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Earthdance - Do The E.A.R.T.H.D.A.N.C.E

Author: Matt Unicomb
Monday, September 8, 2008

This week sees Australia’s largest non-for-profit electronic music festival, Earthdance, take over Surry Hills. 3D’s Matt Unicomb sat down with the event’s organisers to find out what’s in store for punters.

This Saturday will see tens of thousands of people descend on Surry Hills’ Prince Alfred Park for what may be 2008’s most highly commended electronic music festival. Now in its fifth year the internationally applauded Earthdance has well and truly cemented its place in Sydney’s dance calendar. Having humble beginnings as a secluded drum n bass, psy trance and techno bush gathering, Earthdance has doubled in size each year since first baring its teeth in Sydney in 2004. The driving force behind Sydney Earthdance’s organisation and colossal growth is the Deep As Funk mob’s Marco Mazzuco (Marcotix) and Raf Gimelstein (RifRaf).

Organising a not-for-profit dance festival will never be exempt from headaches. Security, licensing, bookings and advertising are just some of the hurdles that interrupt the flow that directors aim to ride. “People that have been following Earthdance this year would notice that the line-up announcement was a little delayed,” Mazzuco begins. “Flyers are just coming out. We lost last year’s venue. Renovations are still going on at Sydney Park that were supposed to be finished a few weeks ago. We were counting on it being finished, but we probably knew that the council and the workers weren’t going to have it done in time – they usually don’t. Our main problem was to get a venue. We had it confirmed about two or three months ago.”

Since its beginnings Earthdance has provided the crème de la crème of the Sydney electronic music scene, with the underground collective putting all they can into promoting and crafting a remarkable festival. Things even get philosophical. “Choosing line-ups for Earthdance is like walking into the paradise of food supplies and, you know, all the best recipes,” Gimelstein explains. “Even the most famous international artists – apart from the wanky commercial artists – are dying to play at Earthdance. Earthdance is the only event of its kind in Australia. There is no other festival like it.

“There are lots of big festivals with big commercial artists, or small community festivals with no artists. Every single artist in Australia wants to play at Earthdance. Even if it’s The Presets or Pnau, they all want to play. Unfortunately some of them are attached to record labels and tours and bullshit like that. It’s not a festival where you’re gonna come and play on a retarded stage for 15 minutes to 60 year-old ladies and 12 year-old kids. It’s not just house or indie music because it’s popular; it’s proper drum n bass, proper techno, and so-on.”

With such a highly publicised event there is much pressure placed on the organisers to ensure crowd behaviour. The difficulty comes with finding the right balance between music that is highly accessible, and music that will essentially ‘weed out’ troublemakers. “We would love to have something soft or accessible, but we are eliminating anything that will attract unwanted people,” Gimelstein affirms.

“The more commercial it gets, the more people will come,” Mazzuco elaborates. “The more people that come means that more unwanted people come. If it becomes too large of an event we will have problems.”

This balancing extends further than the music that the artists will be playing. The arts program has been hugely expanded, and the festival hours have been changed, to further tempt a safer crowd. “This year we have a new arts coordinator who is doing a great job,” Gimelstein says. “More diversity at the festival will attract better demographics.

“The safest and cheapest way of running this event was to put it on in the daytime. People start going crazy after the sun goes down. They’re forced circumstances. People need to understand that the better they behave the better the next festival will be. It’s not like they’re not allowed to have fun, the just need to have fun without ruining their own health – or anyone else’s. They just need to donate money at the entrance so we have enough money to pay our bills.”

With a line-up that boasts the very best of Australia’s underground music talent, Earthdance really is the only festival of its kind in the country. The acts playing include Fretless, Theatre of Disco, Deepchild, Shades of Gray, RifRaf and Africa Hitech – all artists who have gained substantial international recognition in the last year alone. “The way we booked stages and supported talent in the early stages was followed by lots of commercial festivals,” Gimelstein notes. “Most of the talent we supported was of an international level – whether they were playing at nine in the morning or not.”

This consistent level of talent across the line-up is perhaps what other electronic festivals are lacking. These men and women are at the very core of the local electronic underground – some dedicating their lives and careers to the growth of Australia’s electronic pedigree. They are from the talent pool that the next Australian electronic superstar will be chosen, and will be out in full force. So when you’re at Earthdance this Saturday and the random guy next to you accidentally knocks your drink, watch what you say. He just might have booked Ajax back in ’98.

From an artist’s perspective Earthdance is a perfect place to showcase musical ability to an appreciative and knowledgeable audience. “It is a real opportunity to do something groundbreaking when you have such a mixture of people in the audience,” Nick West, one half of Shades of Gray, says. “Those people are basically representing the whole city. Some have never heard that style of music before, while some of them might be diehard fans. It’s a good opportunity for us to put out our sound in the best possible forum.”

WHAT: Earthdance at Prince Alfred Park
WHEN: Saturday 13 September