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Review: State of the Art Festival 2014

There is no better way to celebrate WA Day, then to showcase the iconic and influential music coming out of our fine state. Western Australia has churned out many successful artists across all genres over the years, and the 2nd annual State of the Art Festival is testament that there is definitely something in the water here.

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After a successful first year run, the State of the Art Festival was even bigger and better for 2014, with over 80 acts across 4 stages in the Perth Cultural Centre. There was something for everyone; free performances in the PICA amphitheatre, boisterous bands in the Urban Orchard, intimate shows in the State Theatre marquee and main stage sets in the WA Museum grounds.

Spoilt for choice, there was no physically possible way I could see every performance that day. Instead I followed my interests and intrigues and managed to see a great range of WA acts, some small scale and some not-so-small scale.

After a quick scope of the grounds and its facilities, the first proper set I caught was local emcee Bitter Belief on the main stage at the WA Museum. Being assigned to the main stage – though early in the day – is certainly an honour for the rapper who is presently independent and unsigned. (By choice, I believe). His set would be followed by Syllabolix crew compadres Optamus and Drapht later in the evening.

Backed by DJ L-Street as his usual DJ Rob Shaker is currently on tour in Canada, Bitter Belief gave a performance that we have come to expect from him; fierce rhymes, charismatic between song banter and some funky dancing. Admitting his father and little sisters were in the crowd and he was trying to tone down the offensive language, did not break the flow of the performance nor stray from his usual style.

Next on my list was The Community’s, Mathas. Mathas’ intimate performance in the State Theatre marquee was juxtaposed against Bitter Belief’s set on the main stage, particularly as both artists seem to fall under the very broad umbrella that is hip hop. The smaller venue suited the stripped back performance from Mathas – simply a man and his words – and the venue was the busiest I’d seen it all day. People crammed under the marquee and it’s surrounds, myself perched on a Persian rug towards the back.

Mathas’ music is very much about his tales and complex lyrics, and unfortunately sometimes his voice was drowned out by the music. In the past months, Mathas has received airplay from Triple J for his 2013 WAM Song of the Year Nourishment, which features another WA artist Abbe May. As Abbe May was unable to attend the show, the crowd was instead treated to Mathas’ karaoke version of the melodic hook. Let’s put it this way, he’s obviously not a singer like Abbe May.

Local producers Slumberjack were the next act in the State Theatre marquee and I was interested in seeing their live performance. The duo have been gaining momentum recently thanks to their infectious electronic sounds and their affiliation with Lab Six. Though the marquee was filled for Mathas, the people did not stay on for Slumberjack. However there was still a small but enthusiastic crowd for their set, with a number of people heading to the front to dance.

Their performance included a combination of live and pre-produced sounds from both of the boys, which blended together to be the music we were hearing. Very innovative, I’m always amazed how far music has come and how producers work with it.

Heading back to the main stage to catch a glimpse of San Cisco, this was the most filled I’d seen the WA Museum stage all day. And I’m referring to the all ages and 18+ bar sections. San Cisco are a favourite of broadcasters Triple J of late thanks to their unique brand of indie pop. A crossover with Kucka meant I had to skip out on San Cisco’s set and head back to the State Theatre marquee.

If you’re unfamiliar, Kucka is duo Laura Jane Lowther and Katie Campbell who won WAM Song of the Year in 2012. Katie also featured in Wordplay’s All Female Issue in 2013 and I was very eager to catch the producer in action. The duo create a sonically pleasing, chilled style of electronic music, their performance featuring Katie making live electronic sounds on a beat pad and Laura’s entrancing vocals.

Despite the set being low-key, except for Laura’s dance moves, Kucka was captivating. The dim, relaxed vibe of the State Theatre marquee was the perfect venue for their show. Humbled by the turnout, Kucka invited the audience to attend their Unconditional single launch next Saturday at The Bird.

Next on my hit list was veteran emcee Optamus, who recently formed a group, also called Optamus, with some fellow local musicians. Working with jazz singer Moondogg J – who had his own set earlier in the day in the PICA amphitheatre – and pianist Imposter, Saturday’s performance at the State of the Art Festival was an album preview show. Their first single Rich Man to be released in a matter of weeks.

Emcee Optamus’ experience, as a performer is evident with his skilful crowd interaction and between song banter. From what I heard that night, the album has a soulful vibe,with It Was All A Dream, a track that was “for the ladies”, reminiscent of Notorious B.I.G.’s Juicy. All except for Go, an unashamedly dance-influenced track, that brought the crowd’s energy back up before the group closed with Live for the Words.

In between the last sets on the main stage was local producer Sable. Sable is another WA act that has been receiving airplay on Triple J lately, thanks to his flavour of EDM. Instead of one spot, Sable was given two half hour spots in between. The crowd welcomed the musical entertainment as festival staff prepared for the succeeding artists.

Sable’s sounds are genre-bending, mashing electronic sounds with R&B. At one point, a remix of Destiny Child’s Say My Name blasting through the speakers. Sable closed with his latest single, Feels So Good; a unforgettable electronic track. Disappointingly though, the crowd did not seem familiar with the song.

The final act on the WA Museum main stage was rapper Drapht. This would be the first time I’ve seen Drapht perform since his The Life of Riley tour show at Metro City in 2010. My how time flies. With Rob Shaker overseas on tour, Lord Dazastah was recruited to hold down the ones and twos. A nice surprise for the audience.

Drapht’s closing set contained mostly tracks from his more recent album, The Life of Riley. Though he did bring out classics Jimmy Recard – not without killing him though – and Falling, which was remixed with Flume’s Holdin On. And it wouldn’t have been right to not perform Where Ya From? on the WA Day long weekend.

Drapht has the ability to reinvent his style, successfully, time and time again. Sadly, he didn’t perform his recent tracks – Tasty and 1990’s – which demonstrate his ability to tap into different styles. But he did rap with the same gusto I recall from 2010. It’s nice to see that despite time passing and new ventures – you know that café in Mt Lawley – his passion for music is still strong.

State of the Art Festival gave music lovers and lovers of our state an opportunity to experience the best of what we have to offer. The event was well-organised and well-run. An event of this scale and with so many different venues can often involve delays on entry, but walking in and out of venues was easy. (Except for during the Eskimo Joe’s set at the State Theatre marquee so I hear). I look forward to the 2015 event, as I don’t think 2014 can be outdone.

By Kylie de Vos

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