Vertex Festival’s final day started off with lots and lots of coffee. Two days of festin’ had really taken a toll on my body. I was literally unable to stop dancing during Saturday night’s last two sets, Lettuce and Odesza. But once the caffeine set in, I began counting down the hours until my most anticipated band of the festival, Hiatus Kaiyote, took the stage.
Every now and then, a band comes along that lives within its own reality of creating, and it’s as if their songwriting, lyrical composition and genre styling is other worldly. And that’s Hiatus Kaiyote, a group that cannot be defined or placed into typical music categories or stereotypes. Each one of the band’s songs bends genres and take you on a journey of various meters, dynamic harmonies, polyrhythms, and melodic exploration.
Hiatus Kaiyote was formed in Melbourne, Australia in 2011. The band is made up of members Naomi "Nai Palm" Saalfield (vocals/guitar), Paul Bender (bass), Simon Mavin (keyboards) and Perrin Moss (drums/percussion). Hiatus Kaiyote independently released their first album, Tawk Tomahawk, in 2012. In 2013, their song "Nakamarra”, was nominated for a Grammy for Best R&B Performance. The band released their second album, Choose Your Weapon, in May of 2015. Their song "Breathing Underwater", from that album, was then nominated for Best R&B Performance at the 2016 Grammy Awards.
Lead singer Nai Palm is a strong, creative force. She walked onstage last night wearing a badass sparkle leotard, a glitter shawl, and rocking a sweet Michael Jackson earring. The tone of her voice was stunningly smooth and silky, with moments of raspy lower tones that gave me goosebumps. Her abilities to use her voice as a percussive instrument were possibly even more impressive than her effortless tone. She is clearly well studied. Artists that drop melody lines like her have to be immensely well versed in Jazz music theory, with a deep understanding of diatonic, whole-tone and octatonic scales.
There were times I stood entranced, watching HK as I desperately tried to take in every element and layer of their music. As much as your body wants to groove with them, dancing to their songs can prove to be rather challenging. There were Latin vamps, swinging breakdowns, full stops to progressive rock beats, and R&B baselines throughout their set. And just when Nai Palm was mid-syllable of a word or a note, the song would transition in and out of meters. Can you “drop into” their crazy rhythmic interplay? I was tired, and I’m sure I looked completely crazy dancing to their tunes, but I enjoyed every second of it.
Hiatus Kaiyote dropped two news songs on us at their Vertex show during their afternoon set. As far as I remember, they did not introduce them with titles, but here’s to hoping they release them as singles this year. The two mystery tracks were some of the best in their set.
Watch a live performance of Hiatus Kaiyote's "Molasses":
Finally, the band's mid-afternoon set started to come to an end. When Nai Palm announced the band had two songs left, the crowd began chanting, "Ten more songs! Ten more songs!" Between their performance and the crowd's clear connection with the band, I felt like this was actually an act who deserved to be a headliner at this festival, as opposed to their Sunday afternoon spot time.
Hiatus Kaiyote is a band I have a deep respect and appreciation for in what they’re choosing to share with the world. I recommend them to anyone who wants to explore contemporary/ future soul music because the members of this band are creative forces, true scholars, and masters of their craft. Their set was a major Vertex highlight, and you should definitely check out their music here.
All photos per the author for BolderBeat. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.