Splendour In The Grass very clearly models itself on Coachella: enormous dusty camp grounds, a slew of big names (and an overdose of smaller ones), pop-up art, swathes of clearing left aside for boutiques and Buddhist groups. Of course, it gets all the trappings of a big messy festival – acid, pot, composting toilets, break-ins, weekend warriors willing to be flower children before work kicks off again. ZOE KILBOURN reports.
Just as the sheer sensory assault of colour, noise, light, and the stench of sandbar urinals mimics and complements tab disorientation, there’s a ton of faux-spiritual esoterica long-haired freaky people. A lot of it’s disarmingly “ethnic” –
Splendour’s teeming with Indian headdresses and bindis, a “Henna Harem”, and “authentic Gypsy tarot readings”. It’s mostly innocent and just as shallow as acid insights, but it can feel like you’re back in a sixties mescaline moment.
The main thing a festival like Splendour does is open up its punters to a childlike openness, with campsites looking like anything-goes refugee camps from reality. Held near Byron Bay, a tourist town kept alive by end-on-end festivals including Bluesfest, the whole experience is firmly plunged in whimsicality. It’s a beautiful experience, but also the perfect time to capture the attention of potential consumers with short attention spans. In the Clickhole age, that’s pretty much everyone.
Amongst all the merch stands and straight-up whackjob hippie gear, there was an entire corporate set-up called the Very Small Mall. Doc Martens, Levis (selling Hell’s Angels-esque patches) and The Iconic were all hipster frontin’. There, you could also pick up an ironic Ksubi t-shirt (pictured; actual price, $60), Cotton On ‘essentials’, and a hideously overpriced but elegantly presented Norweigian onesie series, OnePiece (“The bastard son of slacker and street culture”, from $119. Richard Branson has one). These are the companies big enough to indulge in viral culture but too big to take a risk if a fashion meme isn’t viral enough – onesies, tattoo art, Docs are safely bizarro. These guys are angling for the Violent Soho fans in Santa Cruz socks.
On the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got the smaller companies and art collectives who operate as companies that dip straight into the pop cultural consciousness or are helping to create it. Notably, the “wearable art” stalls use the reappropriative nature of streetwear to create pieces that deliberately skew the fashion mainstream while still remaining “safe” within a hipster framework. MonsterThreads, for instance, uses ordinary hoodies and tees alongside stranger woodcut brooches to push the fuzzy monster imaginings of urban artists. Spunky Bruiser takes it a step further, recreating jackets and dresses out of recovered scraps of fabric, denim, and crochet. They’re also selling “Bogan Vogue” beanies, a swipe at the general spirit of streetwear: it’d be awful if it wasn’t so cool.
Included in the performance art springing up around the festival (notably Bennett Miller’s fully-populated Amish barn pop-up, Rumspringa) was Hungry Castle’s balloon sculpture, Lionel Richie’s Head. Killian Cooper, Dave Glass, and a slew of fellow designers and people along for the ride exude a kind of Warholian honesty and bravado about their work. Their work pretty much speaks for itself – it dives into the memestream and plucks out a cat shooting lazers out of its eyes, a shirt with an exact Hodor advice animal printed on it, a Lionel Richie video.
Killian, sporting sunglasses with disocncerting paint splodges across the lenses, was very frank about their funding when I spoke to him (inside Rumspringa, of course). “We get it from clothes,” he said. That merch – collectively called Cool Shit – includes prints of Lionel Richie on caps and tees, Hungry Castle jumpsuits, low-fi sketches of cartoon characters. Especially when you factor in the number of hangers on (one supported the Kickstarter, another won a competition), it’s pretty much Warhol’s Factory all over again, complete with screen printing. Mass production, now via streetwear, is still the easiest way to engage anyone with art.