07 Dec Our Top Five – Strawberry Fields 2017
November means two things: Summer isn’t far away, and the wildlands of Strawberry Fields are calling. For many, Strawberry marks the official start of bush doof season. A time to break out the glitter, dust off the parasol and put on your finest disco kit. An eclectic mix of music nerds, Instagram it-girls, hippy ravers, and excited backpackers converged on the tiny town of Tocumwal for the weekend, keen to escape reality in one the most scenic (and uniquely Australian) festival locations in the world.
Compared to the searing heat of last year, the 2017 edition of Strawberry was much milder. A big downpour on Thursday night meant that the site was less dusty. And while there were a few patches of rain across the weekend, it didn’t seem to dull any enthusiasm. Now in its ninth year, the organisers at Strawberry should be applauded for creating a great atmosphere that continues to set the tone for the rest of the summer. A beautiful setting, carefully considered stage-design and world-class musical lineup culminated in a memorable weekend for many. Here are five key performances from across the four days.
Greeting punters with a warm Glaswegian hug on Friday night were Scottish legends Optimo. Over two hours, the duo showed off the diverse, all-encompassing track selection that they’ve become famous for over the last decade. Drifting between techno, disco, electro and rock, there was definitely something for everyone, regardless of taste or mood. Highlights of their set included a swag of festival favourites like the KiNK remix of ‘Unit 2’ by Sunshine and Bicep’s latest single ‘Glue’. It was also nice to see the guys showcasing some locally produced music — raving along to Coober Pedy University Band’s anthem ‘Kookaburra’ felt even more special when amongst the gum trees, while Ram Jam’s 1979 classic ‘Black Betty’ gave any closet-rock fans opportunity for a quick headbang. Although Optimo’s genre-bending set lacked the musical cohesion most are used to seeing on the Strawberry mainstage, it was an inspired choice by festival organisers. The raucous energy of their tunes was the perfect way to get the party started and help the crowd lose any early inhibitions.
It’s been a busy 12 months for 23-year- old DJ and producer Jordon Alexander, aka Mall Grab. The New South Wales native managed to crack Resident Advisor’s prestigious top 100, grace the cover of Mixmag and headline some of Europe’s biggest clubs and festivals. With over a year between sets on home soil, it was a triumphant return to Melbourne as he graced the Wildlands on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Playing to the first big crowd of the day, there was clearly quite a few punters curious to see what all the hype was about. Full of energy as he bounced around the stage, Mall Grab played a set that seamlessly moved between funky hip-hop beats, jacking techno and lo-fi house. Alan Fitzpatrick‘s unrelenting ‘Beshektas’ was an early highlight, while Blaze’s classic house track ‘Lovelee Dae’ was the perfect soundtrack to a raving, sun-drenched crowd. I love seeing a DJ who is genuinely enjoying himself behind the decks and Mall Grab looked like he was loving every minute. The second hour of his set was full of big party tunes including the Switch classic ‘A Bit Patchy’, his own cut ‘Catching Feelings’ and a festival sing-a-long to ABBA’s ‘Lay Your Love On Me’. Watching Mall Grab perform live, it’s not hard to see why he has become one of the fastest rising names in dance music. His Strawberry set certainly didn’t do his reputation any harm — delighting his old fans and probably gaining a few new ones in the process.
CLUB COCO (CC: Disco, Simon TK, Chico G)
Meanwhile, down at the Beach stage, Melbourne trio CC:DISCO!, Simon TK and Chico G played a joyful B2B2B set under their Club Coco moniker. The daytime slot was the perfect remedy for anyone keen to escape the heat, take a dip in the river or dance off Friday night’s hangover among the gum trees. From midday to sundown, Club Coco brought 6 hours of power with a relaxed set that was big on good vibes and low on formality (bath robes were the uniform of choice). All three DJs showed off why they’ve individually earned a reputation as some of Australia’s best selectors. Cycling through an eclectic collection of happy disco edits, dreamy piano house (Latin Blood‘s ‘Deseo’) and cheesy 80’s Eurodance (Sabrina‘s ‘Boys Boys Boys’), it was very tempting to stay at the Beach stage all day, despite the bevy of internationals on offer elsewhere. As their set crept to a close, Toto‘s ‘Hold The Line’ gave the crowd one final hands in the air moment before the night’s festivities kicked off.
There was a distinctly German flavour about the festival on Saturday night. For those keen to get their techno fix, a world-class lineup awaited them on the Wildlands stage. After a chilled live set from Berlin’s Monolink, Cologne’s Tim Engelhardt was the next man to take to the decks at 10pm. With just a 90 minute time slot, Engelhardt wasted no time getting down to business, immediately setting the tone for the rest of the evening. The ominous breakdown of his track ‘No More Words’ sounded monstrous on the Funktion-One sound system with its rhythmic, rumbling bass. Engelhardt’s brand of lush, melodic techno has made his original productions a staple in the sets of industry heavyweights such as Tale Of Us, Andhim and Patrice Baumel in 2017. Fortunately for fans in the crowd, he showcased lots of his own material (old and new), including his hypnotic remix of Superflu’s ‘K5000’ and the immense ‘We Didn’t Talk For A While’. For his final song, Engelhardt teased the unmistakably wonky chords of ‘Reality’, the title track from this year’s standout EP. Slowly letting it build for what seemed like hours, he unleashed a wall of sound for one last dance. It was a masterful performance from the 19-year-old, who showed he’ll be a mainstay of festival lineups for years to come.
FRANKEY & SANDRINO
Continuing the German theme on Saturday night were Berlin residents Frankey & Sandrino. In recent years the duo have made a reputation for themselves with a string of killer releases on Dixon & Ame’s forward-thinking Innervisions imprint. With Frankey busy touring in Europe, it was left up to Sandrino to fly the flag for the outfit on their first appearance in Australia. Taking over where Engelhardt left off, Sandrino played a top-shelf techno set, full of new and unreleased tracks that struck a delicate balance between dark, sinister melodies, basslines and emotional builds. The stomping, drone-filled sounds of labelmate Trikk’s new track ‘Voltaire’ set the pace early, as did the Redshape remix of Rampa’s ‘Newborn Soul’ with its terrific, rising vocal. In the final stretch, Sandrino dropped Kienemusik’s soon-to-be-released single ‘Muye’. With a sea of smoke and lasers covering the crowd, the melancholy piano track gave the crowd a genuine goosebumps moment and one of the night’s top highlights.
Musically, attendees were spoilt for choice across the three days. Amongst a host of talented locals, there were great sets from Moopie, Ben Fester and Francis Inferno Orchestra. Other highlights across the weekend included Daniel Avery’s characteristically dark and brooding sound, a crowd-pleasing set from German hitmaker Lovebirds, and Yothu Yindi who played a brilliant 1am set in tribute of the late Dr G Yunupingu. Despite the bush doof calendar becoming increasingly crowded over the last few years, Strawberry Fields yet again showed why it’s one of the premier festival experiences not only in Australia but the world. I’m sure I’m not alone in echoing those famous words… ’Strawberry Fields Forever’.