Diary from Dark Mofo: The Presets, Fantasia, scraping of vision
The first in a series of missives from Hobart, where TheVine mainlander Marcus Teague is holed up amongst the fog of the inaugural Dark Mofo festival.
It's bruising cold outside the cavernous MAC2 wharf on the docks of Hobart. I'm eating a hot dog and talking to half a dozen psych nurses who have joined me in shelter from the drizzle. Inside Hermitude are playing to a frothing array of kids, adults and manchildren, most dressed in violent violation of the stinging cold. The huddling nurses are telling me that they cannot wait for the Presets to play. The band haven't been to Hobart for four years. "Is it going to go off?" I say to one middle-aged keen bean clutching a cigarette. She turns grave. "Oh fuck yeah."
Julian Hamilton isn't wearing his sequinned suit jacket tonight. This disappoints me more than it should. Where else does a gaudy, shimmering silhouette belong than at this Pagan-hued festival of light, sex and death?
Dark Mofo is the inaugural event sprung from the Museum of Old and New Art's efforts with MONA FOMA — a June winter week to that festival's January long weekend. It's a new thing that claims to "delve into the centuries-old rituals and mythologies that have been arising in response to the winter solstice since Neolithic times." True enough in the pale waifs in denim shorts and singlets ignoring the rain, a brazen lineage that includes their mothers, and their mother's mothers. In the circles of boys gathered around fire in a barrel. A girl in line shrieks "I'M SO ROASTED. I JUST WANNA DANCE." A fur-clad hunter appears in the darkness by the Rekorderlig tent, slit-eyed and bloody mouthed. He taps his nose. I nod. The bar has only lager in cans, I should try the bigger one inside out the back, it has jugs. As I put on my hood, he melts across the railing and into the black River Derwent.
Tonight is sold out. People really like the Presets. At one point I count twenty-six people on shoulders, two of them holding open umbrellas. The Presets compartmentalise each third of their set in devastating fashion - 1. Exploration of mood. 2. Scaffolding and melody. 3. Jittery overload. Even though I've seen them a dozen times, the thing I enjoy most about watching the Presets is allowing them complete control. I surrender my mood, let them dictate it. I trust them totally. They don't reinvent the wheel, but it's hard to think of too many bands I concede that too.
'Youth in Trouble' seems pale on record but tonight it's the molten core of the set. It happens near the end. There's a pink glow coming from the footlights, and blooming across the duo's white shirts. They pulse like exotic jellyfish, lit from within. Weightless in the temple above the black swathe of hands and heads. And umbrellas. They're elegant performers making elegant music; a whip-smart collection of electronic influences distilled solely to the bits that connect. Minor key arpeggios at 120bm played loud in a tin shed on the docks. Duh.
As the crowd streams out past the burning x and + that is the festival's logo, a denim short and singlet wearing girl is now bare foot and standing in puddles. My phone says it's 8º. How did she even lose her shoes.
"...mythologies that have been arising in response to the winter solstice..."
The weather was comically severe on arrival in Hobart this morning. Driving across the Tasman Bridge, it looked like the sky had simply smudged out Hobart city in the right eye — paint blown down from the surrounding mountains perhaps. I'd been up late in Sydney the night before. After a nap, I climb groggily into a cab headed to the Derwent Entertainment Centre, to see Walt Disney's Fantasia soundtracked by the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. With the crackly hum of football commentary low on the radio, the cabbie tells me he's saving up to go to Europe and what the hell is all this traffic. "Is it that Mofo thing?"
I figured the screening would be in a cinema, because I am stupid. Instead it's a sold out arena of 3,000 or so kids, parents and pensioners taking in Walt's 1940-spawned vision in stadium seating. I haven't seen the movie since I was a wisp. It's more insidious than I remember, and sexual - its rumbles of gods, nature, black magic, and nude anthropomorphic fauna battling constantly for good and evil, light amongst the dark. The children in the audience yell out a few times, first during the orchestra booms amongst the wine-glugging and thunderstorm's of Beethoven's 'Symphony No. 6 In F Major'
The evil highlight is the ferocity — in animation and orchestra — of Stravinsky's 'Firebird Suite'. A demon eagle rains down carnage on the fleeing Spring Sprite and her beefy companion the Elk. There's modern un-PC undertones in Mickey Mouse splitting the (wooden) skull of the broom with an axe in 'The Sorcerers Apprentice', as well as the groping crocodiles in 'Dance of the Hours'. But it's funnier than I remember too. There's also a bit about whales floating through the sky at the end. Somewhere in an unlit shed lies Patricia Picinnini's Skywhale, which has been grounded so far due to the bad weather. Which isn't funny at all. The friends I meet up with in the carpark had prepped for tonight with a few spliffs. On the way back to the city they talk of roundabouts.
The next day I have a delicious ham and smoked cheddar roll that costs a million dollars at a cosy French bakery, thinking about life and fingerless gloves. Then I go over to MAC2, opposite MAC1 where the Presets' played last night, to a series of rooms that tie together Beam in Thine Own Eye.
The exhibition, featuring a collection of light, video and audio-based installations is pokey and fun. It's also the only time I've ever felt like I had strobing .gifs strapped to the inside of my eyeballs while my face emits smoke and light. That was my 100% correct impression of Kurt Hentschlager's 'ZEE', and though the line was long, it's worth it just for the feeling of being high in your own head. I went through genuine euphoria, fear and wonder in my 12 minutes inside that room (I presume it was a room?), and the layer of hallucinogenic membrane it splattered onto my frontal lobe still smoulders. I thought my feet fell off too, but later at my hotel I realised that a hole in my sock was letting the ice in.
Darkness fell as I underwent that blaze, so I left and trudged up through the drizzle to the base of Ryoji Ikeda's fearsome 'Spectra [Tasmania]'. It sounds simple. It's a beam of light shone up into the sky. Whoopty doo. But it's a couple of other things: a god-like star picket plunged into the city; a finger pointing to the heavens; a constant presence; a cloud's root; an unnerving oscillating drone as toddlers in parkas chant in their minds. And with their dads. It does make you feel small and a different version of yourself, at least. Tonight the drizzle makes the beams dance with millions of rainbow-making sparkles. I try and take a photo with my phone and it looks pathetic. I leave and it waits. I'm going to come back at 3am one morning and figure it all out, I know it.
PART 2: Espresso martinis, The Red Queen, MONA, death and whimsy, You Am I.
Marcus Teague (@marcusTheVine)
(Photos: Mark Sherborne, via our friends at Everguide)