Once upon a time ‘prog’ meant progressive rock, rock with a twist, something that hadn’t been done before – think Pink Floyd, King Crimson or The Mars Volta. While its supposed the nature of the word ‘progressive’ means that it has to, well, progress, it’s hard not to feel like Prog has come to simply mean metal with an interesting time signature.
Without spending more time classifying bands into miniscule sub-genres than actually listening to them, let’s just say if you’re going to put a festival on that is named after a genre, you’d better make damn-well sure that every band fits the mould.
Progfest has been an annual event in cities around Australia since 2010, and excusing those few bands that some may be dubious about labelling with the prog tag, there has always been a potent concoction of psychedelic, mind-melting, mushroom-mashing bands on offer.
With 22 bands playing between two stages over eleven hours, the punters were spoiled for choice. Even at 4:30 in the afternoon there were some trance-inducing sounds filling the spacious Espy front bar courtesy of Bear The Mammoth, an instrumental four-piece who have been jamming their way around Melbourne for the past three years.
With heavy delay and a sound that was at times sparse, at others – unbelievably full, it wouldn’t be surprising to hear these guys opening for the likes of Jakob or Mogwai.
It was far too easy to kill time and money wandering and drinking beer, stumbling across the Phil Para Band jamming out a perfect rendition of Hendrix’s ‘Manic Depression’ in the tiny bar above the kitchen. However, when Okera kicked off in the cavernous Gershwin Room, the crowd was sucked to the front like a daddy-long-legs into a vacuum cleaner.
It’s a hard one to pull off, the Gershwin Room. If you can’t do the vacuum cleaner, you’re left playing to a dark room, straining to open your third eye enough to glimpse the aura of the crowd standing 30 metres away. Doom-laden and at times brutal, but with a definite Opeth influence, Okera had these daddy-long-legs headbanging in seconds.
Back in the front bar, Quiet Child were figuring out that the reason their lead guitar wasn’t working was not the amp, the guitar, the power cord, the pedal board or the cab – but the guitar lead. Not a minute too soon, the boys on tour from South Australia, fire up their big Mesa Boogie Triple Rectifiers. Straight away the audience knows this is going to be something special.
Melodic, harmonic, heavy, introspective; the crowd isn’t sure whether to headbang or meditate. These guys are seriously skilled musicians, and Pete Spiker, the singer and rhythm guitarist, is clearly the one holding this tapestry together, the thread of his voice weaving effortlessly through their journey of space and sound. Having already opened for the likes of Opeth, these guys are definitely one to keep an eye on.
With 22 worthy bands to see over 11 hours, and all for a measly thirty dollars, Progfest is a no-brainer, next time it rolls round, why not take a break from categorising your albums into infinite sub-genres and whining over the price of beer or the twenty minute tram-ride to St Kilda, and learn the true meaning of Progressive Music.
After all, the definition is as changeable as Melbourne’s weather.