There’s a healthy chaos to Mona Foma. Like Mona (Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art) itself, the festival blends humour and absurdity with art from musicians and artists from around the world, stretching beyond the museum walls into Hobart and Launceston. Festival director and Violent Femmes bassist Brian Ritchie has seen Mona Foma into its 16th year, and knows to embrace the chaos and unpredictability – like letting 2024 festival headliner Queens of the Stone Age book themselves.
“They came in late – we had already booked the weekend with Darren Hanlon and Courtney Barnett,” says Ritchie. They were like, ‘Hey, we’re touring Australia, we want to play Mona on this day’ and I was like, well, we’re kind of doing a festival on that day and we weren’t thinking about having a concert on the lawn but, hey, what the hell? Let’s do it. Sometimes you just play the cards you’re dealt and that’s a pretty good card.”
The program for 2024 – February 15 to March 2 – swings between big-name locals and lesser-known international artists, straight-down-the-line styles and the avant garde. Local legend and Tassie expat Courtney Barnett will bring her two-set End of the Day tour to the Odeon in Hobart. Reclusive alt-rock band TISM will play at Launceston’s atmospheric Cataract Gorge with Cash Savage and the Last Drinks. “It’s a once in a lifetime thing for them and also the audience,” says Ritchie. “And it’s a free concert so we hope to fill the gorge with insanity and fun.”
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For this year’s Mona Sessions – live music on the Mona lawn in Hobart – Ritchie has secured a typically eclectic line-up. There’s Scottish post-rockers Mogwai; a collaboration between Indigenous singer-songwriter Kutcha Edwards (“the single most entertaining person in Australia right now” according to Ritchie) and Australian Art Orchestra; and influential Japanese pop-punk band Shonen Knife. “They’re celebrating the 40th anniversary of the release of their first album,” says Ritchie. “They’re a band that influenced Kurt Cobain and they’re still a hell of a lot of fun.”
Continuing Mona Foma’s theme of unique settings (throwback to 2023’s underwater electronica) is Arka Kinari, a performance by Seattle producer and electronic music artist Filastine and partner Nova on board a 70-tonne schooner. “They’ve been sailing around and doing a performance that is entertaining but also talks about climate change, and they’re on the ship, the audience is on land,” says Ritchie. “It’s a very Mona Foma thing to have an unorthodox performance space and paradigm to work to.”
Like Arka Kinari, Ritchie is excited by the way Nigerian artist and DJ Emeka Ogboh will blend art, music and food with a deeper message with Boats. “He’s going to do a visual art installation, a musical installation, and he’s working with chef Vince Trim from Mona to create a menu that reflects his background from Nigeria,” he says. “He’s also going to make a gin with a local distiller, but using African botanicals because he’s making a commentary on colonialism.”
Like always, Mona Foma packs more than enough into its three-week, two-city program. While most of us are unlikely to see the full festival, Ritchie has consciously designed the program to work in bite-sized chunks. “The idea is, you’ve got your time, and if you come to any of the days of the festival there’s probably more than enough for you to do and enjoy,” he says.
Mona Foma is on from February 15 to March 2. Tickets go on sale Tuesday, find out more and get yours here.
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