Hills, Alive

The Hills are Alive, Regional Victoria, Australia, 25-27 March 2016

Hugo Unwin | Kinofilia Australia

I knew from the outset that this would be a weekend of community collaboration and cooperation. My ride to the Hills are Alive, a small boutique festival in South Gippsland, was gained after I posted to the volunteer’s Facebook page. Waiting outside Glen Waverley train station on a public holiday Friday, I basked in the sunshine and enjoyed the final moments of a Vietnamese roll from the local bakery.

My post pork-roll stupor was broken as I was collected by the wonderfully friendly Jess and Nath. We did the rounds for last-minute food and drink, noting memorable parts of their local area ("Nath and I grew up here!") before jumping on the freeway to the sound of Triple J’s live festival from Melbourne. It’s always a great sign for a festival when the first people you meet care passionately about the music they listen to. We traded volunteering stories, basked in the warmth, missed a turn off or two and capitalised on the final moments of phone charge and reception.

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The surrounds of the festival were simply breathtaking. Rounding the hills we caught glimpses of a contented and excited bunch, full of life and enthusiasm. 'Hills' is a festival that is now openly available, after changing from an invite-only event. After setting up my tent I threw on some shoes and wandered towards the music. It struck me how festivals just rise, from human rigour alone, as the tent city, music and vibrancy emerges from where only grass once lay.

Absorption into the crowd soon came over my new friends. I was naturally drawn to the sound of table tennis, where I backed myself to bring an advantageous edge to proceedings. Upon entering the den I was struck by the entirely communal exercise, in which participants encircle the table, each returning a shot alternately, with over 15 different players. Our skills were honed as we grew accustomed to the dynamic, with new people joining the circle overcome with a look of wonderment that I realised I must have shared.

I took a breath of fresh air on the incline, amidst an atmosphere reminiscent of Meredith/Golden Plains but with a far more convivial and carefree tone. At 'Hills', the music is not the primary focus, but rather people enjoying themselves to great sound. My options were many: a tepee, enormous Connect Four, giant Jenga, fuzzball, ten pin bowling and hula hoops. The standout performance of the first day was Tash Sultana, a young and multitalented self-taught and self-described singer/songwriter/loopologist and vocalist.

The second day saw a vibrant line up of music, which drew me from the click of table tennis to indulge in some great Aussie music. A Nirvana-infused rock and alternative sound was an enjoyable accompaniment to the crisp afternoon sun. Recent winner of the triple j Splendour in the Grass competition, Alex Lahey was a charismatic and exciting young talent, a joy to watch leading her band with comfortable and confident gusto. Bad News Toilet outstripped any other attempt to combine dance music with outrageous antics, in a rip-roaring tour through a range of genres. These guys know few boundaries of crowd engagement: a bottle of tequila held above the stage to the music of 'the circle of life' exemplary of this. Their performance was complemented by beer cans thrown into the crowd while band members literally surfed it.

These memorable moments were unfortunately starkly skewed in favour of male acts throughout the lineup. Such a preference mirrors long-term and substantiated complaints of the rifeness of sexism within the music industry. So elegantly styled, the stage on the final day was crowded with men in suits, which for me, epitomised the lineup itself. Such disparities are not unique within the Australian music festival scene, the solution to which can only be to encourage more women and girls to play music, loudly.

Aside from this, I was wholeheartedly fulfilled by my time at 'Hills' and I recommend anyone who has the chance to go along - tickets to the NYE sister festival are now on sale.