Future Music Festival @ Randwick Racecourse, Sydney (08/03/09)
Wed 12th Mar, 2008 Event Reviews 26786 viewsin
Over the past few years, the Future Music Festival has transformed itself from its humble beginnings to an event of gargantuan proportions. While other festival events have sidelined some of the better known names in dance in search of ‘different directions’, Future Entertainment have done the direct opposite by assembling a bevy of the best DJs to ever grace the earth. This year’s offering featured seminal dance heroes The Chemical Brothers, who were ably supported by house legend Roger Sanchez, progressive house guru John Digweed and trance dancefloor destroyers Eddie Halliwell and Markus Schulz; all coming together within the fabled bounds of Sydney’s biggest racecourse. With tens of thousands of tickets sold, the summer weather returning for just one day and a party populace that was ready to rock, last weekend’s festival contained all the ingredients to deliver a day for the ages.
With so much quality music on offer during the day, dissecting and devouring this beast was always going to prove a task. Having poured over the often complained about set times during the preceding week, I decided the best thing to do so was arrive early, take in the general vibe and then once the big names had kicked off, stick to a pre-set duration at each of the stages. With this in mind, we arrived around 3pm and applied festival rule #1: check your music preferences at the door. After a quick beer with friends at one of the many well-staffed Randwick watering troughs, it was time to witness what each of the many stages had on offer.
First big cab off the rank, Roger Sanchez at the Future Music stage, which we noted was some way off over in the back corner of the thoroughbred colosseum. With time to kill, the initial pilgrimage provided ample opportunity to take in parts of the festival that you might otherwise not enjoy. The impromptu tour took us from the entrance through any number of well appointed food outlets, a lolly stall doing a stack of business, and around the back of the grandstand there where a myriad of rides including a roller-disco were already well in motion. Next stop, the Future Funk stage where Elite Force was igniting a small but select crowd of loyal followers, then out into the wider expanses of Randwick where the troupe of brightly-coloured flags scattered about reminded of a medieval jousting meet. Eventually we did make it to the main stage, and within seconds of arriving under a hot beating sun, the legendary (and now beardless) ‘S-Man’ had taken over. His first hour was classic Sanchez; endless snippets of house anthems from time remembered, including Sweet Dreams, Star 69 and Born Slippy, tribal basslines (although at sound levels that were too low to appreciate), all set amidst a crowd dominated by far too much fluoro, short denim shorts, roid boys frying in the sun and fake tans oozing down many a freshly shaven leg.
5pm rolled around, and it was time to push through the now heaving throng and trot on down to the Fanklub stage to check out Germany’s number one gurner, Sven Vath. Over the next hour, the Deutsch leviathan showed why he’s rightfully considered one of the real ‘showmen’ of the dance arena. Vath, decked out in white singlet, cascading blonde locks and perennial tan, looked more like a deck hand on a Mediterranean yacht than a world class DJ. He rattled out a series of broody tech house tunes, with sounds ranging from ray guns, pops, squizzles and spooky shrieks, all surrounded by a bass line that best resembled the muffled heartbeat of a Future punter. Best of all though was Vath’s continual crowd interaction; with his stock standard formula for success: mix, gurn, celebrate and preen, driving the punters crazy in the process. Vath did it all so seamlessly that with every new track came with it a new trick, be it fanning down the security guards with vinyl, climbing amongst the fans with drum stick and cymbal, or my highlight for the day – skulling a bottle of champagne and spitting it back out over the crowd.
After cackling myself silly for an hour, it was time to canter back to the Future arena for an earful of Bedrock giant John Digweed. En route I took another opportunity to take in the wider Future populace. Fumbling through a packed racecourse infield, I soon discovered an unlisted Pump Water mini stage crammed with a sextet of African looking Adonis’s banging out epic tribal beats on some seriously big drums. Other highlights of the micro-tour included a large group of women all dressed identically, their backs adorned by the title ‘Pussy Posse’, blokes in top hats, safari suits, a myriad of porkpie hats which wouldn’t have been out of place in the Randwick stewards room, and best of all, a shirtless bloke looking not unlike Rambo: eyes rolling in the back of his head, covered in mud, armed and dangerous with tomato sauce in his left hand, American mustard in his right. Gold!
By the time I returned to our crew’s vantage point, the much vaunted ‘Diggers’ had appeared in turf coloured t-shirt, bouffant rock star hairdo and aviator sunglasses, and had kicked things off in a classic, stalking, driving progressive mode. It was at this point I realised that progressive is simply not the genre for festivals, least not for a reviewer: you need to be able to witness the set in its entirety, and with so much else to see this just isn’t possible. In any case, within the next 60 minutes he began a progressive destruction of epic proportions, searing off Cirez D’s Teaser, Plastikman’s universally adored Spastik, Koglin & Grant’s Sequential, and best of all, a track which one of our clan incredulously claimed was from 1982, Age of Love’s Age of Love. Sadly, the hour passed only too quickly, and it was time to make the Herculean trip back over to the Godskitchen domain to get a daily fix of trance.
After a 15 minute battle amongst thousands of others, I’d put the 600m journey behind me – but not before taking in the hysterical scenes at the Roller Disco where a myriad of offchops visitors were madly struggling to come to grips with the complexities of the silly 80s past-time. Soon after, I’d made my way into the betting ring to join two of Leeds’ best: one of my good mates direct from the Northern English city and secondly, BBC radio trance hero Eddie Halliwell. By the time I’d arrived Halliwell was mid set, and given the progressive lesson I’d just left behind, what was on offer could best be described as ‘banging’. Shortly after, Halliwell returned to classic trance mode (albeit with a massive amount of scratching), delivering a glut of contemporary trance bombs including Kyo & Gil’s Ultima, Thomas Bronzwaer’s Resound and Ernesto & Bastian’s Thrill. If that wasn’t enough, with the sun setting gloriously through the rear windows of the auditorium and among prismatic argons, Halliwell incinerated us all by dropping the timeless Greece 2000, then stage diving into the sweaty masses. With 8pm upon us, and Halliwell’s set sounding every bit as good as I wanted, it was hard to leave. But with the festival’s main show just 30 minutes away, it was time to once again trek over to the main arena.
This trip back was nothing short of an odyssey because of the sheer enormity of the event, with an estimated 40, 000 people attempting to do exactly the same thing. As a result, a planned trip to see Kid Koala for 30 minutes failed miserable, as did the intended visit to the Silent Disco, with things hitting a low point for the day as we were refused entry to the Chemical Brothers at the main gate. After a short wait, we finally made our way into the crush and with the assistance of the useful directions of a table tennis bat that was being waved frantically in the air, and we were soon back amongst our own crew. From a musical perspective, the Chemical Brothers provided the tracks most people wanted; Hey Boy Hey Girl, Out of Control and Block Rockin’ Beats all making a worthy appearance. Conversely, without having seen the Chemical Brothers before, and in line with the comparative on stage mayhem of Vath and Halliwell, it all seemed too ‘produced’ and effortless. On the flip side, the amazing visuals were well worth the wait, with the huge screen behind the duo lit up initially with images of animals: red prancing horses, elephants, flies and doves to name but a few. Next up, people suspended in space and flipping about Tetris style, exploding orange and turquoise pong balls, multiplying robots, and finally, a very evil looking clown. Best of all was the stone cathedral, complete with an airborne 3D tour, followed by a Blair Witch-esque trip through an eerie looking forest. Both of which, had I have been in the same condition as some of my closer pals that were by my side, would have proved even more interesting.
As soon as the Chemical Brothers had disappeared from view, with the battle-weary hordes heading chaotically (and unsuccessfully) towards the exit, I was left with a bit of time to ponder the success of this year’s Future Music Festival. Granted the big names had delivered performances that were in line with their reputations, but I had to ask myself: could Future have done better? Foremost in my mind was the appalling sound quality at three of the stages I visited, where Vath, Halliwell, Schulz and the Chemical Brothers delivered their music at a level that was barely louder than that of an old transistor radio. Likewise, the journey from one side of the event to the other was simply too much, especially considering the duration of the festival and the comparative short nature of each set, not to mention the sheer volume of people all attempting to make the same voyage. That said, on a day like last Saturday, the music often becomes incidental, with the eclectic array of attendees making the day as successful as it is. Future Entertainment are well on the way to delivering dance music lovers with an event to treasure; the venue, crowd, and entertainment are correct. It’s now up to Future’s management to work out how best to pull it all together.