Words and photography by Shelley Te Haara
UNIFY: A Heavy Music Gathering is a rather new addition to the Australian festival scene and it was very wet to say the least. Just as I arrived, after waiting in the traffic, the weather really kicked in.
To kick it off, the queues to get in took quite some time to get through, which left people missing some of the festival’s opening bands but once the crowds made it through the gates, there was no stopping them. Completely unfazed by the rain, festival goers instantly began moshing along to the bands. However, there was clearly a system to this festival, with punters leaving back to their campsites after a band played to indulge in a couple of drinks before the next band. The first band I caught was Four Year Strong, and American pop-punk band that really brought endless energy to the stage – an energy that was reflected in the crowd. Four Year Strong performed an array of songs, which mainly consisted of songs from their sophomore album Rise or Die Trying, understandably so as they are currently celebrating that album with a 10 – year anniversary tour across Australia and NZ. The crowd held nothing back, and could be caught engaging in all of the greatest festival activities, such as moshing, crowd surfing, standing up tall and – of course – screaming the words back at the band. Accompanied by a bright screen donning the band’s name, as well as an array of coloured lights, it was as if you were at one of their intimate shows. Despite the rain, it was very clear to see that nothing was going to stop this crowd from enjoying the weekend.
After releasing their new album Underworld on the day of their performance, Australian rockers Tonight Alive kept the energy up. Jenna McDougall commanded the stage, moving about just as much as the crowd as she screamed out the words with effortless perfection. The new tracks they performed, such as Temple, were well-received by the crowd and it’s no doubt that the new release filled both the fans and the band with a new found excitement. It was clear that this new chapter in the band’s career had really kicked off here at UNIFY.
Following Tonight Alive, I was most excited to see Architects. This set was at the top of my ‘must see’ list, and I couldn’t believe the day had finally come where I was able to witness their live performance. The British metal core band kicked off their set with Kiwi Richie Hardcore coming out to address the crowd. He spoke on the rise of sexual assault in the industry, how it is being brought up more and that these discussions really need to happen. He particularly addressed the males in the crowd, telling them it is up to them to have these discussions with friends and family and to help things change. With this in mind, the band finally took to the stage and launched straight into Match Made in Heaven from their new album All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us. The set also included songs off Lost Forever/Lost Together and Daybreaker, thankfully giving us a taste of their earlier material too. And then came the part of the set which people expected but weren’t prepared for: Sam’s speech about Tom Searle, who passed away in 2016 after a long battle with skin cancer. The emotion that washed over the crowd was intense, and with the band breaking down, as well as all the fans around me, it was clear the impact Tom and the band had on everyone in attendance. Sam also mentioned how people should feel and show emotion because it’s natural, and it needs to be felt, and their willingness to address such issues was certainly admirable. Architects closed the set with Gone With the Wind which Tom wrote after finding out that he had limited time to live. The song was led by the fans, uniting everyone as they remembered Tom together, particularly as we were showered with a blast of black confetti.
Closing off day one – for me at least – was Australian natives Parkway Drive. Celebrating 10 years since their album Horizons had released, the crowd got to hear a lot of tracks they wouldn’t usually get to hear live. With an array of visuals set up, the band clearly knew how they wanted this performance to go. Lit up screens silhouetted the band as the kicked off their set with Begin, follwing which, Parkway mixed up the set providing more recent tracks such as Vice Grip & Crushed. The set even included a range of inflatables that were thrown into the crowd, as well as a boat race from the stage to the sound desk, making it a real performance. There really wasn’t anything missing from this performance, and as the band closed their set with heavy track Bottom Feeder, Parkway Drive showed the crowd why they have stuck it out for so long and won’t be going anywhere.
Day 2 provided the same dismal weather, but nevertheless, attendees somehow seemed more refreshed and prepared for the day ahead. Following a recommendation prior to gates opening, I rushed down to the stage to snap some photos and check out this band I had heard so much about shortly before the end of their set. The Australian pop-punk band The Beautiful Monument is made up of 3 females and 1 male, and despite their early festival slot, they could give a lot of the other bands a run for their money. The brought a lot of energy and were clearly happy to be a part of the festival. With a range of movement on the stage, you could see and even feel the enthusiasm in their performance, and despite missing much of the set, I greatly enjoyed what they had to offer.
The next band I caught was one of my favourite bands and another that I couldn’t believe I was finally getting to witness live. Armed with my camera to snap some shots, I embraced the rain to take in their set. Stick To Your Guns are a hardcore band from Orange County, California and this festival set was part of a tour the band were doing of Australia in support of their latest release True View. As always though, this did not stop them from playing tracks from previous releases including Amber off their album The Hope Division. Then came the chant that every band received when performing: “Shoey! Shoey! Shoey!”, the typical Australian drinking challenge that involves drinking a pint out of a shoe. Jesse mentioned how it’s disgusting and he doesn’t drink, however, donning a straw hat, Jesse was brought a shoe filled it with water and proceeded to give the crowd what they wanted. Albeit alcohol free. The crowd moshed hard to the band’s set and really took in everything Jesse had said. These guys really know what to write about and how to use their platform for good.
Before I knew it, it was time for the final performance of the festival, The Amity Affliction. After finishing my shift, I ended up perching myself to the far right side of the side barrier, and despite missing a portion of the set, it seemed I caught the best parts, with the band performing quite a few tracks off more recent releases Let the Ocean Take Me and This Could Be Heartbreak, undoubtedly their best albums to date in my opinion, but which seemed to disappoint many other fans who had thought they would see more from earlier releases such as Youngbloods. Amity were celebrating at UNIFY as well, with a set to celebrate their 15 year anniversary, which they did with the help of C02 cannons and confetti that they worked into their performance. I noticed both Joel and Ahren seemed to be struggling with their vocals, but nonetheless The Amity Affliction pushed through and with one last bang of confetti, the festival was done.
Day 3 mostly consisted of people packing up and heading home, but to keep the music going, there was a small stage set up for acoustic performances from bands that had played over the weekend. This provided a nice space for the leftover festival goers to relax and enjoy a drink in the sun that had finally appeared. While packing up myself, I managed to catch both Young Lions’ and Belle Haven’s acoustic sets. I didn’t know their music, but their sets were enjoyable nonetheless, and Belle Haven even brought a girl on stage to accompany them during their cover of Paramore’s Decode. It was a cool little performance, and her voice complimented David’s perfectly. Young Lions were the very last performance of the day and of the festival.
UNIFY is moving locations next year to provide a better experience for festival goers, which has a few people worried as the festival is currently a rather intimate experience, and this may change with the move. Regardless of the upcoming changes and planned improvements though, UNIFY is definitely something everyone should experience. It is a festival that only seems to be on the rise.