Strawberry Fields @ Yorta Yorta Dhungala, Victoria (25-27/11/2011)

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The Strawberry Fields crew has outdone themselves in 2011 with a killer line-up: bringing together the best of house, techno, progressive trance, and everything in between. But with so many quality acts on the bill and only three days to fit them into, it was worrying to think when all these acts would get to play – a concern that was heightened when I discovered that the set times would not be released before the event.

The festival site was just over the border in New South Wales, just north of a strawberry growing town called Koonoomoo (no, I hadn’t heard of it either). After a good five hours drive, we arrived at around 12am and were greeted by a sea of cars banked up near the front gate, with some people setting up tents on the spot. Not a good sign.

A security guard informed us that the road into the festival was flooded, so we would have to carry our stuff into the festival, a 15 minute walk away, if we wanted to set up camp tonight. Having a four-wheel drive at our disposal, we decided to chance our luck. We quickly realised whilst there were no flooded roads, there was certainly no places to camp either, with cars parked bumper to bumper.

Pitch black and pouring with rain, we deciding that it might be best to find a place to pitch our tents in the morning, and proceeded to head out to check out the site. Despite the constant drizzle, local producer The Mollusk had the crowd firmly planted on the Groovy dance floor, shaking their booty’s to his infectious brand of wobbly glitch-hop.

We were advised that set times would be available at the info tent, but they had apparently run out of them quite early in the piece and were awaiting more photocopies. Therefore, I could only guess who was playing on the main dance floor. Nevertheless, the DJ had us grooving well into the early morning with minimal techno classics such as Gabriel Ananda’s Dopplewhipper and Carl Craig’s remix of Ramadanman and Appleblim’s Void 23.

After finally setting up our tent and getting some brief shut-eye, we kicked things off at 1:30 Saturday afternoon on the Groovy Stage with the Mad Professor. The veteran dub maestro played well beyond his allotted time, extending his set to 2 hours. He dropped blissed-out and dubby versions of classics such as Max Romeo’s I Chase The Devil, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On, and of course a bit of Bob Marley. Looking around the dance floor it was smiles a-plenty, with the sun shining down on us all from above.

As we started to make our way towards the main stage we heard some proper old school cheesy disco filtering from down near the lake. On further investigation we discovered that there was another stage, set on an island, almost completely separate from the rest of the festival. We arrived to a small scattering of diverse and disparate types having a boogie and thoroughly enjoying themselves. The DJ was playing a mix of disco edits, which was a lovely antidote to the 24/7 non-stop pounding of 4/4 beats. The others seemed to agree, looking at each other with knowing smiles on their faces.

The crowd slowly built over a period of what seemed like hours, until the island had morphed into one big mad-hatters tea party. When the DJ dropped Mr Oizo’s classic cut Flat Beat and M.A.R.R.S 1987 classic Pump Up The Volume in quick succession, I had to break my own rule against pestering the DJ during the middle of his set – I simply just had to find out his name. As it turns out, he is Parisian local Mr Pitiful, named after the classic Ottis Redding tune. I have to say, he was the highlight of the whole festival.

As night fell, the rain started to pelt down, so we decided to cut our losses and retire for the evening. The next morning we emerged to an absolutely beautiful Sunday. Starting off the day we ate breakfast in hammocks overlooking the lake. All the while blissed-out deep house, dub, and hip-hop emanated from the island’s sound system.

The musical highlights really kicked in around four o’clock with Minilogue on the main stage. Minilogue’s tracks go for an average of at least ten minutes each, and a one hour set was definitely not enough for them to even get started. In addition to this their scheduled set under their progressive alias Son Kite reportedly did not go ahead at all, which was a major disappointment for many fans.

Heading back to the groovy stage, Move D and Trus’me were playing a killer versus set. Each was originally scheduled to play for an hour each, yet they ended up playing a combined hour long versus set to accommodate for the lagging set times – their brief set was jam-packed with the deep house and disco for which they are famous. Again, it has to be stated that these artists, or any for that matter, who play more subtle brands of electronica need much more breathing space to play with, so it was a very sudden end to their set after sixty minutes of pure bliss.

Overall, most people I spoke with had a memorable weekend. It was a great location with an impressive amount of trees, great music, and an all-round good vibe from everyone concerned. However, it has to be stated that the organisation of the festival really needs improvement: there was not enough camping space, the toilet situation was dire, and even when the set times were made available they were incorrect.

Most importantly, as the weekend progressed, many artists did not play at their allotted times, and some played heavily shortened versions of their sets. Many people I spoke to were disappointed that they did not even get to see their favourite artists because they didn’t know when they were playing. If this hurdle can be overcome next year, then Strawberry Fields could become a great festival.

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