Pirates of the Underground IV @ Sydney Harbour (11/12/2010)

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With not even time to return to normal sleeping patterns after the phenomenally brilliant Subsonic Music Festival, it was time to do it all again at Subsonic’s notorious cruise – also the best party in Sydney for the last three years straight. Oh yes, the Pirate party was back for Round Four.

The boat was late, very late, but once aboard, all the nervous energy was absorbed by a masterful set from Matt Aubusson. I know, I know, I keep saying it, but goddamn he can mix. The track selection and flow were on point, the dancefloor grooving along to the deeper side of tech. We were sent to dreamland with Axel Boman’s Purple Drank (random factoid: the song shares its lyric with ‘90s pop dance one hit wonder Jackie ), and, for something completely different, we were sent into meltdown with LCD Soundsystem’s I Can Change.

From a superb warm-up to the main course, the next section of the party was extraordinary. This year’s Pirate party was moved forward a week. It butted up against Subsonic, and it clashed with D25 and The Field. Setting the date for December 11 meant the party wasn’t sold out. But it did mean that those on the boat got to see a somewhat amazing duo named Extrawelt.

The opportunity to see the German pair up close and personal, like, so close you could twiddle their knobs, was a rare experience not lavished upon Sydney since the last Pirate party – 2009’s most visceral encounter with Matias Aguayo. This one, of course, was more about looking at the knob twiddling and feeling the sound twisting than looking at Aguayo gyrating and feeling him thrusting against you – in that respect it was similar to watching Vince Watson work his magic.

This too was a set of magic. Spanning the full gamut of Extrawelt’s sound, it was glitchy, melodic, twisted, upfront, abrasive, anthemic. They covered a lot of ground…or water…or something. A sticker on one of their laptops joked “I’m the shit”, but in all seriousness that’s what their music is.

With everyone reeling from what they had just witnessed, the party hit a speed bump after Extrawelt, with the next DJs not keeping the big sound intensity going and taking some time to build their sets. For sure, there were some very lush moments and some huge hands in the air belters, but the party lost a bit of flow – not least when the boat docked and a new Nanny State rule was enforced whereby the volume had to be dropped to almost mute. That really hurt.

Nonetheless, it was great to see a bunch of Berlin-based acts behind the decks again. Turmspringer backed up his Subsonic set with an effort that was full of dirty beats and hands in the air bliss. A delightful trip through techno. Upstairs The Bastards ramped things up, peaking with their chuggy stuff, leaving Marcotix to bash out some loopy tech. Even Percolator got an airing. Andre Wakko was the pick of the closers, a throbbing set punctured by the occasional Brazilian twist.

And then we were back at Rose Bay. Back to reality.

To be fair, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. A couple of logistical issues got in the way – a drop-off at Circular Quay that didn’t eventuate, an understocked bar. If it was at all possible, Extrawelt should have closed the party. But on the whole, this was another special party to continue the Pirate series.

A ridiculously stunning day in Sydney had the harbour putting on a show. Luxury cruisers, container ships, houseboats and kayaks were all part of the backdrop that is as much a part of the Pirate experience as the rickety boat that houses it. The sunset was also jaw-droppingly gorgeous. But it was also hard not to notice the incredible amount of security around the Opera House for the Oprah circus. A huge party was underway at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, but Harbourlife this wasn’t. From afar, the cordon of blinking blue and red lights looked quite pretty. But every time the party neared Circular Quay it felt like it was entering a warzone.

As the night drew to a close the boat paused to take in an enormous, spectacular fireworks show, the bridge alight with a spinning ‘O’. It was hard not to be blown away by the mesmerising beauty of Sydney…and the stupidity of it all being for one woman.

But a world away from the manufactured pomp was the little microcosm of mayhem floating, pitching, swaying on the harbour. The Pirate party is always something special – a once-a-year cruise down the rabbit hole. Although this year’s crowd was down, fatigued after Subsonic, or split between other parties, the crowd that were there knew what time it was.

It’s a nice little family that the Pirate parties have created – some people on that boat I literally don’t see for the rest of the year, but on that boat we’re like old friends. Every year, the party hosts acts from around the world, and they join the family for the afternoon. They aren’t in a hurry to leave after their set. They aren’t too proud to talk to the great unwashed. And like the rest of us, they’re transfixed by the paradise the boat is sailing past, and the wonderland within.

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