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How Days Like This delivered on the hype

Photo credit: Mitchell Ferris

inthemix sent dedicated dance head JIM POE to review the inaugural outing of Days Like This, Sydney’s newest house and techno festival.

Last year, I got some pushback from inthemix readers when I rather gushingly wrote that Harbourlife “puts Sydney on a level with Ibiza or any other party destination you care to name” for one November afternoon each year.

A bunch of commenters ridiculed the notion that Sydney’s music scene, with all of its current troubles, could even come close to that of the White Isle. The truth is I took the criticism on board. I have a way of letting my excitement get away with me a bit and indulging in hype. I probably won’t stop doing it; it’s part of what makes going out fun after all these years, and I can’t stand giving in to being jaded.

So I faced the same dilemma in my approach to Days Like This last Saturday. With the slickest house and techno line-up seen in these parts in ages, it reminded me more of a day at top festivals like Mexico’s BPM or Scotland’s T in the Park than something you’d normally expect to see in Sydney. Of course Randwick Racecourse is not beachside at Tulum. So don’t worry, I won’t keep flogging the comparison.

But still, going in it was hard to avoid the thought that the day would be something special indeed – as far as day festivals in the city go.

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Photo credit: Leila Berney

Ah, that line-up. I really couldn’t get my head around it. I’m not easily impressed by a line-up, but this time I couldn’t believe the number of artists that I was not only keen on but genuinely passionate about.

“Ah, that line-up. I really couldn’t get my head around it”

Any one or two of them would have brought me out but there were dozens: Berghain regulars Rødhåd and Ben Klock. House heroes Henrik Schwarz, Axel Boman and Omar-S. Detroit techno gods Octave One. More niche artists like Answer Code Request who are actually making some of my favourite music out there lately. Gold fucking Panda.

Add this to big names like Âme, Dixon and John Talabot who may not be my cup of tea but whose reputation demands respect, making the constellation of bright lights in the DLT line-up that much more glittering. All killer, no commercial filler.

The problem, of course, is that when you have this much talent packed into 10 hours over four stages, punters have to make painful choices. You might have to skip a fave artist in order to catch two others. Or you try to do too much and end up spending all your time commuting between stages and queueing up for drinks. You try to catch it all and don’t actually catch anything.

“The problem is that when you have this much talent packed into 10 hours, punters have to make painful choices”

On Saturday, when I saw the ridiculously stacked set times, I sighed, chuckled to myself, and then did my best to choose a particular strand based on my tastes in techno and deep house. You might have chosen an entirely different strand and had a different Days Like This experience.

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Photo credit: Luke Latty

Saturday was the first nice sunny day there had been in Sydney in weeks – nothing but blue skies and little fluffy clouds. When I rolled up to Royal Randwick, Dixon was holding court on Stage 1, the stage near the front gates and the biggest one.

It was late afternoon, and so inevitably I’d already missed a couple of the artists I was keen on – particularly Soul Clap and Answer Code Request. A bit of a crime that ACQ’s intense, majestic techno was relegated to a 1pm slot, but this is the nature of a day festival, what can you do.

“Dixon’s familiar narcotic, mellifluous prog-deep house filled the afternoon air as I made my way in”

Dixon was, of course, one of the biggest names on the line-up, and his familiar narcotic, mellifluous prog-deep house filled the afternoon air as I made my way in. Things were already in full swing. It was a fine afternoon and the swelling crowds on the sunny grounds in every direction boded well.

Detroit Swindle were up on Stage 2 and had a floor of hundreds boogieing under a massive Moreton Bay fig tree. (They’re from Amsterdam, not Detroit, which always grates on me, but never mind, their stuff is dope.)

By the time the sun was lower in the sky Omar-S, who actually is from Detroit, was playing vinyl on Stage 2. His raw and hard-hitting house swerved from funk and disco to acid and got the punters boogieing seriously enough to spill their drinks. It was a splendid scene as the sun set behind the fig tree, and I thought I’d settle in awhile. But soon came the nagging realisation that I was missing Gold Panda, so off I went.

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Photo credit: Mitchell Ferris

Stage 3 was the only fully indoor stage and so I missed much of the sunset for Gold Panda, but it was worth it. Many other punters seemed to agree – he had a large, enthusiastic crowd of dancers in the dim auditorium. The big, geeky-looking Londoner really delivered with his patented indie dance and folktronica, revved up a bit to fit a peaktime vibe.

His juddering 2010 hit Go, which he dropped at the heart of his set, was particularly welcome because not only did it sound killer as ever, but it was one of the few tracks on the day that was noticeably below the standard 123-128 BPM range. Overall the set was gorgeous with the golden sunset illuminating the entrance and the windows, and really overcame the fact that it felt like partying on an airport concourse.

After the Panda, Swedish deep-house maven Axel Boman took over. He started out with Aly-Us’s 1992 New York-house anthem Follow Me, which is always how to get on my good side, and proceeded with a set of liquid sunset grooves as the darkness gathered.

“Henrik Schwarz is one of my favourite producers, but I was expecting his nuanced, melodic, often jazzy vibe to be more of a back-room thing. Nope.”

Moving on to Stage 3, and Berlin maestro of the deep Henrik Schwarz was smashing it with his pumping house. Schwarz is one of my favourite producers, but I was expecting his nuanced, melodic, often jazzy vibe to be more of a back-room thing. Nope. The dancefloor was chockas with revelers. Their euphoric noise reverberated off the big marquee overhead and many hands were raised.

But, again there were difficult decisions to be made, and Rødhåd’s set was beckoning from Stage 1. Catching him was a big priority for me as he’s one of the more audacious new talents on the Berlin/Berghain scene. He did not disappoint. The wild-looking ginger-bearded one (his name literally means Redhead in Norwegian) was really laying it down under the flashing lightshow on the big stage, his powerful but razor-sharp “Viking techno” getting the big crowd truly twisted.

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Photo credit: Luke Latty

Reluctantly back to stage 3 to quickly see what John Talabot was doing. Absolutely killing it was the answer; his tech-deep sound was much more infectious than I was expecting, and I really sank into it for a while. But all too soon it was time to check out Rødhåd’s Berghain colleague Ben Klock on Stage 1. Maybe I should have tried to do less, hey.

In all of this back and forth I missed Octave One’s live techno set – by far my most distressing omission on the day. I’d already seen a magnificent headline set by them at Mad Racket’s Sydney Festival bash six years ago and thought it wouldn’t hurt to give them a miss this time in order to split my energies elsewhere. But I regretted it later; they’re amongst the best in the world at what they do.

“You’re just not going to find a Berghain vibe on a dusty paddock in Sydney”

Mind you Klock’s pummeling Berlin techno was brilliant – it’s especially great the way he always manages to work a bit of funk and soul into the stomping 4/4 regimen. But by then it was late in the evening, and the edges of the crowd had started to disperse – many revelers were already planning their afterhours moves. So it was lacking some of the intensity I was hoping for.

You’re just not going to find a Berghain vibe on a dusty paddock in Sydney. And that tempered the huge hopes I’d started the day with.

So yeah, no one’s going to seriously compare a day at Randwick to Ibiza or Berlin or even Edinburgh, no matter how sick the line-up. But with expectations properly adjusted, Days Like This showed that Sydney can – even in these uncertain times – bring off a world-class day festival featuring sounds outside the commercial spectrum. It was a good outing that, for the most part, lived up to its promise.

Jim Poe is a writer, DJ, and editor based in Sydney. He tweets from @fivegrand1.