Performance review: Adelaide Guitar Festival, Adelaide Festival Centre

Two performances showcasing guitar-based music in its various forms, from classical orchestras to death metal.
Metal band performing on stage to crowd.

The incredible classical skills of the Melbourne Guitar Quartet and the Adelaide Guitar Festival Orchestra, and the heart-pounding power of death metal by Freedom of Fear, represent two extremes of guitar-based music showcased in the Adelaide Guitar Festival (AGF).

Melbourne Guitar Quartet and Adelaide Guitar Festival Orchestra

The evening began on a high note with intricate classical music presented by two amazing performances. First, the Adelaide Guitar Festival Orchestra (AGFO) followed by the Melbourne Guitar Quartet (MGQ).

This year marks the ninth performance of the AGFO since its integration into the Festival in 2014. It’s filled with around 60 talented guitarists of all ages from across South Australia.

Led by the charismatic conductor, teacher and composer, Dr Paul Svoboda, the orchestra performed beautifully. From complex classical compositions to the recognisable theme ‘The Joker’, that many may know from TV series Kath and Kim, they dazzled the audience with their melodic prowess.

While there were a few stray chords here and there, the talent presented by this orchestra was astounding. Especially when the entire performance was learned over a five-day period in the Adelaide Guitar Festival Winter School Program.

These individuals played so phenomenally that it was truly a shame they were limited to the one performance.

Following the AGFO was the Melbourne Guitar Quartet. They showcased a range of classical guitar compositions that left the audience in awe of their skill.

The MGQ grabbed the audience’s attention from the first note plucked. They mesmerised the audience as their hands danced about the necks of their guitars with perfect precision. The MGQ played soothing yet intricate songs from multiple Australian composers, including Phillip Houghton, Robert Davidson and Nigel Westlake.

The MGQ changed between guitars throughout the performance. They used four standard guitars, as well as a guitar family, including the variants such as a treble, bass and baritone. This added incredible complexity to their sound and showcased the different qualities each instrument brought to the music, especially with the percussion they interwove into the performance.

Overall, this was a unique double feature, with both groups being a must-see should a future opportunity arise, be it online or in person.

Freedom of Fear

Heart-pumping bass, head-banging drums, fast-paced guitar riffs and powerful vocals greeted the audience of the AGF’s first official metal performance. The event’s opening act, Ekosa, started with a bang, taking the title for first metal band of the Festival. The five-piece progressive metal outfit from Adelaide provided a cacophony of noise, with their three talented guitarists, their drummer putting his all into the performance and their charismatic singer.

An interesting highlight of their show was Ekosa’s inclusion of the didgeridoo in their music. The Indigenous instrument added another layer of intrigue into their sound. This effect became even more prominent when combined with the classic heavy drums and guitar riffs well-known to the metal genre.

Following their strong performance was the main event of the night, Freedom of Fear, Adelaide’s technical death and melodic black metal band. With gripping vocals, incredible guitarists and a mysterious and powerful stage presence, the band had the crowd head-banging to the beat.

The instruments occasionally drowned out the singer Jade Monserrat‘s vocal growls, but this didn’t stop her from screaming her heart out into the mic.

Freedom of Fear’s technical skill was astounding. The guitarists hands blurred with how fast they were playing the riffs during instrumental sections. Their performance hardly paused as the band transitioned between songs with ambient sounds that mixed well with the dynamic lighting.

This was a performance that left your ears ringing and your heart pounding in the best of ways. Ekosa and Freedom of Fear are certainly two bands to keep an eye out for.

The Adelaide Guitar Festival ran from 1-16 July.

This article is published under the Amplify Collective, an initiative supported by The Walkley Foundation and made possible through funding from the Meta Australian News Fund.

Ekkia Evans is a writer and photographer who is part of ArtsHub's Amplify Collective. She acquired a Bachelor of Media and BA in English at The University of Adelaide, and has been a theatre critic for The Adelaide Show Podcast since 2020. Ekkia also hosts two music shows, 'Mix it Up' and 'Regional Rewind', on her local community radio station, BBBfm 89.1. Ekkia is based in Ngadjuri/Barossa Valley, SA.