If you leave the soggy snot green south coast and head north east for about 400km you cross through the guts of Western Australia‘s wheatbelt. In those 400km you cross isohyet after isohyet of diminishing rainfall. A rainfall believed to be so low by the early European explorers that no crops would ever grow here.
But as every Year 11 geography student knows, what little rain that falls here is concentrated into the three winter months. And then comes the sun like an oven, at first just warming but rapidly progressing to full bake. No one turns the oven off and by mid January it is a blast furnace. Sometime between full bake and blast furnace you harvest the wheat.
Turn right at Cranbrook, turn left after Dumbleyung but not the road to Dongolocking. Take the Rabbit Proof Fence Road to Kulin then turn right along The Tin Horse Highway and you will reach Wave Rock. The Spanish have a phase “España Profunda” to describe the last remaining vestiges of old provincial Spain. This is “Australian Profunda”.
Enter stage left the Wave Rock Weekender, a three-day music festival at the base of Wave Rock.
All credit to the team at Supersonic and the town of Hyden who had the vision and drive to put together this event for its 15th year despite all the obstacles thrown at them by the global CoVid 19 pandemic and government lockdowns. The 15th anniversary was meant to be the biggest and best, featuring two camping areas and a new purpose-built amphitheater. However the strict WA border closure meant that all bands had to be sourced from Western Australia. No matter as 30 eclectic WA bands and DJs signed up and the rest is the stuff of legend.
There are many standouts including the chill vibe of the happy campers and the minimally invasive festival staff, the wisecracking local bus drivers, the gourmet food trucks, the salt ponds and the dappled wheatbelt light playing on granite rocks.
However most of all it’s about the music which was uniformly superb both from the sound engineers and the performers.
The crescendo comes with Grace Barbé and Pond who are the last bands to play on Sunday night. Barbé is a musical force with her stunning and original Afro-Kreole music.
Pond on the other hand are a musical behemoth imbibing musicians and then spewing them out as Tame Impala, Gum or Shiny Joe Ryan and The Sky Dolphins. Like a musical womb or a Gormanghast wet nurse. Over the last two years Pond have gained a reputation as the best live performance touring the world. The release of live album Sessions last year captures that sound.
Pond arrive on stage on time but then proceed to meticulously sound check every instrument and sound cable for 30minutes. Chief tinkers Joe Ryan and Jay Watson show their obsessional commitment to sound production. When they launch into Hand Mouth Dancer it is well worth the wait. Lead singer Nic Allbrook is the musical equivalent of enthalpy and entropy. He gives a fabulously chaotic performance but curtails the usual stage diving and crowd surfing out of respect for the CoVid marshalls.
It has always been hard to define Pond’s sound. Just when you think you understand it they mutate into something new. Don’t Stare At The Sun from debut album Psychedelic Mango is reworked into a funk filled dancemaster. Terms like psych rock have been used but really do not do them justice. New song America’s Cup is tongue in cheek yacht rock, Burnt Out Star is 80s electronica and Sweep Me Off My Feet is disco. Paint Me Silver and Daisy are pure pop. They finish with The Weather and Edge Of The World There could not be two more appropriate songs about this ephemeral moment in time, in place and in universe. The songs deal with the ongoing effects of Australia’s brutal colonialism and the dangers that small town complacency can bring when living in one of the most isolated cities in the world.
To the Aboriginal people this land is part of a sacred trail from the south western tip of Australia to the Great Victoria Desert. They believe Wave Rock was created by the rainbow serpent when she sucked all the water out of the land. The contrast between the verdant wheat fields and the parched dying salt affected forests on the short walk to the festival site is a stark reminder that it is not the rainbow serpent that is sucking the water out of the land but the farming practices brought by colonisation.
Tonight the edge of the world has become the centre of the CoVid free world. Something special is looking over us, protecting us, forgiving us. I don’t know what it is but maybe POND do, for tonight they have proven they are a band beyond anything on this planet .