Heaps Good Festival 2023 (Melbourne): Review

Another year, another New Year’s Eve, and as the holidays come to an end, many of us are heading back to work, so we thought it would be the perfect time to reflect on the holiday fun and reminisce about the good times we had at Melbourne’s very first Heaps Good Festival!

Unlike previous years, Melbourne was met with the city’s debut of Secret Sounds’ Heaps Good Festival! A departure from the organization’s regular three-day Falls Festival, which has become a staple of the Australian music scene, Heaps Good set out to fill some of the void left by its older sibling after the shock announcement of the festival’s hiatus in early 2023. Starting as a Falls spin-off festival in Adelaide the previous year, the festival offered a more scaled-back and intimate affair than its predecessor, in some ways delivering in much the same manner, although falling short in others (no pun intended).

Offering headline acts of the likes of Foals and Flume, it was sure to be a blast however a staggered line-up and an early start left the festival struggling to bring in crowds earlier in the day. Although boasting opening performances from fan favourites Logan and Sycco, the earlier sets as usual proved to be a hard draw for many. Sycco’s standout set feeling out of place in the earlier time slot, a decision that left many confused. Regardless, the former Triple J Unearthed High nominee made the most of their stage time, offering an energy-filled performance filled with a mix of the artists’ dreamy summer anthems, blending indie electro-pop and neo-soul/funk influences with future bass; something that was exemplified in her tracks ‘Dribble’ and ‘Ripple’, which was made in collaboration with her Heaps Good alum, Flume; something that left many hyped for the headliners performance later that evening.

Further reinforcing this, MAY-A followed. Hitting the stage, she brought a shift in tone with a more instrumental heavy set, displaying her mix of modern pop, indie rock, and post punk, which she used to captivate the crowd. Harnessing this energy, she would later lead the audience in singing the chorus of her track, ‘The Swing of Things’, before capping off the performance with a rock-heavy rendition of her and Flumes, Triple J’s Hottest 100 winning track, ‘Say Nothing’, which had taken out the iconic Australian competition for 2022 during the summer prior. Once again, building more hype around the headliners’ evening set, the artist becoming a recurring theme across the festival as their much-anticipated set dominated discussion in the crowd, who bantered over potential guest appearances of both MAY-A, Sycco and others of the headliners’ long list of featuring artists.

Following MAY-A, things took a much more chill vibe. The punchy, post punk influenced pop tracks were replaced with mellow indie vibes as The Brit, Rising Star Award winner, Holly Humblestone filled the amphitheatre with cruisy indie pop tracks, which conveyed emotions of love, loss, and hopeless longing, that left those upfront dancing and many enjoying the more a laid back approach of sunbaking on the hill under the sun, as they took in tunes and cooled down with the summer breeze (myself included). At this time a new wave of festivalgoers entered the venue, many seemingly rushing to see Holly, who excitedly gushed over being back in Australia for the second time over the New Year; a sentiment which was carried over into the next set, as Griff excitedly ran out stage, making her Australian debut.

A far cry from the sunburnt grass of Richfield Avenue where I first saw her, Griffs traded up the stage of Reading, for the Melbourne stage. Taking to the amphitheatre stage, she presented her bubbly R&B-Pop blend to the Australian audience, who embraced the artist, singing along to her track, ‘Shade of Yellow’. The singer teaching the lyrics of the track to those unfamiliar with her work, bringing in new fans as she led them through the sing-along. Before long she had won over much of the audience who seemed to vibe with her chill tracks. Her band further propped up the performance with their tight technical skill and their passion for the music which translated into the crowd.

Now well into the festival, time was ticking on, and we were starting to increasingly approach the stroke of midnight. With the sun now waning across the sky and golden hour upon us, it was time to seek out food. Unfortunately, this meant missing out on, SBTRKT; the artist making their first Aussie appearance in eight years delivering a rather short set, exclaiming This is the shortest set in the world, so we’re going to get through the next 7 songs as quickly as possible”, a statement caught as I made my way to the back of the amphitheatre.

By this time things started to slow down. As mentioned at the beginning of the article, while the festival delivered in many ways, it fell short in others. A lack of options seemed to be the biggest cause of its shortfalls, with scaled facilities leading to bottlenecking as huge lines extended out from both food stalls and toilets, many left waiting in the sun just to use the bathroom as they fought for spots against those genuinely seeking to go, and those using them for extra-curricular activities. In addition, the single stage setup left many stuck listening to artists that seemingly didn’t fit within the line-up. The Avalanches, while music industry legends, felt out of place, as their much quieter and trancey DJ set struggled to compete with the high-energy performances of the other acts. While a perfect fit for some, their placement between more upbeat artists damped the energy, leaving a lull between acts. Although delivering a masterful production in its own right, the hole left by the exclusion of a more DJ-focused stage, juxtaposed to a more mainstream stage, was abundantly clear as many were left stuck without options. 

Despite somewhat of a slow start, the festival ended up amassing large crowds as the day progressed and we edged closer to the New Year.  Prevailing issues became mostly redundant as Foals took to the stage, quickly gaining the crowds’ attention, and drowning out most woes. The British indie-rockers reinvigorated the crowd with their catalogue of tracks, varying from dance floor bops to more punk-rock style anthems; their energy breathing new life into the crowd which now littered the entire venue. Frontman, Yannis Philippakis, created a stir of excitement as he yelled, “It’s the end of 2023 but the start of our fucking futures. May the new year be better than the last and certainly not worse”, which was met with cheers, shortly after the singer jumping into the pit to greet the crowd. Their hit-filled set delivered nothing but fun, which continued into the next set.

With the final stretch of the night in full effect and one headline act in, the anticipation was palpable. After a day of waiting and almost being teased by collaborating artists, Flume finally walked out on stage. Coming off the back of Foals, electricity was already in the air but now also literally rather than just metaphorically, as lasers lit up the night sky and danced through the air to the hum of Flume’s most famous tracks. Much of the crowd lost themselves in dance, zoning out and taking in the atmosphere. However, one question still lingered. With an endless array of collaborating artists, some of which had taken to the stage earlier in the day, would we see some guest appearances?

Sure enough, Flume invited, MAY-A back on stage, the two performing their Hottest 100 winning track, ‘Say Nothing’ once again. Shockingly, Sycco, did not come back out for a guest spot, something which was soon overshadowed as Flume invited icon, Vera Blue to the stage to perform both their track ‘Rushing Back’ and also fill in on tracks, ‘Never Be Like You’ and ‘I Can’t Tell’.

With that, the countdown was on to midnight, with only minutes left, stage techs and staff rushed to set up, Basement Jaxx, who officially reined in the new year!

After a long day of hit tunes, dancing, and kicking on with mates, the clock hit twelve and fireworks filled the night sky. The view from the hill was once again the perfect view of the display, as sparks shot out from the cityscape backdrop of the stage and the crowd cheered, welcoming in the New Year yet again. Heaps Good Festival, provides the perfect setting for the occasion and fills somewhat of the hole left by its larger predecessor.


Written by Andrew Faram
Photographer slider photo + photos 2 and 4: Ian Laidlaw
Photographer photos 1 and 3: Tim Lambert

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