The good, the great and the epic of Electric Gardens 2017

The sophomore edition of anything is always a make-or-break moment. It’s when audiences get the chance to see whether your amazing first attempt was just beginners luck, or if you’ve got what it takes to go the distance.

Over the Australia Day weekend, last year’s festival darling Electric Gardens returned to Centennial Parklands in Sydney for its 2017 edition, after a 2016 debut raved about by everyone who experienced it. And even though a few sets missed the mark, ANDREW WOWK found there’s a lot of merit in booking quality acts over obvious mainstage stars. Here’s what he made of the music at Australia’s new boutique festival favourite.

The warm-up: Eelke Kleijn, ANNA, &ME and Andhim

Eelke Kleijn demonstrated in the Balance tent why he’s one of the fastest rising stars in the progressive house scene with a superbly mixed selection of deep, melodic prog which was both dancefloor friendly and restrained enough to suit the 2PM timeslot. It was an excellent start for what would easily be the best stage of the day.

The next couple of hours at the Mixmag and Code stages meandered by with sets from ANNA, &ME, and Andhim, which were enjoyable enough in the moment. It was effective and functional deep and tech house that suited the festival environment with its rolling basslines, chunky percussive grooves, and the occasional flittering melody or forlorn vocal. It successfully got the dancefloor moving, but it all started to sound quite samey quite quickly if you listened carefully.

The untouchable: Sasha

Any ill feelings were momentarily forgotten when Sasha took to the stage in the Balance tent. There is a reason Sasha is still touring the world after more than two decades in the game: he is really bloody good.

“There is a reason Sasha is still touring the world after more than two decades in the game: he is really bloody good”

Over the years, he has been able to stay true to the warm, melodic sound he pioneered while finding ways to inject elements of contemporary underground sounds.

In line with this ability, there was a decidedly techy bent to his set, which was made up of lots of stripped-down, rolling grooves but these were expertly peppered with lush, melodic atmospherics and emotive chords at exactly the right moments.

The underwhelming: Eric Prydz

Meanwhile, Eric Prydz was playing under his Cirez D alias on the Code stage. For someone who can produce some really excellent techno, Prydz doesn’t really understand how to DJ it.

When every track you play is seven minutes of a single loop, just mixing the last 32 bars of the previous tune into the first 32 bars of the next one means your set gets really boring, really fast. Individually, the tunes were fine (some were even great, including a well-timed drop of On/Off), but overall the set just felt flat and monotonous. There was none of the quick mixing, long layering or turntable trickery that techno needs and his 90 minutes that felt more like three hours showed why mixing techno like a prog DJ just doesn’t work.

“For someone who can produce some really excellent techno, Prydz doesn’t really understand how to DJ it”

Prydz wasn’t that much better under his own name than as Cirez D. Having seen him play a number of times before and been thoroughly impressed, it’s fair say there was just something off about his performance.

Maybe it was having to play closing set on the mainstage, which meant that his set felt like he was obligated play all of his anthems (including the criminally overplayed Pjanoo and Opus) back-to-back, rather than being able to whip out the plethora of unreleased weapons he has access to. The visuals looked nice, though.

The absolutely epic: Hernan Cattaneo and Guy J

In the Balance tent Hernan Cattaneo and Guy J were going back-to-back for 2.5 hours and showing exactly why when prog is done right, not much else comes close.

“When prog is done right, not much else comes close”

These are two DJs who understand just how important good programming is in a set, and their similar penchants the more chugging, hypnotic end of the prog spectrum meant that they were a perfect match. Unless you looked up to see who was on the decks, you’d never have been able to pick who was playing when: the transitions between the two were utterly seamless, and they worked together to build the set as a team.

Deep, spacey atmospherics characterised the first half hour, before a good 90 minutes of rolling, chuggy grooves that injected melodic elements at just the right moment kept heads down and feet moving. The final half hour was exactly how to finish a closing set at a festival, full of warm, emotive sounds and uplifting basslines. It was a masterclass in DJing delivered by two of the best prog DJs of all time, and was worth the price of admission alone.

Andrew Wowk is a Sydney-based writer and DJ. You can argue with him on Twitter