O-La Fest has had a somewhat troubled history; it was originally slated for a date last year, and was going to be a two day festival with a wide variety of Korean and Chinese artists, featuring Chungha as a headliner. That fell through, and the event was delayed and downsized. I get the impression that the organisers are a bit inexperienced; I hope they’ve gained a lot of experience from this event and are now better equipped to arrange more great events in the future!
The event took place at the venue that most kpop concerts in Sydney seem to take place at, the Big Top at Luna Park. It is kind of fun to line up for a concert at an amusement park. The line moved smoothly and upon entering the venue we were all given free inflatable lightsticks, which was a nice touch! Unfortunately one of mine did break immediately.
I originally bought tickets for the seated area, because I’m lazy and love to sit, but I received an email a couple of days before the event informing me that everyone with a seated ticket was going to be moved to the general admission dancefloor. I get the feeling that this was because ticket sales were a bit too low to justify having that extra seated floor. It wasn’t really an issue for me; I quite enjoyed being a bit closer to the stage and jumping and dancing with everyone. The crowd was fairly small so it wasn’t overly cramped but there was plenty of energy.
The event was hosted by Andy Trieu of SBS PopAsia, likely a familiar face to anyone who has ever attended a kpop event in Sydney as he hosts literally all of them. The show kicked off with a couple of DJs to get the crowd warmed up. The first, Nick Kim, played mostly kpop, while the second, Reko, spinned mostly hardstyle club music. We then got a short set from Korean Australian rapper Mike Choe, who gave a pretty energetic and winsome performance. Then it was on to the first of our headliners!
BewhY had a very laid back stage presence that exuded cool. His rapping was effortlessly impressive and he also performed the most songs of any artist on the night. I love his track GOTTASADAE but wasn’t that familiar with much of his other work; I still really enjoyed his set and judging from the energy, so did most of the crowd. He also promised to give a like to every tagged instagram post about his performance, which went over very well. Andy Trieu supplied the night’s cringiest moment in his brief interaction with BewhY; the anti-chemistry between the two was of the charts and hilarious to witness.
We then got a brief intermission with a group of local dancers performing Jessi’s Gucci, and then, our appetites for Jessi sufficiently whetted, we waited for her to take the stage. Awkwardly, we were waiting for quite a while; she later explained that she had been napping backstage due to jetlag. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Jessi’s music, but it does have a good energy in a live setting, and I found Jessi to have a really fun and likeable stage presence. She was friendly and candid with the audience and came across as an incredibly nice, sweet and genuine person, inviting quite a few fans up to the stage to take photos with her and promising to come back soon to do a solo concert. She performed Gucci last and invited the dancers from earlier to perform it with her, which was lovely!
Our last headlining act was boy group SF9 who started their set with a great performance of their newest song Good Guy, then performed Now Or Never before introducing themselves. Inseong did the majority of the talking as the member most fluent in English. They then performed one of my favourite SF9 songs, O Sole Mio, followed by b-side Like The Hands Held Tight. There was a short celebration of Taeyang’s birthday, with the audience singing and Andy bringing out a nice looking chocolate cake with the SF9 logo on it. Their last song was Play Hard, and unfortunately there seemed to be some mic issues as most of their voices were inaudible during this song. But hey, that goes to prove they weren’t lipsyncing, and their dancing was still great!
I heard quite a few people around me express displeasure that they only performed five songs and call for an encore; clearly some fans had come just to see SF9 and were disappointed that they had waited so long for such a short set. But the night wasn’t over yet; bizarrely, the last performance of the evening was from dance crew Pretty Boy Swagg. It was a short, energetic and highly entertaining show, with some impressive flips, breakdancing, and humour, but it was definitely a weird note to end on and didn’t really have anything to do with Korean music.
Overall, O-La Fest was a pretty fun event. I’m not sure how well this particular lineup gelled and I do wish SF9 had performed a few more songs, but I quite enjoy this format of having a variety of artists perform, and highlighting both international and local talent; I might not have gone to a solo concert of most of these acts, but I really liked having the opportunity to see them perform and get to know them better through these shorter sets. It’s a shame that tickets didn’t seem to sell too well, but I’m hopeful that there will be more O-La Fests in the future that are promoted better and are more popular. I would definitely attend another event like this is the future. Thanks to the organisers and performers for a great show!