‘Tis the beginning of the season where festivals re-emerge from the dreary pits of winter and endow the weathered souls of Melbourne’s youth with newfound meaning. And on the Grand Final public holiday (September 29), as the blistering sun reigns supreme in the sky, bucket hat-wearing hypebeasts and bikini-clad, short-skirted beauties obligingly flock to the Victorian leg of Listen Out.
Once located in St Kilda, this year’s festival finds a new home at The Caribbean Gardens in the South East Suburb of Scoresby, trading in beach-side views for highway-bordered grass fields – and a frustrating start to the day.
Dropped a couple of kilometres away from the venue’s entrance (for reasons unknown), NME begins the late-morning trekking towards a poorly signed gateway, joining dozens of confused patrons who meandered along the highway and weaved through the backstreets of Scoresby.
“Did you also get dropped like 2km away?” a sweating punter asks later on. It seems like we all had.
An inaccessible start means that NME turned up 45 minutes later than planned. But our sweaty exasperation was washed away by the enigmatic and humble Kobie Dee’s entrance on Listen Out’s Atari Stage with his talented hypeman, DJ KENFO. Between songs like ‘Same Old Shit’ and ‘This Life’, he shares heartfelt soliloquies revolving around his gratitude to his fans and the importance of supporting one another.
Continuing on the sensitive rapper train, the UK’s JBEE enters centrestage with his breakout hit ‘Next Up – S4-EP 2, Part 1’. A sample from Billie Eilish’s ‘Lovely’ echoes over the green flats as festivalgoers filter in and out in a subdued, start-of-day state. His ultimate lack of stage presence could be a consequence of his songs being on the slower end of things, or the 21-year-old’s inexperience.
That second theory proves meritless when, two hours later, 21-year-old Ardee commands the same stage like a seasoned pro. In a display of high-energy showmanship, he bounds across the stage – at one point performing from the shoulders of a muscled-up friend – before a d’n’b version of ‘Oliver Twist’ leaves fans, unironically, asking “for more, please sir”. Preceding that, he screams, “Now every single person has to jump!” We do.
Metro Boomin’s replacement, Sydney drill icons OneFour, propel the audience much the same way, starting their set with flickering newspaper clippings that story the NSW police force’s compulsive quest to put drill rappers behind bars. Though OneFour are not at full strength at Listen Out, the two members standing have crowds roaring even before they play their most memorable songs.
Australian artists, DJ AYEBATONYE and producer Young Franco, round out successful sets in the mid-afternoon. While AYEBATONYE thoughtfully soundtracks Smirnoff-sipping dance circles in the high sun with her ambient house selections, Young Franco injects disco-tinged energy into the sunset crowds with a guest appearance from American rapper Pell. They deliver versatile performances, which is more than can be said for some of their international counterparts.
A few months ago, social media “anti-influencer” Madeline Argy created a viral pop-culture moment on TikTok when she asked, watery-eyed, “What the fuck do DJs actually do?” We wondered the same thing watching Kenny Beats, who bounces behind his DJ deck while queuing songs like a Spotify playlist at a kick ons. However, his reliance on global hits, like Central Cee’s ‘Doja’ and Drake’s ‘Rich Flex’, leaves the audience satisfied.
And while you’d think that someone screaming and bellowing into a mic over outlandish electronica couldn’t be any better, you’d be wrong. Marc Rebillet, who plays moments after on the 909 stage, is the standout of the night. Rebillet, whose larger-than-life hijinks echo that of Filthy Frank (aka Joji), is someone to love or hate – in fact, just a week ago he’d been booed offstage in Adelaide by a projectile-hurling crowd. In Melbourne, his onstage antics see him pressed up against the crowd barrier, screaming into a mic with diehard fans. At another point he stops mid-set, shrieking, “Vote yes on the motherfucking proposition to include Aboriginal voices in parliament!”
Caught in a wave splitting off between Four Tet and Ice Spice, NME follows the ginger-wigged impersonators and other costumed fans to the latter. The Bronx newcomer hits the Atari stage with the likes of ‘Munch’ and ‘Bikini Bottom’ and between the ass-shaking and the smoke jets, we catch glimpses of a well-rounded superstar.
Closing the stage is Lil Uzi Vert, who is rumoured to have received an eleventh-hour pre-set tattoo. The short-statured firecracker ultimately bursts on stage with a backpack and hoodie, looking like a schoolchild that had breached stage security. Once Uzi starts rapping, though, their childlike constitution disappears and they begin to command mosh pits with their Auto-Tuned vocals. The set climaxes with the hit ‘Just Wanna Rock’, and some tired yet content fans trickle towards the exit.
While Skrillex is closing the festival at the 909 stage, NME packs it in early, remembering the struggles of entering the venue in the afternoon. However, a trusted friend later says that the set, involving his latest big hits with his signature laser-synths, was a welcome full stop to the night.
Our suspicions are proven right when a walk to the highway reveals a busy road inundated with rideshares. Horns are beeping and stress levels are high. It’s an intense finish to a festival championing even more intense music, and with inhibitions gone and a belly full of rap, one can’t really complain.