The inthemix summer forecast

No matter what your party persuasion, the summer ahead looks to be a strong one. From the stadium-sized spectacle of Armin Only NYE to the most intimate club tour, there’s an ever-mounting sense that no weekend will be safe. As tempting as it is to stumble blind into the balmy days ahead, we couldn’t help noticing some trends worth further discussion. Calling on the input of DJs and promoters with a stake in this summer, inthemix has cast an inquisitive eye over the good times about to roll.

The other side of festivals

With the big players aspiring to go bigger, the boutique festival is looking to fill a niche. As the recent postponement of Sydney’s Days Like This! proves, it’s not always easy being the alternative. However, the emergence of small-scale affairs like Subsonic in New South Wales as well as Strawberry Fields and Shine On in Victoria has offered hope for those disillusioned with the race to the finish of one-day festivals. Each is spread across a weekend in the great outdoors, allowing for longer sets and a more languid atmosphere.

Of course, the concept is hardly new – fabled campouts like Peats Ridge and Rainbow Serpent Festival have been doing it for years, not to mention all those doof crews – but it seems that now more than ever is a ripe time for going bush. It also helps that the collective line-ups contain names like Minilogue, Fat Freddy’s Drop, Model 500, Michael Mayer, Alex Smoke and Extrawelt.

We asked Scott Commens, the man behind Subsonic in Barrington Tops, if he senses a shift in the festival appetite. “I guess it depends what type of experience you are looking for,” he says. “Large formats mean big budgets, which leads to obvious benefits with the calibre of artist and production; but smaller festivals will always cater for emerging talent and the obscure. Some people love the big crowds, some don’t.”

Techno, techno, techno

There’s a distinct feeling that this will be a standout summer for tours, and for those who love to techno, the outlook is especially good. “I think techno is on its way back,” mused Swiss visitor Deetron to inthemix. “I feel that while the focus has been on house predominantly in the last few years, the pace is growing faster and a little harder as well, judging from what I hear in the clubs.”

Certainly here in Australia, the precedent for a heavy-duty season has been set by the Stereosonic bill. “I haven’t come for a while simply because I hadn’t been asked, as I don’t play minimal,” quips Jeff Mills when inthemix queries why it has been four years between visits. In something of a coup, we’re getting Juan Atkins, Model 500 and the D25 tour with Moodymann, Carl Craig and Theo Parrish all within a space of a month. Now, that’s a good start.

Superstar DJs, here we go!

While this season is set to see even more bands on dance festival line-ups, two of its biggest drawcards – Armin Van Buuren and David Guetta – are DJs. Hugely bankable ones at that. As Sasha put it in his recent interview with inthemix: “Someone spread a nasty rumour that the superstar DJ thing was dying last year, but they might not have looked at the facts properly…”

Love or loathe him, Guetta is now more than ever his own brand. Having secured the Frenchman for Shore Thing on Sydney’s Bondi Beach this New Years Eve, Fuzzy co-founder John Wall is aware he’s dealing with a pop juggernaut. “He’s on a whole different level,” laughs John. “I think I heard someone say he’s been solely responsible for keeping EMI in business; I wouldn’t have a clue if that’s true, but there’s definitely been a major change in his profile.”

We asked DJ Sneak, a long-time friend of Guetta from the filter house days, what he makes of the phenomenon. “He’s not a DJ; he’s an entertainer,” Sneak says. “A pop star, man. I’ve been in Ibiza for his night [F*** Me I’m Famous] and people just want to take a photo with this guy. They’re not even listening to what he’s playing. It’s a Hollywood factor with him. He’s sort of taken over what Tiësto used to run. Now he’s bigger than Tiësto.”

With both Armin Only and a Guetta-led Summadayze on the horizon, Mark James is well aware of their pulling power. “The superstar DJ has always been there but now it’s at the next level. Armin said recently that if you don’t have a hit record you’re not going to make it as a DJ, which is a pity, but that seems to be how it’s going these days.”

Dance gets live

There’s been no missing the shift in dance festival line-ups in recent years. Franz Ferdinand playing Future Music Festival. Parklife poaching The Wombats and The Dandy Warhols. The Temper Trap headlining Harbourlife. While casting the net wide does draw its critics, the shift towards live acts has been a natural one.

This year sees Fuzzy’s New Years Day institution Field Day welcoming more bands than ever, with Klaxons, Tame Impala, The Rapture and Sleigh Bells lending a distinctly ‘indie’ vibe. “If we had done the same thing back in the ‘90s, it would’ve been really drastic,” reasons John Wall. “Basically the people who were into dance music really hated live music on the whole. There wasn’t a lot of good live dance acts either. Now there are acts that aren’t strictly ‘dance music’, but you’d dance to. It’s not like there’s been a drastic change where everybody sits down between the bands or anything.”

When it comes to the iconic live acts in dance music, Mark James argues that the pool isn’t exactly growing. “We’re getting to the stage where acts are running out,” is his frank assessment. “You’ve got your Chemical Brothers, Prodigy, Groove Armada, Basement Jaxx. You sort of run out after that in our genres. There are a lot of indie-electro live acts coming up, but a guy on a computer waving a balloon around isn’t really enough.”

“When Chemical Brothers bring a show, they bring 28 people with them and the most amazing visuals,” he continues. “There are a lot of famous nobodies who just don’t have the production. The chinstrokers want this or that, but sometimes the shows just aren’t that good.”

One festival that has long championed live dance acts over DJs is Big Day Out. In 2011, the Boiler Room will welcome Italian upstarts The Bloody Beetroots in their Death Crew 77 incarnation, a marked change from the usual veterans.

“I haven’t actually seen their live show, but I’m told that it’s pretty good,” says Big Day Out’s Vivian Lees drily. “I do admit that they’re pretty high up in the advertising on the poster – I think that they might have some compromising photographs of [co-organiser] Ken [West] to be up there so high on the line-up, but they’re on there nevertheless.”

Nine hours with Armin Van Buuren

Looming large this New Years Eve is Armin Only Mirage, the ‘one night only’ spectacle led by the world’s number #1 DJ. We last saw the epic production in 2008, but it has been overhauled for 2010. “I decided to only do Armin Only if I really have something new to bring to the table,” the man himself told us recently. “It needs to be new visuals, new stage design, new music, everything; so it doesn’t become stale.”

“The production is unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” confirms Mark James. “These guys have been working on the stage design for the last year. They’ve already been out here twice to scope out Etihad Stadium. It’s an amazing production for just one DJ, but obviously there are a lot of performers and dancers. There are not too many DJs who can pull that off.”

What are you most looking forward to this summer? Let us know in the comments field below.