Why Pnau are still one of Australia’s best festival acts

It’s just gone 7:45pm at Sydney’s Centennial Park, and crowds of people are bolting across the festival grounds.

The movement is so sudden it’s as if an alarm clock had suddenly gone off. Which is pretty close to the truth, if you replace the alarm clock with an almighty boom of noise from the 909 Stage, where Pnau have just started their set. The warping synths of ‘Into The Sky’ are wafting over the heads of thousands of devoted and sweaty punters, who have turned out in force to see the veterans in full festival flight.

The trio have played a few shows since their comeback single ‘Chameleon’ was released in November last year, but this performance at Listen Out feels very much like a homecoming — a retaking of the Australian dance crown.

After 2011’s underwhelming Soft Universe and 2012’s Elton John remix album, Good Morning To The Night, you could have been forgiven for thinking that Pnau’s best music was behind them. Those albums bore nothing as madcap or as brilliant as ‘Wild Strawberries’, ‘Embrace’, or ‘Baby’ — and with Nick Littlemore and Peter Mayes both working hard on other projects, it felt as if Pnau’s gilded run at the top of Australia’s dance scene had rushed to an end.

Then ‘Chameleon’ happened.

In early November — only a couple of weeks after Nick Littlemore let slip in an interview with me that new Pnau music was coming — they exploded back onto the scene with a song that recalled the giddy, crazed highs of their 2007 album Pnau. ‘Chameleon’ became the dance anthem of the summer, landing on our list of the Best Dance Tracks of 2016 and at #11 in triple j’s Hottest 100. It was certified platinum. They even picked up a new member: Sam Littlemore, who worked with them on Pnau. 

After four years in the wilderness, Pnau were back.

There’s no hint of rust on Pnau tonight. They are a tightly-oiled machine, led by the arresting and utterly bonkers Nick Littlemore. Draped in a black cloak and wildly gesticulating towards the sky, he whirls his way through ‘Into The Sky’ and ‘Wild Strawberries’ — which is rapturously received by the crowd. They follow it up with a run of unreleased tracks from their upcoming Changa album, including the bounding ‘Nothin In The World’ and ‘Getting Tough’.

Photo by Pat Stevenson

For the most part they stick to the favourites. Pnau tracks like ‘We Have Tomorrow’, ‘No More Violence’, ‘Come Together’, ‘Lover’, and ‘With You Forever’ hit one right after the other, with ‘Chameleon’ vocalist Kira Devine on hand to provide Littlemore with support. The crowd loses its collective shit when ‘Embrace’ hits with a shower of blinding strobes and steam, while Littlemore stands on stage, arms outspread like an icon, screaming at the top of his lungs.

It’s chaotic, it’s over the top — it’s Pnau at their very best.

“It’s chaotic, it’s over the top — it’s Pnau at their very best.”

Before they close out with ‘Chameleon’, Littlemore takes the time to implore the crowd to vote yes against a massive rainbow backdrop — and his voice is nearly drowned out by the cheers that are returned in full.

As for ‘Chameleon’… well, if there’s a better Aussie festival banger out there right now, I’d like to hear it.

Pnau are back, baby.

Pnau Listen Out Sydney setlist

‘Into The Sky’
‘Wild Strawberries’
‘Nothin In The World’
‘Getting Tough’
‘Go Bang’
‘Fresh Kills’
‘We Have Tomorrow’
‘No More Violence’
‘With You Forever’
‘Come Together’
‘Control Your Body’
‘La Grenouille’

Article image by Pat Stevenson