To define the term progressive music in 2018 would certainly lead us very far from what the expression meant over 40 years ago. Progressive rock has evolved exponentially and mutated across different genres time and time again yet the category still remains true to music fans that love compositions which take you into sublime soundscapes and embrace complex time signatures and musicianship. The Australian annual Progfest reached its 10-year anniversary this year thanks to the loyal community of fans who have supported it over the years.
It’s a festival that has propelled the careers of many Australian progressive rock outfits around the country and as a result many of the headline acts have toured and reached audiences globally. Australian contemporary prog acts such as Caligula’s Horse, sleepmakeswaves and Twelve Foot Ninja have all headlined in the past and are now receiving ARIA award nominations and even mainstream chart success with the likes of Karnivool, Dead Letter Circus, Cog and The Butterfly Effect.
The headliners this year were the Norwegian band Leprous (The first international headline act in the festival’s history) alongside Perth’s Voyager and 12 other talented and unique homegrown progressive rock/metal acts. Marrickville’s Factory Theatre provided two stages to watch bands perform, The Atlantis stage in the main theatre room and the smaller Poseidon stage around the corner. It all kicked off in the early afternoon and wrapped up in the late evening with an outdoor area where progheads could enjoy a drink and socialize between acts. The atmosphere at a festival like this is all about community and a passion for music of a heavy, experimental and alternative persuasion.
The diverse line-up showcased everything from heavier progressive metal acts such as Hemina, Breaking Orbit and Dyssidia utilizing heavier guitar tones; faster drum beats and even growling vocals in the case of Dyssidia. Some a explored a slight emo style; this was certainly true of Alithia and Mercury Sky who provided a far more sensitive side with their sonic vocabulary.
You can’t have Progfest without a few instrumental bands showing off their virtuosity and skills on their instruments like Majora who brought their beautiful and epic compositions to the Poseidon stage or earlier in the day when Genetics used spoken word samples to complement their atmospheric metal soundscapes and then there was Sydney’s very own Meniscus who create ethereal soundtrack music and effectively used stunning visuals of telescopic solar flares, elevating their music to a whole other level. I should also give a special mention to SEIMS who used their proggy, math/post rock music to the fans’ delight and impressed even objective reviewers like myself and then there was the huge talent of guitarist James Norbert Ivanyi and his trio who enthralled audiences and proved without a shadow of doubt that guitar music is still truly alive.
Orsome Welles bedazzled fans with their metallic prog sensibilities wearing their influences proudly but the most entertaining band of the festival hands down would have to be Brisbane outfit Osaka Punch, a band with a comedic reputation in the vein of Frank Zappa and Mike Patton; they combine funk riffs in the verses and metal in the choruses alongside colorful jazzy keyboards. In addition to their high-energy performance they had the audience in stitches with a cover of Salt-N-Papa’s “Push It”!
Headline acts Leprous and Voyager delivered in their ability to draw a crowd and make some fans bang their heads but after witnessing so many other impressive artists and bands, the two acts didn’t exactly stand out beyond the rest of the festival line-up. Leprous are very polished progressive rock outfit, sometimes verging into electronic pop territory whilst Voyager bring a modern edge to the progressive rock cannon incorporating djent riffs and high souring vocals. In my view, Leprous didn’t deserve top billing just by being an overseas touring act as there were other local bands in the line-up that were much more worthy of taking the headliner spot.
Progfest 2018 certainly reveals the nation’s promising top-notch musicians and their willingness to make music that isn’t popular or following any trends. The audience definitely made the event a special day but what it really boils down to is the fact that it’s a festival promoting quality music and serves an appetite for music that breaks convention as well as breathing life into our sanitized and risk-averse music culture.