Isotopia Eclipse Festival 2008: A Canberra Perspective
Isotopia Eclipse Festival was a 4 day festival held between Friday 14th August and Monday 18th August 2008. Held on private land in Petherick's rainforrest, the festival was beautifully located in Litchfield National Park, appproximately 160km south of Darwin in the Northern Territory. Now into its third year, the festival had grown steadily since the first edition in 2006, however, the theme of the festival, the stopping of uranium mining in the region, continued to be the main reason for staging the event. The festival this year occurred simultaneously with a full moon and a partial lunar eclipse which was scheduled to occur on Sunday morning. Being August, the festival was also scheduled during the dry season. This meant warm temperatures between 20 and 30 degrees, very little cloud cover and zero chance of rain.
The organisers, the Darwin Doof Crew, have been organising events for a few years now, steadily building up the size of the scene in the NT. In addition to Isotopia, they have also organised some club events, a DoofBQ and the Tropical Winter Solstice Festival held recently which went very well from what I've been told. Right from the beginning at this festival, it was clear that the organisers had done well organising this event. There was plenty of fresh drinking water, as well as an irrigation system which had been installed on the property earlier. I was pleased to see that first aid, toilets and food stalls were all in attendance, meaning that the organisers had fulfilled their duty of care to festival goers. There was plenty of shade and chill areas set up, as well as bins for rubbish. The organisers paid tribute to the traditional owners of the land by incorporating a $10 nominal camping fee as part of the gate entry price. This money went to the local community.
This year, the organisers opened up the festival to volunteers from across Australia, who were invited to contribute and participate if they so wished. This was a good move, as artists from across Australia came to perform at the event, and made the festival one that could be described as national. Artists, speakers and volunteers came from as far away as Canberra, Byron Bay, North NSW, Western Australia, Adelaide and Sydney, as well as from across the NT.
From Canberra, 8 people made the journey. 6 of us travelled up by plane on the Thursday night before the event, and were rather excited about the prospects of warm weather and the chance of a few beers on the plane. On arriving, we picked up our hire car, met two of our friends who had arrived earlier, and headed into town towards our accomodation for the night, a youth hostel on Mitchell Street and a hotel just out of town.
The next morning, after some breakfast, we headed a bit out of town to the Wicked Campers depot, where we were due to pick up a camper to hire. For the uninitated, the Wicked Campers are nice big camper vans that have bedding, cooking, some plates, cutlery, etc all included so that you can be self sufficient out in the Aussie bush whilst touring around. In addition, they are “wicked”, because they have great artwork on the side of the van. For instance, on this occasion, we happened to pick up the Cypress Hill camper, which was, obviously, pretty wicked.
From there, we headed back into town to pick up supplies, before driving the 160km to the event. The drive out to the site was very beautiful. We were struck by the vibrant green colours of the plants (a far stronger green than what you usually see down south) and the enourmous size of some of the termite mounds (some would have been 3-4m high). There was also a bit of action on the driving front. Unwittingly, we went the back route to the event, which involved driving on some rougher dirt roads than following the tar route. At one point there was a sign saying “careful driving skills needed here”, or something to that effect. I went a bit too fast into a patch of road whereby the middle of the road was considerably higher than the two tyre ruts. The resulting dust that came up from the back of the car blocked out all vision for Eddy behind, which was kind of crazy, but thankfully, he had slowed down so was able to stop until he could see the obstacle and more carefully pick his line through. To be honest, I have an unenviable doof driving record! However, my embarassment was spared somewhat because Eddy and Stoj actually got bogged in the soft sand once we had actually arrived at the event and were driving up the 1km road from the gate to the festival. Thankfully, the organisers had some nice large 4WDs and were able to help Eddy and Stoj out after a wait of a few minutes.
By this stage, it was about 4pm and still 25 degrees, so we chilled out for a bit before setting up camp. A short walk up the road took us towards the single (main) stage which was to be the major point of focus for the event. A clear, 8k system was pumping out smooth progressive psy beats. A large cammo net served as a shade cloth for the dancefloor and there were a large number of psychedelic banners stuck up around the trees, as well as a large “Isotopia” sign and some signs about stopping uranium mining. A large shadecloth was set up towards the back of the dancefloor with some carpet placed on the ground to provide a chill/listening area, there were some hammocks, and a fireplace was also set up to the right. There was also some cool décor, including some string art, something that looked like a space/time continuum and a pipe machine looking thing. To the left of the stage, a chai/chill stall had been setup, which was shady and cooler, as well as having some couches and carpet so people could sit and talk. This area was also out of direct line of the system, so was quieter than the chill area at the back of the stage.
Further to the right of the stage, was the rainforrest itself. 500 metres away was a thermal pool as well as a colder pool. Then, there was also a path through the rainforrest to some waterfalls, which one could walk down over the course of 20 minutes or so. The rainforrest was lovely and the water was clear and refreshing.
We went back to set up camp, before preparing ourselves for the nights festivities. All in all, we were later told that approximately 250 people came for the Friday night. Stefan Stonker was first up for our crew, from 8-9:30pm. He played a smooth blend of minimal tech to start the night off, and the crowd slowly started to build as his set progressed. As the night darkened, it became clear that the lighting suited the nature of the night. Some parkands lit up the trees around the dancefloor, and there was sufficient light for the DJ through a desklamp and some stage lighting. There was also some intelligent lighting that made some interesting patterns on the dancefloor.
Electronic music continued into the night, and the intensity gradually started to build, with progressive psytrance and psy sounds the order of the day. Nuf-Z from Adelaide played a live set, and another DJ (who I didn't catch the name of) played some quality psy tunes. Disect played from 2-3:30am, and played approximately 1 hour live and 30 min DJ to an appreciative crowd which had now grown to around 150 people. Stoj finished the night off from 3:30-5am, and played a smooth set of high energy psy trance to a crowd which had reduced in size somewhat but which was still in good spirits.
At this point the stage closed, and closed until 9am the next day, giving everyone a chance to rest. When it re-opened at 9am, an ambient/progressive DJ called Gaia played some beautiful tunes, followed by Triskele who also played a good two hour set of ambient and chill out beats. At midday, DJ Spider played a more vibrant set of progressive trance and psy, very psychedelic from what I can gather, that seemed to work very well. Overall, the music played over the course of the Saturday morning was a nice way to build up to later stages of the festival. With the heat rising to over 30 degrees as well, several people were heading into the rainforrest to lie in the pools and escape the heat. A couple of stalls had also set up where you could buy some food which was a nice touch if you didn't feel like making your own.
At around 2pm the forums were due to start. Several speakers from around the NT had arrived to provide their thoughts on the nuclear future of the NT. I thought it was good that this was to occur on the main stage as it meant that the forums did not play second fiddle to the music and given the importance of the topic under consideration, I thought that this was a good thing.
Some of the things I learnt as a result of attending the forum was:
The NT is one of the world's largest natural repositories of uranium. At the current time the NT government has granted exploration licenses to several large corporations to determine possible future sites for uranium mines;
The mining of uranium would almost entirely be for export purposes to other countries. However, the NT has also been marked as a place which could be used as a nuclear waste dump for radioactive waste, thus importing spent uranium;
Although the use of nuclear energy is postulated by many as being a possible energy solution to combat climate change, this is actually a myth. The extraction, production, transport and storage of uranium actually takes a large amount of energy. This energy is provided by the burning of traditional fossil fuels such as coal and oil.
The NT does not actually need the energy from the uranium for its own purposes. Because the uranium is all to be exported, it is simply a cash cow;
The government is planning on contracting uranium mining companies to actually assist in the provision of essential services to Indigenous communities. This could lead to dangerous (and exploitative) situations for Indigenous communities, who may for instance, be forced to grant mining companies permission to mine on their land in exchange for essential services which the government should be providing anyway.
As the day drew to a close, it became clear that Saturday night was to be the big night of the festival, with a large number of punters now in attendance. The bands were also about to take centre stage. Just as it got dark a band called Elemental were up. These guys had a lead vocalist/guitarist, a bass guitarist, a violinist, and a drummer and played some nice tunes to a relaxed crowd who were sitting and enjoying the sunset.
Around this stage, I went and got some dinner, so my memory is a little hazy on some of the other acts that evening. However, I remember seeing another live act for a little while (called The Neo) which had some singing accompanyment. There was also a hip hop group called Press Eject and then at 11pm there was a great group which had live didg. Called EnDee I believe, this last act really worked the crowd well, which had now swelled on the main floor to over 400 people. These guys had a sound a bit similar to Ganga Giri or Charlie McMahon, but was still very original and the crowd were loving it. There was a massive fire setup now, big dancefloor, and a large VJ screen which was suspended in between two trees. The Vjs were setup on the stage to the side of the musicians. Also, visuals were being displayed directly behind the artists which looked really good. Two lasers were making their mark as well, as was a smoke machine.
At midnight, a good DJ by the name of Reform stepped up and played quality psy trance for the next two hours. This set went down very well. A lot of the music was melodic and there was also good rises and falls in energy. Reform would start with a more minimal psy track and build it up over 5 tracks or so into something more epic, before dropping it back to something more minimal, creating a nice flow of energy without going over the top.
At 2am Aneurysm stepped up for what was to be a massive performance. Given the opportunity to nail it, Aneurysm pretty much did with a close to flawless set of high energy psytrance. Mark did pretty well to stay composed given that there were lots of lights, smoke and people in his face.
At 3:30am, one of the organisers of the festival, Cymo stepped up and played what he described as a pre-eclipse set of psytrance. At 5am, Spliffon from Byron Bay stepped up for a 2 hour set during the peak of the eclipse, as well as sunrise, and from all accounts this was a great set of fantastic music. The Canberra boys, who by this stage were in party mode, told me that they were going off to it.
From 7am to 10am, morning psytrance was the order of the day. I didn't catch the earlier set, but Pop played from 8:30am to 10am and kept the energy up fairly high. Beige played from 10-11:30am and slowed it down somewhat into a smooth progressive trance. The crowd, whilst considerably smaller at this stage, still numbered about 100-150 on the stage and it stayed that way well into the afternoon.
At 11:30am it was my turn, for what turned out to be a middle/heat of the day performance. I played a 90 minute progressive trance set, with a strong emotional/dreaming component which I thought would be appropriate for a psychedelic festival in the NT. However, the DJ after me failed to turn up, so I ended up playing another 2 hours. As we moved later into the afternoon, I slowed the pace to about 130bpm, and played a more funky/groovy blend of progressive house. My favourite moment was grooving with a young child who just happened to end up on the front centre of the dancefloor with his mum. I was also pretty stoked with the dancefloor response to a track I played: Deep Forest – Sweet Lullaby (Peter Gunn remix).
Progressive trance music continued throughout the afternoon, although the crowd slowly dropped as people started to go home. I didn't catch the late afternoon sets, as I went back to the rainforrest to cool off in the water, and also caught up on some sleep. When I awoke, a large proportion of the festival had gone, but there were still a few campers who had decided to stay for the Sunday night. The vibe was much more chilled and relaxed, and I was able to sit and chill quietly with friends near my tent, relax and hear the sounds of the forest whilst enjoying the sunset.
As the shadows lengthened, Stefan Stonker popped by to inform me that he was playing a second set. We went up to have a look. Stefan played an hour or so of quality minimal tunes, that had a crowd of about 20-30 grooving happily. Krokodoofilus also played some cool tunes on his laptop, and Reform had a second go as well. Around midnight, I played another hour of music (this time was more full-on psychedelic), in response to some requests I had from some French doofers who were keen to go hard for a bit. Later, the stage slowed down in intensity, as many of the remaining people at the festival were keen to take it easy. We went to bed. I think the stage closed down around 3am.
When we awoke in the morning the main stage was pretty much packed up. There was probably around 50-80 people left. After going back into the rainforrest for a final swim, we headed across to Monsoon's cafe across the road for an extravagant breakfast. Afterwards, we returned to pack up camp, and say our farewells, before heading down the road to Wangi Falls. Wangi Falls was a beautiful place – a massive gorge with a high waterfall and we stayed there for a few minutes to soak up the energy of such a place. We then travelled further to Florence Falls which were similarly impressive, and caught this just as the sun was setting on our final day.
From here we left Litchfield, and returned to Darwin for what was to be our overnight journey back home. We had some dinner in Darwin and then dropped off one of our new friends, Yanina, who had joined us for the journey back from the festival, before heading for the airport.
Overall, I just want to extend my thanks to all the Darwin Doof Crew for having us up there. I made a point of asking everyone in my crew what they thought of the festival, and everyone without exception said that they had a great time. It was a unique experience. Looking forward to participating again at Isotopia 2009 and extending our friendship.
PS: This review, photos from Isotopia, as well as photos from the last Sideproject Event, Gathering 1, can be found on the Sideproject blog. Check out:
Photos should be up within a couple of days.