Backpacking to the UK is nothing new. In fact it’s so common for young Australians to make the journey over to the British isles that it’s almost seen as a rite of passage, with the purpose of seeing the world, meeting new people, and having a good time. Most people come back with great experiences and stories, new perspectives on life. Others bring back with them things that are less desirable; a hastily thought through tattoo, piercing or worse, a faux British accent. Perth’s Damian Gelle and Sydney’s Anton Marmot, however, brought back with them the connections and knowhow to start up Electric Gardens. Of course it wasn’t that easy, and the two took over two decades to bring their vision to life, but what started as a backyard bash in England is now one of Australia’s newest, premier festivals.
Getting big names has never seemed to be an issue for Electric Gardens. It’s debut year, 2016, brought household names like Fatboy Slim, Eric Morillo, and Dubfire in a strong opening lineup, while last year stepped it up a notch with Jamie Jones, Basement Jaxx and none other than Eric Prydz gracing Australian shores for a rare appearance. 2018 continued the trend of attracting big hitters, with Fatboy Slim reprising his role as prime troublemaker, Armand Van Helden making his first appearance in the country for 10 years, and a whole host of top quality international artists such as Gorgon City, Dubfire, MK and Nicole Moudaber to name a few. But this year was a little different, and saw the festival champion Australian artists as one of their selling points and it was great to see the likes of Young Franco, Motez, The Aston Shuffle, Kilter and Luke MIllion get the billing they deserve.
We came in with just time enough to catch the tail end of Doorly’s set, a proper welcoming if there ever was one. We could here the 4×4 beats from the entry, and we floated in like a cartoon characters drawn to a pie on the window sill. The festival itself is tucked away at the Brazilian fields in Centennial Park, the same spot where Fuzzy’s Listen Out is held, and it’s an picturesque place for a party. Wide open spaces, hemmed by trees, give it that great outdoor festival vibe, and whilst there is inevitably dirt kicked up, there’s also grass aplenty for punters to sit on. The main stage sits front and centre, with the Rio “The Hangout” stage on the far left. Nestled in between the two was the Circoloco stage, curated by the world renowned party brand, and promoting the local talent was the Southern Sounds Arena, hidden away to the right.
Armand Van Helden was next, my personal must-see, playing an uncharacteristically early set for such a large drawcard, but his gig with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra that night meant that he needed the play early slot to make it work. He threw down possibly one of my favourite sets of all time, dropping in timeless hits from his own back catalogue, like “You Don’t Know Me”, his “Sugar is Sweeter” remix and “My My My”, as well as some classic crowd pleasers like “Lola’s Theme”, and my personal favourite “Thrill Me” by Junior Jack. After that highlight we set across to sample some of The Aston Shuffle, playing in probably my favourite festival stage setting, under a tent. The boys were down a man today as far as we saw, but he kept the good vibes going with a primo selection of house tracks for us to groove to.
After all the house-y goodness we went over to rendezvous with Nicole Moudaber, who set the mid-afternoon scene with a very well curated and nuanced techno set. She had the crowd purring over her transitions, and all those that we spoke to said that she was a weighty attraction for them. Keen to sample some more local flavour, we jumped back over to the Southern Sounds tent to take in Kilter, who played a very impressive live set complete with special guests. Young Franco followed, and brought the noise, with the highlight being his track with Scrufizzer, “About this thing”.
Returning hero Dubfire drew us back to the Circoloco stage for some more techno worship and he didn’t disappoint, working the crowd into a lather, before we excused ourselves to refuel with some gozleme from one of the many food trucks present. Bellies full and tanks replenished, we set off to see Motez, who was a close second in terms of set of the day. He was dropping heaters left, right and centre and had the crowd in the palm of his hand for his whole set. He even played over his allotted time, breaking protocol for one last song. And weren’t we glad he did, as a packed tent bellowed out Whitney Houston’s “I wanna dance with somebody” as the perfect closer to a stage that went toe to toe with the big international acts in terms of drawing power.
To finish off our day we took in the main man himself, Fatboy Slim, back for a second dose of Electric Gardens. Normon Cook might be pushing mid-50’s, but the man hasn’t lost any of the stage presence or energy that he had 20 years ago. He weaved samples from his hits in with modern and classic tracks equally, navigating through various genres. Acid house, techno, electro, they all got a play. It was a high energy end to the day, and seeing the thousands of people pack out the main stage with multi-coloured batons waving around was a sight to behold. If there was one complaint to be had it’s a familiar one, the sound just wasn’t loud enough. But that’s no slight on Electric Gardens, being more about Sydney.
Festivals like this seem like an anomaly at the moment; well staffed, well organised and well funded, with the perfect mix of overseas heavyweights and local talent to provide something for everyone without watering down the experience. I’ll go again, and I’ll be recommending to others that they come along for the ride!
author: Nat Taylor