Review: Strawberry Fields 2015

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In a year in which new festivals have sprouted forth and flourished, Strawberry Fields has remained an essential pillar of the Australian music calendar. No longer the small collection of dance music diehards it once was; the festival has grown immensely in just a few years. 2015 welcomed a new venue, new acts and a host of new punters. Indeed, the expansive reach of dance music in Australia was on show- Strawberry Fields attracted a crowd more diverse than any previous year. All photos from Ryan Sauer Media

Our festival crew has never been great at collective logistics, a problem only catalysed this year by our organisational hastiness and pre-weekend excitement. Regardless, we managed to make our way out of inner Melbourne and head for Strawberry as early afternoon arrived on Friday, a feat not achieved in our four prior years. The three-and-a-half-hour drive became four-and-a-half with a brief stop for some last minute supplies in Shepparton. On the list was booze, water and food, as well as a critical late addition, a deal worthy of the great Ken Bruce: KFC’s chicken streetwise meal. This last minute fast food choice would prove essential, providing us with the necessary sustenance to get through the coming night.

Having left Shepparton, the Paris of country Victoria and our last stop before the festival, we navigated the revenue raising search efforts of Victorian and NSW police and arrived at the site as the sun was setting. The queue was long and moving slowly, though this did little to curb our excitement at the opportunity to cast our eye upon the creations of the Strawberry Fields operations team. An expansive paddock was our first impression of the new space, an innovation that allowed arriving punters and their vehicles to be processed far more easily than in previous years.  The festival hadn’t travelled far, but it was immediately obvious that the new venue offered not only logistical benefits for organisers, but also a fresh look for punters. Once inside the gates, we happily noted an increased feeling of intimacy at the new site, as well as an easily accessible (and safe) swimming option and a number of gorgeous installations that dotted the festival.

Disappointingly, we had missed local legends Sleep D kick off Friday evening, and were instead welcomed by a Tensnake DJ set as we sought to reunite with several groups of friends. Unfortunately, his attempt to mix Inspector Norse into Battle for Middle You left pretty much everything to be desired, and indicated a lack of inspiration that ultimately proved the theme of his entire set. Booka Shade’s live show was far more dynamic, and while they stuck to their guns it was a wholly impressive performance. The live drums on show during their set were a highlight, and really kicked things off at the main stage. Regardless, we were eventually drawn away from the hub of festival to witness some of our favourite local selectors. Fantastic Man was followed by Bryce Lawrence at the Saloon stage, and both put together sets that challenged the audience in ways that many of the internationals did not. In what proved to be a theme of the weekend for locals, they each demonstrated an intimate knowledge of their craft, tracks and their peers across the journey. Despite our thorough appreciation of what the pair threw down, we forced ourselves back as Patrice Scott arrived to claim the main stage cake with one of the purest, most enjoyable sets of the weekend. Not even dusty needles and some haphazard mixing could stop the joy as Scott moved gracefully from house to techno and provided the best cuts of everything in between. A special mention must also go to Dance Party, who got the crowd moving late at the Tea Lounge with a series of super funk and disco covers.

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The first half of Saturday was devoted for the most part to recovery and relaxation, as our group took to the festival’s newly installed, hammock style nets that dangled above the shallows of the Murray River. The installation was appreciated far and wide, as revellers came together to bask in the sun and nap outside the sweaty confines of their tents. Props has to go the the Strawberry Fields team for that innovation, it really set a new standard for the festival’s non-music offerings. Wiping both the real and the metaphorical dust off ourselves, we managed to eventually return to the main stage for the techno fiesta that dominated Saturday. Oliver Huntemann was solid if a little repetitive, while Eric Cloutier and Peter Van Hoesen bent minds at the main stage with the kind of dark cuts we’ve come to expect of them. As good as they each were, it was the Deep Jungle stage that did for us more than any other on Saturday night. After Wax’o Paradiso set the scene, local Melbourne legend András put on a trademark display, effortlessly mixing 90 minutes of ~interested~ vinyl. Glenn Astro and IMYRMIND closed it out with samples of their eclectic but groovy taste, a great offset for the belting kick drums taking control on the main stage.

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By Sunday we’d collectively rinsed ourselves, separating at times before coming together later in the day. In the morning, it was a pleasure to sit and enjoy a style of Tornado Wallace set that we’d not seen before, as he opened the day with a predominantly ambient set. The artists that made up the Sunday bill were of such quality that our crew spread itself to catch glimpses of each- Palms Trax (a 6am favourite) blew minds before Matthew Jonson and Cobblestone Jazz brought it home strongly. Apparat was solid, but outdone by Melbourne residents Babicka and Louis McCoy. The latter was particularly impressive- despite some brief (dust related) technical issues he put together a typically bold and exploratory (and delightful) set.

Our Sunday nights and Monday mornings at multi-day festivals are reserved for a special kind of collectivism, driven equally by a mutual tiredness and desire to savour the few moments that remain. We carried each other through it, wandering aimlessly but happily throughout the festival until we each trudged back to camp to pass out.

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Strawberry Fields 2015, much like its predecessor, was made great by a local lineup that collectively shone through and highlighted the talent of a burgeoning Australian electronic music scene. Special mention must be made of the lengths that the festival team went to so as to ensure that the site was safe, innovative and as enjoyable when the music was off as when it was on. We’re already keen for next year.

Full photo set HERE