The next six months, including the always exorbitant New Year's period, will see a huge number of artists from all different scenes gathering together for the sake of having a good time in the sun. So, given the enormous amount of events coming up, we thought it best to highlight in one place some of the things that locals—and tourists looking to escape the Northern hemisphere winter—can look forward to.
Since the 1990s, the "bush doof" has been a unique part of Australia's underground dance music culture. Essentially, the base ingredients for a doof include a remote forest or bush location, far enough removed from any populated areas to avoid disturbance; colossal sound systems and cornea-melting psychedelic lighting rigs; an army of psytrance and Goa artists; a whole lot of open-minded attendees; and tipis. Lots of tipis. Generally speaking, they're well-organised multiple-day raves which substitute trees for warehouses and psy for acid house.
In the past few years particularly, a number of festivals have looked to bridge the gap between these free-spirited (and ultimately illegal) gatherings and legitimate camping events, often expanding the music policy to include house, techno, roots and a variety of other soulful sounds. Strawberry Fields, an annual weekend-long festival in Victoria, started up in late November 2009 with this concept in mind, taking to the bush with solid electronic lineups. This year's instalment will see James Holden, Tycho, Kollektiv Turmstrasse, Prefuse 73 and Stephan Bodzin appearing on the bill amongst a hefty gathering of local and international talent spread over several stages adorned with kaleidoscopic canvases and vibrant art installations.
Also in the month of November is Eclipse Festival in Queensland. The one-off event is centred around the total solar eclipse which is due to occur on the morning of November 14th, 2012, and will be held in Cairns in the state's far north (which happens to be directly underneath the brief and narrow shadow path being cast). Lasting a full week, attendees can expect everything from breaks (FreQ Nasty) and dub (Fat Freddy's Drop) to techno (Secret Cinema) and trance (Perfect Stranger) across five stages. Although there will be literally hundreds of musical acts, the festival also incorporates a strong focus on art and culture, with all manner of visual and performance pieces on show and a number of workshops in session throughout the week.
Subsonic—technically one of the very first summer festivals, being at the beginning of December—takes place a few hours north of Sydney at a secluded riverside camping area. Now in its fourth year, the three-day gathering is relatively small in scale and shares a number of similarities with Strawberry Fields in terms of approach and ideology. The relaxed, holiday-like atmosphere is soundtracked by the same assortment of house, techno, dub and psytrance, with last year's festival featuring Apparat, Minilolgue, Alexkid, A Guy Called Gerald and Marc Antona leading the charge.
In contrast to these still-green festivals is western Victoria's Rainbow Serpent Festival, with its 15th edition due to take place over the Australia Day long weekend in late January. The event is generally rooted in the more traditional bush party sounds, although it continues to develop from its psychedelic trance beginnings into a more eclectic electronic occasion, with each of the five stages having its own flavour to offer. As is the case with Eclipse Festival, the musical aspect is only part of the Rainbow Serpent experience, with a large artistic contingent, a variety of activities ranging from yoga to discussion panels and extensive markets running throughout the weekend.
While many boutique electronic music events tend to have a fairly distinct focus, the Australian festival calendar also boasts a wide range of highly eclectic offerings, both musically and conceptually. Geographical location can sometimes be—and often is—the defining feature of a boutique festival, rather than an emphasis on a certain sound or style, particularly in the case of some of the country's longest running events.
Meredith Music Festival, gearing up for its 22nd annual instalment this December, falls squarely into this category. The Meredith Supernatural Amphitheatre, located roughly two hours west of Melbourne, has been the centrepiece of the three day campout—and deservedly so, as the site (which is permanently set up for Meredith and its sister festival Golden Plains) gets the nod from scientists as being acoustically one of the best outdoor music venues in the world. Although the balance of genres leans further towards the indie end of the scale, the festival has hosted some quality underground dance acts in the past including DJ Harvey, Virgo Four, Pantha du Prince and Pilooski. This year's bill, headed up by Primal Scream, features live performances from both Four Tet and Grimes, with comedian J.B. Smoove—known to most as Leon from HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm—as MC and commentator for the festival's infamous nude footrace.
In a similar vein, though on a larger scale, is Falls Festival which takes place over the New Year's period in two locations simultaneously: Marion Bay in Tasmania and Lorne in Victoria. Whichever you choose, the lineups are for the most part shared, and both festivals are situated in picturesque surroundings which feel far from civilisation. Until January 1st 2013, the stages will be manned by acts like SBTRKT, The Flaming Lips, Hot Chip, Sampology and Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, along with a vast number of bands and DJs. The event is family-friendly, so expect a broad range of laid-back attendees looking to usher in the new year with some good, clean and loud fun.
Since its humble beginnings in 2004 as a seasonal Sunday afternoon alleyway gig with upcoming local bands in Melbourne, St. Jerome's Laneway Festival has grown rapidly to become one of Australia's most popular summer events. Now a seven-city festival tour, including dates in Auckland and Singapore, Laneway's approach involves cutting-edge artists and wonderful venues. For the Sydney leg this past February, John Talabot, Jonti, Bullion, Oneman and M83 were among those performing at the College of the Arts complex. Established as a mental hospital in the late 19th century, the beautiful sandstone structure has a fascinating history.
Shifting the major focus from music to art, TINA (short for This Is Not Art) up in Newcastle, NSW is a long-running four-day festival in late September. Bringing together a smorgasbord of creators, enthusiasts, performers and thinkers, the state's second largest city becomes a hub for experimentation and exploration, with countless workshops, showcases, presentations and concerts taking place. Caribou, Mad Professor and Coldcut are a few of the musical guests who have appeared at the festival throughout its decade-plus history.
For plenty of Australians, the approach to summer conjures up images of searing hot days, rubbing up against thousands of fellow music-lovers at some of the country's largest festivals. A handful have become institutions of the season and as the days start to get longer, the anticipation of lineup announcements becomes palpable.
The beginning of the Australian summer festival season is marked out by the national Parklife tour, which centres itself around the Labour Day long weekend at the start of October. Since 2000, Sydney-based promotion company Fuzzy has steadily built up the Parklife brand from being a modest outdoor dance production in Centennial Park into a five-city annual party that attracts a total of more than 100,000 fans. While the musical focus tends towards more mainstream electronic acts (this year's headliners include The Presets and Justice), there are always a handful of more underground house and techno artists thrown into the mix, with the upcoming tour also featuring Art Department and Lee Foss. 2012 will also mark the return of Fuzzy's more intimate festival offering: Harbourlife in Sydney. The relatively small capacity event, which takes place on December 1st right beside the city's spectacular harbour, will be soundtracked by 2manyDJs, Todd Terje, Mark Farina and the Adana Twins.
The New Year's period is one of the most densely packed of the events calendar, and a number of the largest promoters' festivals have become staples for the surrounding days. Future Entertainment's Summadayze tour (called Summafieldayze in Queensland) covers four major cities from New Year's Eve through to January 3rd with a broad range of artists in tow. The 2012 lineup included everyone from Snoop Dogg to Flying Lotus and Moby to Seth Troxler. The obvious absence of a Sydney leg is filled by Field Day on New Year's Day, another long-running Fuzzy event which tends to share a few commonalities with the Summadayze roster while also bringing in plenty of exclusive international and local talent.
January's Big Day Out, the most iconic of all Australian national festivals, started out in 1992 as a Sydney-only gig featuring Violent Femmes and Nirvana, and has since expanded to attract around 300,000 attendees on a good year. With the biggest budget comes the biggest acts, and over the years the festival has seen some of the world's most prominent bands, artists and DJs performing across the country. While rock music has always been the Big Day Out's priority, the Boiler Room (the main electronic stage) has been graced by heavyweights like Aphex Twin, Groove Armada and LCD Soundsystem.
Just as Parklife indicates the commencement of the summer party season, Future Music Festival is where it just about wraps up. Future Entertainment's flagship event makes its way around the country in March with a hefty troupe of electronic musicians that cover a vast scope of dance music. Commercial acts aside, Future always presents a generous gathering of underground sounds, particularly in the realms of house, disco and techno. 2012's DFA stage boasted the likes of Hercules & Love Affair and Benoit & Sergio, while Sven Vath, Jamie Jones and Oliver Huntemann were among those providing quality house and techno.
If you're travelling around Australia, or just looking to soak up a bit more of your own town, each state's capital has at least one major festival which ties together music, arts and culture in a way that ultimately celebrates the city and everything that makes it unique.
Brisbane Festival is first up to bat in September and encompasses just about everything that these kinds of events can offer. Across three weeks the city is bustling with activity as an extensive program of music, theatre, dance, comedy and art transpires in all corners of Brisbane. See some cutting-edge cinema or catch a talk with some of the festival's most fascinating creatives in the early evening, then swing by the Spiegeltent for what might turn out to be a jazz concert, some quality stand-up or even late night DJs.
For nine days in mid-November, Melbourne Music Week transforms the country's second largest city into a creative cauldron for young artists and enthusiasts. The festival makes use of a whole number of unusual spaces and pop-up venues to host performances and workshops, with this year's centrepiece being an unannounced inner-city warehouse which will be purpose-renovated to accommodate live shows, discussions and screenings throughout the week. 2012's lineup so far includes Italian cult soundtrack legends Goblin, San Francisco crooners Pillow Talk and a number of other exciting young acts like Eskmo and Teengirl Fantasy.
Skip forward to January, the molten core of the summer, and Sydney has its turn to show off the goods for just over three weeks. From Festival First Night, which itself pulls a crowd of more than 200,000 around the parks of the CBD, Sydney Festival's vast program makes full use of the city's iconic surroundings. While conventional venues like the Sydney Opera House see plenty of use during the month, a number of atypical spots turn into main hubs for all sorts of events. For example, Hyde Park Barracks, an early 19th-century compound for convicts which is now a small museum by day, erupts into a stunning party arena that has been rocked by the likes of Andrew Weatherall, Octave One, Henrik Schwarz and DJ Harvey.
As February rolls around, head roughly five hours west of Sydney by air on the opposite coast and you'll find yourself at the Perth International Arts Festival. Gearing up for its 61st (!) consecutive year of operation, the 23-day festival takes a particularly broad approach with its programming, incorporating a substantial amount of indigenous art, a festival-within-a-festival for writers, an abundance of specially commissioned public installations and music that ranges from Mozart to Cut Chemist.
Adelaide takes an all-out approach with its cultural celebrations by presenting three separate yet intrinsically linked festivals over a month-long period from mid-February. Adelaide Fringe, which includes everything from painting to puppetry, kicks things off with a staggering 900 events spread across the four weeks, making it the largest annual arts festival in the southern hemisphere. The Fringe is joined on March 1st by Adelaide Festival which, like other city festivals, widens the scope to include music and anything that generally falls under the umbrella term of "culture." WOMADelaide joins in towards the end of the other two festivals, with music taking centre stage: acts from nearly every continent come together for an all-ages celebration of world sounds.