Sugar Mountain is an alternate universe right in the heart of the city

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Sugar Mountain is an alternate universe right in the heart of the city


Sugar Mountain Festival is a precocious event that stimulates punters searching for something different to your average festival experience, bringing a basement-party vibe to an open-air concert.

Although this year it geographically consumed roughly the same area – Melbourne Arts Precinct – the festival had crowds entering via Sturt St with the Boiler Room now situated in the garden of The Malthouse’s Theatre’s courtyard and a stage also located in The Malthouse’s Merlyn Theatre. The main stage was in exactly the same spot, just facing the other direction. This new layout improved the festival experience drastically from previous years, as it allowed for easy access to each stage plus a large neutral area for food trucks and a bar. However, the best part was that each stage had its own aesthetic identity.

For those seeking otherness, The Merlyn Theatre proved to be an elite performance space. UK meta-techno and experimental performer Actress challenged-yet-enthralled an almost full theatre during his afternoon set. The projections during were menacing; a large elongated silhouette appeared on a rolling loop during the opening progression. On closer inspection, this was revealed to be an Oscar Award. Laurel Halo was another highlight with the US-born Berlin resident enchanting a pitch-black room with her tonal magic – think Pantha Du Prince and The Bell Laboratory. 

On the main stage Beaches‘ take on fuzzed out rock’n’roll uplifted a crowd of gently swaying bodies. The band also chose to make a statement against sexual harassment, with each member wearing a t-shirt that read: ‘The person wearing this stands against sexual assault and demands change’. The theme of strong social and political statements continued with A.B. Original’s Briggs and Trials preceding each of their songs by sharing their thoughts on everything from the drug ice to racial prejudice.

Dan Sultan came onstage to perform with A.B. Original for the last two songs of their set, first with their cover of Paul Kelly’s ‘Dumb Things’and a fiery version of ‘January 26’. Trials made a very clear statement on why the date should be changed: “If we can’t change the little things, how can we even begin to tackle the bigger issues.” Cut Copy closed the stage with a positively bangin’ set that opened with ‘Need You Now’, then ‘Hearts on Fire’ at the mid-way point before closing with ‘Lights & Music’.

Now for the star of the day: The Boiler Room. Unlike previous years, the sunken garden gave this stage the intense intimacy of a basement nightclub. From the first beat of Fantastic Man’s esoteric disco until Shanti Celeste dropped her last banger at 10pm the area was packed.  

All in all, Sugar Mountain has further refined their festival experience to provide a haven for those seeking that ever-elusive sense of otherness.