Invasion Fest 2020: a mighty return for the Australian all-ages hardcore festival

Invasion Fest 2020 was a great time for our homegrown heavy heroes to shine alongside some of hardcore’s best.
[Header photo: Gravemind, photo by Ivan Souriyavong.]

The number of Aussie festivals on the scene lately makes it more important than ever for an event to have a clear-cut reason to exist. How will it differ from what’s already on offer? How is the lineup unique, as opposed to a re-hash? Is it just the same as going to a show with more supports, or does this feel like an actual show that’s worth shelling out the extra change for? These questions where no doubt ever-present in the mind of Invasion Fest organizers and Destroy All Lines promoter, Ash Hull, in the lead-up to the event’s massive 2020 return – the last Invasion Fest was back in 2017 – and in what marked the show’s first-ever interstate appearance in Sydney.

There were a few things perhaps already in the organizer’s favour that gave them a head start in this area. To begin with, this all-ages festival (which traditionally showcases the brightest up-and-coming local hardcore and metalcore acts in a more intimate environment) took a break in 2019 and 2018. It was a two-years-off move that’s not only allowed loads of newer acts to make themselves known as exciting prospects to look out for and book but also to significantly build up more of the hot anticipation for the festival than usual. The proof is in the pudding: this sold out months in advance.

With a new city, bigger and better staging and lighting, and the addition of some pretty damn exciting international acts and a crazy Australian death metal reunion, it felt like the announcement for Invasion’s 2020 installment was already ahead of the curve. It’s all now moving into a world usually inhabited by traditionally “bigger” events, yet come the big day, things felt in no way out of place as a result. Invasion Fest was built upon the local bands doing it hard on the national circuit and that was evident throughout.

Giving smaller yet emerging acts like Honest Crooks, Diamond Construct, Bloom, Falcifer, Crave Death (who we weren’t aware of until their announcement on this bill), Homesick and Life’s Ill the chance to perform on the celebrated Metro Theatre and Lair stages as their own showcase – opposed to a support act crammed around a headliners gear – was a huge level up for all involved. Not just for the bands themselves by the look of things, but also for the punters who’ve made the constant trips out to those smaller DIY rooms and clubs to catch these acts in their usual habitats.

Healthy turnouts for out-of-towners like Daybreak and Sleep Talk (fresh off Unify 2020 ) drove home the point that the growing heavy scene in Australia is absolutely larger and more dedicated than what’s seen on your standard Friday night at AM//PM. (When there’s not emo cover nights happening.) 1,200+ tickets flew out of the door for this and huge pits and sing-alongs across the board never lie; this is a scene that’s engaged and constantly embracing newer acts that come raging out from all corners of the country.

Aussie core music of late has put Down Under on the radar of so many international listeners, and the experiences of touring overseas shows in how these bands present themselves on stage. Perhaps THE set of the festival belonged to Invasion Fest veterans, Sydney’s Justice For The Damned, who’s chainsaw riffage and abrasive breakdowns where executed in a surgical yet almost joyful fashion by a band that has gone from playing to less than 50 people to in front of hundreds, if not thousands, on stages around the world. Self-evident by their tight performance and insane crowd response; that pit-call in ‘Please Don’t Leave Me‘ is staggering!

Likewise, Melbourne’s Alpha Wolf, who’ve been getting their fair share of exposure across the ocean’s recently, have honed and developed their live show to that of a down-tuned, nu-metalcore schizophrenic fury; a real far cry from the over-reliant backing track driven shows of their early days. Iron sharpens iron in this world and seeing such clear, evident personal growth on-stage is both fascinating and euphoric to witness. I mean it when I say that Australia has some of the best heavy acts in the whole bloody world.

Of course, delivering the international services of bruising, violent hardcore were Malevolence, Terror, Jesus Piece (making their live Australian debut) and the much-hyped headliners, Knocked Loose – all huge moments for the fest. As was having Hate5six himself, AKA Sunny Singh, in attendance, capturing footage of the bands’ sets for his archival and thriving YouTube channel. Allowing smaller Aussie bands the chance to have their music reach new eyes and ears the world over when his gnarly live videos of their sets drop, being treated the same way that Sunny captures artists during those This Is Hardcore sets, will be a real treat for the scene.

Even then, there was also a high awareness and respect shown to the roots of the event –  the community of Australian hardcore. This was evident in how a percentage of ticket sales were donated to the KARI Foundation and Girls Rock Australia. It was also driven home by Jimmy Kyle from Chasing Ghosts being given a few minutes prior to Knocked Loose’s set to speak to this packed Metro about Indigenous culture, reading a message in Aboriginal language before translating into English, and to also encourage and respectfully thank the punters for providing a safe space for indigenous fans of heavy music to express themselves. (Onya, Jimmy.) At the end of the day, Invasion Fest was a celebration of community. Something that is sometimes forgotten in Australia.

Invasion was definitely a time to celebrate the present, but also a moment to reflect on the foundation laid by some the pioneers of Australian extreme heavy music, with local legends The Red Shore playing live for the first time in nine years. Whilst the band was down vocalist Chase Butler, with him out doing his bit fighting the fires (well-done mate; please donate to Wires if you can) Jack The Stripper frontman Luke Frizon stood in for what was his first show with a band since JTS ended in 2016, and he murdered it! He was a perfect fill-in, allowing oldies like ‘Flesh Couture,’ ‘Garden Of Impurity,’ ‘Valentine’s Day Massacre,’ and ‘Vehmenance The Phoenix‘ to really hold up; you could tell that the band was so thrilled to be performing these songs again live after so long.

This day was also a chance for some of the world’s best to join in on the Aussie-heavy party. For perhaps one of the most symbolic moments of the night came when an array of guests joined Knocked Loose on-stage –  Steffanie Adele from Caged ExistenceBobak Rafiee from JFTD and, somewhat surprisingly, John Floreani from Trophy Eyes during ‘Counting Worms,’ which unsurprisingly went off. Each vocalist getting right up alongside vocalist Bryan Garris in musical solidarity and in my mind, proving that Australia is on-par with the sheer strength of the deservingly much-celebrated international heavy scene. Whether Invasion returns in 2021 or takes some time off again before striking once more, there will always be a place, a necessity, and a passionate love for AA events like this here in Australia. 

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