03 Apr Inner Varnika somehow managed to be even better in 2016
Inner Varnika. Where to begin on this one? Having had the pleasure of making my Inner Varnika debut last year, I was quite nervous about writing this one up. So many fond memories… locals Sleep D playing under a blood red moon, Sex Tags putting on the wildest encore on Easter Sunday. Then of course how could you forget Donato Dozzy? Watching him sip a cup of tea whilst tearing the dusty earth apart with his pounding techno amongst the fog… Don’t worry though, I can assure you that, somehow, this year was even better.
Now if you travel about 20 kilometres north of Camperdown, you will find one of Australia’s largest collections of dust in one area. Also amongst the gristly lamb bones and thistles, you’ll find Inner Varnika. It’s a simple setup: one stage, a couple of food trucks and some camping. However, this is a festival that subscribes to the ethos of quality, not quantity. The huge stack of Funktion-Ones do their job splendidly, the sound carrying perfectly over the rolling hills, and the lineup is simply one of the most carefully-curated selections in our hemisphere.
Having learnt my lesson from last year, all supplies were carried on wheels from the cars to the campsite. Luckily, the setup of tents meant the trek wasn’t too far at all, and I was also happy to see plenty more facilities for water and toilets. Doing well so far, IV. After the obligatory hour or so of talking smack with a few Melbourne Bitters, it was time to actually check out a few of the acts. Apologies to Faboo and Crown Ruler, but it was Wax O’ Paradiso member Edd Fisher who was one of the first acts I managed to see.
What better way to enter the dance floor, than to Carmen’s ‘Throw Down’ – top marks to Edd Fisher. As the set went on, it progressed more from disco to harder house rhythms, before eventually wrapping things up with some DJ Sotofett. Noise In My Head played afterwards with some very eclectic selections (maybe a bit too out there for me, as I couldn’t manage to get many track IDs, although some New Order was definitely featured).
HTRK were the first live act to play, the Melbourne group channelling a dark, intense energy. The slower, bass-heavy beats pushed the sound system substantially, while the haunting vocals of Joannine Standish floated out across the empty landscape. A good time slot for the experimental group to play, HTRK supplied a welcome break from the DJs.
After a quick break to the campsite to ensure everyone was balancing style and comfort in matching tracksuits, it was just a short walk back through the glowing light installations to the stage. As hndsm. wrapped up his set, an unfamiliar figure graced the stage. Sporting an Inner Varnika bomber jacket, maybe he was part of the the festival team?
Ahh, nope. From the incredible sounds coming from the speakers and the hands deftly working on hardware behind the wooden screen, it was obvious it was Vril playing live for the first time ever in our fair country. Having heard so much of his music without being able to put a face to the name, it was certainly surreal to see the elusive producer in the flesh. I’m going to preserve some of his mystery and simply say that the Giegling-affiliated artist looked surprisingly normal. The music, however, was anything but. Vril is notorious for building his sets from unreleased material, so the thundering dub techno emanating from the Funktion-Ones sounded like nothing from this earth.
Trying to follow a name like Vril is certainly no easy task, but local Ricci proved he was more than able. Delivering a signature high-energy set, Ricci confidently fed us track after track despite records occasionally skipping – due mostly to the fact that the air was about 90% dirt. Favourites would be E.R.P’s ‘Sensory Process (plant43 remix)’ and the over-the-top synth madness of Hard Corps ‘Porte Bonheur’.
Lee Gamble followed the high energy atmosphere with a live set that changed the dynamic up a bit. Working thoughtfully on his equipment, Gamble strung together a set that showed a great level of technical proficiency, but perhaps lacked an energy required for the closing set of Good Friday. Not to worry, as the second instalment in the form of his DJ set was coming the next day.
With a tent so mangled it was only functioning as a light gazebo, I was surprised to wake up feeling quite fresh. So without further ado and a coffee from Alley Tunes in hand, it was time to see the opening act Glyn Hill – one of the local favourites from last year as well. Hill demonstrated an vast knowledge of music, playing Omar Souleyman-sounding fervent rhythms. Michael Ozone also exhibited an eclectic taste following on from Glyn.
The first international, Mo Kolours beckoned everyone in closer for a hug amongst the dust as he kicked of his live set. His smooth, almost laissez-faire style was the perfect way to spend an afternoon on the hill. Throwing Shade played live and went straight into her DJ set, one of the most ridiculous performances I have seen in a long time.
In a weekend where you hear some of the more obscure tracks, Throwing Shade went the complete opposite and played every crowd-pleasing poppy track. It might not have been for everyone, but it was welcome change of pace. Hearing ‘Music Sounds Better With You’ into Rihanna, New Order, Hardrive and Drake’s ‘Hotline Bling’ in one consecutive dose is almost an overload of cheesy tunes, but it had everyone up and dancing and isn’t that what DJing is about?
With a heavy heart I saw that Brian Not Brian was unable to play the Saturday, rumours circulating about a particularly bad case of food poisoning. Not to worry, as there were still plenty of quality acts, such as resident expert on all things afrobeat, Manchild. Playing plenty of upbeat tracks to warm the audience on the overcast day, my favourite was from the Awesome Tapes of Africa label: ‘Daa Nyinaa’ by Ata Kak. Despite a complete lack of any knowledge of Ghanaian languages, I still tried to make this one a singalong much to the disappointment of everyone around me.
My local pick of the weekend, Moopie certainly brought the thunder. Stacked full of acid house and techno classics, the Melbourne DJ delivered gems like ‘The Trance’ by Joey Beltram, the ridiculous new-beat ‘Klangwerk’ by Klangwerk, and old favourites like ‘Lump’ by James Holden and ‘Decompression’ by Mathew Jonson. I’m sure Lee Gamble would have had a tough time deciding his favourite opener between Moopie and Ricci – I was very proud to see Melbourne represented by these two.
After Moopie though came the man Lee Gamble again, back for the most polarising set of the weekend. Playing a mixture of jungle and dubstep, it was a novel experience hearing these oft under-represented genres on Australian shores. Bordering on the ridiculous there were Scarface samples and Super Mario remixes. My favourite moments would certainly include the gun fingers and reassurance that “jungle is massive”. Whether or not anyone was being serious didn’t really matter; it was great seeing Lee pull back a track if he got enough encouragement to “rewwwwiiind selectaah”.
It’s now the last day of Inner Varnika and time for everyone to brush off their Sunday best; true to form, there were some of the ruder ensembles I’ve seen. Everything from ill-fitting three piece suits to hot pink numbers with matching luggage really did the Sunday theme justice. From a distance I just managed to catch the tail end of Albrecht La’Brooy’s live set, their improvised jams always delivering the perfect balance of dancey and ambient tunes.
Chicago legend Jamie 3:26 was the next selector, a reshuffle thanks to the fact that Brian Not Brian was back on the bill. Solid disco and house music was perfectly suited for everyone dancing around in the relative sunshine. Robert Hood classic ‘Never Grow Old’ (released under the Floorplan moniker) was followed perfectly by the summer classic ‘Hit It n Quit It’ by Cratebug and the man himself.
J’Nett (also rocking a suit, go girl) followed for two hours, continually building the atmosphere with my personal favourite, ‘Place Called Tarot’ by Tantra. Brian Not Brian too was now back to play and braving sickness. To be honest, with my phone dead, no Shazam, and a group of friends all dancing in matching suits as the sun set, it was a little difficult to keep up the notes. Take that as testament to the man’s talent at getting a crowd up and about.
Now for the final moments. Sex Tags would not be asked back for another year if they weren’t able to deliver some of the best feel-good sets. Last year’s impromptu encore that lasted almost two hours must’ve been factored into the set times, as the pair of DJ Sotofett and DJ Fett Burger were asked to play for a mammoth six hours until Inner Varnika’s close. So here it is.
‘Troglodytes’ by Julio Bashmore was played to supplement all your deep house needs. Lil Louis & The World’s ‘The Conversation’ may be played on an almost weekly basis, but that saxophone was there to give you a fill of housey-disco goodness. A minute-long interlude that featured the classic ramblings of that one guy a bit too gone in the smoker’s room had everyone standing around laughing, but also gave you a boogie break and broke things up a little. The sounds of ‘Sexy Boy (Cassius Remix)’ by Air brought a bit of sensuality to the stage, as people danced (naked) on top of the speakers. Like any good set there was balance; it wasn’t all feel good tracks, and the soulful tones of Angie Stone with ‘Wish I Didn’t Miss You’ was one of the finer singalong moment at the end.
Ask any DJ what songs they would pick to end a six-hour-long journey and they would struggle to pick one that would work. Sex Tags had the perfect solution, an absolute classic that got played last year as well: ‘Sweet Harmony’ by The Beloved. The perfect song to tell friends and strangers alike just how much you love them, and Inner Varnika, and everyone. Or something along those lines.
So yes, that was IV 2016. If you’re ever looking for something more magical than a long weekend or a human bunny that delivers chocolate to your home, then I suggest making a little trip out of Melbourne next Easter. I’m counting down the days until next year Inner Varnika – see you then.