It was while gyrating perversely to Holy Fuck on Sunday afternoon in the bistro at the Granada Tavern that Mona Foma 2024 sold me.

Directly opposite the vineyard-strewn entrance to Mona (Museum of Old and New Art) in nipaluna / Hobart, the Granada is a sports bar, bistro and pokies-focused mainstay of the area – a venue bigger on affordable seniors’ meals than day parties. But with Mona Foma’s signature Faux Mo parties taking it over for two nights and an afternoon this year, the scene felt transformational, with a fog machine belching dry ice from underneath a colourful kids’ climbing gym; footage of chips sizzling in oil screening in the sports bar; and fun as hell Canadian four-piece Holy Fuck conjuring ecstatic fizzy electro and hectic beats from an array of kids’ toys and noise-makers. To this the happily blazed crowd responded by leaping about the sun-touched dance floor like it was dexie time at day care. This is the signature Mona dissonance we come for.

The second weekend of Mona Foma’s – Mona’s annual summer festival – fortnight in Hobart was a beaut: warm days, mild nights, some of the planet’s most elegant music in town, art both iffy and inspiring, late-night raves and decadent drink and food. Despite these ingredients, attendance felt down on previous years. Whether that’s because Mona Foma’s “headliners” Queens of the Stone Age, Paul Kelly and Courtney Barnett played the previous weekend, or because we’re in a post-Covid market that sees stalwarts like Groovin the Moo cancelling due to low ticket sales, I’m not sure. What it meant in practice was you could snag a beanbag on the Mona lawns to watch a legendary band at your leisure.

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Art aside, that easy accessibility has secretly long been the festival’s best lure. Mona Foma is held in a small, lush spot at the far end of the world, and happens to have the cash, infrastructure and programming nous to host some of the most influential music of the modern age; it’s more akin to a private party than a gig. Literally: on Sunday night when German musician Michael Rother – of legendary krautrock bands Neu! and Harmonia – was leading an excellent set of Neu! jams to a few hundred people on the lawns, Mona owner David Walsh could be seen waltzing up the front with a wine to wiggle with the rest.

Earlier on Friday I ducked into the moody Old Mercury Building to taste gin, see photos and hear recordings of people being asked in 1985 if foreigners should be allowed to live in Australia. Called Boats, it was the work of Nigerian-born sound and installation artist Emeka Ogboh. Invited by Mona to do “something” this year, the Berlin-based Ogboh arrived and connected with the local migrant community in Hobart – including John Kamara, a refugee from Sierra Leone and local candidate for Labor, whose recorded speech to parliament also played on a recording in the space – in an effort to push forward Ogboh’s “ongoing global conversation on belonging”.

Ogboh told me a chief instrument in those conversations is flavour. “Sometimes people are more likely to accept food from your country before they accept you,” he said. That thinking resulted in a peppery gin made in collaboration with Tassie’s Taylor & Smith Distilling Co. It hinges on botanicals from West Africa, some of which were sourced from a single market in Sydney – only after it was convinced to part with enough stock to make the drop.

As we sipped, the accompanying “marketing campaign” photos – a couple enjoying a glass, close-ups of the gin bottle wrapped in newspaper – looked trite and passive. I didn’t get it. But seeing those same images on billboards around Hobart over the weekend unveiled the gin as a trojan horse. Blown up to billboard size, the bottle's newspaper print wrapper revealed old news stories on Australia's shameful White Australia policy, and the massive, text-free photo of a dark-skinned African couple enjoying a drink above the CBD sat uneasily with the harbour's many colonial tributes dotted along the waterfront.

That evening on the Mona lawns, Mutti Mutti singer-songwriter Kutcha Edwards continued Ogboh’s conversation. “Any parents of six-year-old children here?” he asked between a set of songs sweetly backed by contemporary ensemble the Australian Art Orchestra. “What I want you to imagine is that six-year-old child taken off you. That six-year-old child you’re imagining is sitting on this stool now.” You don’t need that context for the golden-voiced singer’s artfully detailed narratives to stop you in your tracks, but it does pause the outside world for a second.

And when it’s followed by Scottish guitar throttlers Mogwai belting out a cascade of beautiful, violent instrumental music under a cloudy moon, that pause widens to a chasm you might throw your own interior tragedies and triumphs into. With their final bellow of distortion drifting off over the Derwent, I calmed myself down the best way I know how: heading down the drive to Faux Mo and enjoying a crisp pint of Canadian Club and Dry with a side of spring rolls, chips and glitchy internet porn on the sports screens. (Note: this is not how I typically calm myself down.)

Back in town the following afternoon, Taiwanese artist Yahon Chang lorded over a massive canvas stretched across the floor of a waterfront warehouse. Flanked by dozens of buckets of ink and 150 or so silent spectators, the hour-long spectacle saw Chang striding over the fabric to splash arcs and squiggles of ink in a fashion known only to him. It wasn’t gripping – more ceremonial than serendipitous. But at hour’s end when the canvas was hoisted up by pulleys, the new angle revealed a face, characters and elegant marks unseen during the actual making. You could take or leave the result, but we’d been privy to a fundamental hope of all art: labour to mark time as meaningful.

Three minutes. That’s how long you got with resident laser guy Robin Fox’s Hyperbolic Psychedelic Mind Melting Tunnel of Light. Inside a dark room at Mona, the installation let guests basically pilot their own spacecraft. Or that’s what it felt like while holding a retro gaming joystick and banging on buttons to create a barrage of oscillating laser blasts stretching out before you. It made me feel 10 again, fantasising about somehow getting inside the computer game. While waiting I watched a kid of around that age take his turn and instantly, blissfully, dissociate into the same dream.

A deeper wandering into Mona that afternoon revealed other new deposits for the memory: the celestial rumbling of Obsidian, Jónsi from Sigur Ros’s representation of what it might be like to stumble across multitudes of himself singing inside an active volcano; cosmic jazz hero Lonnie Holley and band recording a song inside Frying Pan, Mona’s own recording studio; and the chance to order another Martini.

On Sunday evening local punk heroes Little Ugly Girls, led by the ferocious voice of Linda Johnston, were so beautifully scathing and scorched-earth tough, they made the following act, buzzy US alt-rock darlings Wednesday feel meek by comparison. After a quiet pause to wander off to the south end of Mona and marvel at the darkening sky through James Turrell’s glowing Amarna installation, we headed back to watch goofy Japanese guitar trio Shonen Knife. If their matching primary outfits didn’t remind you of The Wiggles, their insanely catchy tunes about small joys (they opened with Banana Chips, a song about banana chips) did. Michael Rother playing Neu! tunes after that could have been ponderous, but instead the 73-year old ripped into tin-foil guitar solos over that ecstasy-inducing motorik beat he helped coin, while seeming genuinely stoked the entire time.

As was I at Mona Foma. As was everyone else I saw feasting, faffing around, or failing to navigate a fake passport pop-up at Faux Mo (which was the point: bureaucracy, it sucks). While the health of festivals might undoubtedly be in a state of flux right now, flux has long been a central node of Mona Foma’s DNA. Here’s hoping that gene continues to mutate.

The writer travelled to Hobart as a guest of Mona Foma.