For the third year running, Groovin’ the Moo descended on the UC meadows, and Canberra’s usually concert-starved locals flocked to fill the lawns. And very well they might, for this year’s lineup was arguably the most impressive yet. It seemed that every taste in the all-ages crowd was catered for, and with the mood staying friendly and upbeat throughout, we could enjoy a day of real, brilliant festival fun, the likes of which Canberrans rarely get to experience on home turf.
Hermitude were the early highlight, filling the Moolin’ Rouge tent with their striking blend of hip-hop and dance. An awesome remix of Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” was their standout – though Public Enemy’s DJ Lord would later upstage it by doing insanely destructive things to “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Shortly afterwards, a mostly male niche crowd gathered for the bizarre disco-metal of Andrew W.K, who got away with having most of his set pre-recorded by declaring “I am not a musician and this is not a concert, I am a PARTIER!”. He followed this up by stuffing a pair of shoes down his pants.
The big names began to hit the stages after five o’clock, beginning with Ball Park Music. Their lightweight, welcoming pop provided much-needed relief after the uncompromising metal assault of Parkway Drive, and lead singer Sam Cromack, who looks and acts like a cooler, wittier version of Sid from Skins, kept the crowd laughing and jumping while the temperature rapidly plummeted. The rain never quite materialised, despite general expectation, but the crowds were in for a cold, cold night. Those who passed by the ice cream vendor any time after five could see the stallkeeper, devoid of any custom, looking rather lonely and forlorn.
After City and Colour’s Coldplay-based acoustic grandeur came a thrilling fifty minutes of full-on, intelligent and impassioned noise music from hip-hop’s most venerable elder statesmen, Public Enemy. Here is a sad anomaly: a group that has reasonably been called the Beatles of hip-hop, musicians who in their heyday were among the best and most radical in the world, now play the warm-up act to people like Kimbra and the Kaiser Chiefs, neither of whom will be reckoned among the greats twenty years from now. Public Enemy’s set was superb. After the music came some heartfelt final words from Flavor Flav, who spoke on no less a subject than the need for humanity to set racism and separatism aside and find power in unity. Backed up by the moral force of their music, this was inspiring stuff. Kimbra is not untalented, but her familiar vein of over-embellished pop sounded weak indeed after such a set as this.
Thankfully, there were better acts to come. Hilltop Hoods proved themselves worthy heirs to Public Enemy’s throne, delivering a brilliant set of Australian hip-hop highlights. Then, while Digitalism provided the climax to the more dance-oriented lineup in the tent, rock fans stuck around at the main stage to close out the night with the Kaiser Chiefs. These guys make up for their rather samey and pedestrian brand of Brit-rock by powering their live shows with a truckload of charisma. Frontman Ricky Wilson set the seal on this by dashing off the stage, mid-song, jumping onto the adjacent fairground ride, and then, mike still in hand, continuing to sing just as forcefully while the great, spangly wheel spun him up and around and upside-down, over and over, through the night sky. This reviewer had already spent an unprofessional amount of time on said ride, and can attest that it is not easy, when one is on it, to do anything other than scream.
Give it a few more years, and Groovin’ the Moo looks set to settle into a regular deal. Hopefully, by then, they’ll have outgrown the rather irritating marketing angle (sample sentence: “As the GTM cosmogram loves Mother Earth there will be the opportunity for the tribe to partake in the journey of recycling drinking vessel and food pouch.”) In the meantime, we’re lucky to have a festival that delivers such impressive lineups to a smallish place like Canberra. It was well worth braving the cold for this one, and it should have us all excited and optimistic for next year’s visit.