Big River Motel is this year’s Royal Croquet Club (RCC) open-air concert space. It’s also the gateway to Neon Forest. “You start in a big, classic motel,” says Neon Forest designer Dave Court, “and the forest is a dodgy caravan park out the back.” But that’s understating it.
This year’s iteration – its second – comes from Court (who ran Created Range before its closure late last year), artist Kaspar Schmidt Mumm (from artist-run SMOCK gallery) and tech-guy David Musch.
A 750-person capacity for a 1000-square-metre space seems scant, but RCC creative director Stuart Duckworth says, “A lot of the design is part of the experience”.
Visiting a wrecker’s yard, the creative team picked up a couple caravans and a houseboat (“we couldn’t leave that there!” says Court) to fit the narrative. It took a month of planning and an intensive two-and-a-half-week build.
They recruited local artists – such as Jungle Phillips, surf artist Henry Jock Walker and signwriter Bohie Palecek – to douse the rescued vessels in colour, inside and out, using hints of their own style. It’s as much about neon light as it is about neon colour.
Here, music and booze is a given. But Neon Forest’s artistic underbelly gives it an edge.
“The experiential stuff people do within festivals is really interesting … stuff you don’t know you’re going to experience before you get there,” says Duckworth. He’s talking about the UK’s Glastonbury and Wilderness Festivals. “You go for a headline artist, but it’s the things that happen outside of that I think people talk about the most.”
Capturing a tiny bit of that, entry comes with a mandatory lick or two of neon face paint. “You become part of a tribe,” Duckworth says. “A lot of people are standoffish to artists and performers, so this helps break down that barrier.
Local and international acts roam free in what’s essentially unstructured performance. “It might be as simple as a dancer on a podium or as complex as the Phil Brooks character,” Duckworth says.
“Who’s Phil Brooks?” we ask. He’s the “spiritual leader” of the caravan park, says Duckworth. And if he’s around, you won’t miss him: draped in a robe and probably pant-less.
Brooks’s religion is “sensationalism,” says Court. “He worships the five senses over five weekends [of the Fringe].” Swing open the door of a stand-alone box in the forest and you’ll find its walls plastered with mirrors and thousands of onlooking eyes.
Schmidt Mumm and Emmaline Zanelli (who also runs SMOCK) crafted a series of costumes to match each weekend’s “sense”. You might have seen two gigantic, wear-able eyeballs dancing on-stage; or a pair of furry, human-height hands roving the open-air concourse. This weekend celebrates “taste”, and next weekend – the closing weekend – is “hearing”. You can guess what's coming.
The cascading, triangle-stacked stage – custom-made by Musch – is magnetic. Its programmed LED stripping is synced to a computer, allowing different colours, actions and animations. Keep an eye out for projections of videos (filmed by the team) beaming onto the triangles. Overhead stripping lights up the night. And there’s more to come, says Court, teasing a few extra elements will be added for the final weekend.
This year entry to the forest is accessible only via a ticket to one of the gigs at Big River Motel. Catch Adelaide producer turned international superstar Motez on stage tonight. Touch Sensitive and Wafia will headline the final weekend.
Neon Forest is open Friday and Saturday nights from 9pm ‘til late. Enter through Big River Motel at RCC. Tickets to Big River Motel are available online.