Star Scene: Brett Louis, Sugar Mountain Festival

January in Melbourne, means holidays, lazing about at the beach, cursing the consecutive days over forty degrees, and the month of the music festival. The Sugar Mountain festival has been going strong since its inception in 2011, and whilst the festival has evolved and changed over that time, to new digs in 2015 at the VCA (Victorian College of the Arts, Southbank), Brett Louis, one of four organisers, has kept true to the original vision and took some time out of his busy schedule to chat to What’s My Scene.

The Sugar Mountain Festival deviates from the stock standard, music festival formula, with its strong emphasis on the visual arts, the synergy between art and music and a unique holistic experience for the punter.

“Were definitely niche in our approach. It’s a collaborative approach, where we look at curating visual and musical arts as one. Many other festivals might not have a similar approach with how they view the visual aspects. That means that our mission is to create a completely immersive environment for everyone that comes to the festival. So that they can see the meeting point between the musical and visual mediums. Whether that be through those two mediums working hand in hand on stage or through new media installations, it can be delivered in a multi dimensional way.”

The VCA encapsulates the creative space, where music and art is formed, representing the ideal location to hold a music and arts festival and a new venue for punters to explore and experience.

“It’s the perfect situation for us. We pegged that site within the first year of running the festival. It would be the perfect place to do it. Within that precinct, within Melbourne CBD, its definitely an arts precinct and the blueprint for the next ten years for government stakeholders and they’re now based there; ACCA, MTC, MRG, NGV and VCA. VCA is definitely the flagship of that space,” says Louis.

Louis tells me he’s expecting anywhere between 5000 – 5,500 people, which will allow punters the freedom to enjoy a more intimate festival compared to the usual behemoths, they’re used to, along with performance spaces catering to different sized crowds. This year the organisers worked hand in hand with <b>Mushroom</b> and formed a formidable bunch.  The collaboration with the <b>Mushroom Group </b>, meant generous support in all areas, from the booking roster to operations and logistics, as well as the experience of running large scale musical festivals, like Future and touring acts such as Bruce Springsteen and The Rolling Stones

“We’ve got the key staged areas which will accommodate large crowds, or the smaller stages for the more unique performances. In the gallery spaces, there are installations and then there’s one area we’re calling The Warehouse , which will be a multi screen projection installation, which is done by Nonotak out of France, something you have to see to be believed. It’s going to be something quite spectacular. Previously the theatre stage had a theatrical component where the musical artists get to collaborate with us and direct and create something special for us. For example Midnight Juggernauts produced something just for us, and the same with Kirin J Callinan .”

As with any music festival the lineup is an important drawcard, and being a veteran of three festivals, Louis discusses the highlights over the years and scoops for 2015; “Seeing ESG play the first time in Australia, was something we’ve always wanted to do as a team and to be able pull that off was quite amazing. The year Thee Oh Sees played. Having them out on stage at the Forum, was really amazing, a great band to see live. The use of the theatre upstairs at the Forum was another highlight. Each year what we try to do is create and evolve from what the past year was. It’s very much an organism, were just trying to get some progression and development. For this year, we’re definitely blessed with the lineup we’ve got. It’s going to be amazing especially with NAS doing Illmatic in full.”

The curative approach to art and music and a shared vision from the organisers has seen high profile bands want to be involved in the Sugar Mountain Festival, musicians like one of the stars of the independent music scene, Kim Gordon and prolific musician
Ariel Pink .

“Kim’s been a matriarch of the music industry. You always wish that she will be on the festival line up. Something we talked about, right at the start of the festival planning, twelve months ago. We were tracking her performances with Bill Nace , as Body/Head , watching the youtube videos. It’s going to push some boundaries. It’s definitely not mainstream. Everything that she creates is extraordinary and Ariel Pink as well. We all saw him when he toured Laneway with Haunted Grafitti, and it was a really great performance, and even though he’s got a new solo album he’s got so many collaborative sessional musicians on it and he’s touring with a large band. It’s great to have him involved as well.”

In past festivals, the sense of taste was generally neglected, but not anymore. The evolving discerning palates of the general public mean that food stalls and the food on offer must be high quality, tasty food, complemented with craft beers and wines. Louis sums this up nicely when he states “Gone are the days when you can just expect to get an average tinnie at a festival.”

“You want to be catered for. When people are there they’re not going to go wanting for anything. For example we got the Beaufort involved and we recreate the Beaufort on site. When people go down to the boiler room stage they’re going to be able to get a Bourbon Old Fashioned or they’re going to able to have a rack stack. The Rockwell boys were always going to be involved because they are huge Nas fans. What were finding with what were trying to create and achieve, the more we speak to people, especially with hospitality and food and beverage chains, it means they see the expectation of the average punter growing, and that means what they’re going to put out is going to meet and exceed their expectations”

The media has played a role in the evolution of our taste in food. Nowadays, everyone’s a food critic, and the explosion of social media has magnified this recent phenomenon.

“Every day restaurants that are popping up in Melbourne, and how critical the general public are. It is that expectation because theres so much on offer. Were really spoilt for choice. The media play a large part in it, the social media, it’s people driven media not just standard print or traditional media. It comes from every angle. It’s a really great space to be in even for the traders to be challenging and evolving and creating something that is new.

For those coming to the Sugar Mountain Festival, Louis states, “Our main focus is making sure that everyone that comes to the festival has a really great time, and to create a really immersive environment and something that is very much Melbourne centric, and for each year they come back that it evolves and grows and it’s never going to become stagnant.”

“ After everything we’ve talked about today my scene is definitely Melbourne. It has a stronghold in national music, is definitely the food capital of Australia, visually we’re always pushing boundaries and the space and it’s surrounds that is VCA, it’s definitely very Melbourne.”

Sugar Mountain Festival, Saturday 24th January 2015 at the Victorian College of the Arts, SouthBank.

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About Anna-Maria Megalogenis 157 Articles
Anna-Maria has been writing for Street Press in Melbourne and Sydney for over 20 years. She is passionate about food, music and the arts, is an avid reader and used to hand write reviews for Beat Magazine at the Great Britain Hotel, where a patron once suggested she was ripping off articles in Rolling Stone magazine.