Live Review: Expo Liaison imitated the ’80s but created a refreshing festival experience in Sydney

Expo Liaison was billed as Client Liaison‘s three date-festival in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane that would follow the flair, colour and spirit of the 1980’s. Headlined by Client Liaison, the festival featured special guest John Farnham, DJ John Howard, Luke Million featuring KLP, No Zu, Alice Ivy, Total Giovanni, Ken Davis, Kon and Rainbow Chan. It was 80’s indulgence from start till finish and in the process of trying to imitate the ’80s, Client Liaison ended up creating their own unique and refreshing Australian event.

Located in Luna Park, the event spanned the two floors of the Big Top. Upstairs, a smaller bar upstairs offered respite to smokers and those who wanted a less-crowded atmosphere whilst still listening to mixes from the likes of Ken Davis, Kon and Rainbow Chan. Ken Davis was a multi-instrumentalist who would transition from sprawling and cinematic piano scores into pumping 80s dance music with monotonous vocoder vocals over the top. Drum machines met the calming, lullaby-esque vocals of Rainbow Chan as the sky began to darken and lights around Luna Park started shining outside. Kon looped soul, funk and Motown samples in a vibrant, distinctive and infectious mix of swirling brass hooks and clapping.

Just outside the doors upstairs, Expo Liaison sentimentally transported us back to decades prior with ice sculpture and woodchop installations. A four foot high block of ice was quickly chiseled away into Australian winter Olympian Steven Bradbury with his arm raised. Right next to the sculpting, three woodchop sessions took place throughout the afternoon to entertain crowds outside who warmed themselves up in the cold by cheering and yelling at the axe-wielding sportsman.

Downstairs the main stage was enclosed by two large blue and white Expo Liaison banners that hung from floor to ceiling as well as assortments of flower bouquets. Melbourne’s No Zu were an army of contagious funk as they opened the main stage. Set highlight and closer “Raw Vis Vision” saw the eight-piece swing between bongo solos, brass induced chorus’ and chanting vocals. In front of neon bars that silhouetted him for most of his set, Luke Million did more than just accommodate the 1980’s, he reigned in the eras notable and iconic synth and vocoder sounds and molded them into his own special sound. A keytar was frequently brought out in a set that featured his Stranger Things remix, the crowd doing squats to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s demands of “down, up, down, up” in “Arnold” and duet with KLP “Light & Sound.”

Alice Ivy (aka Annika Schmarsel) brought her new album I’m Dreaming to the main stage and a growing crowd that happily obliged Schmarsel’s conducting of the crowd to lower and then jump to the ensuing beat drop. Part dreamy and part electronic vibrancy, Alice Ivy proved why you’ll soon be seeing rising up the bill on festivals. Dressed in white and pale blue tracksuits, Melbourne quintet Total Giovanni strutted the stage in front of pastel and tropical visuals. With his back tot he crowd, lead singer Vincent D placed his hands on the back of his head and circled his hips to the growing bass line of Shidi Amin that was becoming more bubbly. Their set closing comments of calling Malcolm Turnbull a “cunt” and shouting “don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out” was met with light applause and heavy laughter.

Billed as “John Howard (DJ set)“, there wasn’t much known about the penultimate act on the bill but before long enough, a person in a rubber John Howard mask and mid-2000’s Wallabies tracksuit walked (with a hunched posture) to a set of mixing desks. Dropping tracks like “Chameleon” by PNAU, Fisher’s “Crowd Control”, “When A Fire Starts To Burn” by Disclosure, “Faded” by Zhu and Modjo’s “Lady”, John Howard had the entire Big Top (which was now heavily crowded) in shared bliss as they moshed and cheered to a cleverly constructed set of house classics and archival visuals of John Howard waving to people in the streets and shaking hands.

With the ex-PM now off-stage, scaffolding was removed to show the set that was being constructed during John Howard’s set. Stairs lined both sides of the stage with a platform at the back immediately below a large projector screen. As the lights went out, LED lights around three mixing desks lit up like the controls of the Millenium Falcon and there they were, the festival curators, organisers and artists themselves – Client Liaison. Stood still and striking a pose at the top of the steps, the four-piece then strutted into their positions as set opener “Canberra Won’t Be Calling Tonight” also welcomed four female dancers on stage. Constant microphone throwing tricks from lead singer Monty Morgan, synced step routines with the rest of the band and a punching light show further proved the band’s zeal and devotion to be more than an ironic take on 80’s culture. It was a celebration, exhibition and reinvention of the time. A bass solo from Tom “Double T” Tilley unfortunately couldn’t be heard due to the mix but the Triple J Hack host would later steal the show when beaming “I just got back from Canberra last night, what a shit show it is down there.”

After some outfit changes the band brought out John Farnham who raised his arms to absorb the cheers from the youthful crowd. He then began a three song appearance from a time “before most of you were born,” he joked to the crowd. “Pressure Down,” Age of Reason” saw Farnesy do his trademark stiffening of arms whilst holding a microphone down near his waist that still somehow picked up the perfect roar of a scream. “You might know the words to this one,” Farnham smiled as the signatures claps of “You’re The Voice” floated over the crowd. It was naturally an all-out sing-a-long. There were no voice issues with the 69 year old who wore a constant smile whilst on stage. For three songs, Client Liaison had a fifth member and as good as John Farnham’s inclusion was, Client Liaison could have stolen the show by themselves. Morgan performed synchronised dance numbers with the dancers throughout the entire set that featured all their recent hits – “Survival in the City” into “Wild Life” into “Off White Limousine.” Flame and spark pyrotechnics that accentuated the beats and chorus’ of most of the set were excessive and extreme and that is exactly why Client Liaison successfully proved to be the heroes of their festival.

Here’s hoping Expo Liaison will become an annual event on the Australian festival circuit. Keep an eye on the band’s official website for announcements!

FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Lachlan Mitchell

Since 2011, I have been a staff writer, photographer and videographer for the AU review in Sydney. I contribute across all branches of the site including music, arts, food & lifestyle, tech and travel and create pieces that incorporate a mix of writing, photography and video.