Year Of The Floor Tom: A Low Hum ’10

ANDY HAZEL* reports on Campus A Low Hum 2010, a free-spirited school-themed festival that saw 20 Australian acts descend on a historical agricultural college just outside of Bulls, New Zealand, from January 23-25. Photos by *BEN BUTCHER.

During a talk on the first day of Campus A Low Hum, Flying Nun founder Roger Shepherd is asked why he started the label. ?Ignorance and blind enthusiasm,? he replied. The same response could be the motto of this year’s festival. Ignorance of the limitations that many bands embrace, and a blind enthusiasm for the overall intention of the festival: don’t be a douche bag. The way organiser and ?Campus Principal? Blink engenders this among the Campers is no small wonder. At Campus, intention is everything and the freedom felt there is a rare pleasure that begs the question: Why does this only happen in New Zealand?

From the outset, this was always going to be a different festival from previous years. Though there is a 60 percent increase in tickets made available, it doesn’t feel noticeably bigger. A move away from indie rock and pop bands to a harsher, more experimental and electro edge, goes down nicely with the punters. Acts such as Golden Axe*, **The Ruby Suns**, **Dan Deacon**, **Signer**, **Monster Mash** and **Shocking Pinks** all push buttons for sounds and get crowd-amping results while crowd faves *DZ are a hard rock duo from Brisbane that sound as electro as pedals allow. Deacon proves himself one of the most appropriate acts possible for Campus. His constant focus on personal happiness and physical involvement with his music feels less like rays of sonic sunshine, and more like being hurled bodily into a sun. His ?Phys Ed? class is, predictably, a hilarious and raging success.

Blink went for a change not only in musical angle and venue but in format as well. Three days of great bands is still the priority but the school theme is pushed to the max with life drawing classes, ?study break?, art rooms, a ?library? set aside for book defacing, lectures from musical stalwarts and class photos. There was also a roller disco and a Leavers Formal with King of the Prom Jens Lekman.

The Australian contingent is as large as last year, but is not celebrated in the same way. Australian bands bring belligerent piercing rock in the form of the rain-battling, brain-rattling Witch Hats* and winners of most popular band T-shirts **Ouch My Face**. They also bring experimentalism, most notably the room-clearing blasts and wails of **Bum Creek** and **Thugquota** and the audience-charming success of *Parking Lot Experiments; all of which used the venues in inspired ways.

Kiwi indie rockers Cut Off Your Hands* and **Surf City** provoke the biggest moshing of the fest, but barely turn an Australian head, while Aussie/Kiwi expats **Batrider** prove leaner is meaner with loping sleazy rhythms and brutal howls from guitar and throat. **Gaywyre** are a relentless speed metal revelation with hilarious, yet fearsome vocal acrobatics and **Connan Mockasin** is some sort of Kiwi Bowie with chorus and reverb as prominent as his catchy melodies. Unsurprisingly *The Dodos and Jens Lekman deliver pitch-perfect sets, so tight they almost seem out of place among the Antipodean blitheness.

Other Campus success stories include the wayward hoedowns of John The Baptist* and **Orchestra of Spheres**, who are possibly the only band to boast Theremin, gamelan, organ bass pedals, a biscuit-tin-bodied banjo and actually overcome the novelty of their instruments to deliver cracking tunes. Americans **Polka Dot Dot Dot** had the crowd won over before they handed out free ice cream, and Melbourne’s **Love Connection**, **East Brunswick All Girls Choir** and **Denim Owl** arrive barely known and leave with hundreds of new fans. The *Ruby Suns continue to stay 10 steps ahead of the competition with intricate tribal drumming, dense synths, a bold fluro colour scheme, and a 100-odd balloons the audience keep aloft during their set.

What becomes apparent at Campus, besides 2010 being the year of the floor tom, is the safety the campers feel and what they do with that freedom. Obvious examples (drinking vast quantities of alcohol and taking more drugs than anyone would realise) aside, there are constant acts of creativity. The Renegade Room (where bands can book times to play gigs) is always busy, people relocate PAs to begin new venues, and others make outfits for the Leavers Formal or design band posters for Renegade gigs. Witch Hats invent stupid names for the canteen ladies to call out when collecting meals, and every musician jumps up with at least one other band at some point. Mistakes don’t exist.

This isn’t to say that it’s paradise. The venue (a long-disused school) is borderline condemned (no hot water, no beds, few toilets and sporadic electricity), rain mars early gigs and the nights are cold. However, potential hazards (an empty swimming pool) are turned into winning ideas (a kick-arse venue!). Ignorance, blind enthusiasm and the unsullied spirit of unsupervised 20-somethings all the way.

TO COME: More photos; a tour diary by East Brusnwick All Girls Choir