Live Review: Earthcore Festival (Part I) – Pyalong, Victoria (26.11.15 – 30.11.15)

Would you believe there is a festival held in the Victorian bush that has a history equally as long as Australia’s now defunct Big Day Out? Beginning as a small gathering of 180 people, Earthcore, the original Australian bush doof, now attracts thousands upon thousands of people to its 1500 acre site in Pyalong, 100km north of Melbourne.

With five days of absolute carnage at the door of your imagination, Earthcore is the most notorious outdoor electronic music festival in Australia that offers camping, a bottle shop and almost 250 artists on its line-up. There is also a cinema streaming a constant flow of films, a marketplace where you can buy clothing, trinkets and other items of spiritual significance along with an art zone filled with zany and inspiring pieces that will give flight to your imagination. There’s theme camps, a forum of interesting speakers, as well as workshops providing hands on information in subjects as diverse as Mayan Astrology to Urban Permaculture. The line-up features a healthy mix of international and interstate artists, but the majority of the entertainment is made up by a lengthy list of local artists.

Among the well-known international acts are Electric Universe, Infected Mushroom and Liquid Soul, yet it’s hard to coin who is the actual headliner, with acts of all backgrounds and volition playing on stages of different sizes at times of different relevance to certain people.

Basically, you can throw all your preconceived notions of festival law out of the window. It doesn’t matter who the headliner is: everyone is at the festival to discover new music and have a great time. That being said, Earthcore is not for the faint of heart. Other festivals of its ilk such as Rainbow Serpent are much more palatable to the general public. Earthcore features some of the roughest, toughest, hardest and most intense psytrance, house and techno imaginable for a festival of its size, but this is the appeal of the festival. If you’re looking for an experience that is not only extremely challenging to the senses but a raucous playground of cheekily hedonistic glee then you have abso-fucking-lutely found the right place.

Photo: Marty Knoll
Photo: Marty Knoll

The festival gates opened at noon on Thursday, 26th of November. Earthcore completely sold out online tickets, with only 100 being available at the gate for a price of $350. This may seem expensive but first round ticket sales were available for $199, with the price increasing to a last round cap of $280 before the festival begins. When taken into consideration the amount on offer at Earthcore, this is certainly great value. With the expectation to arrive at 12pm and an eight hour drive from Adelaide, our nine strong party and three car convoy arrived at the gates at 1:30pm.

As the festival is not a BYO event, there are mandatory alcohol checks upon arrival and with the amount of punters attempting to get in at the same time, it takes three hours before we can get into the festival site. This shouldn’t be a deterrent though, if you’re interested in attending in 2016. Rather it cements the cult status and widespread appeal of Earthcore, especially if you take for example Burning Man in the US, where it is not uncommon for attendees to miss the first and last day of the entire festival waiting to get inside.

One of the beautiful aspects of Earthcore is the freedom you have to customize your experience any way you like. If you’re feeling like a lone wolf, you can just bring a swag. Tents are generally the norm but there’s no restriction on bringing a camper van, trailer or even a double decker bus. Amazingly, I even walked past one tent inside which some lovely people had installed their own ball pit. Personally my friends and I opted for tents, along with a gazebo to chill out in during the day. Combine this with a trestle table, camp chairs and some inflatable sofas and you’ve got yourself a nice set up.

By 9pm, my friends and I heard there was still a line seven kilometres long to get inside the festival. It became obviously clear why the music does not kick off until the next day. Coupled with travel fatigue, it’s probably for the best that everyone was able to get a good sleep, yet that doesn’t mean that there was not a renegade party among the campsites attracting close to 200 people that did not stop until the early hours of the morning.

Photo: Marty Knoll
Photo: Marty Knoll

The festival site is peppered with hills and undulation, making for an interesting camping scenario when it comes to parking cars and pitching tents but when it comes to the installations, as well as the stage production, it becomes a sight to behold. The Welcome to the Jungle stage, situated closest to the camping grounds, featured decks mounted inside a bass, with graffiti walls situated either side, where artists consistently changed the aesthetic of the stage with cans of spray paint.

The Hydra stage was home to all the hardest pystrance music and the most intense acts. A Honeycomb installation of yellow hexagons illustrated the DJ booth, and there were plenty of elevated platforms for people to dance on. The Yellow Sunshine stage was situated at the top of a small hill. The stage was made from stacked shipping containers with a black and white aesthetic. While dubbed the chill stage it still featured some bass filled tunes as well.

Below the Yellow Sunshine stage was the Monster Mainfloor; this stage was monumental, with the DJ booth situated inside a large circular installation. The power of the lasers on this stage was beyond belief. In the middle of the market was the Kinky Karnival stage, a tight enclosure which housed a bar and an elaborate raised platform featuring four provocative poles, which I can ensure you were utilized to great measure. Most intriguing perhaps, was the Bamboo Boogies stage. Tucked away on the far side of the site behind some of the camping grounds, many people may never have seen it across the entire five day duration of the festival.

On Friday French composer and sound producer AES Dana delivered an intriguing and hard hitting 90 minute set on the Yellow Sunshine stage. Reflecting that his sound has an undeniably sci-fi feel, it is no surprise to learn that AES Dana (real name Vincent Villuis) has composed scores for two sci-fi films. The owner of Ultimae records played a primarily down tempo set, full of voluptuous bass and atmospheric synth arrays. The twinkling and trickling space themed noises exemplify Dana’s ability to layer his music. One thing that stood out was the raw sound production of AES Dana’s tracks. Each beat of the bassline and every component of each layer sounded unique. This is in the sense that a lot of producers and DJ’s utilise very genre specific sounds, there can be an interchangeable nature. This is not so with AES Dana. A compelling artist I would certainly recommend witnessing live, his physical releases, such as 2012’s Pollen, are equally as deep, ambient and utterly intriguing.

Photo: Marty Knoll
Photo: Marty Knoll

Directly after AES Dana were Carbon Based Lifeforms. The Swedish duo are known as pioneers of the ambient genre, with their smooth beats effortlessly soothing the mind and inducing feeling of wonder. As the set began at 6pm the sun began to go down throughout its duration, complementing the sounds of the Swedish duo.

There were two things that were most profound about Carbon Based Lifeforms; one was the diversity of their set, artfully, and skilfully and intelligently weaving through a variation of soundscapes over their two ours of allotted times, and the other being that the majority of people in the thick and dancing crowd seemed to be there specifically to see Carbon Based Life Forms. The duo have a penchant for slow and delicate build ups full of warbled synths and symphonic blips, and when their sonic canvas changes shape with a beat drop the entire audience reacted in tune with each other.

Pig & Dan destroyed the main stage at 9:30pm with an essentially groovy lesson in deep house. The way that their sophisticated beats continue to journey further and further into the realm of smug satisfaction, using rhythm and bass to resonate with the pleasure receptors of your brain, is instantly dance inducing. A third of the fun is listening to the music, allowing it to take you like a smooth current, another third is in dancing and expressing yourself to the beat, whereas the last element is seeing people around you, that you don’t even know, with their eyes glazed over, wiggling around with satisfaction.

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