How the Red Bull Music Academy tent aced Splendour

It’s freezing cold at the North Byron Parklands. With the thermostat sitting below a frosty 10 degrees Celsius, the Splendour in the Grass site – which in just over 12 hours will be packed with punters in the tens of thousands, dressed in short-sleeves to match the sun – is more or less deserted. Thoroughfares that will bottleneck the next day are presently empty, bar a few stragglers who’ve ventured from their campsite, rubbing their hands together and pulling beanies further down their faces.

There’s one place on the site, however, where the temperature isn’t a problem. To the far end of the Parklands, Red Bull Music Academy are hosting a Thursday night pre-party to entertain the festival-goers who’ve arrived early. Splendour’s 2014 edition might not officially kick-off until the next day, but Red Bull’s tent is heaving, with punters rammed into every corner.

They’ve rounded up a party-starting group of locals to welcome the weekend with a bang: from wordlife and Perth newcomer Sable to regular offsiders Yahtzel & LDRU and Indian Summer, two of local label Sweat It Out’s newest recruits, the Thursday crew know how to dial it up. That means Drake, trap remixes by the bucketful and the distinct sensation that the tent might be lifting off the ground when Indian Summer step up to close the stage, clad in suits (which will be soaked in sweat by the end) while the duo’s Gabe Gleeson gets some serious airtime, pirouetting around the stage in an impressive feat of agility all hour long.

Party anthems might’ve been the order of the day on Thursday night, but Red Bull’s typically been associated with the lower end of the dance music spectrum. Since 1998, Red Bull’s taken their Music Academy around the world, holding a new multi-week event in a different city each year. This year’s RBMA is in Tokyo, which explains the Japanese theming all around the stage: red lanterns hang from the roof, the Eat Art Truck to the side is selling some festival-ready takes on Japanese cuisine and backstage, 70s-style oriental soft porn adorns the walls while a retro coin-operated Space Invaders game is nestled in one corner. “I lost like, $40 on that thing last night,” one artist’s manager tells me as the weekend’s drawing to a close.

Red Bull’s annual music academies are a mix of concerts, club nights and lectures by electronic music’s most esteemed figures, and have earned a place as one the most enviable events on the dance music calendar. They’re the sort of events dance music’s lifers would kill to be at: last year, James Murphy gave a heartfelt lecture on self-doubt and the evolution of his label DFA, while Skream played his last ever dubstep set as part of the program elsewhere in New York.

RBMA’s an even bigger deal for the 60-odd artists the brand selects each year to be flown to the Academy’s destination city, put up in style and dunked headfirst into a two week intensive workshop with the best in the business, designed to help them hone their skills, collaborate with like minds and launch themselves as artists. Nina Kraviz was among the 2006 alumni, Jamie Woon’s a graduate and fellow big-leaguers Ta-ku, Canblaster, Mano Le Tough and Salva have all taken their first big steps with Red Bull.

They curate festival stages too, and for the second time in 2014 Red Bull’s set up shop at Splendour in the Grass. It’s a nice addition to a portfolio that boasts appearances at international destinations like Sonar and Movement Detroit. And with former RBMA artists dotting the line-up, it’s no wonder the artists they selected are uniformly high-quality. “Last year I pretty much hung out here all weekend,” one friend tells me as we head in on Friday, day one of Splendour’s three. That’s a sentiment that will be echoed around site all weekend long: if you know what’s good, go to the Red Bull tent.

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