Watching the lines in the middle of the road as we weave our way through the country towns and open lands on Eastern Victoria, I’m reflecting on the past few days. The UNIFY Gathering has always been a place of comfort, a place of respect towards one another, a community. It’s a home away from home for a few days with friends and sometimes where friendships are created just for a few days before an emotional “goodbye” as they take to their own roads back home.
Every year I’ve hated waking up on Sunday morning watching everyone pack-up and make their way back to the real world. It’s at this point, I take time to reflect back over the sleepless nights and the excitement of it all.
Rising from bed on Thursday morning (post the gathering) I was more than ready to get in the car then and there. My friends and I packed our festival must-haves set off on the road and nothing in the world could have made me feel better. With our UNIFY 2020 playlist blaring through and our windows down, it felt like the world was ours and ours alone… plus the 9,000 others heading the same direction!
Arriving in Tarwin Lower it brought back the memories of the previous years and as we made our way through those gates I felt like I was coming home. Parking the car we were prepared for the “carry-everything-in-one-trip” — the ultimate struggle. But, the anticipation and excitement got us there!
With empty land as far as the eye could see it only took a matter of minutes before tents were appearing at every angle of the emerging campsite. Arriving on Thursday night gave us the freedom and the space to allocate the perfect camp so we marked our space and began setting up as more people arrived by the hour. Before we knew it everything was ready and we made our way into the Circus Tent for AM/PM’s Thursday night line up.
The first band to set off the day was none other than Melbourne’s own, Terra. The gathered sisters and brothers were ready to jump around and have a good time and with Terra, and they did just that. Terra brought everything they had to the stage with class, power and composure which is always a good sign when the opening act starts out this strong.
To follow in without slowing down in any way, Bad/Love rose to the stage with fire and ice. Playing what could only be described as a headline produced set, with complete clarity and exertion. With an image and sound that would take most bands years to perfect, it amazes me that they’ve only played a handful of shows. With a special feature by the beautiful Charlotte Gilpin (CJ) of Dream State, it just added to the hype and excitement of it all on that Thursday night.
Stepping it up a whole different level, The Gloom In The Corner explode onto the stage with a heavy and brutal, yet melodic sound. With their powerful breakdowns and gut-wrenching vocals, you could physically feel the energy spreading through the crowd, track by track. I’ve seen these guys several times over the years but to see them up on the big stage with such a supportive crowd, it shows just how much they have come since the beginning.
With the first night coming to a close there left one of the most stabilising bands to come out of country Melbourne, Windwaker. With a vocalist like Will King you get everything that you’ve asked for and moreover, from his clean clear cut vocals to his astounding screams, you can’t help but keep your eyes on him. Not to say anything less of the rest of the band who work so perfectly well together and with my biased opinion, one of the best guitarists in Australia, Jesse Crofts. Closing the night off with their hit song “My Empire,” the title was a fitting name for what this tent had become in its final 30 minutes.
Waking up in my tent the following morning, nearly melting due to the insane heat that this small space was keeping enclosed, I dragged myself out to the rest of the campsite to begin the day. Within a matter of minutes, I was told of the harsh wind conditions that were oncoming for the afternoon, causing a delay on all acts for up to 4 hours and I felt my stomach drop. After Falls Festival being cancelled in Lorne after day 1 back only two weeks ago, could this be the same fate for us?
As the hours rolled by it seemed fairly mild until it hit around 4 pm and it all hit at once. With campsite marquis flying away, tents falling in on themselves and the heavy rain, it was hard to conceive of anything on a technical level going on for the day. However, with clever planning and organization, they were able to realign the entire line up for the day with all bands playing in the original circus tent from the previous night, with hourly updates of the Main Stage being ready for use.
With the rain still bucketing down on the outside, people came in for cover and stayed to be heated up by Friday’s openers Tapestry. Playing what was a straight uptight, composed and honest set, I was pleasantly satisfied with every little thing they put out for the crowd and how well it was received.
Without a moment to catch my breath, it was all ready to go again, as Diamond Construct took the bar and raised it another level. Walking onto the stage with certainty in their eyes, they opened up with full speed ahead. Playing a very heavy and emotional set, they proved themselves and made it very clear to why they were here. With bands like these opening for the day, It just goes to show how much this country has to offer within its rising heavy scene.
Tired Lion came out with a different sound and approach to what we’d seen in the last 24 hours, but it was just what we needed. This indie-rock band that has it’s cult following built up their energy and sound, song by song and I loved the diversity and straight-up honesty that they showed, not just in performance but in their down to earth Aussie vibe.
After a quick trip back to the campsite, with the rain now gone and the winds all but ceased, I was more than ready to get involved in what would probably be the funniest set of the day. Dear Seattle are that band that could literally be put on any Australian lineup and draw the same amount of people every time. With their say-it-how-it-is attitude, we were in for a wild ride. With hit after hit, you couldn’t help but find yourself going from extremes of jumping around the mosh pit, to putting your arms around your mates shoulders, screaming every line back to the boys up there.
With the day coming to a close, it was finally announced that we could make our way down to the main stage for what could possibly be described as the best set of this long weekend. After a day spent undercover it felt nice to step out into the open field, with the moon sitting perfectly above the Unify banner spread across the stage beams. Watching the thousands of people make their way closer to the stage, as disappointing as it was to have bands pushed back to the following day, I felt a sense of comfort in knowing that Architects were closing out this night as the only act to hit the big stage.
Now It’s quite hard to put into words what the following hour entailed, but it was nothing short of spectacular. With production to keep all eyes glued to the front, it was still nothing compared to the quality of sound that was hitting my body and soul from all angles. From record to stage, you could hardly tell the difference and that’s why these guys have continued to rise around the globe. With time to speak about the past, vocalist Sam Carter reflected on his gratitude for Australia and the reception they received back at Unify in 2018, after losing their best friend and brother Tom Searle to cancer just 16 months prior. As he mentioned this, once again every single person lowered down to one knee, paying respect to the precious life that was lost. With that, they ended on their biggest hit and tribute to their brother, “Doomsday” leaving us in complete awe and compassion. We screamed those final lyrics with everything we had, as they thanked us and bid farewell.
As the sun rose over Unify, we crawled out of our little caves into what would be a day of musical chaos and harmony. With the previous being one of misfortune, there was a calmness about the campsites as people were getting ready for what was to come.
Without much time to spare I ran as fast as I could to make it to the second band of the day, Weighbridge. Now this personally was something special, after watching them play their first show to hearing early demos, to now being up on the big stage at Unify it showed what hard work in a short period of time achieves. Forming a grungy, old school rock sound mixed with heavy break downs and pop-punk choruses, you can sense greatness in these young guys. With a tight and well-composed set to the early birds, they woke us all up and really got the music flowing through our veins.
Taking me back down memory lane with the song “Daffodil,” Columbus appeared with glistening teeth and energy to lift us off our feet, into a place of pop-punk ecstasy. I’ve seen these guys on many different occasions, but they never cease to keep me still, I can’t help but scream those catchy lyrics back and throw myself deep into the middle of it all. From crowd surfers to shoulder riders, the room was filled with smiling faces and people just have a damn good time.
To be honest this next band were my most anticipated act of the day, if not the whole weekend. After just missing them back at Unify 2018 due to the issue with wristbands, there was no way I wouldn’t be getting down low and dirty for this one. As Knocked Loose broke the stage and crowd open from the first note, bodies were flying in a matter of seconds. Although they’re more of a band that practically plays shows in the crowd, they showed how well they fit in the Australian hardcore scene, up there with big dogs. With they’re gritty, thrash metal and consistent intermittent break downs, there was no time to pause between songs, it just all kept rolling until people were nearly scraping each other off the pavement, from blood to broken bones, these bunch of dudes knew exactly how to get ground shaking beneath our feet.
Now if you made it all the way here and you still by some means were not entirely satisfied, then Between You And Me were about to change that for you. From the moment they stepped onto that stage, the crowd were off their feet and nothing from that set would have stopped them moving. With their catchy hooks, tight composure and downright righteous attitude, it’s hard not to enjoy every second of this set.
As we rise up the ranks, it’s only fitting to see Void Of Vision take the Unify main stage in style all over again. It was time for them to show us who they really are, with a dedicated glare and an intention to destroy everything in their sights. Since the release of “Hyperdaze” their stage performance and quality of sound has intensified and through crowd participation/response, it really was a special set to be a part of.
Drifting between the main stage and the Circus tent on Saturday and despite the poor conditions on Friday, they were still able to make the whole day work without any clashes which came as a huge relief for everyone.
With respect to that, as one of the bands to be moved over to Saturday night, The Beautiful Monument were set to close the Circus tent as the final act and It’s no wonder why they’ve been put on the three main rock festivals in Australia this last month. They know how to hold the stage and own the space, through heartbreaking lyrics and a solid composure altogether.
As the sun began to set on the final evening of Unify, I couldn’t have thought of a better band than Tonight Alive to fade us into the black night. Since seeing them back in 2011 on one of their first festivals to now being one of the headline acts of 2020, the growth is phenomenal. Considering they hadn’t played a show in over a year, you could feel the energy and thrill of it all coming from each band member. As they played their catchy hits and jumped around the stage, the crowd’s voices rose and by the end of the set, they were the loudest of the day. With one final song to go, vocalist Jenna McDougall gave words of equality for woman in the music industry, with her own battles she’s faced and the encouragement for other girls to step up and push past anything that may be in their way. Following the intro of their hit single “Temple,” vocalist Dre Faivre of Hellions joined the stage in what was the funkiest performance of the night.
Keeping the Australian dream alive, we were graced with a band that has spent the last few years building a sound of their own. Polaris have slowly become a household name in the Aussie metal/hardcore music scene, due to their sheer skill and delivery. With their album “The Death Of Me” on its way, they released the single “Hypermania” just two days prior and it was incredible to see people already screaming the lyrics back. From the heavy break downs to the chaotic wall of death, we were all left begging for more.
The only real downfall of that set and the next one was the sound level of the speakers. Considering we were able to talk quite easily as these bands played, something just seemed a little bit off on a technical aspect, but nothing that can’t be worked on in the following year.
With the night coming to a close it was time for the last Australian act to hit the stage, one that changed the face of Alternative Metal in the last year with their explosive release of “Alien,” ultimately seeing them win an Aria for “best hard rock or heavy metal” album. Tackling poor conditions from the day before they Northlane had to be pushed back to tonight and I’m actually glad things worked out that way. As they delivered a full-frontal bloodbath of sound, the stage was lit up like a Christmas tree, throwing light through the thousands of eager fans. As the set went on Marcus Bridge expelled his voice beyond heights I could even dream of reaching. They deserved to be here tonight and that was made very clear with everything that they lay on the floor here before us.
As the lights dimmed over the main stage, I thought back to September 2012, when I first saw The Ghost Inside. As a 15-year-old having never heard of them before I was in awe of this band and their sound. But after a life-changing car accident back in 2016 while on tour, I don’t think any of us expected to see the day they would step back onto Australian soil, yet here they were. They were ready to own that stage in the most honest and deserving way, after all, who could tell them otherwise after literally escaping death?
Rising out of the dark they were holding nothing back and we were giving them every single bit of our attention. From moment to moment you could feel the music coursing through your veins as you quickly get lost in the excitement of it all and before you know it, it’s over. Ending on “Engine 45” brought an emotional end to the set, with having the whole crowd scream those final lyrics “all my life I’ve been searching for something, to break these chains. But I’ll keep swinging.” And just like that, they had broken the chains that had held them back, now leaving them to live out this dream.
You really couldn’t have asked for a better way to end this glorious festival. Thank you once again Unify for everything you have to offer, the best 4 days of the whole damn year.
Photography by Mitchel O’Rouke