While America’s festivals are but a mere memory as the northern hemisphere heads into winter, Australia kicked off their festival season with Totem Onelove’s world-renown Stereosonic summer festival tour. With stops in Sydney, Perth, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane over the last weekend of November and the first weekend of December, this ambitious tour showcased artists from all areas of the electronic music spectrum in a lineup that can only be called an all-star wish list for any dance music fan.
As Stereosonic Sydney opened its gates to festivalgoers, it was obvious that the festival culture of Australia is less rave and more Miami beach. Men walked around without shirts on (despite signs explicitly stating that those without shirts would be ejected), and girls were dancing about in bikini top and skimpy shorts, showing off their summer tans. The Australian youth are very proud of the fact that they have spent the months leading up to the festival building perfect physiques. It’s this mentality that made the Stereosonic crowd one of the most attractive crowds in the world.
It’s easy to overlook how well put together Stereosonic was. The venue was placed right next to a local train station, making transportation to Sydney Olympic Park easy. Entry was quick and there were numerous food and drink vendors selling a variety of items along with an assortment of beers and ciders. An addition of a coat check was also a nice amenity, though most guys and girls were just throwing their tees and tanks into the trash. Most importantly, there were plenty of restrooms. The festival was built inside Sydney Olympic Park, the same locale of the 2000 Summer Olympics, and it proved to be a respectably large venue. While Electric Daisy Carnival and Ultra Music Festival featured seven and eight stages, respectively, Stereosonic showcased over 90 artists on nine stages, reflecting an ever-growing taste in electronic music in Australia.
When I first arrived at Stereosonic Sydney, I headed towards the mainstage, named “Stereo,” built within the Sydney Showground Stadium, and found thousands of people jumping along with Australia’s Kaz James’ newest track Drums as the summer sun was beating down from above. Those who decided to camp out at the front of “Stereo” all day were treated to cups of water by the staff to keep hydrated and a constant spray of mist. To finish his set, Kaz James dropped Rage Against the Machine’s Do What They Told Ya as he came out to the front of the stage and smashed a CDJ to the crowd’s delight.
Over at the HARD LA stage, Destructo was performing inside a venue that resembled a miniature gladiator arena with an elliptical-shaped sand floor surrounded by high concrete stands. After the HARD CEO left the stage, Zedd led the shirtless crowd for an hour of synchronized, high energy jumping as he showcased his Clarity album. One of the largest reactions was when he played RL Grime’s trap anthem remix of Kanye West’s Mercy. The Australian crowd, new to trap, erupted in cheers and fist pumping.
I then traveled to Holden Lawns to experience Israeli electronica group Infected Mushroom. While the group is known for its dark, psychedelic sound, their live daytime performance was refreshing in a festival lineup filled with DJ sets. Infected performed their older classics like Insane In The Brain and Cities Of The Future along with tracks from their new album, Army of Mushrooms, like U R So F*cked, which held such raw energy that it was hard to believe we weren’t at a rock festival.
I returned back to the Stereo stage to catch the end of Example’s live set and found a packed stadium singing along to Kickstarts. Example’s songs and voice have earned him millions of fans worldwide, but his touring hasn’t included stops in North America, so seeing him live was a real treat. Example finished with Changed The Way You Kiss Me and led the crowd in an frenzy of screaming, singing and jumping while strobe lights flashed above the mainstage back under a backdrop of the setting Australian sun.
I ran over to the “Carl Cox Revolution” stage to experience the house legend Carl Cox himself. His stage was placed inside a giant warehouse decorated with LED screens and dozens of strings of illuminated spheres hanging from the ceiling. Along with the hazy mix of body heat, fog and LED lights, a scene was set that hearkened back to the underground warehouse parties electronic music was born from. The high, flat walls and large ceiling created an unforgettable acoustic experience that kept the crowd grooving. When I asked Cox what he thought about touring Stereosonic, he stated, “I absolutely love being back in Australia; the festivals here are great. I’ve been playing in this country for close to twenty years, and I always love playing Stereosonic.”
Avicii (pictured above) took the mainstage when night fell and began his set with Fade Into Darkness while hundreds of giant white “Avicii” beach balls were released into the crowd. When the swede dropped Levels, floodlights illuminated the stadium revealing an immense crowd of Sydney’s barely clothed festivalgoers that had braved the hot day without showing any signs of fatigue. Both men and women were on their friend’s shoulders. People were igniting flares and sparklers in the crowd. 50,000 Australians were having the time of their lives.
It was time for the final act as Chasing Summers began playing to the Sydney crowd. When Tiesto (pictured below) took the stage, the roar of the crowd was so monstrous it almost felt as if the ground was vibrating. His hour and a half finale was filled with classics like Adagio For Strings and Silence as well as his latest releases like People Of The Night. Stereosonic flexed its pyrotechnic muscle during Tiesto’s finale performance of Maximal Crazy. Thousands of fireworks filled the night sky with explosions of every known color, celebrating not only the successful day at Stereosonic, but the beginning of summer for Australia’s biggest music lovers.
While not the multi-day super festival that North Americans have grown accustomed to, Totem Onelove’s Stereosonic festival fulfilled every expectation and then some for a one-day festival that hosted such an all-star lineup. Australia was treated to a spectacular show over the two weeks that Stereosonic toured the island continent and reflected a healthy, vibrant electronic music culture.
Photo credit: Rukes