As legend has it, "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche" ("Let them eat cake") is something an 18th-century French princess said when told her peasants were starving for bread. While Melbourne's club scene is far from starving, the proverbial bread—in this case, underground DJs of world-renown—has only ever been served in entrée-sized portions at dedicated club gigs, or else on side-stages at bloated commercial festivals. Until this past New Year's Day, that is, when the inaugural edition of Let Them Eat Cake was held. Spread across four distinct stages in the verdant grounds of Werribee Park Mansion, the festival's debut was something like a feast.
Early in the day, the park's many marquee bars were packed with people downing slushy margaritas and almost-reasonably-priced beer, while dancers on each of the French-themed stages' grassy floors were bathed in warm sunlight. Through the Bastille's speakers, local DJ Louis McCoy delivered a selection of cheerful and compelling house: Motor City Drum Ensemble's "Raw Cuts #2," "Vacuuum Boogie," before moving on to the tunnelling 303 of Marquis Hawkes' "Teetotal Acid." But none of these received as big a response as his final track, SNAP!'s "Rhythm is a Dancer." Somehow, this conclusion didn't feel cheesy in the least, perhaps because there's a solid bass line lurking under all those vocals.
McCoy's friend Bryce Lawrence didn't have it so easy. After throwing down Joe's skittish "Studio Power On," Svengalisghost's "Deep Into Memory" and Wb's "Billy Green's Ded," the stage's power dropped for several minutes when the next act, Space Dimension Controller, introduced a faulty power board to the system while setting up. Seemingly unfazed, Lawrence resumed minutes later with Omar-S's "Day," followed later with Bookworms' "African Rhythms." As if by some kind of agreement with McCoy, his set also finished in rather poppy fashion, via Stardust's "Music Sounds Better With You."
Overlooked by Werribee Mansion—a handsome 1870s Italianate edifice which punters were free to explore—Space Dimension Controller began his live set by apologising for the technical difficulties (using a cheeky robot voice modulator, of course). His music showcased the brighter side of electro, with perky arpeggios and lithe percussion matching the sunshine beautifully.
By now some of the hungrier attendees were busy rushing off to cult food stands Phat Brats and Fancy Hank's BBQ, finding fuel for the long night ahead. Or maybe just Kerri Chandler's set. His slot may have spanned some two hours, but the house legend seemed intent on mostly sticking to just one gear: his highest. Typified by tracks like Jimpster's "Can't Stop Loving," this unrelenting thump lacked the nuance and variety of some of the other performances. And yet, as such sets often can, it didn't feel monotonous, and catered perfectly to the rowdy mid-afternoon crowd. Larry Heard's "The Sun Can't Compare" was particularly well-received.
Theo Parrish could hardly have been more different. The Detroit selector is famed for his ability to both fill and clear dance floors, depending on his mood. On this occasion it was a bit of both. Opening with reams of sultry and obscure black music—James Brown and Motown type stuff—he quickly dived down the rabbit hole. As the rhythms became more and more complex, all but the most tenacious dancers left the floor to find a toilet (of which there were many), food stand (ditto), or a short line for drinks (less so). That said, he did play some pretty great jams, even if they were hard to move to.
Over at the smaller Guillotine stage, Ben UFO showed the crowd why his Rinse radio shows have earned him such acclaim, hovering perfectly between house, techno and UK bass. His compatriot Pearson Sound struck a similar chord, dishing out party music free of gimmick. And while it may have been the first party of 2013, his closing with "New For U" didn't feel tired, but rather a nice way to celebrate the year that was.
It speaks of the day's depth that Mathew Jonson, The Gaslamp Killer, Flying Lotus and his amazing visuals, or anyone at all from the dubstep and drum & bass stage are yet to be mentioned. There were really too many acts to catch them all. In every sense of the word, Let Them Eat Cake is a proper festival, with proper music; something which feels long overdue in this country. Most importantly, it managed to avoid the impersonal atmosphere of most city festivals. If the festival continues such form, it could fast become the city's flagship music event.
Photo credits: Michelle Grace Hunder