Words: Sam Howard
Strawberry Fields 2018. The tenth anniversary of the sun travelling around the earth since the very first time the wonderland made its way to the dust on the banks of the Murray River in Tocumwal, New South Wales. The tenth anniversary of people counting down until November when the sun shines the highest and the festival begins. There’s been various tribes of people who have made their way to the festival over the last decade, beginning long back in the day, so I wasn’t too sure what to expect with the culture of the festival this year.
The first thing you notice when you walk into the festival is the profound effort by the crew to turn the river-side space into a piece of art. From the sculptures to the art installments, to the chill-out spots and the play equipment, you can tell that heart and soul went into the weekend. The preparation and build of the festival took months in advance, so appreciation must be given to the crew on their immense work in creating such a wonderful place to chill for the weekend.
The vibe of the people, despite the growing discovery of bush festivals of Australia, were respectful (for the most part) and conscious of people around them. Picking up rubbish following a big act was a common occurrence from people at all stages on each day. Everyone you encountered had a smile on their face that they couldn’t quite wipe off. Whoever you bumped into had an equal appreciation for the environment and the space. People were happy to help and support one another whenever a pal or stranger needed.
The venue, whilst only slightly altered, made a big difference this year. It’s a given that the foundation of a festival affects the experiences people have, even impacting music and art performances. Minor details like easily accessible markets, food stalls, information tents and medical services made an impact on the ease and comfortability of the festival. Even the environmentally toilets meant that you could piss in peace and not feel ridiculously grubby like portaloos make you feel. The toilets even had epic art on each door and I was a huge fan of taking my wizz in the cubicle of Donald Dump.
Art instalments featured water fountains, infinite mirror boxes and a giant adult playground of a pirate ship. Beneath the palm trees built from wood and car tires, you could relax in the hammocks during the day as you set up ship and watched people pretend to be Jack and Rose at the edge of the ‘titanic’. Beneath the pirate ship in the night time, you could find yourself in a shipping container encapsulated with inquisitive mirrors with lights to alter your mind.
The art gallery was a great installment, featuring the works of some epic artists, giving people an opportunity to purchase their pieces, including Jimminy Crickets and Dylan Smith. Duncographic had an emotional piece on display which featured some of the best memories in photos from the early days of the festival up until now.
The beach was an absolute highlight over the weekend. It has been shifted from the cliff-banks to a much flatter surface with sand to rest on the riverside. The heat of the festival always makes festivalgoers challenge their body’s limits and so relaxing at the beach stage in the water or beside it was the ultimate way to cool down, kick back, relax and observe the beautiful scenery and people.
The variety of the music at Strawberry was epic. It wasn’t as hard as previous years, which personally I believe helped with the culture of the festival. Many people have been divided by Strawberry’s choice to lean towards disco and house headliners but we’ll have to see how it divvies the crowd more noticeably in a few years. For now, Strawberry punters could experience everything from jazz to techno, hip hop to disco, reggae to organica.
Duncographic opened the beach stage on the Friday and played some crackalackin classics. The old Slim Dusty Aussie pub anthem, “Duncan’’ made perfect sense to mix in as hundreds came to the shores of the beach and enjoy the delightful tunes for the first official day. Wax’o Paradiso and San Soda created a big dance floor as people boogied with a drink in hand and wet hair from the water before they were left to follow the music at other stages. The Tea Lounge played groovy tunes you could wander in and out to before Dan Bentley took to the Wildlands to open for the weekend.
Hiatus Koyote played a signature jazz-influenced sound at The Grove Stage on the Friday to some unfortunate generator issues, but the crowd who wandered their way to The Tea Lounge later that evening were delighted to be surprised by Nai Palm of the band doing another small, funky set.
Kamaal Williams played an unbelievable set. It was unique, unexpected and interesting. He only played five or so tracks over his set duration, but with long build-ups and experimental-sounding ambient trails, the selection of tunes made for a story of a set. Enhancing the pulse through music nearly offensive to the ear would be followed by a stripping-back of the sound, down to a beautiful delicate melody that comforted you. It truly was an audible rollercoaster.
Nicola Cruz at the Wildlands Stage took you to another place with a set that resembled the backdrop of an Amazonian jungle. The Deep Jungle was a fun new addition with a stage you could climb on, similar to the Organic Audio stage, which the Deep Jungle Stage became a replacement for. DJ Seinfeld played a ripper set that was less Lo-Fi and more house-y tunes which delighted the majority of the people I spoke to.
Adi Toohey at the beach stage was absolutely loving every single minute of her set, which made it better for the punters. The crowd reciprocated her vibe and this was the perfect mood to set for Move D and Jayda G to follow, who were definite highlights of the festival. The only downfall to such big names being at the beach stage was that it brought a crowd the size of a main stage down to the beach. But you quickly forgot when the legendary Jayda G began dropping sleek tunes including Nate Dogg’s ‘Regulate’ and D’angelo’s ‘Feel Like Making Love’ to close off the set. The speakers to support the stage were of pristine quality. There were sounds you could hear in D’angelo’s beat that you could rarely hear on his record.
Sunday funday went out with a shabang. Highlights for the final day include CC:Disco! playing nothing but ultimate bangers and then Honey Dijon to follow-through with her uplifting fist-pumping jams. Carl Craig closed the main stage while the delightful afro-funk band The Public Opinion Afro Orchestra performed the final set at The Tea Lounge to close up the weekend.
After ten years of bringing people together, creating a very special space unlike any other festival on this earth, Strawberry Fields 2018 really pulled a good one this year. What a wonderful decade it has been.