On an ideal spring Saturday in Sydney, roughly 3,000 individuals headed for a pageant that many of the metropolis knew nothing about.
Siloed within the heritage grandeur of Cockatoo Island and accessible solely by personal ferry, the first-ever Mode pageant was offered on its lineup of “elevated dance music” and an “expansive visible arts expertise”. Produced by Sydney-based promoters Bizarro, who till now have largely thrown events in golf equipment and warehouses, the pageant promised a uncommon gamble in a sometimes risk-averse metropolis.
Bachelorettes and bros gathered to board celebration boats at Darling Harbour’s King Avenue Wharf. In a conflict of scenes, the highway to Mode was marked by bucket hats, Hackers-meets-The Matrix rave appears, plumes of vape smoke and – this being Sydney – police sniffer canine threading via the queue. Aboard the ferry, with good afternoon solar beating down on black leather-based, the temper oscillated between fizzy pleasure and the niggling unease acquainted to anybody who has attended a dance pageant in New South Wales.
In a number of methods, Mode Pageant typified the promise and the pitfalls of staging a brand new digital music pageant in Sydney. Bizarro satisfied the Sydney Harbour Belief to approve the pageant on the deserves of its visible arts focus, particularly after the Biennale of Sydney ended its 14-year run on Cockatoo Island in 2021. With the theme of “Speculative futures”, the pageant invited submissions from rising Australian set up artists, with 10 chosen to seem.
However Mode was additionally flagged as a “topic pageant” beneath new authorities rules launched in 2019, following a number of drug-related deaths at festivals in NSW. (The time period “topic pageant” changed “high-risk” in 2021.) The categorisation offered new logistical challenges and prices, particularly on an island. Even with tickets at an eye-watering $200 together with the ferry go, breaking even was no assure.
As soon as on web site, the gang – principally of their 20s, with a smattering of older heads – may calm down. Cockatoo Island, a former penal colony and naval shipyard on the junction of the Lane Cove and Parramatta rivers, has been the sandstone-and-steel backdrop for artwork reveals, reunion live shows and festivals comparable to All Tomorrow’s Events – however nothing fairly like Mode. In the primary Turbine Corridor, speaker rigs hung from the hovering ceiling, framing uncovered metal beams and concrete. Within the smaller Convict Workshops, bass from the Void sound system shook the glass within the arched home windows, whereas the much more intimate Naval Retailer hosted DJ streaming platform Boiler Room. In between artwork installations, a mixture of meals stalls match the boutique pageant invoice and offered my first-ever witlof salad at a dance celebration. Past the fence preserving the ravers in, households performed tug-o-war and lounged wholesomely on a sunlit garden. (The organisers hope to increase in future years to utilize the island’s “jap apron”.)
Musically, Mode pageant made no concessions to mainstream tastes. With no clear headliner, the lineup featured area of interest names in techno, bass music and different rave-ready amalgams. Whereas the steely affect of Berlin’s techno temple Berghain was ever-present, the exultant home music of its sister Panorama Bar was much less so, with barely a vocal to be heard all day. Notably, the lineup’s gender combine mirrored the gang much better than most festivals.
My highlights got here early, when the units felt headier and the unadorned areas had been full of pure mild. Whereas Japanese DJ-producer Wata Igarashi greeted the Turbine Corridor with deep, textured techno, UK duo Adam Pits & Lisene had the Convict Workshops whooping alongside to trancey breakbeats in considered one of many nods to the 90s. Later, New York-based Aurora Halal performed a taut hour-long reside set of enveloping techno within the darkening Turbine Corridor. An extended, skinny strip of daylight between the doorways behind her was as efficient as any video display screen.
Throughout Halal’s set, I used to be struck by the distinctive thrill of experiencing this music within the grand setting of Cockatoo Island, not a warehouse or pub-turned-club, as is usually the case in a post-lockouts metropolis with few devoted areas for “underground” music. Over within the Naval Retailer, the Boiler Room broadcast featured largely Australian artists, together with a closing set from Gamilaraay girl crescendoll. Earlier within the night, Anuraag used the top of their set to talk about previous criticisms of the Boiler Room, urging viewers to remain aware of dance music’s roots in queer, black and working-class communities.
For many in attendance, the evening achieved true liftoff within the Turbine Corridor with KI/KI, considered one of a brand new era of DJs reclaiming decades-old onerous dance and trance (a lot of it by no means earlier than thought-about “cool”) for recent ears. With pink lasers dancing overheard to the onerous kicks, her set was simply the least delicate of the day and precisely what the individuals wanted. After suspecting the visible arts part was shedding out to extra quick highs, I occurred upon a putting neon-draped efficiency piece by multidisciplinary artist MaggZ, watched by a rapt crowd and some curious cops. Following the pump of KI/KI, the evening ended with two competing takes on techno from Etapp Kyle and Djrum.
As with every new pageant, Mode had teething points, together with bars operating out of booze and lengthy queues for bogs and the Boiler Room. Outdoors of logistics, the heavy and pervasive police presence was onerous to disregard in a decidedly not-aggro crowd. Extra heartening was the presence of DanceWize crowd security volunteers and the frank steerage on the pageant web site round drug use – a marked enchancment on festivals preaching zero tolerance.
Travelling again on the ferry previous waterfront Balmain mansions to the dressy crowds ending dinner and cocktails at Darling Harbour, the celebration throughout the water felt a world away. In a metropolis of typically jarring contrasts, the primary Mode pageant was a breath of recent air.