Far too often, the label of indie is used to denote a particular kind of music. A couple of guitars, some vocals, and perhaps a not overly synthesised keyboard are delivered in an approachable package and passed off as defining what it is to be indie. But, Farmer and the Owl festival in Wollongong showed that this is not what indie can be – far from it.
Without going as far to term it a state of mind, Farmer and the Owl pointed out that an indie outfit is one that is committed to playing music for the purpose of playing music. Reminding us that the true sense of the word is a band that is not signed to a ‘big three’ label (Sony Music, Universal Music or Warner Music), the one day festival in Wollongong’s MacCabe Park highlighted the diversity of the indie music industry.
Described by one of the co-organisers, Ben Tillman from local crew Yours and Owls, as “an experiment”, the festival was the outcome of a mix of many ingredients. Local acts such as metalcore four piece Totally Unicorn played at the Let Burelli Be Stage surrounded by graffiti and compressed between brick walls. The energetic crowd packed together made for an explosive mix, as frontman Drew Gardner seated himself on a plastic chair amid a circle pit of frenzied bodies.
Over at the So Tyred stage, Banoffee, who had recently returned from the US and supported Charli XCX in 2018, engaged in cheeky banter with a playful crowd. Many down this end of the park were more than happy to use the spacious lawns to get loose to Banoffee’s pop-styled vocals and electronic instrumentation.
These experiences fitted between the likes of Amyl and the Sniffers, who brought the punk sounds that are leading to an outbreak of head banging in the pubs and bars of Melbourne and Sydney, to the beachy shores of Wollongong. At the other end of the hillock which divided the two main stages was San Francisco’s melodic metal band Deafhaven in their hair swinging, screaming glory.
Critically acclaimed international act Rhye, whose seven piece live band got the crowd swaying, brought another sound to the night. Drawing on RnB and soul influences, this was one of the few acts signed to a major label which played on the night.
Then the time came for the double headliners, Beach House followed by Hockey Dad. With Beach House providing crowd favourites off Wishes as well as more recent releases, Hockey Dad played to their home crowd with their inherently local take on surf rock.
Attempting to sum up this festival in one manner would be impossible, and partly that’s the point. Farmer and the Owl succeeded in exposing revellers to genres and musicians they would hardly ever come across in this age of algorithm-driven playlists, and, after all, isn’t that what a festival is for?