UNIFY is a Punk, Hardcore and Metal festival held in Tarwin Lower Victoria. UNIFY was first held in 2015 with a limit of 2000 attendees, but proved to be such a success that the number was raised to 5000 for this year’s event. The bands, as well as the fans, come from all over Australia and the world. Artist Manager Aidan McLaren told me that there were attendees coming from Austria, just to attend the festival and then return home. What makes this festival somewhat different to many, is that it’s relatively small, attendees can bring their own supplies and camp out for the entire event, something that everyone I spoke to mentioned. But it was the overall nature, location and character of the event that also received a lot of positive comment and Aidan seemed very pleased with the way things were going this year.
The gates were to open at 10:00 am, but well before that time the crowds were lined up in an ever growing mass of literally thousands, patiently waiting across the road from the main entrance for the official opening. I must say that I have never seen such a well behaved and patient group of people; it completely dispelled any myths about heavy metal music fans being in any way antisocial, raucous and whatever else I’ve heard over the years. Even when the gates opened, there was no mad stampede to be the first through, just an ordered movement following directions from the volunteer staff. Totally the opposite of what you see on TV when stores open their doors for the Boxing Day sales.
There was no rush either as the numbers flowing through the gate increased. The volunteers cheered the first arrivals and welcomed them with humour and help as things were dropped or loads became unwieldy. It was going to be a hot day and was already a fairly hot morning, with not a cloud in the sky. The perfect weather, and location, for such a festival.
As the crowds slowly made their way through the gates, they were directed towards the football oval that would serve as one of the camping grounds for the event. What was at first an empty ground, soon started to fill with campers and tent city was slowly emerging on the dried out grass. Even here, there was no angst or conflict as to where people set up their tents and whatnot, nor was there any indication of chaos, everyone just seemed to get along. This conflicts with what I’ve often seen at campgrounds where the average family, caravaner or whatever, decides they want a spot at all costs. As I wandered through the growing tent city, all I could see were happy campers and an overall sense of good humour. And within about two hours of the gates opening, the football ground was full and the overflow area was being populated.
The good humour also extended to the trials and tribulations of getting yourself and your gear to the campground. There were some that were clearly seasoned travellers, being well organised and set up to get mountains of gear from their cars, which were some distance away, to their selected site. Mind you, being well organised didn’t mean that the journey was easy, just a bit easier than it was for others. And I will give the benefit of doubt to some.
For others, however, the journey was a little more difficult and challenging. I suspect that the ones who were doing it hard, may have been first timers here and underestimated the distance they’d have to carry their gear. Or, maybe the excitement of the event overtook the reality of the effort required. That said, even those who struggled with their almost Herculean tasks, appeared to be in good or reasonably good spirits. And while it was a struggle at times, it would be soon forgotten once set up and a few relaxing drinks enjoyed to dull the aches and pains. Mind you, some had quite legitimate excuses for being awkward, but nothing was going to keep them away.
Now my main aim for being here today was to talk to the attendees, once again to find out a little more about the people and what brings them to these events, and this one in particular. I was especially interested in seeking out those who had come from far and wide, especially from overseas, much like I did with the Summer of Soul and Blessing of the Bikes. However, that proved to be far more difficult considering the numbers. As I wandered around tent city, listening to any evidence of accents other than Australian, I was completely out of luck. I almost felt like shouting every so often ‘Any foreigners about?’; however, that may have been a bit insensitive. So in my usual manner, I just approached groups that looked like an interruption wouldn’t be out of place, to see what I could discover.
Caiden, Collette, Ryan, Matt, Scott, Georgio and Drew from the Mornington Peninsular, were here for their second tour, having enjoyed last year’s event immensely. As a note, those who attended the first UNIFY festival last year, were given first dibs at this year’s tickets, which I thought was fair enough. The group has been attending various concerts over the years and were unanimous in their view that this is one of the best on the calendar. And having attended events such as Soundwave, their view was that this one was well ahead.
Ty, Ric, Jai, Chris and Viengcumm (I hope I got that right) hail from Frankston and for them, this is also their second time here. They too echoed the comments of the first group that this is one of the best events around, and repeated what has been noted several times, that the ability to camp and bring your own supplies makes this one of the most satisfying events. Coupled with the excellent organisation, people and great bands, it was all good.
Anna, Kayla, Leah and Bree (hiding) hail from Leongatha and Korumburra (you just about couldn’t come from much closer) and attend uni, so UNIFY is a way for them to meet up for a weekend. The group is a mix of first and second time attendees and, hailing from the region, it’s a natural to want to attend a festival such as this. And they were well prepared, having secured a spot close to the gate that led to the stage.
And in my search for just one international visitor, I came across two, or to be more correct, they came across me and introduced themselves. Louis from Singapore and Brendan from New York, are both music fanatics. Louis is on a student visa, but said that he came over a year ago and was introduced to the music scene in Melbourne and loved it, and is now doing a photojournalism course in Melbourne that he’ll pursue back in Singapore. Brendan has come over from the US for a year, just to follow the music scene in Melbourne and the wider area, such as Gippsland. He said that he’s never come across such a variety and extent of music scenes anywhere else and just loves being here. Well, what’s not to like about Australia?
Finally, I spotted two girls that stood out somewhat like the earlier Beach Boys and it was only natural to include them in the story. Simone, Harry and Bronte all hail from Melbourne and it’s their first time at UNIFY and were full of praise for everything that they’d seen so far. They loved the atmosphere and were waiting for things to start in earnest. I’m sure that the spirit will be with them the entire weekend.
As I mentioned at the beginning, the event is staffed by a number of volunteers, quite a number in fact. I understand a fairly large contingent arrived from New Zealand, and what a smart way to have a holiday while getting to listen to great music and see a fabulous part of Australia. Then there were also a lot of people from Tarwin Lower and surrounds, and much further afield, putting in a big effort to support the event and the community. The volunteers’ work continued well into the day and night. All of Tarwin Lower pretty much pitched in one way or the other, as the festival was certainly a boost for the town. Despite the loud music, from what I gathered, there were very few that had any objection to the festival, especially after the first one where everyone proved to be so very well behaved.
It was unfortunate that I couldn’t stay for longer and cover a little more later in the evening when the sun began to set and things really got underway, but I had to leave. That said, I’m more than happy to be able to cover what I did, as the bands get enough coverage anyway, while the attendees and volunteers are sometimes forgotten. UNIFY 2016 is certainly bigger than last year and, from all indications, it appears it will be a much more successful event than last year. Let’s hope that it continues to be so.