Thursday, June 8 to Wednesday, June 21, 2017
Is Dark Mofo the best festival in Australia? With tens of thousands attending and 666 artists on display at countless events (many such as the infamous nude solstice swim not even covered below), X-Press Editor HARVEY RAE kept a diary while Q photographed winter at its most opulent; a celebration of the winter solstice that took over Hobart and beyond with music, arts, food, lasers and those signature gothic themes.
Friday, June 9
Arriving fashionably late on the second day, we settled in for our 10 day Dark Mofo stopover at an Airbnb in Sandy Bay, about a 10 minute Uber ride from the centre of Hobart. Gothic themed to the max with black sheets, bench tops, towels, curtains and couches, the only downside was leaving this little hideaway a week or so later.
Taking in the Dark Mofo signage adorning the Winter Feast we took it easy on the first night, drinking at the Glass House and dining at Aloft. We quickly realised Dark Mofo fever had taken over Hobart completely, though, note the page pictured left out of the Glass House’s incredible beverages list. We don’t mind a cocktail, and the chili-infused Biting Frost was probably the best drink we tried on the entire trip.
Saturday, June 10
Mogwai day. Perhaps the day we were looking forward to most came early.
Starting with a trip to the world famous Salamanca Markets – a Saturday only marketplace that seemingly stretches miles down the historic Salamanca Place – we tried Smith’s damn fine Scallop pie and some donuts and other treats, then dragged ourselves away from the action to regroup and pregame for the post rock assault to come.
Mogwai were as incredible as ever, and we even got to have a beer with guitarist Stuart Braithwaite beforehand. Check out Q’s review HERE.
If there was a criticsm it was that the massive and rather awesome MAC2 venue – an unused shipping shed on Macquarie Wharf resembling an airport hanger – was so cavernous that the sound occasionally got lost. Either that or Mogwai’s sound man par excellence Kenny Macleod wasn’t able to push the DB limit far enough, which would have been an unusual call given the remoteness of the venue.
This was more than made up for by a unique set – their only in Australia – that previewed around half of new album Every Country’s Sun. Opening with latest single Coolverine, Braithwaite took to the mic for the Dave Fridmann-produced new record’s second track Party in the Dark, for the only actual song of the night (there were no support acts either – a bit of a theme at Dark Mofo).
Better still, it was the first Mogwai show this scribe has seen at which both We No Here and Mogwai Fear Satan were both played, and the two monstrosities were highlights among a number of classics such I’m Jim Morrison I’m Dead and Auto Rock.
The Winter Feast for a post drink was next and we found ourselves in a cavernous space – more about this in tomorrow’s diary entry – and ended up dancing to a local gypsy jazz band called Django’s Tiger with some randoms we’d picked up along the way, starting to feel the love.
Sunday, June 11
Nursing comfortably our worst hangover for the festival, Sunday started slowly. We didn’t feel so bad knowing that 3pm Hobart time was actually 1pm Perth time.
Berlin DJ and contemporary dancer Isabel Lewis was our first stop off for the evening and impressed with her multi-sensory show Occasions, using scents as a bridge to philosophical discussions, and delicious free food and wine to add to the sensation.
It was then off to the Winter Feast, to actually feast this time, and wow. Renowned for its local produce and a warm respite from the cold, the Winter Feast is a celebration of food and drink like no other. Picture the biggest, most exotic food hall you can, litter it with cocktail bars, local wineries and Tasmania’s finest produce, add in top chefs and entertainment, and you’re barely scratching the surface. We did whisky, wine and beer tastings, sampled treats ranging deep fried olives to the tenderest lamb shoulder, and somehow dragged ourselves away to go to the next gig. Vowing to be back soon.
Dark Mofo tickets have become the most sought after in Australia in the five years since its 2013 debut, and it was easy to see why at the Winter Feast. It was also becoming clear as to why you might rate Mofo the country’s best festival.
Next up was the first of several trips to the Odeon Theatre, a nicely sized room and balcony with a sloped floor. A little like the Astor Theatre crossed with Metropolis Fremantle. London rapper Kojey Radical was the night’s standout performer, his meticulous flow peaking with a shirts-off a cappella revealing a gifted poet, that ended on the memorable lyric: “a seed can’t choose where it’s planted/ but it’s hard to ignore a rose growing from the sidewalk”. Remember the name Kojey Radical.
He also completely outshone show headliner Gaika’s auto-tuned dancehall, which while unique enough, failed to ignite the crowd.
Monday, June 12 – Wednesday, June 14
With the program relaxing a little on Monday, so did we. Being a public holiday in Hobart though, the question must be asked, why wasn’t the Winter Feast open? Here’s to feasting all festival long in 2018.
We caught a Tassie edition of dancing in the dark phenomenon No Lights No Lycra on Monday. While not officially a part of the festival, the Dark Mofo-themed one off featured some fun (if slightly tame) excuses to dance like no one was watching, including tracks from Faithless, Marilyn Manson and The Prodigy.
It was also noticeably smaller than WA’s local West Leederville equivalent, at only 30-odd people. Like the fact Uber has only been running since last November in Hobart, it was a reminder that despite all the people and all the happenings, we were still in Tassie.
And Tassie is one of the most beautiful places on earth. We drove to Launceston for regional church showcase The Crossing on Tuesday, but not before detouring past Sullivan’s Cove whisky distillery and Wicked Cheeses.
The Crossing took in small churches in remote locations between Launceston and Hobart all week, but the opening night was special for being the only event to take place in Tasmania’s biggest northern destination, Launceston.
Theremin maestro Miles Brown opened the night showing the classical possibilities for an instrument more often used for freaky sci-fi sounds, before Alexander Hacke (of Einstürzende Neubauten fame – they would later play the most memorable show of the festival) was joined by Danielle de Picciotto for some experimental sounds and harmonies across a variety of instruments. Their visuals were particularly impressive.
The drinks on sale were also of note, with a wintry selection including hot mulled cider, a Pinot Noir/ Pinot Gris/ Sparkling mashup that was quite nice and a premix negroni that wasn’t. And no beer.
Following the show with some serious steak at highly rated restaurant Black Cow, we woke on Wednesday relatively fresh and took on the Cataract Gorge walk – an absolute must for anyone headed to that part of the world. To say the waterfalls and rock formations – practically in the middle of the city centre – were anything less than stunning, would be an understatement.
A two hour drive back to Hobart later and we were back in time for the southern hemisphere debut of jailed Russian punks Pussy Riot’s new film Act + Punishment (plus an exclusive Q&A). Read Q’s review of it HERE.
Pussy Riot’s involvement in Dark Mofo may have proven to be one of the festival’s few let downs, but the film itself was compelling viewing and it is unique bookings like this that separate Dark Mofo from other festivals in Australia.
Thursday, June 15
We’d been looking forward to Thursday for some time. Not only was it the first chance to catch Norwegian goth-metal outfit Ulver, it was the first night of the Welcome Stranger late night party series.
But first, a must for all Hobart visitors, the pilgrimage to MONA, or the Museum of Old and New Art. While not essentially part of the Dark Mofo experience, without it and owner David Walsh there would be no festival.
Walsh himself presents as something of a mad scientist. The long-haired millionaire genius and avid art collector behind so much of Tasmania’s tourist trade, if he were secretly a Bond villain with grand designs on world domination, underground gallery MONA would be his secret hideaway.
With touring visitors The Museum Of Everything making up a large portion of the outsider art on display, it was still Walsh’s own collection ranging Greg Taylor‘s infamous Cunts… and other conversations to Wim Delvoye‘s imitation of the human digestive system Cloaca Professional that were the stand outs. As is MONA itself – perhaps the most impressive gallery in the world, it is proof that perhaps Walsh and his visions are his greatest masterpiece.
A small degustation for The Golden Hour followed, incorporating James Turrell‘s sunset spectacular Amarna, followed by a communal dining experience that was more remarkable for the company than the actual food (there are much better restaurants in Hobart than those at MONA – it’s good to know they have something to work on).
Then it was back to the town centre for Ulver. Despite their black metal roots there was nary a guitar to be seen as lasers turned the performance into a spectacular not to be missed. Ulver these days are more of a progressive goth beast driven by dark synths. It was another impressive exclusive for Dark Mofo.
But somehow Thursday’s highlight was still to come, and we’re not talking about the Eagles beating Geelong. Welcome Stranger is like a festival within a festival, and its opening night on Thursday was a multi-venue, choose-your-own-adventure party like no other.
Pussy Riot (well, Maria Alyokhina, one of three women most people know as Pussy Riot) was first cab off the rank and started promisingly, handing out balaclavas and dropping several punk rave tracks from Russian outfit Little Big. It all headed south quickly though, as it became evident they were streaming songs. When the internet failed it made for trainwreck after trainwreck.
This was quickly forgotten as artists such as San Francisco’s Doug Hream Blunt and Melbourne punks Bitch Diesel took to the stage, the former flanked by a new band of Aussies and the latter ditching gothic cloaks to reveal silver jumpsuits underneath. Like an east coast answer to Perth’s own Boat Show, the four ladies of Bitch Diesel particularly killed it, leaving us on a cover of The Stooges’ I Wanna Be Your Dog.
Other highlights included the popular Karaoke Motel, Brisbane’s Miss Blanks and especially New York rapper Le1f, who added a touch of professionalism to the ad hoc, underground party. But what was most enjoyable about Welcome Stranger was the sense of wonder at the attractions and not knowing what was coming next.
Friday, June 16
If Thursday was the day/night that we partied long time, Friday was our favourite. A slow start that involved hangovers and checking out of the beloved Airbnb (bye Allana!) rolled into a drive up Mount Wellington for some spectacular sight seeing and then lunch at (yep… we’re calling it) …the best restaurant in Tasmania, Fico. Seriously, if you’re ever in Hobart, don’t miss this modern Italian gem – we had everything from sea urchin to smoked eel to venison ravioli to mushroom tortellini that literally exploded in your mouth. And don’t get us started on the whole pigeon.
Deciding to finish our stay in the city centre with a couple of nights at the super schmick Grand Chancellor Hotel (where we’d later run into the likes of Einstürzende Neubauten and controversial Austrian artist Hermann Nitch at breakfast), we checked then soon headed out to the lasers and must-see installations of Dark Park.
Those too chilly to brave the art installations outside could head indoors for free whisky tastings, comparing notes with the smell of real burning peat – the only disappointment was that Talisker was the sponsor and not one of the many incredible local distilleries.
A couple of drinks later at a media sundowner and it was off to see the much hyped German industrial legends Einsturzende Neubauten. They didn’t disappoint – in fact it was the most memorable show of Dark Mofo 2017.
Former Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds member Blixa Bargeld led the experimental outfit through a 10/10 concert with unique arrangements such as the crescendo that saw found-sound percussionist N. U. Unruh climb a ladder and drop metal pipes clattering onto the stage.
From the tension building crescendos of opener The Garden and encore standout Silence Is Sexy to the more climatic screams from Bargeld on Dead Friends (Around the Corner), How Did I Die? and Total Eclipse of the Sun, it might have been the best Australian concert of 2017.
As Bargeld said to finish the night: “Just remember when you die, if you meet your creator, tell him you saw his favourite band”.
Saturday, June 17
Dark Mofo is no stranger to controversy. Austrian artist Hermann Nitch’s 150.Action polarised audiences on the final Saturday with a brutal and bloody display, involving the carcass of a bull slaughtered especially for the event.
We didn’t apply for tickets and frankly weren’t interested in the seemingly unnecessary ritual sacrifice of an animal, but saw much of what was shown on a video installation at MONA two days earlier. It was as bloody as everything you’ve heard.
But despite enormous media attention, animal activist protests remained peaceful, with most complaints coming from crowds who either couldn’t see or who somewhat surprisingly described the gruesome three-hour spectacle as “boring”.
We opted instead to return to the Winter Feast for one last waistline blowout, and a celebration of the festival that was.
In closing, Dark Mofo is an unmissable event unlike anything in Australia. Tasmania is a beautiful place to see at any time of year, and at times we struggled between the push-pull of enjoying the wonderful tourism options available and immersing ourselves in the festival.
Plan your trip to Dark Mofo carefully. Don’t attempt to fit in too many tourism options. Immerse yourself for as much of the two weeks as you can afford to and buy tickets to as many events as possible. Festivals don’t always last forever and this is one no one should miss out on.
words by HARVEY RAE
photos by Q
additional photos thanks to DARK MOFO & Moorilla Gallery