Subsonic 2018: a kaleidoscopic escape through music and art 

    photo credit: Jared Pentecost (Conspiracy)

    Nestled among the tranquil foothills of the Barrington Tops and on the banks of the Karuah River, Australia’s Subsonic is the crown jewel of the local festival scene. Now in its 10thyear, the festival has grown dramatically but remained unwaveringly faithful to its core focus on self-expression, connectivity and extensive showcase of local talent.

    From the exuberant costumes to the surrealist art installations, the entire festival glistens with a layer of psychedelia. This expressive aesthetic of Subsonic invites a healthy dose of hedonism, allowing attendees to fully immerse themselves in the experience. Often, a focus on exterior aesthetic to this extent can detract from the music. A strong case can be made for letting the music speak for itself. But Subsonic continues to prove that when music and art coexist and communicate, the outcome is inimitably magical.

    No place conjured up more magic than the Paradiso stage. Walking in as soon as the music started on the Friday, I immediately noticed sails draped with beautiful layers of blue chiffon, a more intricate design than last year. Fitted with a crisp Meyer sound rig, the stage was ripe for sonic storytelling, with spot on engineering that allowed DJs to play as they would in a club. Over the next three days, Paradiso would morph into the proverbial promised land for minimal lovers.

    The first to christen Paradiso was local Conspiracy collective mainstay, Jackson Winter, taking the reins at midday and teasing us with a swingy, groove-filled set: the perfect quick fix for an incredibly down for it crowd. At this point, we were all pretending Paradiso was our little Australian slice of Mamaia. But we would quickly come to realise that comparisons are futile; Paradiso has a uniqueness of its own.

    photo credit: Jared Pentecost (Conspiracy)

    There was a brief lull in the action, as we prepared ourselves for the night ahead, which began in the Pizza Lab, a smaller quasi-indoor stage, where Sydney icon Kato played energetic house and disco. Kato is reliable for starting a party and his electric energy was palpable as he played heaters like Maurice Fulton’s remix of Alice Smith – ‘Love Endeavour’. Dripping with sweat, and ready for some more stripped back sounds, we returned to Paradiso where we managed to catch the end of Stipé whose pulsating grooves were the perfect warm up for the Perlon royalty that would follow.

    I’ll never forgive myself for missing the most part of Sammy Dee. Arguably, I made up for my mishap by my commitment to the marathon at Paradiso that it preceded. My regret surmounted after I asked a friend how it was, only to be met with: “he performed heart surgery on the mixer”. He elaborated to tell me about Sammy Dee’s masterclass in weird hypnotic minimal, and later I was told his selection included PERBEC aka Mark Broom & Baby Ford – Chaser and Claro Intelecto – Peace of Mind. Although only there for the end, I noted Sammy’s dexterity at building an energy that would be both sustained and intensified by Zip. The next two and a half hours were filled with enviable obscurities sewn together by faultless transitions. Throughout Zip’s set, I seemed to abandon my usual penchant for analysis and fiendish hunger for an ID. I can’t quite put my finger on what was being communicated, but I was overwhelmed by the same magical sense of mystique that I recall feeling when I first fell down the rabbit hole of minimal. George Morel – Let’s Groove and Son of Sound/DJ Jus ED – I Have You On My Side are two I clearly recall, part of the countless amazing records his bag is full of.

    It was time for Pepperpot to take to the decks. A vanguard of the Sydney scene, I’d seen him play a week prior and was eager for him to command a dancefloor that had already reached fever pitch. His selections were smooth and well considered, and above all a lot of fun.

    Any festival boasting a 24-hour license carries the risk of tiredness. There are countless examples of events where non-stop music has become a tokenistic sell out. But careful programming and curation at Subsonic allays any fatigue. Over the years, Subsonic has garnered a rapturous reputation for its ability to squeeze every ounce of energy out of you and still leave you feeling renewed. I came to truly understand this on the festival’s Saturday morning.

    Among those in the know, the sunrise set from Sydney’s Mantra Collective had been hyped hard. Expectations were exceeded as the Mantra boys, Telly and Whitecat, took to the decks looking like sequinned Gods. They provided the idyllic soundtrack to the sunrise, with a sense of weightlessness characterising their selections. A particular goosebump-inducing moment came from an unreleased Silat Beksi & Daniel Broesecke tune with mind-bending bleeps that rose and fell above an elegant melody. Carrying the vibe, locals Tyson Bruun and Marlie both delivered impeccable sets proving yet again that Australia’s ascension in the global scene is imminent.

    At noon Saturday, it was time for what was one of my most anticipated sets leading up to the festival: Dannika Boss (Danni B b2b Monika Ross). The energy between them is unparalleled, a natural upshot of the two being close friends. This is a fact that could easily be observed without any background knowledge, as the two shared smiles and Veuve. From record to record their chemistry was undeniably palpable. Playing to a packed Paradiso, the pair were elegantly meddling bangers like Rich NxT’s ‘Serious’ with classy minimal grooves. By the time they played Reelow’s ‘Why Not’ the dancefloor had unanimously lost it; a moment I will hold closely forever.

    The relationship between the crowd and DJs could not have been any more affectionate than it was over the course of the morning. Adding to this, the mood on the dance floor was always easy-going with an overt sense of connectedness; a welcome antidote to the rowdiness that often characterises the Australian festival crowd. There are certain moments that solidify this feeling, like when a fat kick would resurface after a breakdown, inviting exchanges of smiles between strangers.

    Walking back to my campsite for a few hours of rest, I took a moment to reflect on the antics that had just transpired. It is no secret that Australia’s minimal scene has been steadily growing, and Subsonic was a fitting celebration of the strides the scene has made over the past year. To see local artists holding their weight alongside European royalty made me incredibly proud. The festival may only have been half-way through, but I was already confident enough to wager that this year’s edition would firmly put Australia’s minimal scene on the map.

    photo credit: Lily Dalton

    With the first day setting the bar sky high, the Saturday night had its work cut out for it. Initially, the inner techno aficionado inside of me was being pulled towards Peter Van Hoesen, Claire Morgan and Etapp Kyle who had taken over the river stage for what I heard was a night of impeccable eccentricity. But remaining loyal to Paradiso was always inevitable. It was a decision that paid off in spades.

    Local artist Venda was given the tough challenge of warming the floor for Raresh and unsurprisingly nailed it. When the Romanian heavyweight took over Paradiso the atmosphere was truly magical. As expected, Raresh’s mixing style was mind-blowing, marked by an indescribable flow that made it near impossible to distinguish one record from the next. Balancing a steady amount of unheard gems withtunes that are very much in vogue, Raresh’s selections were impossible to fault. Notable mentions include Herck’s ‘Kate’ on Roche Madam with its playful extended vocal and a persistent, locked bassline. ‘Kate’ is a track with new sections that continue to unravel over the course of its 10 minutes: a fitting microcosm for Raresh’s set as a whole. Another highlight was the energetic acid-tinged ‘Zapatac’ from Girada Unlimited on Cure Music. The track’s hyperactive hi-hats made it impossible to stand still.

    Following Raresh was Fumiya Tanaka who executed a thumping set to perfection. His distinctively churning groove was the perfect match for an already heaving dancefloor.  Growling basslines and snappy percussion were fitting for his peak hour timeslot, with Mandar – Posioned Words, MBG – Trance Wave 2 (Jumping Trip) and Tan-Ru – Changelin (L+H Dub) played. Traumer was next, ushering in the sunrise until 5.30am. Tracks with teasing vocals, like ‘Cookie Jar’ on Curtae Veche, seduced us. As the night slipped away, I came to understand how slick grooves of the minimal soundscape can suspend time like no other genre. By the time Traumer closed his set with Villalobos’ anthemic ‘Peculiar’, the Frenchman had truly commanded us to give our all. Reluctant to leave, we settled in for Stephan Bazbaz, who indulged us in a housier affair with a steady bounce.

    photo credit: Lily Dalton

    The last day was spent soaking up the festival for what it was. With no real plans to be anywhere and sweltering 40-degree heat, it was nice to simply lie by the river and appreciate the environment. We sipped Bloody Mary’s behind the pizza lab where a S.A.S.H takeover was happening. The constant weighty kick echoing from the driving tech house was comforting.

    photo credit: Jared Pentecost (Conspiracy)

    The closing night’s action took place away from Paradiso. Subb-an was performing on the main stage, which felt slightly plain, lacking the immersive atmosphere of the other stages. A set of accessible deep house fell flat compared to last night’s antics. That said, it was appropriate that Paradiso was put to bed, closing what was a magic chapter on an absolute high. Honey Dijon and Batu were given closing set slots, I split my time between the two with neither particularly doing it for me. The festival officially ended at 12am, yet Mantra Collective and Roots were putting on a renegade rave not too close to where I was camping. Although a lack of energy and the niggling reminder that I had work the next day led me to call it a night, hearing the familiar kicks clap-snares and hats as I drifted in and out of sleep was magical.

    Thinking back, it’s hard to criticise Subsonic. The only thing lacking was a more organic feel, with longer set times, some DJs playing twice, a few more b2b’s and more surprises. With music and a crowd of this calibre, the festival was almost begging to break out of its rigidity and morph into an uninhibited beast. But if the upward trajectory of Australia’s minimal scene has been following is any indication, I have no doubt this will happen in due course.

    In all, Subsonic was a slick operation from start to finish. A truly unforgettable experience that I will cherish forever.

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