on the main stage was infectious as hell. Most of the iconic South Bronx outfit were decked out in 3RRR t-shirts – a result of their buzz-generating live-to-air performance earlier in the week. The dancefloor was at its most bumpin’, relishing the pure proto-hip-hop jams on offer.
The upstairs Boiler Room mezzanine wasn’t well-suited to live performances. Despite not being able to see Collarbones from anywhere other than the narrow front row, the duo crushed it with a runthrough of tracks from the sophomore LP Die Young. Later on in the night, Peanut Butter Wolf turned the area into a sweaty all-out dance-fest with a pristine mix.
“I love you, go fuck yourselves, have a great night.” That is how Queens rap maestro Action Bronson bid farewell to Sugar Mountain. Rumours began circulating around The Forum that he was arrested immediately after his performance. Bronson performed most of his set from the floor amongst the punters – even managing to head to the bar to grab a drink without stemming his flow. And his flow was mightily impressive. I made it to the stage after what may have been an altercation, but Bronson’s performance seemed impervious to any such incident – except for maybe a few cries of “get the fuck out of my face” while amongst the crowd and venue security.
Considering all that preceded, The Dirty Projectors proved to be a refreshingly controversy-free end to the night. Performing a set heavy with tracks from Swing Lo Magellan, the collective showcase their polyrhythmic compositions in the live setting with impossible ease. They soared with Gun Has No Trigger, they rocked with Offspring Are Blank, and grooved with the encore-opening Stillness Is The Move.
There were scenes of chaos and many moments of brilliance. But above all else, Sugar Mountain was a lot of fun.
BY LACHLAN KANONIUK
LOVED: Getting down to ESG.
HATED: That the Callinan x Moyes set didn’t go as planned. Or did it? I don’t know.
DRANK: The only beer on offer.