Strawberry Fields 2014 Review

As published on Pulse Radio December 1st, 2014.

Set deep within the Tocumwal bush land, Strawberry Fields provided for its punters an oasis of electronic music and psychedelic decoration that truly marked a departure from any normal, civilized life. This was my first time at Strawberry, and while I’d heard excellent things from those who frequent the festival, I was overcome by how spectacular the visuals were as soon as our crammed little car entered onto the grounds. Perhaps unlike other “bush doofs” I’ve been to, this one really put the “bush” in the “doof”. There were trees everywhere, allowing a plethora of shade in extreme heat conditions, and also becoming the perfect backdrop for playful lighting and sound buffering. Word on the campsite was that last year the stages sat in a clearing, which was open and potentially more accessible on foot. This year, however, each stage was nestled in amongst the trees to the point where they seemed to almost meld in with the natural landscape. While I wasn’t able to experience the stage setting last year, I’m confident this year’s far exceeded last. The light emanating from the stage and hitting the tall, sprawling trees and across the undulating crowd was magical to say the least, almost rivaling the beauty of the sounds.

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Aesthetics were given much attention to detail and it was clear upon arrival that the organizers had taken great care in selecting and arranging artists to set up little alcoves for festival-goers to retreat into mid-dance session, or chill out at during the day. The crystal tent offered both shelter and a carpeted floor; a luxury when day two of your festival means your campsite looks as if it’s a muddy rubbish heap. There were swings hanging from a makeshift wooden roof that was lit like a starry sky, and a giant wooden throne that looked like something from Game of Thrones. Given this was my first time, exploring the grounds at the festival was an experience in itself and provided entertainment before the music began on the first night.

Friday night was always going to be fairly special, with Pachanga Boys playing their two-hour set at the Wildlands Stage. The German duo played to an adoring crowd, and led their set up to the ultimate track from their repertoire, ‘Time’. Though it already takes up a decadent seven minutes, Pachanga Boys lengthened it to be at least fifteen, teasing the crowd with the burgeoning climactic drop. They played a few other classics too, giving the crowd something to really grab hold of aside from the bamboo railing that separated the Boys from the dancing crowd (the railing sadly would not make it past day two). As a marker of all good festivals, I found myself being lifted onto random dancer’s shoulders at various points throughout their set.

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With Pachanga Boys’ set finishing early and Opiou’s going late over at the Jungle Stage, it meant I was able to catch the end of the Kiwi artist’s set. Opiou seems to be everywhere on the scene these days, and having witnessed his sets at Melbourne and also at Rainbow earlier this year, I knew I was in for a treat. He did not disappoint. Though only catching the end, he was dropping beats to appease the crowd and happily became very interactive with his fans – a trait many DJs never quite master, but when they do it makes their set even more special. Looking at the set list it was interesting to see two such big names on the first night, and I knew that the Saturday night would be comparatively less intense.

Waking to a dreaded over-heating tent and the spitting sounds of lighters firing up the first cigarettes of the day on Saturday morning, I could sense it was going be another long, hot day. Though everyone looked slightly more disheveled and slightly more drenched in whatever liquid they could get their sweaty hands on, this didn’t stop an awesome turn out for the uncle/niece duo, Willow Beats, who played at 1pm on the Jungle Stage. Despite my hangover malaise, this young female vocalist had the voice to enliven even the weariest of spirits. Asking my friend who this magical songstress was I was surprised to hear she was only 17. It’s clear to me that great things are on the horizon for Willow Beats.

Later on the Saturday night was the Wondercore Island Session at the Jungle Stage, which promised a prime set list of Haitus Kaiyote, Oscar Key Sung and Andras Fox. Haitus Kaiyote, with their smooth beats and relaxed tunes (especially in contrast to the psy-trance beaming from the main stage), created an almost ethereal performance. They saved the night in many respects, as a few artists either didn’t show or pulled out for various reasons. This meant Haitus Kaiyote played a longer set and made great use of this creative license, jamming on stage in the same way I’d imagine they would if they were just jamming at home. It was fun, and their set quickly became a highlight of the whole festival.

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The Jungle Stage was much smaller than other stages, and seemed more secluded and private, making for an intimate crowd and allowing plenty of space to move your feet. During Haitus Kaiyote I discovered that Andras Fox would regretfully not be playing due to a stomach infection. This initial disappointment was overcome when Oscar Key Sung graced the stage with his sweet-as-sugar voice. Accompanying his funky beats were his equally as impressive dance moves, and it’s my opinion that the crowd was as transfixed by his voice as they were his body. “I feel like a parent or something” he whispered into the microphone halfway through his set, “I just want you all to be careful and look after each other”. Could he get any sweeter?

Where Andras Fox should have been, The Tortoise took his place, turning up the pace and ramping up the dance. This was when the thunderstorm began. Midway through my ventures to the Double Dragon Tea Lounge, a marquee that offers pillows and carpet and warm tea (AKA a godsend), the sky cracked open and spears of light arched across the sky. It was something to behold. Aside from the overwhelmingly piercing sound of the thunder, the lightning lit up through the trees and onto the faces of the happy, sweaty dancers. Moments later, the heavens opened and began pouring sheets of rain. It was ferocious, but thankfully only temporary. The rain continued on and off all through Andy Ukhtomsky’s set at the Jungle Stage, and sprinkled down through the colourful lights like confetti. Winding down, the rain eventually cleared, the music softened, and people’s tired feet and sleepy eyes retreated to the sanctuary of the Tea Lounge, or the comfort of the (hopefully) dry tents.

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The main attraction for many on Sunday was Detroit DJ Seth Troxler’s 12pm set at the main stage. While it was the last day and everyone looked appropriately covered with a subtle glaze of brown that could either mean being dirty or sun kissed, Seth Troxler really woke everyone up. Arriving somewhat late, I was welcomed to his set with a fierce mix up of ‘Simon Says (Get The Fuck Up)’ by Pharoahe Monch. It immediately took me back to my year 12 formal days, and it was very clear that the abiding crowd were happy to ‘get the fuck up’ for Seth Troxler. On the same stage and later during the day was the headliner, Ame, whose progressive dance pulled an enormous crowd.

The music didn’t end there, however, as Seth Troxler continued to play to the select few hardcore punters at the Tea Lounge into the wee hours of the Monday morning. A quick four-hour (accidental) disco nap enabled me to be one of these people. Some of the crowd were dancing, some were scattered over the grass in front of the large canvas artworks, and others were stuck in some sort of catatonic sleep while draped over a pulsating speaker. I guess everyone had their own way of seeing out what was a magnificent festival.

It was a sad thing to leave the bush and drive back to concrete and showers (though the shower was pretty great). The only commiseration for the post-Stawberry depression was the knowledge that there will always be next year and that this is just the beginning of an expansive summer festival season. And, that for now, an actual bed is the greatest thing on the planet.

Thanks for the good times, Strawbs. ♥Λ♥

[Photos by Voena courtesy of Stoney Roads]

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