Space Ibiza Festival @ Moore Park, Sydney (01/01/2011)

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While I didn’t attend last year’s inaugural Space Ibiza Festival, the ticketing debacle seemed to dominate all post-event analysis. So I guess there was a certain amount of pressure on Paul Strange and crew to deliver the goods even more so this year, with any kind of stuff-up guaranteed to have the ITM forum posters coming down harder and heavier than Carl Cox’s bass levels. Well, I’m pleased to report that based on what I witnessed, Sydney seems to have itself a new leader of the festival pack.

Obviously the music is the most important aspect that makes a festival, and we’ll get to that in a second, but there were several other factors that served to make this a fairly awesome day. Queues at the bars of any significant length were pretty much non-existent, the layout was easy to negotiate (although maybe the Red Room could have been a bit more clearly displayed on the map for idiots like myself), the sound was superb for an outdoors event (if a little loud at times at the car park stage), there was plenty of room to dance and no overcrowding, and I think best of all, the crowd seemed to be full of like-minded individuals out to listen to quality music and mercifully free of those ‘other kinds’ of festival-goers. Maybe they were over in the Domain.

As for the music, a quick caveat. Given that I’m a four-on-the-floor kind of guy, rather than a broken-beats kind of man, I opted to allow the drum ‘n’ bass fanatics more room in the Forum by not going in there for any significant period of time. Anyway, even if I was the world’s biggest drum ‘n’ bass fan, I’m not sure I would have spent all of the gloriously sunny day indoors. Yet in the interests of fulfilling my duties as ITM’s reviewer, I made sure I did a few random walk-throughs at various points in the day, and every time the place was packed out and everyone seemed to be going nuts. You crazy drum ‘n’ bass kids.

So I spent most of the day bouncing between the main stage (the Flight Arena) and the car park stage (Coachbay Arena). Darren Emerson and Dave Seaman provided some nice early afternoon warm-up material on the main stage with their trademark progressive house, keeping things appropriately light and free-flowing for a sparsely populated dance floor. The crowds really started to filter in as now-local-boy Matt Cahill provided a nice forty-five minute bridge over to Camilo Franco, who made his statement of intent clear right from the start when he dropped C & C Music Factory’s Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now) as his first track, followed not long after by Technotronic’s Pump Up The Jam.

That’s not to say his set was packed with golden oldies, although Tori Amos’ Professional Widow also got thrown in later on. It all seemed to work a treat, at least while I was there, as I jumped shipped midway to catch Ralph Lawson knock out some jackin’, funky house in the Coachbay which definitely took the vibe up a notch, although perhaps his set could have done with a little more diversity.

Visually, the screens on the mainstage were suitably impressive, while the professional dancers provided lots of eye candy for those interested. I’m not sure they added that much to the experience of the music, although it was very cool to see the dancers silhouetted against the screens after the sun had gone down. I’d give a special mention to the dancers who were pretty much topless save for some carefully positioned glittery material, but my girlfriend may be reading this, and to the posse of horny blokes gathered down the front – it’s rude to stare. Still, I guess that’s what the Space brand is all about – glamour (in the guise of voluptuous women) as well as the music.

After taking a quick breather, it was over to catch the start of Steve Lawler’s set on the main stage, but given that Lawler has had my attention on several occasions in the past, while Francois K has only had the pleasure of my company once (at Gas some time in 2002 or 2003… I think), it was back over to the car park. You just can’t turn down the opportunity to see someone of Francois K’s calibre and experience play as the sun sets. Lawler’s first thirty minutes of percussive house weren’t anything great, so I didn’t feel like I was missing out.

If you’re not a fan of superlatives and grandiose statements, you may wish to look away now and skip a couple of paragraphs… put simply, I think Francois K threw down one of the finest festival DJ sets I’ve ever witnessed, and his set alone was worth the price of admission. He played a wild array of styles that in the hands of anyone else probably would have been a cluttered mess, but he created two hours of dance music bliss, and I think the ever-growing dance floor during his set testified to his ability to lure everyone in on his mad trip.

Bits of rolling house sat next to slices of clattering techno, and lots of dirty acid fought its way out alongside some tribal-esque moments. I was glued to the dance floor for the entire two hours, and loved the way, in a Tenaglia-like fashion, he took a left turn when you thought he’d be going right, and went off down a side road when you thought he’d be going straight on. He totally captured the perfect vibe for the time and place he was playing.

I have a file in the deeper recesses of my memory labelled “Classic DJ sets”. It’s only been updated once or twice in the past couple of years, and was getting increasingly dusty, but I’m pleased to say it’s started 2011 with a new addition. The set really felt like one of those ultra-rare experiences that reminds you why you became interested in dance music in the first place, and re-affirms for you the power of the music to create experiences that you just can’t get anywhere else. Sure, maybe I’m getting a little dramatic here, but that’s how I felt when it had all ended. I realise the chances are slim, but if he’s reading this: Mr. Kevorkian, thank you, you’ve made my year, and it’s only a day old.

After that it was either stay and see M.A.N.D.Y. or walk over to the main stage for Carl Cox. Figuring that some driving, euphoric techno would be the perfect way to end the day, I opted for the latter, hitting the dancefloor just as Cox dropped Martin Solveig’s Madan remix. I then felt guilty for picking the populist option, so I did a U-turn and headed back to the M.A.N.D.Y. boys, only to be greeted with some fairly nondescript tech-house.

I then felt guilty about feeling guilty for picking the populist option, so it was back over to Carl Cox, and in a moment of perfect synchronicity, I made it into the centre of the happy crowd just as the familiar synth riff of Underworld’s Dark & Long made its way into the mix, and there I stayed until the very end. While I’ve never been particularly enamoured with Cox’s style of DJing, he sure knows how to work a crowd of thousands and bring a night to a suitably uplifting conclusion.

I think the strength and success of the day came from the focused music policy, which feeds into attracting a crowd with similar tastes, which feeds into everyone having a damn fine day. While some other events are pursuing a path of increased diversity, the decision by Paul Strange to stick to a handful of respected dance music DJs and acts really paid dividends.

I thoroughly enjoyed the day, it was a great way to start the new year, and it demonstrated that when the music, the crowd, the DJs, the weather, the promoters, the venue, and the ‘mature lady’ dirty dancing on the corner of the misting tent all come together, there’s no better experience than a dance music festival in Sydney.

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