2020 Elements Festival Review

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LoopThe first thing I notice is the relief radiating from Elements Festival (17-20 December) as I arrive and wander through the site.

Watching the campgrounds along the hillside fill up with friends and festival patrons throughout Thursday, I can see the exuberance in people’s eyes and embraces.

A fair few of us have come for the Element’s pre-party, starting today with two stages playing primarily broken beat and psy-trance. The stages are looking glorious, in spite of the weather challenges faced during the build.

Thursday’s pre-party is ecstatic. The sun breaks through in perfect time for Nomia & Koya Dubz on the Sonic Sorcery stage, its alien-like infrastructure accented with neon PVC that catches the light.

Their set is an energetic back-to-back of grimy and bass-heavy dubstep that flows into Mastaryte’s groovy bass aesthetic, getting the party ready to take off. From the strength of the turnout tonight, there are clearly many of us craving the festival experience.

Love Camp is a shining force this festival, launching a significant upgrade from last year. Investments in a pounding sound system and beautifully shade-sail building a massive chill-out area definitely pay off.

The decor by Melt and Love Camp’s cosy aesthetic collaboratively create a gorgeous space for daytime reprieve in the party to come.

I arrive in time for LoopBass, who plays a rhythmic remedy of psy-trance that growls. The genre switch is smooth, moving into a bass music session that launches a new record label, 8 Ball Audio.

The vibe is electric and the dance floor heaving. Bustaflux, Duos and Grug collaboratively create a three-hour sonic showcase that spans across bass music genres – energetic dance floor, technical gangsta bass and deep and dark drum & bass build into dubstep.

Ruffy takes the reins with some filthy dubs and wubs to close. Music is finishing at 2am throughout the weekend, a change of model for Elements. This encourages many of us to sleep, a reprieve we all need to garner our stamina for the days to come.

By Friday, the majority of the festival has arrived and I note the mixed crowd present this year. There are some old-school festival goers, but many fresh faces and international travellers who have gathered here to experience the magic of Australian festivals.

I am glad to catch Soundfood in the morning, a masterful act playing warm and invigorating house while cooking pumpkin tacos for the dance-floor’s breakfast.

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The rainy weather has broken, but the sun is punishing, making a magnificent, muggy mess of the site and ourselves. I see people teaching old tricks of the trade like scarves with ice, our eskies working to keep both ourselves and our food cold.

The festival feels exuberant during the opening ceremony on Tribal Council, with confetti cannons and the Elements voice-overs welcoming us to the festival weekend, and the music takes off.

Chamberlain crafts a set of orchestral, sizzling bush-flavoured bass, featuring a Gorillaz remix that blows our minds. Hypnotech is a highlight, evoking an experimental bass music journey that feels sultry and techy, with dark and deep influences.

Dysphemic shows us a new sound for the first half of his set, and MC Wild Card adds live vocal performance over gangsta bass to close. It is surreal to hear COVID-19 announcements from the stages through the night, but it reinforces the strength of the event’s health security.

Saturday morning the party is in high spirits, but the sun drying out the muddy sight makes for a humid morning, even in the shade.

Moontide plays to our breakfast at Love Camp, mixing world music with daring, delicious pan flutes. Today, I explore the huge offerings the festival has to educate and enrich yourself.

Dedicated workshop spaces running throughout the weekend are attended and hosted by all walks of life. Element’s art gallery this year is stellar, with a curated variety of masters and up-and-coming visionary artists working in all mediums.

There are notable additions by Charmalaide Ceramics, Rob Mack, Bekka Jean, Herbrobert, Rhadwood and Naomi Gittoes – there is a high calibre of visionary art no matter which wall I examine.

Love radiates when tragic news comes of a death onsite (a 30-year-old French national, of a suspected drug overdose), which is handled with full integrity by the ‘devastated’ organisers and community.

The festival’s response to the incident is smooth, with medical staff, crew, emergency medical care and event organisers present.

The festival as a whole stays safe, with COVID marshalling and care given to community members. After the incident has time to breathe, there is an official acknowledgement on the Tribal Council stage.

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Watching on from the crowd, an Indigenous smoking ceremony paves the way for a dignified speech communicating the devastating loss on behalf of the organisers, with festival crew gathered in solidarity and mourning.

A minute’s silence is held with perfect decorum by the festival. Strong harm reduction messaging follows, reminding us to care for ourselves and offering grief support for those affected.

This focus on patron care from the festival exhibits the key roles of harm reduction and onsite medics and the Conscious Nest project, who host a large information stall in the thoroughfare of the festival.

The project provides risk reduction information on drugs, sexual health and mental health, as well as water, sunscreen, electrolytes, condoms and a place to chill out. The outpouring of community support in response has been awe-inspiring, with a GoFundMe set up to care for his family over half-way funded already.

The DJ taking the stage following welcomes the traditional owners of the land, with a set curated specifically for that moment. His stage presence and musical journey shows respect to what has happened.

Emotive and warm prog with woven Australian bush elements invites the emotion of the party to heal through self-expression in dance and movement. The set closes with a timely vocal sample that rings through us, reminding us that “the first modern man found his spirit in the struggle”.

There is a more relaxed atmosphere after nightfall, with people given a feeling of closure. John Baptiste’s unmissable set is a dark and melodic musical experience that feels intuitive and driving as it rolls over us, as the stage throngs with chaotic order under UV highlights.

Sunday is cooler and the festival exhales. While the mood is subdued, it feels united in spirit. Sprinkler systems and gorgeous shade sails complement those who have set up umbrella and esky camps in an evolving ecosystem.

Tribal Council’s programme today is an aesthetic of progressive magic. Smilk’s sunny energetic bass resets the atmosphere, while Twisted Sibling’s expansive and booming sound scape makes for a rebirth of energy.

Sonic Sorcery is mind-melding around midday, with Funkform’s ambient homely afternoon vibes and Thankyou City’s dance-inducing house, accompanied visually by Rambling Rosie painting live making for a spread-out party of simultaneously unmissable moments.

Continuing the trend of high-class bass music demonstrated at Elements, Ryanosaurus’ set is sonically serious and experimental, bringing us together for the farewell.

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Sumruna ferries us towards the end with a self-produced sequence of tracks that debuts a new drum & bass sound. The closing ceremony ritual is respectful and well-produced, with traditional custodians honoured by Cody from Indigenoise.

A significant portion of the party has stayed to make the most of the ritual reuniting of festival culture, necessitating Love Camp’s closing party takeover of the Tribal Council stage.

Opening with Boy with Boat, playing a technical and pounding set, accompanied by Wilma, who plays cello into her own set, builds a hypnotic ambiance.

Faultless musical crafting and transitions through the evening means Butterz, Christopher Brooks and Jesse Kuch vs Zigmon meld into one sonic session that expends the last of our intentions.

In spite of tragedy, the mood of connection we all feel to one another that evening is undeniably rejuvenating. Even as we all re-adjust to the intensity of festival life, with its smorgasbord of sensory experiences and mass socialisation after months of restrictions, it is heartening to see the culture thrive even in the face of adversity.



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