I should start this review with a disclaimer: this scribe was a virgin to the camping festival circuit until she happened upon Philip Island’s Pyramid Rock Festival. I know it sounds, in the words of Kanye West, freakin’ ri-dick-eh-lus, but it was the sad truth up until a couple of days ago… I was also a virgin to the island, albeit it’s close proximity to Melbourne and spectacular shoreline. To end 2011, I figured I couldn’t go wrong here. Would this festival rock as hard as the Egyptians had? Only time would tell. The easiest way to give Tone Deaf devotees the run up is to tally the highlights and lowlights in good ol’ fashioned academia style, so here goes:


The Grand Prix circuit is definitely a venue to brag about. When you wake up every morning to a sparkling view of the morning sun reflecting off an endless ocean, you know it’s going to be an okay day. There are toilets at every turn, good on ’em, and the crowd seems pleasant and relatively harmless this first afternoon. The vibe is good, to say the least, for the lineup gives us all a reason to get to partying.

The afternoon standouts took mostly to the Pharaoh’s Annex, a smaller, covered arena behind the main stage. The French Horn Rebellion are a brother duo who take the performance factor of their live set seriously. They played up the drama of their electro sound by adding a bit of brotherly banter, hitting each other over the head with their instruments or joining the crowd and becoming fans of themselves. It is pretty epic.

Japanese American rapper Lyrics Born also gets the vibe jumping with his quick-witted lyricism and a feisty front woman with lungs as powerful as her stage presence. They dance their bums off and the crowd reciprocates.

Grandmaster Flash tops off the night with a dance heavy DJ set that sends people into a fit. His energy is infectious and though he’s been in the game a while, most of the younglings in the crowd didn’t seem to notice that he could be their grandpa. He spins modern day hits with a bit of that old school style we all know and love so much (and try to copy).

Meanwhile, over on the main stage, the big names are smashing hit after hit and I suppose that’s what this festival was all about. The Herd fire up the open air with their special brand of Aussie hip hop, buzz and controversy; Sparkadia slow down the vibe with their tormented, clever lyricism and Gotye pulls in a larger crowd who sing back Kimbra’s bit of his smash hit ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ pretty flawlessly. I was looking forward to seeing headliners The Living End for the first time, but it is Spank Rock who steals the night away from everyone with his eccentric style, dance heavy beats and reckless abandon.

Love Rage Against The Machine?

Get the latest Rage Against The Machine news, features, updates and giveaways straight to your inbox Learn more

Attendance at the festival seems to be under capacity. This makes it easier to get around, but there is a definite lack of festival cheer as a consequence. Spank Rock should’ve pulled in a much larger crowd, and probably would have if the numbers were there. The small numbers starts getting agro anyway and a fight or two breaks out. They don’t have DJs spinning between sets to keep the good vibe up and the energy lulls. It should be forbidden to play ballads on the main stage, which most of the artists seem to insist on doing.


The people we’ve camped next to are freakin’ awesome and lend us some space in their Esky. As our soft drinks chill, we make our way back to the Pharaoh’s Annex to catch songstress Owl Eyes, who is more captivating in her live performance than since this scribe had last seen. The young Brooke Addamo seems before her years, draped in soft fabrics but armed with the poise and fierceness of a natural born diva. Her set is enjoyable to wake up to and sets off new year’s eve in the right direction.

Later that arvo, Hermitude get everyone underneath the tent house bouncing with glee; their style and sound is pulsating stuff. Of course, the guys of Graveyard Train are a different act all together, but they exhibit that heart-stopping quality about them with such ease, we definitely could’ve done with a longer set from these guys.

Blue King Brown bring the house down later that evening, as front woman Natalie Pa’apa’a is a natural born performer with such poise and experience behind her that its hard not to be captivated. The group even tap into that festival energy by capitalising on drum solos, striking backup vocals and an entirely too short rendition of Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Bombtrack’.

Melbourne rapper Mantra has been appropriately selected to ring in the new year in this more intimate setting, and he does so with a dangerous, infectious energy that delivers on every line. Although he is not the only rapper on the bill, he is certainly the most charismatic, taking the time to invest in his performance, connect with the audience and encourage us all to get as rowdy as his crew when the clock strikes midnight.

The main stage, in general, is a hot, deserted landscape for most of the afternoon that welcomes some pretty big names but doesn’t get popping until the sun is down and everyone is wasted. Headliners The Scissor Sisters have also, appropriately, been selected to ring in the new year and instead of getting the respect and positive energy they so deserve, people start hurling water bottles at them incessantly. It’s like watching a car accident, but we’re in the backseat. The group take it like champs, half-way ignoring these idiots but only because acknowledging them would only make matters worse.

When the clock strikes twelve a sad little burst of confetti takes to the sky. There are no fireworks, the Sisters seem exhausted, and I’m wishing I had just stayed back at the Pharaoh’s Annex, where the mostly cool, chilled out peeps have been hanging all weekend. What a weird way to ring in 2012.

We had more fun at the smaller scale stage, swimming in that great big salty pool and hanging out with our neighbours than we did at the main stage. To feel like we were a part of something special maybe next time, with a bit more TLC, the festival could embrace the beautiful venue of which it is a part, and keep the crowd hype from morning to night by banning the ballad and booking DJ slots throughout the day. In any case, this scribe hopes the organisers can find the answer to longevity. Me thinks promoting up-and-coming artists is, mostly likely, where it’s at.

– Cayce Hill

Get unlimited access to the coverage that shapes our culture.
to Rolling Stone magazine
to Rolling Stone magazine