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The UNIFY Gathering 2019 in Review

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As the fields begin to empty and all the miniature city [tents] we’d built days before come down, I watch the sun hit now vacant spaces I’d known as my home for the last 4 days. Reflecting on my experiences over this long weekend and just what this festival means to not only me but every single person that was there, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of sadness come over me as I walked out the gates. Why can’t Unify be every day of the damn week?

Rewind four days and I’m in the back seat of a car so full it barely holds our bodies in it, driving from a city full of life to what felt like total freedom, without a cloud in the sky on the road to Unify.

Making our way in, with the rows of cars waiting just as full and overflowing as ours, we could feel the energy already building as music blasted from speakers and people set up chairs and cracked open some cold ones with their mates. Seeing so many happy faces at that time made the wait to get in fly by, as I was just so thankful to be there in that moment.

The second we parked the car and started dragging our huge supply of alcohol, clothes and camping gear into the venue I was immediately taken aback by the whole set up. Everything was where it needed to be, with a huge stage tent as the central point of the camping area, surrounded by a dozen food trucks and other activities like the dodgem cars and the infamous ball pit. The classic UNIFY sign stood behind this and I found it oddly amusing that it was placed about 200 metres from the arena’s entrance as it meant you could take all the photos you liked with your mates, without disturbing the gates. With the Arena placed where it was this year, access was able to be made with very little confusion and I found it much easier to get to no matter where you were camped.

As I’d arrived the day before the official line up, it was time to head over to the local stage in the camping area to watch the AM/PM sets. All three of the bands that played were practically faultless. With Caged Existence, Aburden and Between You & Me owning the stage, each in their own right and in completely different styles. Caged Existence brought their grungy, hardcore grit and spilled it all out for the crowd that started gathering into a tent. While Aburden, with their spoken word intertwined in emotional screaming, played their best set to date and I couldn’t be any prouder of these guys. Finally, we were greeted by Between You & Me, who showed absolute class and energy, delivering a set that displayed Australian Pop Punk at it’s finest. To end off their set, vocalist Jake Wilson took a leap of faith from the stage and dove over the barrier, landing a jump he was told: “Wouldn’t be possible.” Couldn’t have ended it any better if you asked me.

UNIFY Gathering 2019 DAY 1:

After a rough sleep, day 1 officially begins and at 12 pm the gates to the arena are finally opened. We all begin to pour into the space to see just what this new stage set up is like and boy were we pleased. With another big supply of food trucks, we are also faced with a huge merch tent and two bars. I personally loved the whole middle section which was covered with the shade of trees, where people could just chill out in the ridiculous heat.

Making my way down to the stage, I noticed to the right of me another bar and balcony for the VIP area. This was perfectly located and made comfortable for those that had access to it. Now being at the barrier I was ready for the first band to kick off, Better Half. Personally, I couldn’t think of a stronger band to start the day, they played a beautiful set with a very decent crowd who were fully immersed in the strong vocals of Chris Vernon. I highly recommend keeping your eyes on these guys in 2019, they certainly showed why they deserved to be there.

Ocean Sleeper and Drown This City followed with incredible sets, as two bands that had played at Unify 2017 they sure knew what they were up for and the crowds certainly didn’t let them down. Dream State were up next and we could already see the diversity that this festival was bringing and the equality with the female fronted bands. This being the first time they’d ever played in Australia, after travelling all the way from the UK, it was great to see how well they were received.

Hand Of Mercy took to the stage for what would be their last ever show and they certainly didn’t disappoint. These guys have been around the local scene forever and it was quite amazing going from last seeing them play about 9 years ago to 150 kids in a hall, to watching them own a stage with real experience and performance that kept what seemed like thousands of people screaming along to.

While I happened to miss The Plot In You and While She sleeps, I heard nothing but good things about both bands and having seen the two of them live before I knew these statements were valid. However Dream On Dreamer were one band I have seen plenty of times, but that I’m glad I didn’t miss. From Marcel’s screams to Zac’s heartfelt harmonies, the whole band took their set to a height I hadn’t seen before in past show’s. Connecting beautifully with the crowd, they left us all longing for more.

After what had been hyped as one of the most looked forward to sets, Crossfaith exploded onto the stage and showed us just why this was the case. With the sun setting on day 1, they opened the night with nothing but energy and chaos. I’d never been so invested in a band that I’d never heard a single song by before. From the flames to the electronic sounds over their heavy guitar riffs and screams, I got lost in what could have easily been the headliner set.

It was then time to run and get some food and prepare myself for a band that could only have followed a set like that and pulled it off. As Ocean Grove made their way out, the crowd grew even bigger for what would be Luke Holmes’ and Jimmy Hall’s last performance with the odd world crew. I guess It’s hard to imagine these guys no longer in the band because this set killed anything and everything they’d done previously. However, I’m sure they couldn’t have asked for a better send off, as everyone screamed their hearts out one last time for the boys in OG.

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Now the act I’d personally been waiting the whole day for, Hellions. I could say a thousand words or more about this band and how they played, but it still wouldn’t be enough to explain how much energy they created in just a 30-minute set. There’s a damn good reason why they were the only band to play Unify for the second year in a row and it’s because they did a damn good job of it the first time. Playing songs back from Indian Summer, through Opera Oblivia and the 2018 masterpiece Rue, they set the bar for every band to follow.

In Hearts Wake kept that energy going in every way possible. As I’d made my way over to the VIP balcony to watch their set, I had an incredible view of the massive crowd that gathered for this one. Here’s another band I can remember watching them play to not even 100 people back in the day, now seeing a sea of people turn up for their set shows just how hard they have worked to be here over the last 13 years. Taking it all the way back to 2012 with their first album under UNFD, Divination and back up to 2017’s Ark, really put everything into perspective for me.

Not to mention the unforgettable moment lead singer Jake Taylor stopped mid-sett, climbed out on top of the crowd and went calling out a girls name to bring up on someone’s shoulders, at which point she appeared along side her partner. Jake then handed over the microphone and just like that, she proposed before the thousands of people below.. He said yes of course!

Making our way towards the end of the night, we are embraced by none other than Perth’s finest, Karnivool. After a day of action packed sets, it was time to take it down a notch, level out and enjoy the sweet tunes of this great Aussie band. After such a long day, you could feel the crowds physically energy dropping, however mentally everyone seemed to be right there in the moment as Ian Kenny’s voice serenaded the audience.

Finally, after a day of intense heat and sunburn, it was time for the final band to take to the stage. Underoath brought so much energy and drive out for all to see, trying their absolute hardest to bring the enthusiasm back up in these tired, drunken souls. I happened to only catch the second half of their set and I’d heard they had a very poor opening due to technical difficulties, so I really felt for them after that. However, I enjoyed watching them for the first time and there wasn’t much I could fault. It was actually just too late in my opinion for a band of their quality to playing a show at that time. They didn’t let the crowds lack of strength dampen their set though, playing for almost an hour, after what would have been a 30 hour trip for the guys.

As the crowd rolled out after the final song, it was time to head back to the camp site, rest up and get ready for an even bigger day ahead of us. I noticed a few people heading over to the silent disco and as I fell asleep I couldn’t help but laugh at the screaming voices echoing out through the whole site.

UNIFY Gathering DAY 2:

Waking up in a tent, to what feels like 40 degrees at 9am is not the most comfortable experience I can tell you that. So I was very quickly up and at it, ready to get back into the arena to catch another local act Pridelands. I’ve seen these guys play a few shows here and there, mostly in small capacity venues. However, seeing them up on the big stage with a crowd that big so early in the day was amazing. They not only played a solid set, they were right in there with everyone, connecting in every way possible.

Now I wasn’t ready to go anywhere just yet as Yours Truly flew onto the stage shortly after. This Sydney band have really been making a name for themselves over the last 12 months and it shows in their performance. They all individually owned the stage, from Guitarist’s Lachlan Cronin’s guitar riffs to Teddie Winder’s entertaining stage moves and Mikaila Delgado’s beautiful vocals. I’m sure they will all remember this one for a long time to come.

After two great sets, it was time to get some food and relax in some shade to avoid burning myself any further. Once I’d arrived back into the arena I was told by a good friend of mine that I had to get down to the barrier and catch the next local band, Pagan. Here was a band I’d never even heard of before, but that were easily going into one of my favourite performances of the whole weekend. Vocalist Nikki Brumen sure had some powerful pipes on her and a stage presence that was made for the theatre. Throughout the whole set, I hardly moved a muscle, as this mixed sound of dark metal and old school punk, engulfed me. Here’s a band I won’t be forgetting any time soon.

Of all bands to follow an act like that, Thornhill blew it out of the ball park. It didn’t take long for people to come pouring in for what would have had to of been one of their best sets to date. This alternative metalcore band have been building there way up in just the last couple of years, to be one of Melbourne’s most admired live acts in the scene. To see how well they connect as a five piece, not only together but with the crowd, is all what Unify is about.

It was time now for the band I was personally most excited for and ready to scream my heart out to, Stand Atlantic. Just three months after the release of their critically acclaimed album Skinny Dipping, we see a group that has gone from local success to being signed to Hopeless Records and touring with some of the biggest bands in the pop-punk scene. Vocalist Bonnie Fraser delivered her lyrics with a clarity as perfect as the record and as the set went on she even produced some awesome screams out of nowhere. It was amazing to see the response they had from the massive crowd they pulled in, with so many of us screaming the lyrics back and having the time of our lives.

After finally having a break, I filled up on some more food and wondered back into the arena to catch the American Metallic hardcore band, Harms Way. The heaviest band on the line up proved their worth with plenty of break downs and all out chaos. With a vocalist like James Pligge, this is one band you surely wouldn’t want to mess with or get in the way of. In saying that, for a band that would normally be more comfortable playing in a small room, they owned the big stage and gave everyone the energy they needed to keep them going through the blistering heat.

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With a total flip of sound, Endless Heights gave us their alternative rock sound with poise and class. Stepping out in front of a crowd they have built over the last few years, they delivered a powerful set that showed me why I really need to take the time to listen to them. Joel Martorana has such a unique voice, that would certainly catch anyone by surprise if they hadn’t heard them before.

To hit things up another notch we are faced by the craziest band of the day, Clowns. Oh boy do these guys know how to put on a show! Much like Pagan, it’s hard to even attempt to put a genre on this band as they mix everything from 90’s punk to hardcore and even pop. First things first, Stevie Williams started the set off with a bang by climbing up the pillars of the stage and hanging off the side, showing he really isn’t afraid of anything. With a set full of pure entertainment, these guys are one band you have to at least see once before you die.

Still finding it hard to see how any act could follow these last few, WAAX gave me just the reason to disabuse that idea. What a band and a half! I’ve only ever heard good things about them over the last couple of years, but I was not expecting that. With a style that could really fit on almost any festival line up, their post-punk sound gave nothing but raw emotion to a point where I could literally feel the pain in Marie Devita’s voice as she dragged her body around the stage, It was nothing short of spectacular.

Citizen are the type of band that make you want to cry and smile at the same time. For a 5 piece, hailing all the way from Ohio and Michigan USA, they sure know how to bring a presence to the stage that individuates them from the whole emo pop and alternative rock scene. Going into their 10th year as a band, they were gifted with a crowd of long lasting fans who have stuck by them the whole way and if you weren’t one before, you sure would be after this. Such a bittersweet way to watch the sunset over the stage as the night fell on day 2.

Sadly I missed Turnstile as I needed to have a big feed before the final sets of the night, but from all the footage I’ve seen since and the amount of positive comments I’ve heard, I could imagine it would have been a killer set to witness.

State Champs are at the pinnacle of Pop Punk and there’s a damn good reason why they are up to the top of the bill this year. Although I didn’t get a chance to watch their whole set, I was very impressed with what I did see at the end. Not personally know much of their stuff at all, I was quite happy to sit back and enjoy this one from a distance. They played perfectly, with their catchy hooks and crowd pleasing songs, anyone who had waited the whole day to see them wouldn’t have been disappointed with how they pulled it off.

To say I was excited to see this next band would have been a massive understatement. Trophy Eyes walked onto the stage singing none other than Queen’s “We will rock you” and with the crowd going nuts from the moment they stepped out, you knew this was going to be one of the biggest nights of their lives. This was immediately followed by the classic “some of my friends sell drugs, I just sell sad songs..” line, to which point every single person in the arena chanted back. Throughout the whole set, there wasn’t a single moment you could look away, they’ve worked so hard to be where they are today and it shows in every way possible. As I crowd surfed for the last song “Friday Forever” I remember looking up as confetti filled the sky and singing “Is this what the clouds feel like?..” as they all walked off stage.

With very little words needed to be said, Every Time I Die were technically and visually the best band of Unify 2019. From their massive circle pits, to their faultless stage presence, they could have easily closed the whole night and no one would have been complaining. Again here was a band I actually knew hardly anything about, but that I would remember for years to come.

Taking Back Sunday lead us into the night with a set that pleased most, but sadly didn’t quite live up to the hype of all the previous bands. Being the optimistic person that I am I still enjoyed myself and I still think they did a bloody good job, however, there were some very tough acts to follow. Despite it all, I still sang my heart out with some close friends to the likes of “Cute without the E” and finally my personal favourite “MakeDamnSure” which they closed the night with, having everyone around 2am still screaming their lungs out as the lights went off on the final day of Unify 2019.

Waking up Sunday morning after what was a very big night, I got out of my tent and made my way over to the coffee station to revitalize my mental state. I soon started to notice that already more than half of the tents had been packed up and that most people were on their way out. I wasn’t anywhere near ready to leave, as I headed over to one of the big tents to catch the Acoustic sets that would officially end this incredible weekend. Yours Truly, Stand Atlantic, Endless Heights and Little Brother all gave us the relaxation and peace that we needed after an intense couple of days in the extreme heat, sweat and dirt.

Then just like that, it was time to pack up my things and get back on the road, leaving behind nothing but good memories and a weekend that I’d never forget.

Thank you Unify Gathering, for making this place feel like home again.

PHOTOS DAY 1 – UNIFY Gathering 2019

Photography by Matt Allan

BETTER HALF

OCEAN SLEEPER

DROWN THIS CITY

DREAM STATE

THE PLOT IN YOU

DREAM ON DREAMER

WHILE SHE SLEEPS

CROSSFAITH

HELLIONS

IN HEARTS WAKE

KANIVOOL

UNDEROATH

DAY 2

FALCIFER

AFTER TOUCH

GRAVEMIND

PAGAN

THORNHILL

STAND ATLANTIC

SAVIOUR

ENDLESS HEIGHTS

CLOWNS

WAAX

CITIZEN

TURNSTILE

STATE CHAMPS

TROPHY EYES

EVERY TIME I DIE

TAKING BACK SUNDAY

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