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March 1, 2010 | by  | in Music |
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Campus A Low Hum

Music

Since its debut in 2007, Camp a Low Hum has steadily increased in both size and stature, attaining a reputation as the underground music festival of choice for those tired of the vast crowds, ubiquitous corporate sponsorship, elderly rock star histrionics and overpriced everythings that pervade the likes of Rhythm & Vines and Big Day Out. Returning in its fourth incarnation, and with a new name (Campus a Low Hum), the 2010 edition also marked the first major change in the festival’s format since 2007. Where previous Camps had (aptly) been held at various campsites near Wellington, the venue for Campus was a small agricultural college called The Flock House, located about 20 minutes’ drive from Bulls.

Changing what had undoubtedly been a successful format in previous years certainly posed a risk, but upon arriving at the site it was plain to the eyes of all in attendance that the choice of venue was nothing if not inspired. The Flock House proved to be a collection of assorted buildings in various stages of disrepair and dereliction. The three main stages comprised of an outdoor ‘assembly’ area, a three-walled barn and, most improbably, a drained indoor swimming pool. In addition, the site also housed the traditional ‘Renegade Room’ (available for use by bands not included in the official lineup), a water tower, several campsites, blocks of dorm rooms, a large gym, and a canteen.

In keeping with its name and location, Campus embraced a high school/first year uni aesthetic, with festival organiser Blink assuming the role of ‘principal’. As well as an extensive lineup of underground local and international acts headed by the international troika of Dan Deacon, the Dodos and Jens Lekman, one could find entertainment in a variety of other forms as well. There were life drawing classes, exhibitions of visual art courtesy of several underground artists, a roller disco, an ‘orientation’ party, a basketball tournament, a mixtape swap, a student radio station, class photos, a ‘library’—containing a textbook which ‘students’ were encouraged to deface with as much profanity as possible—a dawn ceremony, an extra-curricular PE class, and of course the obligatory prom on the final night.

As for the bands, the lineup was so vast (over 60 official acts played, some more than once), and consequently so eclectic that selecting highlights would largely have been dependent on personal preference. If dancing was your preferred mode of enjoyment, then Dan Deacon’s inclusive and interactive set to an absolutely packed late night crowd in the swimming pool was probably going to be as good as it got for you. Others may have found Deacon’s tendency to spill over into new-age gimmickry irritating, and might instead have applauded Blink’s brave (and utterly vindicated) decision to have Dunedin’s Die! Die! Die! headline the main stage on the final night. Their set consisted of a number of new songs and they played with such precision and ferocity that they more than made up for the disappointing sets turned in by other New Zealand A-listers So So Modern and The Shocking Pinks, both of whom underwhelmed despite playing to sizeable audiences.

Fans of twee were fed ice-cream by Americans Polka Dot Dot Dot, Jens Lekman made hearts swoon in advance of the Prom, Australians DZ played renegade sets all over the place, crushing all before them with their Justice-inspired thrashing dance rock, and the Ruby Suns reprised their early evening party starter set of 2009 by filling the pool with balloons and reproposing some of their old songs as veritable club bangers.

Bearing all this in mind, how did Campus compare to the three preceding Camps then?

Well, noticeable improvements included a more efficient timetable (I can’t remember any instance where two sets ever overlapped), the presence of actual toilets instead of the porta-loos of previous years, and arguably the best lineup yet. The A-grade international indie stars were impressive in their own right, but they also received able support from 20-odd Australian bands and numerous on-form local acts. Of those, Die! Die! Die!, Signer, John the Baptist, F in Math, the Ruby Suns, Batrider, The Crackhouse 5, Diana Rozz and the Tiger Tones turned in the most memorable performances.

The downsides compared to past Camps were the reduced spontaneity of the Renegade sets (most of which were pre-booked), the discernable presence of a few obnoxious slam dancing wasters (presumably due to the increased ticket numbers, or perhaps because of the Flock House’s proximity to Wanganui?) and the bad weather, which plagued the first day and a half. These proved to be minor quibbles though and, as with previous years the only truly unfortunate thing about Campus was that it had to end.

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