Sonica Music Festival, Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne, March 17th 2023 – Live Review

A music festival celebrating Asian culture and pop music is something I always craved to be a part of, to recognise the diversity of artists from around the world and discover musicians that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise.

Thankfully, SONICA Music Festival made this happen right in the heart of Melbourne at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl on Friday March 17th with a fantastic line-up of artists; Gareth.T, Gentle Bones, 1nonly, Amber Liu, Henry Lau, and ZICO! Unfortunately, due to time restraints and visa issues, 1nonly was unable to make it to Australia and was forced to cancel his attendance 3 days before the festival. It was disappointing and a shame but 1nonly did mention that he will come to Australia as soon as he can!

After settling in and getting a good spot, surrounded by food trucks serving delicious Asian treats, I was ready for hours of entertainment and fun and was excited for the festival to begin.

First off the bat was Hong Kong singer-songwriter Gareth.T who jumped on stage with a Bruce Lee (or Kill Bill style) type of yellow jumpsuit. Starting strong with his Cantonese track ‘孤單 (Lonely)’, witnessing Gareth perform was like getting a glimpse into a close friend’s diary. His music is so genuine and so personalised that every song has a back story. His hit single ‘Boyfriend Material’ had the crowd swaying from side to side before jumping into his acoustic part of the set with ‘Honest’, ’Speed Limit’, and ‘國際孤獨等級 (Loner Anthem)’.

Gareth mentioned that when he wrote ‘Benjamin Franklin’ with his friend Jacob, and it was their dream to get rich one day with the goal to upgrade away from economy class. He thanked SONICA as this dream was fulfilled when SONICA flew him down to Melbourne via business class. I also loved the energy that Gareth brought to the crowd with ‘Whole World’ that inspired everyone to put their hands up in the air and wave to the chorus before everyone shifted to jump along to ‘Shibuya Drift’.

If music was like a warm hug, that would be Gentle Bones. In 40 minutes, he sung a total of 14 songs back-to-back with next to no breaks or pauses in between. From ‘Positive Procrastination’, ‘A Day At A Time’, to ‘Good In Me’, these songs oozed out of him like honey from a jar. His outfit was a simple plain white tee and shirt, and his stage consisted of only him. The focus was purely on his music and I appreciated how raw and personal it felt.

Gentle Bones did get a little playful as he crouched down next to the security guard while serenading him to ‘你還不知道? (Don’t You Know Yet?)’ which brought giggles to the crowd. As someone who had been recently listening to ‘Better With You’ quite constantly, my heart was comforted hearing the song live and I was excited to sing along.

Gentle Bones not only performed his latest single ‘The Right Words’ but also, he dropped his newest song ‘Please Excuse My Hesitation’ which is to be released next week. Interestingly, he took off his outer shirt and hung it on a clothes rack before performing the song, as if it was a peek into his inner world. The shirt wasn’t taken off stage. Instead, it was hung on the empty clothes rack and it felt like he removed his protective layer and was vulnerable with the Melbourne audience while sharing his true emotions; perfectly leading into his tracks ‘Shouldn’t Have To Run’, ‘At Least I Had You’, ’Until We Die’, and ‘Dear Me’.

Next on the line-up was no other than the one and only Amber Liu. Her stage presence and charisma were off the charts and she had Melbourne crowd immediately on their feet and cheering. Beginning with ‘Easier’, her unique vocal colours travelled across the venue before jumping into more upbeat track ‘Hands Behind My Back’ where she was able to show off her charm accompanied by two dancers. Amber greeted the audience with a puff jokingly saying she turned 30 last year, is now too tired and needs a water break. This comment was accompanied with a sexy face and some cheeky body rolls while she consumed her water.

Amber performed her unreleased track ‘Dusk ‘Til Dawn’ before the crowd turned into a beautiful starry ocean during the ballad, ‘Numb’. Liu mentioned she spent too much time telling herself she couldn’t do things based off other people’s comments and opinions. She shared that she was tired of that life and instead chose to work hard and push herself to be the best person she can be. It was very inspiring listening to Amber speak while she encouraged the audience to believe in themselves citing that at the end of the day, that is what is most important.

Teaching the crowd to sing along to her latest single, ‘No More Sad Songs’, Amber became emotional hearing the loud chants and cheers from the Melbourne audience, almost moving her to tears. But in true Amber nature, she brought the dynamic energy back, having patrons on their feet for ‘Countdown’ and her last song for the night, ‘Other People’.

My personal favourite act of night though would without a doubt be Henry Lau. His entrance on stage was both phenomenal and breathtaking. With the smoke machine turned up, Henry majestically emerged from the smoke from a strut into an impressive violin solo before belting into the Korean version of ‘Radio’. I was in awe as he made use of live loops and instantaneously created a well layered track for Aussie artist Tones and I’s ‘Dance Monkey’ and Charlie Puth’s ‘Attention’.

We got close and personal with his iconic track ‘Monster’ and saw his love for music radiate through his performance to the crowd with his new song, ‘Moonlight’. Lau mentioned he likes turning sounds he can find and making them into a song which indeed showcased true artistry as he demonstrated how one man and a variety of miscellaneous items, such as a wheely bin and an empty oil barrel, can be turned into a song on the spot with his one man band.

Many times throughout Henry Lau’s short 40 minute set, I had goosebumps over his spectacular high notes and musical talent. How one man can master the violin, keyboard, cello, guitar and blend classical and pop music into a masterpiece?

Of course, in Henry’s playful and mischievous nature, he wasn’t letting the crowd off without a splash, after a quick side eye off stage to make sure it was okay to do so. His crowd control was amazing with energy transmitting to the audience which creating a perfect opportunity for him to snap an Instagram story. After a few rounds of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi, oi, oi!”, Henry concluded his set with, ‘It’s You’, beautifully accompanied by harmonies from the Melbourne crowd.

The venue reached peak capacity and the energy was roaring for the final act, ZICO! Hitting the stage in full black attire, the crowd went wild to ‘Freak’ and ‘Artist’ before ZICO introduced himself and hyped the audience up even more with viral hit ‘Any Song’. The beautiful starry ocean returned for ‘I Am You, You Are Me’ before a second peak was reached with ‘New Thing’ where the energy in the crowd was electrifying and infectious.

ZICO mentioned he only arrived in Melbourne just before coming straight to the music festival and that he hadn’t yet explored the city. He thanked SONICA for bringing him down before introducing his last song, a throwback back to 2015, ‘Turtle Ship’. Needless to say, the night was not over. He returned back on stage with ‘Okay Dokey’, a song which conjured the loudest of chants of all the festival.

This moment reminded me of the exact reason why I enjoy live music so much! I love the atmosphere created when the entire audience sings along and throws away the stresses of everyday life. We live in the moment and simply enjoy what’s ahead. When ZICO left the stage, the crowd chanted for an encore and he obliged, returning for his final song, ‘Boys and Girls’.

SONICA Music Festival was most certainly a success! Yes, there were small flaws with notice, organisation between sets and overall sound quality, but that was easily overlooked from how energetic and strong the line-up was. Every artist was incredibly stable live and captivated at every moment during their individual performances. The Melbourne weather was also luckily perfect for the event that night at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl.

I loved SONICA Music Festival and I look forward to more opportunities that support and showcase Asian pop culture and music in Melbourne in the hopefully not too distant future.

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Photography supplied.

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