Around this time of the year, the Australian festival circuit tends to kick its feet up and fall back on the same pool of triple j-oriented indie pop or rock bands. If you did a dive of summer festival line-ups from the past three years, you’d be hard pressed to find one missing acts like Dune Rats or Peking Duk or The Jungle Giants. And on one hand, it’s great – for these bands, touring makes their musical world go around. People get more chances to catch their favs live. The live music economy!
On the other hand, there comes a time in everyone’s festival-going life where they eventually get sick of seeing Amy Shark or Gang Of Youths play the headlining spot. At times like these, it’s the work of promoters like FOMO Festival’s BBE (Brown Bear Entertainment) who put in the hard yards of getting the big international acts to Australia and giving the festival circuit a real shake-up. Events like Listen Out and FOMO are diamonds in the rough that is Australia’s festival circuit. In the last three years alone, these festivals have managed the increasingly difficult task of bringing blockbuster artists like Future, Travis Scott and Post Malone down under.
Though it wouldn’t be an Australian festival without at least one last-minute cancellation from a high-profile US rapper. For this year’s FOMO Festival, that cancellation was Lil Pump, whose recent jail time left him fumbling around with his visas for a little too long. Despite this, his loss was felt – multiple remixes of Pump and Kanye’s riotous 2018 single I Love It reverberated through the festival’s opening half.
FOMO’s 2019 line-up seemed to be a near clean split between EDM/DJ acts in the first half and hip-hop-oriented acts in the latter. What really tied the first half of the festival’s artists together wasn’t their crowd control or their penchant for bass-heavy dance tracks: it was their love for Sheck Wes’ Mo Bamba, which proved inescapable – rearing its head in the middle of early sets from MIMI, Just A Gent, Carmouflage Rose and Loud Luxury – and sent the crowd into further hysteria with each passing "Fuck! Shit! Bitch!”
The scorcher of a Sunday at Melbourne’s Flemington Showgrounds didn’t really kick into gear until Carmouflage Rose took to the stage. A slate of high-energy rap songs – embodied in the simple but volatile No Love – had the ever-growing crowd throwing their arms up before the vibe slowed down. Carmouflage Rose tends to work better in a more downbeat register – the highlights from last year’s Taste EP were the smooth and sultry, Drake-lite cuts, Late Nights and Wildflower, which had the crowd bouncing.
Mura Masa collaborator Cosha proved a hard sell following an afternoon of loud, maxed-out acts/sets. It could be a consequence of her recent rebranding (fka Bonzai) or being scheduled between two of the loudest acts of the festival’s opening half, but she was aware of the crowd’s wavering enthusiasm. “It’s weird music – this is an EDM festival, isn’t it?” she posed to a wavering audience. If her stripped-back UK electropop wasn’t doing it for the crowd, the pair of dancers accompanying her on stage certainly held their attention – a little choreography went a long way!
The first major hit of the festival came with the arrival of EDM-bros Loud Luxury. The Canadian duo whipped the festival grounds into a riot with their hit single Body and sent swarms of punters towards the dancefloor. Watching from afar was a perplexing experience – their mix of YouTube gaming channel intro dubstep and by-the-numbers riffs on hits like Sicko Mode and Losing It apparently proved alluring to a mass of Festival Shirt-outfitted EDM-heads. Their set had a certain Good Life-but-for-adults ring to it that made pop-trailblazer SOPHIE’s last-minute cancellation sting that much more.
Anna Lunoe and San Holo rounded out FOMO’s slate of electronica with a pair of comfortable, rapid fire sets that let you take a break for a minute or two and let you appreciate the festival’s many working parts. FOMO’s commitment to a single stage, clash-free festival was sustained by an impressively minimal amount of dead-air between acts and the frontline security dubbed “Crowd Care” made sure that dancefloor-obsessed punters stayed cool and hydrated with a procession of hoses and an army of people dedicated to re-filling water bottles. We stan a responsible festival!
The arrival of Kali Uchis marked the festival’s late-afternoon shift away from EDM towards something funkier. Kicking off with the infectious Dead to Me, Uchis’ live show brought about a new appreciation for her debut album Isolation – every note, every texture, every emotional was deeply felt, replicated lavishly by the day’s first live band (including an especially stylish guitarist who paired his neon-green, Cardi B-inspired, cat-eye sunglasses with his neon-green guitar strings.) Tracks like Just A Stranger and After the Storm – not forgetting an enchanting deviation into Donna Summer’s I Feel Love – stunned and wooed and maintained a palpable vibrancy well into the evening.
Last-minute replacement Amine made sure the energy that Lil Pump would’ve brought to FOMO stayed in the air. Belting out bouncy tracks while keeping the crowd enthused with an ongoing call and response (“When I say, “You’re beautiful,” you say “I know,””), he proved that his second visit to Australia in the past 12 months was well worth the trip. Mura Masa followed with a serviceable interlude between hip-hop acts and his IRL shyness was balanced by his emphatic music. Touring pal Fliss provided aggressive vocals for Mura Masa’s suite of high-profile collab tracks, furnishing his debut album with an explosive new, raw energy.
If we’re nominating an MVP for the day, we have to give it to Rae Sremmurd. As the sun set on Flemington and everyone was forced to take three steps back to alleviate the at-capacity dancefloor, Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi brought about a new level – have you ever been to a festival and felt the earth beneath you literally shake?
If you caught this set, you’d have no idea that only a day earlier Slim Jxmmi was lamenting the end of Rae Sremmurd in his Twitter feed: the affection between the brothers unified the entire audience. Everyone seemed to know all the lyrics to all the songs. Swae Lee was thrown a fedora and tried to moonwalk. At one point, two bottles of champagne materialised in Slim Jxmmi’s hands: he sprayed one bottle over the crowd like he’d just won a grand prix, then poured the other across the stage and proceeded to slide across it as if wearing socks on a freshly polished floor. Rae Sremmured were ecstatic just to be there and their enthusiasm went unmatched.
What FOMO 2019 will ultimately be remembered for, though, is Nicki Minaj’s headlining spot. Major props have to be given to BBE for stacking a line-up with such a diverse group of performers (slightly worse for wear following SOPHIE’s cancellation) and continuing to disrupt the encroaching monotony of Australia’s festival scene.
The best part: Nicki’s set proved you can have your cake and eat it too. FOMO 2019 saw a particularly minimalist approach to stage design – most of the acts were situated behind decks and screens – but Nicki brought plenty of props, and to close out the night with a bang, she attempted to distil a stadium tour setup on a limited festival stage. She entered in the company of half a dozen hooded figures, before breaking out into Queen album-opener Majesty. There was a cavalcade of dancers and set pieces were carried in and out – all to great effect. As she scoured her catalogue in search of every banging guest verse, you realised how expansive a catalogue it actually is. As she skipped through major sections of her songs, there was a sense that maybe a stadium tour was ultimately what she needed, but there was enough Super Bass and Starships to keep the whole FOMO crowd happy – god knows the country needs more festivals like it.