Sydneysiders don’t need an excuse to travel by ferry, but this weekend the diverse and eccentric Underbelly Arts Festival is offering a few very good reasons to jump on one heading to Cockatoo Island.

The biennial festival takes over the sprawling industrial outcrop in the years between the Sydney Biennale, and the two could not be more different. “We think about who the next great artists are going to be, those whose names you'll know in 10 years,” says artistic director Eliza Sarlos. “I don't want to make these artists go through 20 years of refining their craft, losing the vitality that comes as you're experimenting with your ideas and your practice – I want to celebrate the work they're making now.” This sort of approach results in works by 100 emerging artists that are experimental, wild and exciting, even for those visitors who aren’t so sure how they feel about contemporary art.

Comprised of dance, performance, installation, video, parties, sound and an impressive food and drink line-up, there’s a lot to discover on the program. Let us break it down for you.

There’s a thread of socially, environmentally and politically charged work woven through this year’s program, and one work not to miss is Tully Arnot’s Digital Forest. Using artificial plants that twitch and banal objects, Arnot creates an eerie atmosphere of isolation in the modern, connected world.

Danièle, Michael and Sian Hromek are siblings descended from the Budawang tribe of the Yuri Nation from along the NSW south coast. Their installation Covered by Concrete attempts to uncover the concealed past of spaces, using Cockatoo Island as their canvas for fossil-like works.

Mind-bending optical illusion Mirrored Ziggurat by Iranian artist Shirin Abedinirad takes the form of a staircase climbing toward, and seemingly reflecting, the sky above, connecting the modern and the ancient world. Just don’t try to climb it.

Sarlos called on Lee Tran Lam, author of the influential and respected food blog The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry to curate Underbelly’s food and drink program this year, and she’s delivered. From ramen by Rising Sun Workshop to raw salads and smoothies by Venus Wholefoods, crazy pastries and sweets by Andy Bowdy and burgers by Mary’s, there’s more than enough to accompany hours of art discovery.

Craft beer (and now spirit) creator Young Henrys is putting on a gin and juice bar this year, featuring its own botanical-heavy Noble Cut Gin, plus a range of its beers and cloudy apple cider.

If all the combined potential of 100 emerging artists has got you a little riled up, sign up to participate in Pia Van Gelder’s Relaxation Circuit, which recreates and builds on an early 20th-century experiment using electricity charges to relax the body and mind.

Join Emily Parsons-Lord at the The Airrarium, a sort of bar where the beverage on the menu is … air. An artist whose work is informed by climate science, “Emily plays the role of sommelier to a range of different airs, using air tasting as a way to explore and discuss the way the environment has evolved over time, and is likely to progress into the future,” says Sarlos. Drink up.

The title may sound like something out of a creepy science-fiction film, but Roslyn Helper’s performance piece Human Google Project swaps out the ever-powerful search-engine tool for the mind of an artist. Throw her any question you like.

Created by Megan Alice Clune, founder of World’s Only magazine and an accomplished musician and artist, The Closest Thing to Your Body investigates the role of music at nightclubs and its affect on our brains, bodies and emotions.

Soft Concrete by sound artist and musician Lucy Phelan makes the most of the industrial space of Cockatoo Island, using its enclosed spaces and reverberating acoustics to create intense sounds and ambience.

Confession Booth, taking place on the Sunday program, calls on artists and musicians such as cross-dressing performance artist Betty Grumble and musician Kirin J Callinan of the Siberia Records tribe to the stage to confess to the audience their deepest and most twisted secrets.

There’s also a huge Talks program on Saturday, curated by writer, researcher and lecturer Astrid Lorange. Presenters including designer Pat Armstrong, Aboriginal artist Nicole Foreshew and more, and will take place on the hour from midday in Building 124.

What’s more thrilling (or terrifying) than singing along to a TV screen? Singing karaoke to the tunes of a live band. GoodGod Small Club’s Live Karaoke event is going to be a highlight of the party line-up, featuring the sounds of GoodGod’s in-house band, which includes members of the Siberia Records roster.

Underbelly Arts 2015 will take place on Cockatoo Island on The weekend of August 1–2. Tickets are available online now.