RACK OFF! FESTIVAL 2016
Review by Vivian Sang
YWCA Victoria Member & Volunteer
This year’s RACK OFF! festival, which filled the Tote Hotel to capacity on March 6, was a strong early contender for gig of the year.
The festival, formerly called Y-LISTEN, was curated by YWCA Victoria and held in conjunction with International Women’s Day. The festival, which showcases some 15 acts and DJs, raises funds for much-needed housing services for the long running women’s organisation.
The festival also aims to highlight the absence of female and gender-non-binary acts on festival bills, and prove to promoters the viability and value of concentrating on bands fronted or dominated by women and genderqueer people.
The event fosters an unusually warm, safe and engaging atmosphere, which was a priority for organisers. It feels like a celebration and a reinforcement of the talent, strength and resilience of women, something that is clearly being documented in the onsite photobooth (check out the highlights reel below!) and the feminist wares onsale at the markets in the beer garden.
The day starts off with the melodic and fierce pop of High-Tec Emotions in the Tote’s front bar, setting the standard incredibly high, straight up.
Another early highlight is Two Steps on the Water, who open the main stage with their gorgeous blend of folk and punk (usually, in theory, not a great combination). They pull this off due to two things- 1. Everyone in this band is an incredible musician and 2. Frontwoman June delivers her pretence-free songs with incredible force and conviction, and presents utterly like a star in the making. I’ve not seen an audience shed tears over a local band, EVER, let alone a bunch of tough punk girls, but there’s a first for everything.
Hailing from Brisbane, Pleasure Symbols are yet another must-see. There’s only two of them, but their bass guitar/keys combination manages to sound remarkably cavernous. They present songs off a forthcoming long-player, with vocalist Jasmine intoning menacingly over Phoebe’s freezing beats and tumbling Juno synth lines.
Upstairs, in the packed-to-the-brim Cobra Bar, locals Stations of the Cross turn it up a fair few couple of notches. The five-piece launch a complex bass/synth attack propelled by heavy, loud drumming and the powerful vocals of frontwoman Joanna, who is equal parts engaging, hilarious and utterly terrifying.
Speaking of engaging, Holy Balm’s deafeningly loud sexed up-tropicalia-disco-avant garde-dance set is a rare treat- you can see why these Sydneysiders are as popular as they are indescribable. Emma Ramsey’s reverb-heavy vocals bounce along and through the locked-down beats and quasi-funk on show here, as the audience sweat to keep up with her.
Lucy Cliché has been a formidable figure in the Australian music community for some time now, as the driving force behind acts like Naked on the Vague and Knitted Abyss. This incarnation, however, is a solo one, and follows on from her electronic work with Half High. She proves to be the perfect end to the night, producing smart and original dance music with nods to her techno and industrial predecessors.
And then, just like that, the music is over, but strolling through the bar, you can see the effect this festival has. Women dominate the bustling space and embrace each other, chatting excitedly, dancing and sharing make-up tips in the bathrooms. The pub is transformed- bar staff remark “we wish every day could be Rack Off! day.” So do I.
RACK OFF! 2016
Beaches , Holy Balm, Lucy Cliché, Red Red Krovvy, Deep Heat, Mollusc, Masses, Stations of the Cross, Pleasure Symbols, Simona Castricum, EN V, Sleepless Nights, Theta, Two Steps on the Water and Hi-Tec Emotions with Rock of Love and Robyn Treasure DJs.