Pitch Music & Arts 2019: Five key performances
On the surface, the main drawcard for Pitch Music & Arts is the lineup. It’s big. For Australia, it’s massive. Since launching in 2017, the festival has positioned itself as a kind of Dekmantel of the southern hemisphere, stacking bills with stars of the underground and giving them, on average, generous three-hour sets. This year, no extravagance was spared once again, with slots for Avalon Emerson, DJ Harvey, Charlotte de Witte, Four Tet and, as a marquee booking, Dixon and Âme, who played back-to-back for six hours.

But there’s more to Pitch than just the acts. The location is a showstopper. Taking place in rural Victoria, against the beautiful backdrop of the Grampians mountains, the site feels quintessentially Australian. The seemingly unending space meant that despite being at a festival with around 10,000 people, you could always find your own little paddock to chill in. The previously lacking arts component also improved this year, with a fourth stage dedicated to meditation, yoga, ambient performances, Ableton Live showcases and a handful of other activities. Top that off with imaginative production, brilliant sound and lighting, and a lively technicolour crowd, and you had all the ingredients for a killer four-day weekender.

Here are five key performances from Pitch Music & Arts 2019.

Optimo

Following a stellar late-afternoon session from Andy Garvey, Optimo stepped up to the main stage, Pitch One, to confront the nervous energy circulating around on opening night. The white cubist structure, which a friend said looked like the exterior of a modern art gallery, was flanked by massive, gorgeous-sounding Funktion-One stacks. With just enough rain to keep the dust at bay, JG Wilkes and JD Twitch laid the foundation for their three-hour set with hypnotic grooves, Middle Eastern flavours and plenty of percussion, while teasing in some moments of broken-beat chaos. Twilight turned to night as an explosive acid banger with chanting vocals transitioned into Runaway’s “Brooklyn Club Jam,” which caused a nearby doof stick decorated with Seinfeld’s Cosmo Kramer to bob up and down furiously.

After the halfway point Optimo went all-in. ABBA’s “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” melted into Madonna’s “Hung Up” to the delight of a rainbow-clad group beside me. The rave nostalgia of Bicep’s “Aura” sent fists flying into the air, while later some charging techno was complemented by a muscular house version of Richie Havens’ “Going Back To My Roots.” As they wrapped up with AC/DC’s “Highway To Hell”—because why not?—JD Twitch raised a glass to the dance floor.

Merve

Boiler Room’s Friday night takeover of Pitch Black, a stage located at the centre of the site, was manic. The construction turned out to be a stroke of genius: a two-story scaffolding square draped in black mesh, evoking the Mad Max Thunderdome, that effectively created a club space within a festival. The emerging Melbourne talent Merve was first on the bill. From the off, she had the steel colosseum in a frenzy, delivering 60 minutes of dance floor crushers.

In fact, Merve was tasked with two opening sets over the weekend, also landing the challenging 10 AM slot at Pitch One on Saturday morning. It was here that she really shone. I expected she might begin on an ambient tip, something akin to her contemplative Noctilucent radio shows, but instead the focus was on igniting the dance floor. A smattering of weary punters chowing down on bacon and egg rolls were coaxed in by deep, chugging house that inched up through soulful jams like Fibre Foundation’s “Free Your Mind (NJ Mix)” and Louie Vega’s exquisitely funky “Truth Dub 1” of Loleatta Holloway’s “Can’t Let You Go.” With 30 minutes to go, Merve was meddling with gnarly 303 lines and the bleepy mayhem of Joey Beltram’s “Joey’s Riot.” It was a confident warm-up set from a DJ showing plenty of promise.

Baba Stiltz

Baba Stiltz started his Saturday evening slot at Pitch Black by doing something I’ve never seen another DJ do at a festival: he brought the volume down—way down. A dreamy breakbeat meditation sent soothing waves around the previously thrusting space, a palate cleanser for those who’d been going at it hard in the afternoon heat. Sunnies on, cigarette dangling from his mouth, he eased on the accelerator. As he introduced Boy Blue’s “Remember Me (Deep Zone Club Mix),” his flowing hair began swaying from side to side. Head movements progressed to fluid arm flapping and onto something almost like a chicken dance. Before you knew it, he’d whipped up a vibrant house party vibe. People were hanging from the scaffolding and a giant inflatable penis was being tossed around like a beach ball. The girl next to me gleefully exclaimed, “my god this is fucked up!”

Two hours later, after effortlessly journeying through quirky minimal, dubby jungle, hip-hop and sludgy house, the stage was in love. Then, as the sun was setting, he dropped Avicii’s “Levels.” Utter pandemonium ensued—every hand on the dance floor shot up and the upper level thundered with foot stomps. As the breakdown hit, out poured a roaring singalong. Stiltz, grinning like a maniac, simply watched the weekend’s wildest moment unfurl.

Andrés

Sunday morning’s brisk, gloomy weather quickly went from bad to worse. At Pitch One, where Ben Fester was due to start, drizzle turned to all-out rain and the sharp breeze made way for gale-force gusts of wind, tossing eye-watering dust into the faces of the few spectators huddling around. Barely three tracks into Fester’s set, the white cloth covering the bulk of the structure began to tear off, threatening to pull the scaffolding down. The stage was forced to close for more than an hour.

As such, it looked like Andrés was in for a tricky time at Pitch Black. Huddled beneath a small tarpaulin, wearing a beanie and a sweater, the Detroit don began at a clip, churning out his trademark loopy, sample-driven house to a surprisingly resilient crowd. It didn’t take long for him to find his feet, and soon he was executing some incredibly tight CDJ scratching and working the EQs hard on another blissful Louie Vega track—his remix of Luther Vandross’s “Get Myself Together.” As Andrés shifted into a deep R&B grind, the sun began to peak through and the floor swelled, restoring order to the festival. His own timeless track “New For U”—which was bizarrely mashed up with a heavily scratched acapella of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”—elicited huge cheers. The noise hit a whole new level when he mixed in a live vocal version of “New For U” featuring blasting solos and a huge breakbeat. He looked visibly moved by the reaction.

Eclair Fifi

After Andrés took a bow, Eclair Fifi gestured for him to do some more scratching and he happily obliged. She clapped and jumped about giddily. This enthusiasm was the core of her performance. Despite navigating some technical issues early on, she soon steadied the ship with some thumping techno and house. Once she’d found her groove, things went all over the map. From the chaos of Lex Boy’s “Acid Bad Trip” and Thomas P. Heckmann’s “Toddlers Twist” through to the hands-in-the-air energy of Loleatta Holloway’s “Catch Me On The Rebound” and Sha’Lor’s “I’m In Love,” it was a masterclass in blending together styles. “I dot about genres a lot in sets,” she told RA in 2015. “I don’t see a difference in the genres and I’m not a purist about it.” At Pitch, she showed everyone how true that is.

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