The last time The Herd played a show together it was at Peats Ridge on New Year’s Eve, six months ago. It’s hard to organise a group of eight people and there have been plenty of things to keep them busy since then (Urthboy has been on a solo tour in support of his album Smokey’s Haunt and then had a daughter, for instance).
So the Come Together Festival, which they’re playing in June, is literally bringing them together. “There’s been a fair bit keeping us occupied since the break,” says Ozi Batla, AKA Shannon Kennedy, putting it mildly.
This won’t be their first time at Come Together. The last was in 2006, when they shared the bill with Regurgitator, Magic Dirt, Augie March and Ratcat, in the days before it shifted from being an Australian music festival to an Australian hip hop festival. “Had a really good reception at that one,” Kennedy recalls. “It’s great that it’s evolved into a purely hip hop festival, something that we probably wouldn’t have seen a few years ago. There’s another couple that have sprung up around the place. Even the big festivals have got really strong hip hop lineups these days. It’s great to see.”
Australian hip hop festivals that focus on Australian hip hop, like Come Together and Sprung, do seem to do much better than hip hop festivals here that bring in international lineups. This year Supafest and Movement were both cancelled after being scheduled for the same days in several states, adding to the unfortunate reputation for flakiness and unreliability touring American hip hop acts already have here.
“That’s been an ongoing thing for a while for whatever reason,” says Kennedy. “I think it probably falls on the promoters sometimes but also on the artists. Definitely the Australian hip hop fans are pretty suspicious of those international festivals these days. It’s good for both sides when they know that they’re gonna get quality from a local hip hop festival, in some cases they’re more happy to support the local stuff. You’re probably able to see more acts for less and you’re supporting local music as well. I think that’s been a really good development. For as long as I can remember, the idea of a big overseas-act hip hop festival, for some reason they all seem to be slightly cursed. At least fans know a local festival’s going to be quality and they’ll get what they pay for.”
The demand for live hip hop at music festivals is obviously there or otherwise it wouldn’t keep showing up in general-purpose festivals. This year El-P played at Laneway and even Soundwave had Cypress Hill. The Herd are no stranger to that job, having been an atypical hip hop act on the bill at festivals like Splendour. “When we started, when we first got on festivals it was a bit of a novelty,” says Kennedy.
“I think hip hop’s part of the musical landscape now. It’s not as unusual as it was and surprisingly there’s a lot of bands that you meet at these festivals that you wouldn’t expect to be hip hop fans [who are]. I think musos generally are not so concerned about genre, they’re more concerned with the quality of the music. We’ve definitely met quite a few non-hip hop heads who are fans of our music at those festivals.”
Those acts have included Paul Kelly (“that was a big surprise at the time”), Ash Grunwald, who then appeared on an album by Kennedy’s side project Astronomy Class, and one more, perhaps most surprising of all: “Bernard Fanning! He gave us big props once.”
BY JODY MACGREGOR