1 September, The Clay Pits, Jindabyne

Walking towards the clay pits on the edge of Lake Jindabyne, the small NSW ski-side town was filled with an array of vintage, fluorescent ski jackets and animal print onesies hopping and skipping on their way to day one of Snowtunes. Arriving early saw a glorious dusky haze fill the air, with wood fires alit around the gently sloping site, and ambient sounds reverberating from the two stages, preparing us for the lively night ahead.

Snowtunes encapsulates the growing prominence of the boutique festival. Niche festivals often center around themes or are set up in unique locations as a means to generate income and popularity around Australia’s rural towns. As larger, mainstream festivals such as Big Day Out, Soundwave, Stereosonic ceased to satiate crowds and one by one dropped off the scene, these smaller festivals now need to compete for originality with combined arts and yoga embellishments, experience-based events, food, genre-centric or, in this case, the allure of skiing by day, partying by night. Snowtunes is the antithesis to the Summer Byron road trip. With 5,500 in attendance last night, the otherwise relatively quiet town of Jindabyne was set alight with music, punters, colour, and a shitload of pyrotechnics.

First up we saw Sydney up-and-comer Royal at 6:00pm, mixing a vibrant fusion of techno and house tunes as people slowly rolled into the festival. Sci-fi themed, three-dimensional coloured cubes were projected behind her as the crowd bopped up and down enthusiastically. By 6.30pm, the electronic stage was packed with snug yet stylish punters ready to party. “Guys, it’s fucking freezing,” she yelled out, her metallic green jacket super awesome but probably not the padding needed. We were freezing, but it just made us dance even harder. 

By the time Trophy Eyes rolled in, it was dark and the festival was nearly packed out. Groups either huddled around various fires throughout the festival, stocked up on as many icy tinnies their hands could bare, or yelling in unison with Trophy Eyes. The Newcastle-originating punk rock band hyped up the crowd who’d bravely ventured away from the warmth of the fires. By the second song, punters were already fist pumping as lead singer John Floreani screamed out: “How the fuck are we Jindabyne?! They called this festival Snowtunes so I thought it was going to be snowing. Where’s all the fucking snow?” Good question Floreani; judging by these temperatures, surely snow wasn’t far off? Counting Sheep shook the crowd, followed by Nose Bleed as we jumped up and down in unison with the band.

Next up, 8:00pm saw the incredible Boo Seeka take centre stage. The electronic, hip hop Sydney-based duo: Ben Gumbleton and Sam Croft wore incredible faux fur coats. Oh My melted the audience as digitalised snowflakes and pink lights framed the duo. Turn Up Your Light followed by Kingdom Leader echoed out as people swayed to the slower-paced tunes. Next up was a brand new song, never played before: “Who knows what is going to happen? We don’t!” Gumbleton shrugged as the lights changed to blue and purple with sharp yellow lines shooting through.

The chorus “Show me something like you mean it,” was infectiously catchy and punters even sung along. “We are fucking tired and jetlagged but you guys got us through it. For the rest of the night, we will be consuming as much red wine as possible,” said Croft as they ended with their renowned Fool. We danced and sung along; “Feels like the whole world crashing on my shoulders lately / But I’ve come to realize I was acting like a fooooooool.

With a little break before PACES and Northeast Party House, punters ensured they took back their cans to receive a $1 per can refund with the festivals’ eco-conscious Container Deposit initiative. Broken conversations about how “fucking cold” it was contrasted those walking with pride in their Donald Duck dressing gowns; epitomising sheer comfort and festival fashun.

PACES, otherwise known as Mikey Perry started with 1993 as his infamous album artworks – cacti, palm leaves, and ice cream patterns – projected behind him. A special guest appearance from Woodes was welcomed by the crowd, as Elle Graham walked on-stage in an incredible Black Swan-styled dress with a huge crowning collar, as two hip hop dancers grooved either side of her and Perry.

Dudes begun to do shoeys on shoulders while a mix of L D R U’s Keeping Score hyped the crowd, followed by a Tkay Switch Lanes remix, the original of which Paces produced. We then jumped to the live stage to catch the last half of Northeast Party House. Jack Shoe, guitar and bass player, rocked his crutches on stage with high spirits, while the band jammed tunes from their 2016 album Dare such as Calypso Beach and For You. Zach Hamilton-Reeves’ unique, wavering voice melted the crowd as we swayed side to side.

Drapht aka Paul Reid, rolled on stage around 10:00pm with his stage buddy Bitter Belief. First up was a cover of Hilltop Hoods’ Cosby Sweater. Reid was casually rocking a T-shirt in sub-zero temperatures, with an incredibly comfortable and natural stage presence as he merged into Sing It, followed by Mexico from 2016’s album Seven Mirrors which marked his return from a long hiatus. Reid sung out: “I represent Perth WA; that’s where I’m from. But tonight I’d like to represent Jindabyne. Is that alright?” while everyone screamed in admiration. Where Yah From revved up the crowd as hands banged together in unison. Reid ended on his last three classics: Don Quixote, Jimmy Recard and Rapunzel, as we went mental, singing along to every lyric.

Snowtunes ended on an absolute high with the phenomenal headline act SAFIA, which saw a wild array of fire, smoke and fireworks ignite the crowd. The band started with classics My Love Is Gone followed by Make Them Wheels Roll, to set the crowd off with a bang, quite literally, as fire exploded from the stage. Listen To Soul, Listen To Blues echoed out as we sung “Why don’t I get you / I listen to soul, babe / I listen to blues” along with frontman Ben Woolner, who really deserves an acting award his stage performance and exceptional presence. At one point he even collapsed to the floor as a cathartic end to the fiery Over You.

SAFIA really are an exquisite live act, especially in a festival setting. An important element of their performance is their visual component; live graphics from Sydney-based collective Toby & Pete, whose work you’ll recognise from Flume’s Infinity Prism, plus for acts like Rufus, Flight Facilities, Chet Faker and more. It was a shame to see such dynamic, dream-like digital visions of their tracks fragmented and reduced by the individual and clustered hexagonal screens positioned behind them, while the smaller electronic stage had three fuller screens that hosted, roughly, a complete image. Nothing detracted from their performance, rather, the immersiveness of the experience. That being said, those screens were a wicked design unto themselves, and worked well for earlier acts with less story to follow in their graphics.

Harry Sayers was the master of all, juggling multiple instruments and looking like he was having a damn good time while doing so (save for the moment he accidently smashed an already numb thumb in the final numbers), while Michael Bell deftly drove the rhythm on drums, adding an organic element to electronic beats that make SAFIA so unique.

Ending on absolute killers: Go To Waste and Embracing Me, more fireworks, projected fire, drums and vocals exploded in unison to end an incredible evening.

We survived, let’s see if we can do it all again tonight!