Subsonic Music Festival @ Barrington Tops, NSW (07-09/12/2012)

Image for Subsonic Music Festival @ Barrington Tops, NSW (07-09/12/2012)

There are few festivals quite like Subsonic. In amongst three and a half days of camping, and two and a half days of music, it offers so much more. Since its inception, it has developed a niche for getting some of the most forward thinking DJs, bands and producers together, making for some truly amazing experiences. From humble beginnings in 2009, to mind blowing performances from Extrawelt and Michael Mayer in 2010, to the breathtaking main stage finale that was Minilogue and Apparat in 2011, thrown in together with a seemingly never-ending string of local talent, it was difficult to not get excited about what Subsonic 2012 would proffer.

Set amongst what is arguably the best possible location for a doof-cum-festival in the picturesque surrounds of Riverwood Downs at Barrington Tops, it was great to be back. As always, the place was teeming with colour, creativity, and detail. The River Stage had a different cut to it, but with the same sense of grit that had made it popular in previous years.

Paradiso too had its traditional party vibe, but with what looked like a souped-up sound system, oozed potential, especially given some of the names that were set to appear there. The Pizza Lab’s relocation, together with a string of new art features leading up to the main stage, made everything in closer proximity – in particular the main stage – and made for a cosier and more inviting feel. The flower structures approaching the main stage were nothing short of awesome, and over the weekend, one of my fondest memories would be while I was perched up one of them, under a crescent moon and starlit sky as Secret Cinema belted out the melodic sounds of Guy J’s epic Lamur. One of those moments only a place like Subsonic can offer.

Given some of the delays in 2011, many arrived earlier this year, and by Friday afternoon, the place was crawling with people: strangers had become neighbours had become friends, and it was good to be back. Many had prepared themselves with what was going to be a warm few days, with a string of structures across the campsite – ranging from the tiny yet effective, to the super and impressive. Everything was in readiness, and it was time to get stuck into some music.

Friday afternoon saw Logan Baker pump out some fun tunes to a growing and enthusiastic crowd on Paradiso. While Speedwell played to a handful of people on the main stage, it mattered little: his vibe was positive, all were in good spirits, and the tunes were perfect for the settling-in period. By the time the sun began to set behind the distant Barrington Tops, Child at Paradiso was breaking out the big tunes, as well as an equally impressive ego (keep your shirt on lad).

Subsonic regular Antix stepped up and played a monster of a DJ set, kicking off an all too sweet Friday night party that included Pena, Jay Smalls and D-Sense, who all did it in style. Ryan Davis then took it up a notch, laying down a live performance that was nothing short of outstanding. With powerful driving music making for an amazing party, the German laid down one of the best Subsonic sets I’ve ever seen. SQL continued the techno laced grooves, and Anna Levia took people into the wee hours of the night.

Over at the main stage, some of Australia’s dubstep, drum’n’bass and breakbeat musicians showed off their wares. Veterans The Bird had the place pumping early, while Sydney four-piece band Svelt launched into some bass-heavy, synth-infused, dubby-guitar goodness to take everyone through to midnight. And boy did the main stage look good: over the course of the weekend, approaching it from either Paradiso/Chapel Perilious or more directly via the Pizza Lab, it always looked good.

The sound boomed out all weekend, and come Friday, I was excited to see how it would all unfold. Late Friday down by the River Shack, saw a string of locals including Robbie Lowe, Mike Witcombe, Yokoo and Dan Crocetti keep a solid and faithful crowd happy. Given the decision to not allow BYO into the festival, however, a bar down by the River would’ve made punters even happier.

Few could describe being woken by the suffocating heat of a sun-drenched tent as being pleasant. You awake from your slumber gasping for air, while also trying to figure out where on earth you are. Given the big night before, it can make for an overwhelmingly discombobulating early Saturday morning experience. It doesn’t however take long for you to realise that your mates are nearby, and that you’ve got a sweet weekend ahead of you…oh, and bucket-loads of music to wrap your ears around.

Saturday morning saw a strong and loyal following make its way down to Paradiso to check out what Sydney-based but soon to be Berlin-bound Trinity would lay down. Over 90 minutes, she fed through some darker lines for those who had partied all night long, and in turn a few melodies for those that had just woken. Rocking gently in one of the hammocks at the back of Paradiso, it is fair to say that Saturday mornings rarely get much better than this. Hari followed up nicely, and won a few fans along the way. Breakfast and brunch was next on the agenda, and on the topic of food, Subsonic once again delivered in spades. From the jaffles to the felafel, from the pizza at the Lab to the Armenian nutmeg cake at Cafe Culture, it was once again all top notch.

Down by the River Shack, the SASH crew had put on their own type of brunch, pumping out some sweet tunes to get Saturday rolling. The soundtrack sorted, the trees along the river provided a nice respite from the increasingly warm sun above. Others sought refuge back at their campsites; others hit the ‘beach’. What was increasingly disappointing however – and would continue to be over the weekend – was the sheer amount of rubbish that was clearly being left behind. While the cleaners did a tremendous job all weekend, some punters, many of whom were probably experiencing their first Subsonic, did not. For me, if you can’t walk 100 metres to find a bin, but instead expect someone else to clean up after you, then Subsonic probably is not the place for you.

Musically, Saturday was a belter. Nico Stojan played Paradiso by sunset to an absolute tee, and in a scene where tech-house can often sound repetitive, the German pumped out some buoyantly progressive material that was bucket loads of fun to hear, and a delight to dance to.

Later on, Dasha Rush, attracting a massive crowd, belted out some blistering techno. The smoking Russian was at times absolutely exhilarating to listen to, and always a pleasure to watch. The 20 minute line to get a drink from the nearby bar, however: not so pleasurable. Chapel Perilious, as it did all weekend and has consistently over the years, hosted a solid offering of psy-infused tunes, providing a different edge to the sounds that were available elsewhere.

Over at the main stage, Australia’s own Blue King Brown threw down a mash-up of roots, rock and Afro-groove; complete with a strong and powerful political rant towards the end. Japan’s supreme turntablist DJ Kentaro then unleashed his uber-impressive skills on a heaving and appreciative crowd. Worthy kept the party going, although with the main stage running a bit behind schedule, what he lacked for in flow he made up for with big tunes, and the kids were loving it.

Secret Cinema then rocked up and proceeded to blast me – and many around me – for six. Unleashing an effect-riddled and sample-heavy monster of a set, from absolute balls-out progressive to prog-breaks to thumping bass heavy techno – and everything in between – it was all sorts of brilliant. Tunes like Kick 1 Kick 3 (Maetrik Sexy Remix) from Timo Maas and Gaze from Safeworld made for a dominant performance behind the decks, one that will sit comfortably in the upper echelons of all festival sets I’ve heard over the years. Acid Pauli & NU kept the party pumping at Paradiso, and did it well.

Sunday morning brought with it a taste of the bittersweet. There was still one fine day ahead of us, but we knew the end was nigh. Some old school soulful house by Paradiso was the perfect tonic, as Adi B and then Meare offered up the perfect soundtrack. Over at the main stage, Psychedelic Jellyfish ended things (eventually) with some nice uplifting numbers, even if they weren’t in a huge rush to get off the stage.

A patient Simon Caldwell waited in the wings, and when he got his chance, playing off vinyl as he often does, oozed class with some sparkling house-infused tunes. By this time, with the mercury rising, many sought refuge by the river. Some sprinklers by the main stage would’ve gone down a treat – but by early afternoon, it mattered little, and as the heavens opened just like 2011, all and sundry copped a welcome and refreshing drenching. For many it meant a wander back to camp for change of attire; for others, it mattered little. All the colour was on display on Sunday, with the unofficial dress-up day meaning that many had costumed up, making for a truly colourful spectacle. Oh, the colours.

Down by the River Shack, the locals were holding sway. Sydney’s Dave Stuart played a fun afternoon set, his inclusion of the Max Cooper remix of the Agoria tune Panta Rei one of many highlights, before Dylan Griffin kept the Sydney fires burning, and long before Defined By Rhythm would close the stage with an absolute barnstorming display of techno.

Meanwhile, the main stage closed out with Christian Martin laying down some fun tunes, Polish duo Catz n Dogz pushing out a very accessible three hour set which had many up and about, until Francis Harris, aka Adultnapper, closed the main stage with an offering that was a touch mediocre. His disinterest at times, coupled with a few notable train-wrecks that he seemed inclined to blame on his equipment (what a poor tradesman usually does) made for an overall disappointing end to the main stage, and certainly not one that kept up with the standout performances of yesteryear. Many kept going into the wee hours of the morning though, and were still chowing down the tunes coming out of Pizza Lab by the time Sunday had indeed become Monday.

All up, Subsonic once again offered up a great three and a half day fun musical retreat. When the music was good, it was great, Friday and Saturday in particular offering some real treats. Logistically, the festival worked fine: it was easy to get in, although lines associated with showers/toilets were a common beef. That being said, putting together a three day festival is no mean feat.

The Subsonic staff themselves were delightful; their yellow t-shirts meaning they stood out a mile away, and were always on hand to help. A hard-working camera crew was snapping everywhere, outstanding without being intrusive. Food, awesome. The crowd, for the large part, similarly awesome. While there was a new flavour to the crowd this year, one that perhaps didn’t quite ‘get’ what Subsonic was about, the proof will be in the pudding over the next few years. With the new element in the crowd however, came too a new vibe amongst the security staff, one that was probably more aggressive at times than it needed to be. Chicken and egg perhaps? You figure it out.

Nevertheless, as far as three and a half days with some of your closest mates in awesome surrounds with great music to listen to is concerned – it does not get much better than this. Subsonic remains much more than a festival – it’s an amazing experience, and one that should be treated accordingly.