THE mosh pit might have been tamer, the punters a little grey and rock’n’roll’s decadence replaced by sobering sun-safe messages of slip, slop, slap – but alternative rock still reigns supreme among Novocastrians.
A crowd of 5000 flocked to Wickham Park on Sunday for the first Scene & Heard festival, which aimed to transport music fans back in time to the golden era of the late 90s and early 2000s.
It was an age when people still bought CDs, you needed an actual camera to take photos, social media was talking to friends on MSN Messenger and Australian alt-rock bands were a commercial force.
Could a track like The Living End’s rockabilly anti-authority anthem Prisoner Of Society chart in 2018, little alone be a No.1 and the year’s highest-selling single? Surely not.
It was an era when festivals like Homebake and Big Day Out were a rite of passage. That was the vibe Scene & Heard was attempting to emulate. And, for the most part, it did.
For an inaugural year it was an impressive line-up. Between The Living End, Spiderbait, Something For Kate, Sneaky Sound System and Killing Heidi there was a seriously stacked back catalogue of hits to draw from.
While only the most devoted fan could argue that those acts have produced better material in recent years than in their prime, they all proved at Scene & Heard that have improved as live performers.
The day before Scene & Heard 15,000 punters turned out for the fourth This That festival at Wickham Park, which was aimed at the 18-30 demographic.
Thankfully for the older punters the 30-plus temperatures of Saturday weren’t repeated on Sunday. Some fans chilled on camping chairs, while others got close and personal to the stage. It was evidently a far more musically-appreciative crowd than This That.
Front End Loader and Dallas Crane kicked off in the midday sun and drew modest crowds. Dallas Crane frontman Dave Larkin still possesses a terrific rock vocal, that sounds weathered by sandpaper and cigarette smoke.
The set featured a cover of Led Zeppelin’s Rock and Roll before Dallas Crane closed with their best known track, Dirty Hearts.
Of all the bands at Scene & Heard Skunkhour sounded the most modern. Strange, given that barring Front End Loader, they were the oldest act on the bill. But they were always ahead of the curve.
Skunkhour’s influence on Aussie hip-hop acts like The Hilltop Hoods and festival kings The Cat Empire was evident in their infusion of funk, jazz, ska, rock and rap.
Age hasn’t impeded frontman Aya Larkin from being able to contort his body to the grooves of the rhythm section. Weightlessness and Home were highlights and reminders that Skunkhour were criminally under-appreciated in the ’90s.
Someone who wasn’t under-appreciated 20 years ago, but perhaps under-estimated, was Killing Heidi. Hits like Weir and Mascara made frontwoman Ella Hooper a fresh-faced, dread-locked pop star at 16. Now 35, she’s a far more polished performer.
No one could accuse Hooper of phoning in the performance. Dressed in a purple leopard print bodysuit Hooper had hearts racing and feet dancing in the afternoon sun as she pushed her body and vocal to the limit through songs like I Am, Outside Of Me and Heavensent.
Even Hooper’s bandmate and older brother Jesse couldn’t ignore the outfit.
“What do you think of the purple leopard print everybody?,” he asked to applause. “As a brother I’m not sure what to think.”
These days Ella Hooper is active in mentoring young female musicians in the industry and she also took a motherly role to the audience.
“You know you’re older when you say keep your fluids up,” Hooper said. “That’s a really mid-30s thing to say. Take a preemptive Panadol.”
Killing Heidi then launched into Weir and the classic tale of teenage friendship produced Scene & Heard’s first mass singalong.
Mid-2000s electro trend-setters Sneaky Sound System then hit the main stage to get the crowd pumping. Frontwoman Miss Connie was a marvel. Less than two months after giving birth to her second child she strutted the stage in a rainbow jumpsuit, ripping through remixes of Love It and Pictures.
A more reflective and cerebral mood fell over Wickham Park for Something For Kate. Hardcore fans would have been disappointed that nothing from their forthcoming seventh studio album was previewed, but the Melbourne three-piece performed many of their beloved classics like Monsters, Pinstripe and Déjà vu.
Paul Dempsey’s voice remains as powerful and emotional as ever and the cover of Calvin Harris and Florence Welch’s Sweet Nothing was breath-taking.
If anyone said 20 years ago a member of Frenzal Rhomb would perform one day with Something For Kate you’d be called a heretic. But that’s what happened when the master of ceremonies Lindsay “The Doctor” McDougall joined the band on stage to play guitar on the closing Electricity.
The crowd swelled for Spiderbait on sundown as they performed their typical high-energy show of punk and metal-influenced rock and their tiresome call-and-response routine. Whether it was the excessively-expensive mid-strength beer finally taking effect or the chunky riffs, the crowd surged for Buy Me A Pony and Calypso.
It then reached a crescendo when Kram ripped into their iconic cover of Black Betty, which topped the singles chart in 2004 and possibly marked the end of the Aussie alt-rock era.
Of all the bands at Scene & Heard, The Living End have been the most active in recording new material. In 2016 they released their seven album Shift and followed it with Wunderbar in September, which peaked at No.3 on the ARIA charts.
New tracks Don’t Lose It, Otherside and Drop The Needle were debuted, showcasing that the rockabilly three-piece remain a potent force.
Chris Cheney was scintillating as always in voice and guitar, dressed in white pants and shirt. “I’d like to thank Duran Duran for sponsoring my outfit tonight,” he said.
While the new songs were warmly accepted, the classic material rocked with renewed verve. Roll On, Second Solution, All Torn Down, Wake Up and White Noise were unveiled before Wickham Park erupted for Prisoner Of Society.
Scene & Heard wasn’t quite Homebake circa 1997 to 2003, but if this was year one, the Gen-X festival has fuel to burn in coming years.