Review by Keely Victoria
I almost didn’t want to write this review. Comparable to trawling through Beatport at 4am and discovering a producer that rightfully deserves a few hundred thousand more plays than they have, Subsonic Music Festival is a veritable diamond in the festival rough, and one that I have been happy to keep secret for the past year. But this year I was asked to write about it, and keeping a secret this good is just getting too hard.
Set amongst the serene backdrop of Barrington Tops, to the untrained eye Subsonic looks like something out of a tranquil “happy place” fantasy. Bellbirds and children’s laughter as background noise, sun kissed hills in the distance and a freshwater river complete with mother duck and ducklings not ten metres from our tent, one could be forgiven for the expectation of peaceful weekend escape.
What is not immediately visible in the hours preceding 5pm Friday however, is the restless and reckless beast that has been lying in wait while the tents are being set up and the final touches are put on the festival grounds. This multi-limbed and brightly coloured beast has been searching the country for worthy additions to the Subsonic population since last year, recruiting only the hardest partiers, the fire twirling, hula hooping, face painted freaks that treat ‘reality’ as something to be observed from afar with a sympathetic smile to those who take it seriously. And now, that beast is stirring from its slumber.
When the festival gates open on Friday morning the exploration begins, and the “kid in a candy store” metaphor just grew up and graduated from wizz fizz to something more psychedelic. There are blow up boats, bubbles and bare feet in every direction and the Subsonic beast is stretching out tie dyed limbs.
The festival is for trippers, by trippers, and the attention to detail is admirable. Hammocks swing between trees, daybeds line the river, food, clothing and face paint stalls border the stages and there’s even a giant disco ball shaped like a human heart.
Where else are you not only able to climb all over the structures, but encouraged to with specific installations? Where else will the one guy that back flipped off it and broke his leg in three places laugh it off and accept full responsibility instead of suing the festival for public liability?
Subsonic is the kind of festival that punters have bought tickets to six months before the first line up announcement. While their international and Australian bookings are certainly not lacking, the musical element is just one of a multi-faceted, full frontal attack on the daily grind.
That said, when the music starts on Friday evening, the Subsonic beast comes out of hibernation. Not for the faint hearted or the pace yourself style partier, every stage is exploding with energy until well past sunrise, and the acts like The Bird on the Subsonic stage and Hypercolour at The River Shack laugh at the suggestion of warm up sets, prepping the kids for what is to be a weekend of absolute insanity.
In between main stage sets, rather than a poorly thought out pre-recorded CD being played to entertain an anticipant crowd, there were fifteen minute performances – from fire dancing or aerial gymnastics, to shibari (Japanese rope bondage) instead. These little touches seperate Subsonic from other likeminded festivals, and are followed up with workshops the next day. Although the forty degree heat meant we didn’t stray far from the river until late afternoon the stages were all in full swing.
On Saturday night Opiuo lived up to all expectations as Melbourne’s glitch hop offering to the rest of the world, with an unabridged energy only rivalled by a truly special, technically breath taking set from Japan’s DJ Kentaro.
The Subsonic beast had really come out to play and was showing us the meaning of going hard, keeping us up until 7am again for Nu and Acid Pauli’s four hour set. Without question one of the most progressive and thoroughly enjoyable sets I’ve seen in a long time, the Berlin locals might as well have picked us up out of paradise and dropped us dancing into an underground warehouse rave. If the Paradiso Stage had walls, there would have been sweat dripping from them.
Although Subsonic delivers nothing short of thumping, raw, and downright dirty beats and bass showcased in a location second to none, what sets the festival apart from the plethora of other camping + music attempts around Australia is the calibre of the crowd.
When is the last time you were anywhere with more than twenty strangers and found it legitimately difficult to find someone you didn’t like? Probably not since you were six years old at your Mum’s work Christmas picnic and all the strangers had fairy bread and increasingly more cocktail umbrellas to appease you with by the hour.
Well, fast-forward fifteen years, fuck the cocktails and grab a bottle of tequila, add another four thousand people camping in close proximities for four days and surely there has to be a few dickheads, right? Not here.
Subsonic Music attracts a breed of festival goers that many believe only to be a myth; a tolerant, considerate and caring community that will sooner forge a friendship with you over your psychedelic jellyfish costume or invite you back to their tent to check out their bongo drums than they will kill your vibe.
Never was this more apparent than the last day of the festival.
You haven’t showered in four days, all your stuff is wet thanks to a well-timed thunderstorm in the early afternoon, you’ve run out of money because you spent it on mushrooms that morning, and there are thousands of people dressed up in costumes that could compete with Mardi Gras and Halloween combined. The atmosphere is electric.
The general consensus of the crowd is to lose any and all remaining grip on reality. Not a single person is sitting still and smiles are infectious when the guy next to you has a shopping trolley and an oversized rabbits head, and his friend is wearing an outfit made out of broken dolls. You can’t move five metres without a conversation.
Christian Martin and Catz and Dogz are on the main stage and are without a doubt the stand out Sunday sets, delivering those spine-tingling festival moments in light drizzle that you’ll proclaim to be “the best drop I’ve ever heard” for the year to follow. Catz and Dogz especially seemed to be telepathically tuned to the crowd, giving us exactly what we wanted and looking positively thrilled to be doing so. Bodies moved. Minds were lost. Everyone got really muddy.
Parker wrapped it up on the Paradiso stage with a killer set, and the impromptu camping ground stage that had been erected by enthusiastic punters who brought their own decks kept going until Monday afternoon, testament to the hedonistic stamina of everyone there.
After attending my second Subsonic it isn’t hard to understand the hype. It’s not often I look forward to something for an entire year and my expectations are still exceeded, and Subsonic 2012 did just that. Essentially a festival of freedom, expression and outer-body-benders, as well as one of electronic music, the Subsonic crew just get it. They get it.
The icing on the probable hash cake? Not only does Subsonic Music attract this kind of die-hard loyalty, they reward it. This year anyone that had bought tickets to previous years or before the line up drop automatically scored a membership. And as the membership key rings read; “Caution: May Open Your Mind.”
Photos by Voena