Review: Out of the Woods 2023 at Esplanade Park
Out of the Woods at Esplanade Park
Saturday, October 7 and Sunday, October 8, 2023
Last weekend, the dulcet, grassy parklands of Fremantle’s Esplanade Park was granted a breath of fresh air as crowds arrived in droves to enjoy the stacked line-up of Out of the Woods festival.
Taking on a decidedly ‘Fremantle’ flavour, the slow-moving, laid back atmosphere, and carefully curated line-up of local and international indie rock, pop and light punk, was an exercise in knowing one’s audience and location, delivering a double-dose of intimate-style performances, and slightly boozy afternoons against the backdrop of artsy installations, and picturesque Fremantle sunsets.
Punters could enjoy a variety of music across three stages; the Woodland stage was the place for headlining artists and bands, while the Little Bird stage, tucked around the corner, was the place to enjoy up-and-coming, local talent. For those looking for an exciting DJ set, the Sunshine stage served non-stop tunes, with a mosh-come-dancefloor area that was always packed.
For those looking for entertainment between set times, there was a variety of interesting art pieces and experiences to enjoy. Those seeking a more cerebral experience could seek out the sensory immersive pyramid, presented by Doth Life, or the comical ‘Skipping record’ party tent. Many eagle-eyed punters also enjoyed the password-protected silent disco area and secret bar, playing classic party anthems throughout the night. Select market stalls selling an assortment of earrings and vintage clothing was also available for purchase throughout both days.
Lining up to the festival at five minutes to 1pm (the official opening of the festival) it was clear that even the punters were on Fremantle time, with barely a patterned shirt or a Doc Marten in sight. The few early risers milled in with an air of almost aggressive laissez-faire, leaving the surprisingly expansive festival grounds sparsely populated until well into the afternoon of both days. While this would probably have not been ideal for artists in the earlier sets, the dedicated, early-rising few were rewarded with intimate gig experiences, hard won in the scorching early afternoon heat.
Opening the festival on the main ‘Woodland’ stage, Fremantle-local Chela was a picture of pop-punk potential, a rising star in the electronic and rock genre whose dominating stage presence and energy were caffeine for the festival-lovers soul. While playing a range of music, their triple j-rinsed anthem 2 B Queer was certainly the crowd favourite.
Montaigne followed, delivering a visually exciting, and vocally astounding set, laden with heart-felt, lyrically complex ballads. Combining their captivating style of movement and dance, and ethereal-sounding voice, Montaigne’s performance prowess was fully on display, an impressive feat in the beating sun, delivering powerhouse songs like Technicolour with an exciting live flavour, and I’m a Fantastic Wreck with an exciting sense of play. Considering their popularity and following within the Australian and international music scene however, it was surprising to see the ARIA-awarded artist so early in the set time
Ruby Fields then took the stage, bringing her usual style of effortlessly cool, laid back indie-rock to the stage, bringing people out of their shady retreats to dance in the sun. Crowd favourites like Pretty Grim and P Plates were thoroughly enjoyed, before the set concluded on the much-anticipated final song Dinosaurs.
After a beautiful Welcome to Country ceremony, Meg Mac took to the stage, dressed in a crisp white suit and black beaded corset. Mac was accompanied by backup singers, younger sister Hannah and long-term friend Danielle, who supported the singer’s powerful setlist with beautiful harmonies. Powering through her extensive repertoire of power ballads and anthems, Meg Mac’s set was a feast of heavy-hitting vocals, bringing the crowd swiftly onside, as she soon came to be accompanied by a small army of adoring punters-come-back-up-singers. A particular highlight was Grandma’s Hands, a bluesy journey through Mac’s impressive vocal range.
As the sun began to set over Esplanade Park, Boy & Bear were the perfect choice to bring the festival into the evening, bringing their style of softer indie folk to soundtrack the last little bursts of sunlight, and the onset of the night. Sandwiched by Mac’s huge set, and the impending, raucous Northeast Party House, Boy & Bear were an appreciated moment of calm and easy grooving, mellow sounds to slow the jam-packed day. Soundtracked by their more dulcet tones, many punters took grateful advantage of the diverse range of food trucks and catering options, now that the heat had finally relented.
Northeast Party House followed, delivering an energetic and intense set full of party anthems, bringing the crowd back to its feet. Playing favourites like Cranky Boy and Brain Freeze, the sudden increase in the size of the mosh was largely unsurprising, with the boys evidently being the highlight act of many punter’s nights. Filling the newly darkened sky with bright strobes and psychedelic projections, the band transformed the park into their own Northeast (though more likely Southwest) Party House.
Meanwhile, on the Sunshine stage, Slumberjack delivered a non-stop set filled with their staple anthems, with the addition of some exciting new songs interspersed throughout. With the slightly crisp evening breeze and darker night, the brightly-lit stage and dance-worthy tunes were perfectly timed for those seeking a more interactive festival experience.
Catching the last couple of songs of Broods, it was clear that the crowd had grown immensely since the earlier calm punters of the morning, enjoying the New Zealand brother and sister duo’s electric indie rock vibes. Serving techno, indie-rock delight in their live rendition of Bridges, a little heavier and more intense than their recorded version, and an equally energising rendition of triple j-staple Peach, Broods undeniably cemented a reputation as live music heavyweights, delivering an exciting and enlivened set. Leaving punters warmed up for the final act, the duo exited to the cheers of an excited crowd.
Before long the festival’s first headliner, the much anticipated Temper Trap, entered the stage. Playing through their greatest hits, in celebrating the tenth anniversary of the self-titled album The Temper Trap, the set was an exercise in nostalgic performance, and was clearly meaningful to a lot of people. Following the highs of Northeast Party House and Broods however, it did feel that the calmer, more laid back tones of the indie rock band was a step down from the energy levels of the other evening performances.
While this was certainly reflective of the band’s performance style, the sudden calm of a performance to an over-excited crowd arguably detracted from the overall hype of the performance. Their much-anticipated hit Sweet Disposition closed off the first night of the festival, with a sea of exhausted festival goers of all ages and tastes united to belt the titular phrase as the park was bathed in a sea of yellow and orange.
After a moment longer, and the conclusion of the final set, the festival wound down, and punters stumbled to their respective Ubers, buses and trains, many ready to do the same tomorrow.
The second day of the festival began in a similar fashion to the first, with the gradual arrival of the Fremantle crowds throughout the lazy afternoon. Potentially with the added lethargy of those recovering from the festivities from the night before, the festival grounds felt even less populated, until later in the day.
Despite the slower start and smaller crowd, Fremantle locals Clove kicked off the Sunday with all of the indie-folk and rock goodness that the gods of Fremantle could bestow. A perfect laid-back remedy for a warm day, many early risers listened constantly as they lolled under trees, or lay around the outskirts of the stage, seeking small pockets of shade.
Three-piece Perth band Dulcie delivered a delightful and interactive set, playing through much of their recent discography, including from this year’s single Off by Heart. Combining Ashleigh Carr-White’s ethereal vocals and keys, Timieka Denton’s powerful vocals and bass and Saskia Brittain's softer, more emotive vocals and guitars, the trio’s songs were delivered with full force. Serving heavier rendition of Sleep it off and Test Drive, with a bit more bounce and a tiny rock element, crowds danced in the sun and sang along. More eager punters also enjoyed the short dance to Off by Heart taught by the trio. This upbeat set from the radiant trio was clearly one that people will one day boast about having seen, in the wake of Dulcie’s inevitable industry, as it clearly showcased the best of the band.
Kita Alexander took the stage next, a vision in a silver dress that shone in the sun. Standing mostly alone on the stage, accompanied by a small band, the feel-good, pop singer-songwriter from Brisbane led the crowd through an enlivened assortment of her upbeat summer-appropriate party anthems. These culminated in the techno-and-house-party-esque Atmosphere and her self-confessed “accidental country song” Date Night. Masterfully managing the various energies of her songs, Alexander also delivered some of her more heartfelt numbers, including a gentle version of Hotel, dedicated to her sister.
British art rock band, Django Django were a perfect late-afternoon addition to the line-up, playing through their selection of percussion heavy songs. The stomp-and-holler style Default was a particular highlight in the high-energy set, with its endearing and somewhat quirky tambourine and bassy sounds amplified across Esplanade Park.
As the sun began to set on the second day of the festival, Winston Surfshirt brought their laid back, alternative style to the stage. The six-part New South Wales band delivered the perfect sounds for a slower-paced evening recharge, desperately needed by the sun-fatigued, and those sitting down to enjoy an earlier dinner break.
Festival heavyweights Skeggs took to the evening stage and delivered a set that could have crawled to the festival straight from the nearby Fremantle coast, with its sun-bleached, easy Sunday, surfer sounds. This was the first festival for the newly disbanded trio, after bassist and vocalist Toby Cregan departed after an epic send-off at this year’s Splendour in the Grass. Instead, the band were joined by their newest member (whose position as a permanent fixture was not confirmed).
The ‘fresh blood’ injection was clear in the juxtaposition of the older members’ calm stage personas, with the boundless energy and enthusiasm of the young bassist – a refreshingly enthusiastic addition. Playing through crowd favourites like L.S.D and Up in the Clouds, it was Stranger Days that took the set by storm. Played under the twilight sky, with the cool Fremantle breeze that smacked of an early, endless summer night, the beachy, time-of-our-lives energy of the song was the perfect encapsulation of the easy-going, good-vibes atmosphere so carefully curated by the festival’s producers.
Much anticipated Chet Faker had a hard act to follow after the boys’ departure. Entering the stage in pitch blackness after a prolonged visual poem was played on the projection screen (low enough on the screen to isolate about 80% of the crowd from reading it), the initial intent to drum up atmosphere and anticipation was largely lost on the restless masses. However, the larger-than-life presence of his slightly otherworldly lyrics and compositions quickly brought punters onside.
Backlit by simple graphics, playing alone on the stage for the entirety of his set, Faker’s captivating process of building melodies and beats, before laying his mellifluous vocals along beloved tracks was enough to ensnare the crowd for the duration of the set. His live, alternative indie treatments of popular tracks like Talk is Cheap and Drop the Game were exercises in flawless fan-service, building each layer of the beloved melodies and bringing the droves of dedicated fans (based off the flawless word-for-word singing and echoes of ‘ayo, ayo, ayo, ayooo’ from the mosh). However, it was No Diggity that achieved the ultimate festival treatment, with crowds of all ages and experience with Faker’s repertoire singing and swaying.
Fresh from their triple j fame as No.1 voted ‘Like a Version’ artists, the heavily anticipated DMA’s delivered a spectacular headliner set, jam-packed with heavy beats and high-energy renditions. From the slightly heavier, rocky Silver to the mellow Delete, the boys were on their best form as they navigated their extensive repertoire. After a whistle-stop tour of their easy rock and alt-indie anthems, the final song was a surprise to no one. United with a crowd of several thousand ‘back-up singers,’ the boys delivered an epic closing rendition of Cher’s Believe, closing off what had been an exceptional festival weekend.
Overall, the level of clear and artful curation evident in the line-up, art installations and other interactive experiences was highly impressive. The festival captured and encapsulated perfectly the spirit of the city it resided in, serving a decidedly Fremantle flavour in the heart of the city’s central park.
Photos by Nicola Robb