Future Music Festival, Sydney 2012 - Live Review, PhotosFuture Music Festival
Royal Randwick Racecourse, Sydney
Saturday 10th March 2012
The idea of a festival called 'Future Music' is a bit problematic. Music – pop and dance especially – usually leans heavily on the past in order to appeal to the listener. Regardless of how advanced it might appear to be, pop and dance music is essentially reminiscent or nostalgic – it constructs an illusion of familiarity by appropriating and rearranging familiar elements of the past to resemble something new. It's this quality that we find immediately appealing in a new chart entry or club track: traces of things we’re familiar with, that have been artfully rearranged and repackaged; repetitive cadence and structure helps to build a sense of the familiar for the listener, so when the verse lyric comes around for the third time, it's like you've lived with Tokyo Ghetto Pussy's 'Everybody On The Floor' your whole life.
You can't reasonably call out the name of a music festival for being disingenuous, though. After all, they're selling us an idea, and 'Futuristic Music Festival' doesn't have quite the same ring. Nor does 'Forward-looking/thinking music festival'. So, fair cop.
All of this appears to be beside the point to today’s punters. The only future they appear to be concerned with is the immediate one, in which they plan to lose themselves for a while in party drugs, booze, and loud, repetitive music. It doesn't matter to any of the hundred or so impeccably tanned attendees waiting in line for a bus at Central Station around midday, nor to the aggressively confident busload of shirtless lads that overtake us on Anzac Parade; already fist-pumping to booming tracks with reckless dedication. It's especially irrelevant to the duo who desperately hail our cab as we exit, one hopping on his good foot and bleeding profusely from the other.
After this bewildering parade of skin and anticipation, and a few unfunny jokes about drugs and alcohol possession from security, upon entry the grounds feel weirdly deserted under such flawless blue skies.
On the 'Likes Of You' stage, DJ Gabby and crew play minimal, murky techno to a near empty room. It makes crossing the dark, glaringly empty floor like wading through the river Styx, only to come out into blistering sunshine on the other side.
Around the corner, the small and ebulliently bedecked DFA stage boasts a lighter, funkier set from Melbourne's Cadillac. Unfortunately, the way this stage is placed makes it seem like a wanton detour on the way to the rest of the festival, and the floor is empty. Instead, the streaming crowd of white singlets, tight shorts and Lucida Blackletter tattoos, treat it as aural wallpaper as they file into the main arena.
Further on, atop a small hill, a wondrous sight awaits us. From the top of a double story scaffold, DJ Axle plays to a pen of blissfully gyrating bodies that jump and prostrate themselves in the face of two foam-spurting cannons. A girl rides through the deep end on her boyfriend’s back. A carefully groomed young man reps earnestly with a security guard over the back traffic barrier, flecks of froth staining his neck. It's a 15 by 15 foot sud-ridden rave mecca, and, in such beautiful weather, it's impossible not to look on and laugh.
A venture out into the main paddock brings us to the monolithic Las Venus stage, and the Stafford Brothers, featuring Timmy Trumpet. The thickening crowd seem to think they've arrived at the festival, and begin to bray and stomp and wave their hands in the air, accordingly. The cheers escalate to meet Avicii's saccharine house remix of 'Somebody That I Used To Know' by Gotye, replete with chillout breakdown and trumpet noodling. The Blackletter body scrawl that caught my eye before is now up close and legible, and the number of family-centric back tattoos here is bewildering – 'Family Respect' it says, and what looks like the Indonesian characters for 'family', accompanied by an English translation in cursive. Another girl has a detailed and poignant homage to her late father between her shoulder blades, marking her as a tanned tombstone. It's all weirdly touching, and a touch unsettling.
Following the Staffords and Timmy is London new-pop act Jessie J, who bounds on stage, gazelle-like, in small white shorts and inch-thick makeup. Her music is dub-flecked pop, and is pretty astutely aimed at the middle of the UK top 40. She takes a moment between songs to praise Australia's Fashion sense. "There's something I've noticed about fashion in Australia," she says. "You're all so individual in your little shorts. So sexy.” To her credit, the whole thing’s sung and played live by an impressive session band, but when the novelty of that wears off, it's time to investigate what's transpiring on the opposite stage.
What greets us is UK guy Professor Green. Like Jessie J's group, his is a band of weathered session musicians, including backing singers and a DJ who scratches in between tracks. Prof Green is Steve Manderson. He’s British and obnoxious. The music is ostensibly hip-hop, with hints of ska, trance and guitar-rock stirred in to appease as many of us as possible, which is considerate. The act's initials are projected over the back of the stage, parodying a classification sticker as though to warn all of the adults, which is apt. Everything about this set is perfectly orchestrated, choreographed, streamlined and designed to be likeable; each element slots perfectly into place, like one of those jigsaw puzzles for toddlers, all bright colours and rounded edges.
Wading away from this through a sea of shirtless men with Southern Cross tattoos, I happen upon a stereo sweet spot from which you can hear both stages perfectly, in tandem. It dawns on me that each of these acts is like the perfectly engineered and carefully gendered mirror image of the other. Their songs happen to stop at the same time, and the syncretic pair starts bantering. I can hear Steve enthusiastically lauding the accidental exposure of an audience member's breasts, while Jessie explains that her music isn't just for girls, but guys too. She implores the gentlemen in the audience to get involved: "Don't be afraid to get your dicks out.”
Back in the darkness of the first tent, Azari & III start with rumbling, murky swathes of synth, wrung carefully from imposing banks of keyboards and drum pads by Toronto producers Alixander II and Dinamo Azari. As the music warms into deliriously florid house, vocalists Cedric Gasiada and Fritz Helder lope onstage dressed like arch-hipsters in neon zebra print. This set is sublime, and weirdly psychedelic. While Gasiada and Helder whip their arms about and assail the modest audience with soulful, chillingly processed vocals, the music becomes progressively darker and more intense, like the gradual coiling of a spring. There's no release; with the exception of a burly black man in a top hat, grinning widely and impeccably doing 'the robot', there are few in the room that can match the energy demanded by the band, which appears to frustrate them. This doesn't dim the immersive, fluorescent gloss of the music, even as it ebbs and dies.
A shortcut through the owner's and trainers bar brings us by the DFA stage, where Juan Maclean is spinning an unassuming and deft set of funky house that's woefully under-attended. Back in the main amphitheatre, New Zealand's The Naked And Famous provide an oasis of lush, textural synth rock. A sea of arms rises in salute to the opening strains of the 2010 single 'Young Blood', and for a second, it’s easy forgive their effortless hipster posturing and enjoy this rapturous anthem for what it is.
Skrillex is peddling his bolshy bro-step on the next stage, and the entire right end of the field is awash with people. From a distance, his set is a quiet microcosm of half-speed bass drops and gauchely screeching trills. This is music that needs to be felt ricocheting off the walls of a club to be properly experienced; in the open air, its potency evaporates...unless perhaps you're sitting on one of the bass bins. So, instead, Skrillex fizzles distantly, like a virulent little sparkler. This doesn't stop a uniformly tanned group next to me from jumping up and down excitedly, wordlessly vocalising every scrap of sonic gristle that makes it this far across the plain.
After such a glut of people, the small DFA enclosure feels like a spacious paradise under the derelict remains of the members’ grandstand, which appears seized in a perpetual state of disrepair. Such a setting is well-suited to Holy Ghost!, whose enormous banks of analog synths yield susurrus, textural pads and tasteful sweeps to adorn no-bullshit, pragmatic dance rock, sleek and strident. There's a sweet, understated melancholy to this group's melodies that throw their grooves into elegant relief. The 50-strong crowd doesn't care that everyone's at Skrillex. The best stage in the festival’s a secret, for now.
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