Spilt Milk Canberra 2022 review: sunshine, good vibes and deafening sing-alongs

The festival's grand Canberra comeback was a hard-earned return to the epic scale and abundance of good vibes that put Spilt Milk on the map

After two years on the bleachers, Spilt Milk returned to Ngunnawal country on Saturday (November 26) with its biggest-ever festival. Headlined by Flume, it was a bit of a full-circle moment: back in 2016, he closed out the festival’s inaugural edition, held just up the road at Commonwealth Park. This year it moved to Exhibition Park, holding around twice the number of punters Spilt Milk had in years past. This came with a few logistical curveballs – like a three-kilometre walk from the car park to the entrance – but upon entering the grounds, it was hard to feel anything but unrelenting excitement.

Soundtracking our entrance on the ‘Angove’ mainstage were local outfit Sesame Girl. Steered by the angelic voice of Heather Duncan (pushed to its limits against the grit of her Stratocaster), they delivered in heady 2000s dream-pop with a grungy bite – firmly in the ballpark of Beabadoobee, Lucy Dacus and Beach Bunny, with a unique coastal tang. They did well to warm us up for Beddy Rays, who set the stage alight with their blistering onslaught of sizzling surf-punk. The band’s effervescent looseness set a tone for the afternoon – one of carefree joviality and bounding energy – with highlights aplenty in the form of cuts from their recent self-titled debut.

Peach PRC
Peach PRC. Credit: Spilt Milk Festival

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Over at the tent-set ‘Basquiat’ stage, Peach PRC rallied a crowd of the size, strength and enthusiasm that you’d typically expect from a headline act – which is especially impressive since the Sydney pop-star-in-making hasn’t dropped more than a handful of standalone singles. Those demanded an explosive response – ‘God Is A Freak’ and ‘Forever Drunk’ especially – but the real cornerstone of the set was her shimmery, synth-slicked cover of Wheatus’ 2000 classic ‘Teenage Dirtbag’.

Speaking of ultra-catchy pop-punk anthems, Stand Atlantic came with a whole arsenal in tow. They blew the mainstage up with their authoritative easycore, singer Bonnie Fraser putting up a hell of a fight against the overdriven crunch of David Potter’s manic fretting. Straight after, though, Telenova offered a welcomed reprieve with their equally summery and cinematic, groove-laden indie-pop. Their set was all about the vibe: lowkey (but never small-feeling) and playful, with Angeline Armstrong’s soaring tenor firmly in focus.

Spilt Milk Festival
Credit: Billy Zammit

Opening their set with a Welcome to Country from Ngunnawal icon Selina Walker, King Stingray shone with an emphasis on liveliness and community. They mustered rapturous sing-alongs to cuts from their own self-titled debut, with ‘Camp Dog’ and ‘Hey Wanhaka’ being notable standouts. Mallrat kept that affable spirit burning with her breezy mish-mash of indie, pop and hip-hop; debuting her new band (featuring Japanese Wallpaper on bass and synth), the Brisbane stalwart was at her absolute peak, her buttery and bewitching vocals cascading over the mix.

Mallrat’s mainstage billing was appropriate, but it felt like the organisers bungled the schedule by slotting 1300 on the tucked-away ‘Derbyshire’ stage. There was no doubt about it: the buzzy rap collective doled out the day’s most memorable set. It included a rare performance of ‘Outer Space’ – inspiring muzzing both on- and off-stage – a piercing rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ for rapper Goyo, and an unrivalled level of crowd participation. 1300 relished a wholesome kind of chaos – they fed off each other’s energy, geeing each other up for their respective verses – and that dynamic was nothing less than infectious.

King Stingray
King Stingray. Credit: Tiff Williams

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Another of Spilt Milk’s full-circle moments came courtesy of hometown hero Genesis Owusu, who also played the 2016 edition (before he went on to become one of the biggest names in the goddamn country). Performing without his Black Dog Band, Kofi Owusu-Ansah kept eyes locked forward with his own impenetrable swagger, theatrically slinking and voguing to his own beat as he delivered bar after bar of sheer vocal perfection.

There’s no doubt that Owusu’s next appearance here will be a later set on the mainstage, but this year, there was no act better suited for the sunset slot than Spacey Jane. Their songs feel tailor-made for belting along to with your closest, most inebriated mates at golden hour – and here, in that exact setting, they came to life with more spirit and sincerity than we’d ever heard them. Our last few moments of daylight were soundtracked by The Wombats, who sandwiched the title track of just-released EP ‘Is This What It Feels Like To Feel Like This?’ between classics from their halcyon days – ‘Moving To New York’ and ‘Techno Fan’ – and proved they’re still the undefeated GOATs of British pop-rock.

Genesis Owusu
Genesis Owusu. Credit: Jess Gleesson

That being said, every seasoned Australian festival-goer has seen The Wombats at least thrice, while Steve Lacy has toured his solo project here just once before – so with fresh and funky cuts from ‘Gemini Rights’ under his belt, seeing the neo-soul star was a no-brainer. Lacy appeared at Spilt Milk replacing Stormzy, but certainly didn’t feel like a fill-in; his silky grooves and wickedly cool stage presence made him one of the best acts we caught all day.

Steve Lacy
Steve Lacy. Credit: Billy Zammit

The same could be said for Ninajirachi, who injected so much effervescent energy and colour into her DJ set – steeped in peak 2013 OWSLA vibes, with a ceaseless onslaught of glitch-inflected trance, house and happy hardcore drops – that it felt just as genuine as any of the day’s live performances. It’s criminal that she was relegated to the side-stage, because she may well be the most underrated artist in Australian dance music.

Flume
Flume. Credit: Georgia Griffiths

Flume is comparatively overrated – his straightforward, widely appealing set drew a sprawling crowd that seemed to fill half the festival grounds – but like mainstays The Wombats, there’s a reason Harley Streten is consistently recruited to headline festivals like this. He balanced spectacle with raw performance, switching back and forth between two full MIDI rigs and chopping beats up in real-time, while his roster of A-lister guests (like Toro y Moi and MAY-A) led deafening sing-alongs. Those alone made the gruelling walk back to the car – and our truly fucked sunburns – 100 per cent worth it.

The sold-out Spilt Milk continues in Ballarat (December 3) and Gold Coast (December 4). Stay tuned to NME for more Australia music festival news and reviews

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