Festival Season – Australian edition

My season of bush doofs kicked off in November, whereupon I volunteered at Subsonic music and arts festival. With the likes of Honey Dijon, Zip and Jayda G descending on Riverwood Downs (just over 3 hours North of Sydney), I couldn’t possibly miss out but my budget held me back, so volunteering seemed like a great way to guarantee a ticket by trading off a couple hours work for a free weekend pass. Wanting to be placed on the set-up shift, I wrote an email describing my self-proclaimed artistic flair and somehow bagged a role helping the arts team. This meant arriving for the festival on the dark, rainy Tuesday before it began, unable to pitch our tent and thus forced to spend our first night sleeping in the car. Despite the persistent storm, the organisers put us to work setting up the site, creating decorations for the site. Come Friday, we were finished, and ready to boogie. Having been part of the effort to get the arena ready for the festival patrons, it was cool to walk around Subsonic and see how everything had shaped up; as soon as the music began, the sun came out and the weekend proceeded in high spirits. In between acts, we dipped into the river that ran alongside the campsite, as both an alternative to showering and an attempt to cool down in the almost unbearable heat. The weekend’s highlight for me was Move D’s set down at the River Stage, and on Monday I left the festival site feeling fulfilled, if slightly fragile.

                Next on my list of Aussie festivals, was Lost Paradise, ran over New Years in Glenworth Valley. Needless to say, it did not disappoint. Having put enough money aside to buy my ticket rather than volunteer, I only opted for the 3-day ticket, so we arrived a day later than some festival-goers, and set up camp next to the river (having learnt the importance of this in the sweltering 36 oC heat I had experienced at Subsonic). It is here that I must point out one of the stark contrasts between British and Australian festivals. My friends were spread across several camps, and ours consisted of just 4 girls in a small circle of one-man tents; we were pretty unprepared, with roll mats substituting camping chairs, and no gazebo for shelter. And yet, our Aussie neighbours, who had been coming for the past few years, posed no threat to the security of our belongings, instead offering us to join them under their shade when they spotted us getting sunburnt, and keeping an eye on our tents for us whenever we were not around. How different this felt from having our chairs stolen at Reading festival, or having to put a padlock on my tent at Boomtown, and I mentally noted the friendliness of the crowd throughout the festival. Even in the face of the tragic deaths that occurred that weekend, everyone managed to come together to fight back against the nanny state’s increased police presence and harsh security checks to instil the most effective safety measure at festivals: looking out for each other.

Lost Paradise promised an immense line-up, ranging from Bicep and Peggy Gou to Tash Sultana to Joey Bada$$ – meaning there was something for everyone. The music aside, the standout attraction of Lost was the consideration and effort that had gone into the production. The valley had been transformed into a hippy’s haven, with stages built of bamboo, and the tepee tents of Shambala Fields offering not only amazing vegan delicacies, but yoga and meditation workshops. These activities made such a difference to the mornings, when it was far too hot to be dancing in the sun, and retreating to the shade or the river was commonplace, nursing hangovers until we were ready to get back out there.

                And as the clock struck indicating the commencement of the new year, crowds around the festival celebrated together, drinks and doof sticks in hand – strangers sprinkled with bioglitter, brought together by a love of music and partying, wishing each other happiness and luck for 2019.

After a month off, February offered Laneway, a day festival held in heritage listed parklands in Rozelle; less intense than the other festivals I had attended, I managed to catch some of my favourite artists including Rex Orange County and Jorja Smith, on whom I have the ultimate girl-crush.

Next up: Secret Garden for what would be the final 48 hour disco for the festival’s 5000 yearly attendees. Our group arrived on the morning shuttle, and snuck shampoo bottles full of now soapy spirits past the entrance checks before setting up camp. In light of previous festivals, it was common knowledge that security would be tight, but I could not have pre-empted the heightened police presence, with hoards of officers roaming in packs, following the trusty noses of the drugs dogs. Possibly the smallest of the festivals I attended this Summer, Secret Garden had the greatest attendee: law enforcement ratio, which seemed somewhat excessive. It saddens me to think that the NSW police force still prioritise prosecution over harm minimisation, and I can only hope that after recent protests across the state, the government will reconsider implementing drug testing services like the UK’s The Loop, to help protect the proportion of festival-goers who will experiment with substances, rather than use fear-factor in a fugitive attempt to achieve drugs-free events.

Aside from this, I cannot fault the festival, which was on par with larger UK festivals such as Boomtown in terms of production and organisation. Before attending, I had only heard of a handful of the DJs and performers, which contrasted the attraction of some of the bigger line-ups that had drawn me to attend Subsonic and Lost Paradise; part of me thinks that this was favourable, as I felt no pressure to rush from stage to stage and could fully enjoy the wonderland that the organisers had created, with slides, talent shows and operatic performances thrust into an extravagant and embellished setting. The response to the theme (‘Disco on a Spaceship’) was incredible, and I commend the Australians for the energy they put into costume and outfit design for every festival I went to. Think wigs, think glitter, think liberated women with their tits out. Group costumes aren’t half hearted and social norms are abandoned – anything goes at festivals, which is probably one of my favourite things about them.

                And finally, to round off a summer of fun, Days Like This festival showcased some of the biggest names in electronic music. With a star-studded line-up, in which Mallgrab, Denis Sulta and Four Tet preceded Willaris K. and Charlotte de Witte, Sydney’s tech-heads battled through a drizzly Saturday to catch their favourite artists sets across the three stages set up in Victoria Park. For me, Ross from Friends’ jazz-infused performance lifted the already high spirits of the crowd despite the rain, with the later, heavier sets rounding off the evening relatively early (around 10 pm). Though only a one-day event, Days Like This offered the perfect opportunity to let off some steam after 3 rather stressful weeks of term, and exhibited the continuing demand for live music and parties in Sydney despite the government’s ever-intensifying attempts to quell our fun.

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