The concept of "headliners" are a required model when it comes to flagging who might be worth seeing on a festival lineup. The suggestion is that's the stuff worthy of shifting the most tickets. While true (maybe), anyone who's been to Dark Mofo will tell you the best things are often found lurking in the small font on the far-flung reaches of the program.
With that in mind, we highlight five picks of things we have a hunch will be excellent that you probably haven't even considered yet - and tell you why.
Silent Symphony - UVA (United Visual Artists)
It's at least easy enough to explain who UVA (United Visual Artists) are: a London based collective founded in 2003 by British artist Matt Clark. It's trickier to explain what they do. If you've ever wandered into a shed, room or warehouse at Dark Mofo and been struck by a formation of lights and movement that quietly tilts the axis of your brain, chances are UVA had something to do with it.
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For example in 2016, the collective's Our Time installation in a large warehouse at Mofo’s Dark Park precinct, featured a grid of enormous pendulum lights moving in ghostly silent formation, as if tracing some unsettling geomagnetic anomaly. As UVA's own press release says: “UVA’s works are better understood as events in time.” This feels right.
This year's work, Silent Symphony, is a collaboration with experimental Melbourne-born composer Ben Frost. Held over multiple days and nights inside City Hall, Silent Symphony features a "series of kinetic light and sound instruments that mimic planetary orbit." Featuring multiple instruments that have an orbiting arm that interacts with light and sound, the rotation of each sculpture creates a 360 degree sound and light field, which engages and at times distorts the entire space. Epic. It's also free.
Soda Jerk - Hello Dankness
A movie featuring Tom Hanks, Annette Bening, Bruce Dern, Ice Cube, Wayne and Garth, Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg and The Phantom of the Opera as Vladimir Putin doesn’t exist. Mysterious Sydney-born duo Soda Jerk see that reality as opportunity.
Cue their new film, Hello Dankness, an entirely sample-based creation – no original video or audio is used. Billed as the intersection between political fable, suburban stoner musical, rogue documentary, Greek tragedy and zombie apocalypse, Hello Dankness promises to be “a political fable that bears witness to the psychotropic spectacle of American politics from 2016 to 2021, and the mythologies and lore that took root around it.” If it’s anything like their 2018 showing of Terror Nullius, which, in one delicious section, recast Nicole Kidman’s character in BMX Bandits as part of the gang assaulting Mel Gibson’s Mad Max, buckle up.
Trance - Tianzhuo Chen
Born in China but currently living and working in Berlin, Tianzhuo Chen is a multi-discipline artist who creates "events" that require the participation of viewers or other people. Translation: underground parties, theatre performances and constructed "ritual sites" that clash together totems from religion, subcultures and popular culture in an effort to achieve transcendence. Or what the artist calls, "a state of madness." Bingo.
New work Trance is a 12-hour long "happening" at Dark Mofo, that reads like we asked ChatGPT to describe an acid trip. All we really know is it involves six chapters that run from midday-to midnight over three days, in which “a cast of psychedelic characters push the limits of the body in pursuit of transcendental states.” We'll be diving in.
RVG at In The Hanging Garden
Sometimes a band’s “moment” seems to align perfectly with a particular booking or festival vibe. Maybe it’s an act confirming the whispers swirling around it, or instead flexing their chops with a victory lap. (In Dark Mofo lore, I’m thinking of when Eddy Current Suppression Ring filled in for a cancelled Savages and made the UK post-punks inessential. A support from King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard didn’t hurt.)
Melbourne-based post-punk guitar janglers RVG have enjoyed several of those moments over the span of two albums. But with the release of their excellent (best?) third LP, Brain Worms just a few weeks before playing Mofo – a festival which seems custom to embrace their moody chill and dissonant aches – RVG look set to tap a rich vein when they take over In The Hanging Garden on Sunday June 18. Play their clip for outstanding first single Nothing Really Changes on loop ‘til then and genuflect.
Night Mass and the Walpurgisnacht district
Saying you should go to Night Mass at Dark Mofo is like saying wear something black or shiny – blindingly obvious. Over the last few years Night Mass has been held in the festival’s revamped space behind (and including) The Odeon Theatre, which was once a gravel carpark and now hosts the grand, cathedral-like In The Hanging Garden venue. In an echo of 2018’s sprawling three-precinct party, this year’s party will again extend into downtown Nipaluna/Hobart, to offer more than 13 stages and welcome a 4,500 capacity into its labyrinthian folds.
It promises to hold a variety of themed precincts, with a giant list of performers woven throughout it all to keep things humming. But keep an eye out for what they’re calling Walpurgisnacht, which in the parlance of Germanic folk tales, refers to a gathering of witches. Occupying Bidencopes Lane, Underground Cinema and The Grand Poobah, note that in 2018 the Underground Cinema here devolved into the best steamy techno club in town, while my recollection for what was happening at the dank Grand Poobah included “a nude performer bouncing on a rubber dinghy drenching herself in milk, an adjacent room featuring live vagina painting and some kind of bare-flesh karaoke situation.” At minimum it makes a rabbit warren to forget the outside world in – worth the price of admission alone.
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