Review: Cream Festival

A walk along Lake Burley Griffin near the end of winter can be quite a dismal affair: the deciduous trees sit naked and quivering in the cold air, and a nasty wind picks up small waves along the water’s edge. It’s grey and miserable. Westside Acton, however, was treated to a break from the monochrome bleakness on August 27th, with the first instalment of Cream Festival.

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As a congregation designed to celebrate all things great about Canberra’s local scene, lucky ticket holders were treated to a day of unique and eclectic music, food and art. The lonely shipping containers that litter the ground floor were adorned with quirky community walls and murals. Despite the cold rigidity of the Westside structures, the downstairs area felt strangely organic due to a variety of ‘live art’ areas, where a selection of talented individuals were let loose with paintbrushes and spray cans before our very eyes. It may not be Questacon or the Skywhale, but Cream has all the credentials to become Canberra’s next calling card.

The Aviary Rooftop was home to the musical magic. From early in the day until the middle of the night, a stunning selection of artists guided the crowd through a display of wonderful homegrown talent. Through the afternoon, up-and-comers such as MONDECREEN burst onto the stage with a throbbing and lively brand of electro pop, and a vibrancy that’s unable to be captured in their online recordings. Slow Turismo provided a dense soundscape of indie rock, influenced by electronica that called to mind Snakadaktal or Glass Animals. Their set, tinged with an ample amount of saxophone, was a beautiful thing to hear as the sun fell behind Black Mountain.

The small scale of the event let it explore the unique dynamic between a concert and a major festival, and it did this remarkably well. The demand was certainly there: tickets sold out more than a week before the event, and the crowd had a strong mix of university students and older groups looking to enjoy the nightlife. Unfortunately, even though the Aviary tried its best to be cozy with gas heaters and delicious brews of mulled wine, nothing stopped the winter winds from tearing through the plastic blinds.

The festival took its chance to cement the strong status of hip hop in the ACT. Let’s start with Coda Conduct, who spent no time messing around before starting up their well-oiled performance machine. Sally and Erica may have relocated to Sydney, but their bouncy and cheeky rhymes felt perfectly at home as they rolled through new and old songs with undeniable chemistry. There’s plenty to turn heads about the duo, whether it be their matching outfits, dense and fast lyricism, or their Missy Elliot-inspired vibrancy. With a new single under their belt, it will be rewarding to watch these girls as they work towards a debut album.

Born in Ghana, brothers Genesis Owusu and Citizen Kay have taken the Canberra hip hop scene by the horns and made it theirs. The pair have burgeoning solo careers ahead of them, but they used fairly similar devices to drive the crowd into a frenzy: direct and satisfying lyrical observations about their youth and the world, good-humoured crowd interactions, and a talented taste for a good sample and beat. Genesis, however, pulls more from the book of artists like Joey Badass, showing that he isn’t afraid to break the flow with a few lines of spoken word poetry. So far, Citizen Kay has been defined by chopped horn samples and catchy choruses – more, say, of a Lupe Fiasco – and chances are we’ll be seeing lots more of him on the radio in the future.

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At various points throughout the afternoon it was easy to spot many of the artists themselves standing around and having a chat, or, more likely, mingling inside the crowd and bouncing along to the sounds of their fellow performers. This strengthened the “local for local” ethos that the festival proudly pushed – observing the acts show such a strong affinity to the town they called home was great to see.

In between conventional acts, the DJs proved to be a mixed bag. The frenzied messiness of Amastro and Truples caused a form of confused anarchy to be imposed on the thinning crowd. Thankfully, this was cleaned up Orlando Wolf’s mindful and meditative beats, and then by the funky, soul-infused house music of the sublime Sondrio – don’t miss him later this year at Spilt Milk Festival, where Coda Conduct are also making an appearance.

Representing one half of The Aston Shuffle, Mikah Freeman ended the night by spinning a track from Jamie xx’s 2015 album ‘In Colour’. This appeared to be a strange choice – surely one of his radio smash hits would have been better suited to close out such a triumphant night – however, on second thought, it was the perfect song to end the inaugural Cream Festival. It was an homage to the work put in by the organisers, turning a cold winter evening into a showcase of how colourful Canberra really is.