There’s one thing that everyone who goes to Dark Mofo walks away saying: “this would never happen in Sydney”.
Can you imagine the NSW Government okaying the use of a pitch-black outdoor space, illuminated only by neon art installations and open fires? Giving their seal of approval to a nude swim at a public river? How about green-lighting a bunch of volunteers to pull the entrails out of a cow carcass, for an art piece that involves no less than 150 litres of blood? Or even just serving drinks after midnight in glass, not paper cups?
And, clubbers of Sydney, can you imagine them actively encouraging the city to stay out late by loaning the City Hall to a hedonistic, all night rave?
The fact that these small freedoms feel so decadent is part of Dark Mofo’s charm. The two week mid-winter festival is dedicated to showcasing the weirder and darker sides of music, art and performance, all in a city — Hobart — that wouldn’t otherwise pull crowds at the coldest time of year. Being there feels stepping into another dimension, or walking through a particularly tripped-out David Lynch movie.
There’s a dizzying amount on Dark Mofo’s 2017 program, but I’m here to party. And luckily, that’s not hard to do.
After a four-hour trip through Dark Mofo’s performance art party Welcome Stranger — my experiences at which include watching a woman hold a lit sparkler in her anus, and a second half-naked lady rubbing salt into the bare backs of volunteers from the audience — it’s time to move onto the main late night attraction, the Red Bull Music Academy-curated Transliminal at City Hall.
As organisers tell it, Transliminal is dedicated to bringing the “dark, electronic” underbelly of the club scene to Tassie — a mission statement that crowds here can clearly get behind. It’s sometime after midnight when I rock up, and (the better-dressed) half of Hobart is out in force. By this time in Sydney, the party would already be on its home stretch. Here, things are only just getting started — the music will keep going until 5am, with punters admitted as late as they care to arrive.
“This feels like a proper warehouse rave, only cleaner and with semi-orderly bar lines”
As soon as you step inside, it’s clear what a commitment RBMA have made to Doing It Right: this feels like a proper warehouse rave, only cleaner and with semi-orderly bar lines. Smoke and lasers fill the room, bathing everything in Dark Mofo’s signature red glow. The sound is fierce. When you descend down onto the dancefloor, those lasers form a criss-crossing ceiling you can’t help but reach out and touch.
And then there’s the dancefloor itself. Instead of perching the DJs in a booth elevated above the crowd, the decks are at floor level, smack bang in the middle of the room. This means that instead of the crowd gravitating to whatever end of the room the DJ is at — all facing the booth — everyone’s dispersed equally throughout the room, dancing together in one big, glorious mess. You know, the way dance music’s meant to be enjoyed?
It’s democratic approach to programming, particularly when you consider the calibre of selectors RBMA have booked for Transliminal: cult house and disco hero DJ Harvey kicked off the first night of the party, while Legowelt and Maurice Fulton had the honour at other points.
When I get there, though, the floor belongs to Juliana Huxtable — A New York-based artist who works in photography, video, performance and poetry as well as music, exploring themes of gender, race and identity through her work.
It’s my first time seeing her, and it feels like a revelation: the sort of set you always want to hear when you go out, but rarely do. She plays songs both mechanical and melodic, mixing icy club tracks into classics like ‘Born Slippy’ while dancers with feathered shoulder pads appear for split seconds in flashes of light. You can barely make out Juliana herself beneath the smoke — again, this event is not about worshipping dance deities — but there’s not a soul in the room who isn’t moved by her presence.
By the time I emerge some hours later, it’s well and truly time for bed — but not before an early morning Maccas run. In that way at least, Hobart’s not so different to home.
Katie Cunningham is the Editor of inthemix and travelled to Hobart at the expense of Red Bull Music Academy. She is on Twitter.