Situated just a few kilometres north of Ararat is a large volcanic crater some kilometre wide. Aside from a small lake and a vineyard up the top (shoutout to Kulkurt Volcanic Shiraz for making a delicious drop) – this spot might not be too much to write home about. However in recent years, thanks to the tireless efforts of the Hopkins Creek team, they have managed to put this spot on the map. More so than just a festival, Hopkins has gone some lengths to foster a genuine atmosphere and a music-loving community. Having come some way from its first incarnation, it is very refreshing to see how a music festival can progress in size from a single stage and a selection of (excellent) local acts, to the full-blown festival it is now with a bevy of international acts.
With all the new faces on the lineup at Hopkins, it was nice to see some familiar ones like Sunnyside. Kicking things off on Friday afternoon, the sextet got people dancing with some uptempo funk brimming with energy.
Part of the Hopkins Crew, Ryan Berkeley has been making some waves with his live sets lately. Working his way through dubbier sounds to more pumping techno, Ryan worked his way over an impressive set of machinery, backed up at times with the sultry sounds of Sunnyside member Archie on saxophone.
Another standout live performance was that of Norachi, who probably gets the gong for best on for Friday evening. With warm, aqueous sounds playing out for the start of his set, Norachi brought things deeper and darker as the night went on.
Onto Saturday morning and Adriana was kicking off proceedings, with plenty of tracks international in flavour and a lovely version of “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” by Takuya Kuroda and “Parachute” by Sylvia.
Later in the afternoon, the music died down for a Welcome to Country. Not something to risk overlooking in the festivities, it was a spot on idea to do it in the middle where people can take a moment to absorb and appreciate the information. Jidah Clark spoke to the festival goers about the origins of the land and how people used to hunt the eels in the area. Jidah also talked about how Hopkins Creek team rallied around the community to save some local redwood trees slated for destruction. Building a festival through solidarity that really feels inclusive goes beyond more than pitching a stage and a bar once a year, it means getting behind the community in those instances they need it.
As the evening rolled in though, the skies opened up above the crater and started to wreak some havoc on the festival. As the main stage closed and the tent was taken down it felt like we were there more for a long time than a good time.
Despite the inclement weather, nothing could stop Millú delivering some heat from FFSOM’s “Resist the Beat”, recently released on Noise In My Head’s compilation of 3AM Spares and “Make Me” by Borai & Denham Audio.
The pelting rain and open main stage meant that Barry’s Bait Shop on the hill was the next destination. At this point, it’s worth noting the effort invested in putting together a second stage with its own identity. Clever bar set up and some nifty graphic design goes a very long way to making a stage feel just a bit more special. No one up at the bait stage was ever in doubt where they were or what kind of time they were here for…
Having made her first Australian appearance, the crowd was raring to go for Ciel‘s second performance after her brief stint on the main stage. Hemmed in from all sides of the bait shop, Ciel delivered blistering track after the next, highlights including her own track “Hundred Flowers Groove” on the EP of the same name.
Next to grace the stage was the no holds barred performance from Swede Samo DJ. Straddling the unlikely balance of harder techno and R&B samples, one of his closing tracks sounded like an entire Kelis track played over a relentless beat (please let me know if you find an ID). The set was unabated with tunes like “Da Rebels” by House Nations Under A Groove; a perfect slot for the earlier hours of the Sunday morning.
With the sun starting to peek through, Mitsuki was about to enter the booth with some 350 records in tow from Japan. Playing almost exclusively on vinyl, Mitsuki played to the rising sun an incredibly jazzy and uplifting house set throwing down plenty of Detroit classics. Some notable numbers would be everyone singing along to “Set It Out” by Omar-S, Mood II Swing‘s “All Night Long” and Dubtribe Sound System “Do It Now”. Even at 7.30AM Mitsuki obliged the crowd with an encore, putting on one last record and leaving the booth for a cigarette and a chat to those bedraggled and very muddy dancers who had stuck it out.
Having made a bit of noise on Butter Sessions this year, I was quite keen on seeing what Turner Street Sound had to offer – the side project of Dan White and Midnight Tenderness. Real smokey and shaking dub tracks, with jungle undertones throughout their DJ set shook the crater to its core. Playing rock steady tunes on Sunday morning the pair was one of the highlights of the festival.
Rounding out the afternoon was Love on the Rocks label head Paramida. The German DJ had an uncanny ability to read the festival and play the weird and wonderful tunes that make a set of Funktion-1’s sing. I didn’t get as many IDs as I would’ve liked to but I can tell you that Paramida’s edit of Run DMC vs. Jason Nevin’s “It’s Like That” was a set highlight. Fingers crossed the Hopkins team gets round to releasing the mix for our listening pleasure. With the tent taken down from Saturday’s storm, the lid was really off for all three hours of Paramida, before closing her set in a cacophony of creepy laughter samples.
Sydney’s Ben Fester was next up, keeping the energy going. Shoutouts go to dropping Ultra Nate’s “Free” to get everyone up and around each other, the disco goodness of Fern Kinney‘s “Love Me Tonight” and the breaksy singalong “It’s My Life (Max D Edit)” by Watt Noize.
For those still keen after the main stage closing, it was back up to Baz’s for the last dose of music for the festival (notwithstanding some scattered mind’s playing “Keep The Fire Burning” on a muddy UE Boom). The level Hopkins crew reached last year was hard to top but the DJs gave it their best shot with some time honed classics.
All in all, you have to admire the ability to nurture an idea of a few renegade parties, through to a festival of this size with only one serious hiccup. For all the natural beauty of the crater and investment in the local community, the location was an issue for the festival. The storm well and truly flattened tents, gazebos and stages and sent a few punters home early – something that is very hard to mitigate. Putting that aside, Hopkins is a festival truly deserving of all the love that the festival goers have for it.
Words & Photos // Blake Creighton
A festival dedicated to zero emissions, zero waste and one that runs 100% on solar power, Off The Grid preaches a future of sustainability. It prompts the belief that as humans we can collectively piece together our skill sets, ideas and characteristics to create a community that challenges and informs. Plus, music.
Such topics discussed in the morning talks were; sustainability in your local community with Allison Rowe, Kate Nicolazzo, Michelle Isles and Taryn Lane, sustainability within business with Michael Alyisse, sustainability within construction with Prof. James Murray Parker, Dr. Jackson Clarke, Adam Styles and Prof. Yu Bai, and sustainability and Indigenous heritage with Linda Jackson. All of these talks where not limited to only sustainability, with each addressing critical discussions, and all of them leaving the audience well informed.
Jaala vs Man, perched behind her laptop and pieces of hardware, through droning synth, swirling ambience and field recordings, enclosed those who sprawled themselves underneath the solar panel stage design and beamed us up into space. For twenty odd minutes, whilst working challenging yet melancholy soundscapes, she had us orbiting through deep, dark space before strong screeching sounds had us pummelling back to the dusty gravel setting of the VCAA.
Dianas tenderly moved from electronic ambience to gracious indie rock. Rickety guitar, rhythmic bass, percussion and gleaming joint vocals harmoniously resonated throughout the small courtyard, accidentally interrupting the talks going on behind — the only incident of the day.
A trickle of punters waltzed through the gates as the second allocation of tickets allowed people in from 1pm to be apart of the remaining four hours of talks and ten hours of music.
Local favourites and down right gifted musicians Krakatau had the afternoon sunshine and near lush settings (all we needed was some greenery below our feet and in our peripherals) to themselves for a strong 45 minutes. Evocative saxophone, melodic synths, humble bass and teasing percussion worked the airwaves and settled the many who congregated in mere relaxation, in preparation for more dance unified music to stream out of the speakers.
Chee Shimizu’s tribal percussion fuelled the empty dance floor, building a set around left-field rhythms and sounds. The Japanese born DJ settled into his hour and a half as if it were an all day set, graciously weaving experimental tracks that created a vibrant dance floor.
Kaiit, with support from a bass, guitar, piano, percussion and three backing vocalists was entertaining to say the least. Her charisma and vocals encapsulated an atmosphere yet to be explored throughout the day. Tender Hip-Hop rhythms and sounds backed Kaiit’s phenomenal singing, before experimental house, techno and disco were to form a dance floor as the sun pierced through the solar panels above.
Melbourne’s own Toni Yotzi buckled everyone in for the next hour and fifteen minutes. She worked through dance heavy and eclectic percussive grooves, acid synth lines and intriguing melodies, all of which were, aside for a couple moments of wonkyness, mixed organically. Pacing herself and working the gathering crowd, the evening sun shimmered with our bodies and a transgression from dance floor four by four beats into eccentric disco came just in time for Sydney’s Ben Fester to see us through a sunset.
Track in track out, flowing off of Yotzi, Fester continued the rhythmic and eccentric grooves. Not conforming to any set genre and playing up to the now bustling crowd’s energy, a concoction of near flawless mixing and charisma paid respects to the last rays of sun that supplied the day’s electricity.
As the solar panels’ day of work harbouring the festival’s energy was done, so was Ben Festers, and Jay Daniel took the decks to close out the now crisp evening. Daniel is house music. And he is good house music. Just after a day of a mixed genres it was difficult to be engaged by the seamless four by four percussion and earthy bass. Welcomed by the majority however, and fuelling a riveting dance floor, Jay Daniel spurred the party on and closed Off the Grid in his own way.