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Meld’s Guide to Music Festivals

Iona Salter

Thu Oct 06 2011

Meredith Music Festival. Photo Hannah Dyson.

EVER wondered why Aussies go gah-gah for music festivals? Iona Salter attempts to explain the hype, and introduces eight of the best outdoor festivals Victoria has to offer.

Australians love a summer music festival. As the grey clouds of winter part and the sun pokes out to say hello, it’s likely many of your local classmates are bursting at the seams with excited anticipation, talking non-stop about the coming of their favourite outdoor music event.

So what is all the hype about?

Well, there’s something unbeatable about the combination of great music and splendid surroundings. Whether it’s the lush rainforest that envelopes The Falls Festival’s site in Victoria’s Otway Ranges or just a grassy city park, live music is the perfect soundtrack to an attractive outdoor setting.

At times, Melbourne’s unpredictable weather can turn this quality on its head, but it’s the gamble that makes it all the more enjoyable. As Kiwi musician Neil Finn strummed out the first chords of Fall At Your Feet at last year’s Meredith Music Festival, and the rays of a setting sun broke through the stormy clouds for the first time that day – as if to greet Finn’s lyrics – this writer was reminded exactly why the outdoor music festival has developed such an epic following here in Australia.

Their popularity is also due to Australia’s location way down under. Big international music acts only seem inclined to battle the trans-continental jet lag it takes to get here a few times in their career, so when they’re on a festival bill, fans recognise a potential once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Of course, Australia does have the advantage of having its summer festival season at the opposite time of year to Europe and North America, meaning bands on the festival circuit are increasingly flocking to Australian shores come December.   

Many of Victoria’s best festivals are held a few hours out of Melbourne and last a few days, with audiences camping on-site. Most universities, including Melbourne University and RMIT, have outdoors or mountaineering clubs that rent out tents to members, with membership ranging from around $20 to $30 per year.

And if battling with tent poles isn’t your style, a range of top-notch music festivals can be found right here in the city.

Meld has compiled a list of eight of the best music festivals Melbourne and its surrounds have to offer. Whether it’s rock, electro, pop or folk you’re into, Melbourne’s sure to have something to get you grooving under an open sky this summer.

1. Big Day Out

Beginning in 1992 with a lineup headlined by Nirvana, the Big Day Out became synonymous with grunge music throughout the ’90s. Now held in seven cities across Australia and New Zealand each January, the festival showcases a wide variety of music genres, but still sticks to the more crowd-jumping, fist-pumping side of things. In Melbourne, the fun is due to take place at Flemington Racecourse on January 29, with a lineup that includes Kanye West, My Chemical Romance and Royskopp. Tickets go on sale on Friday, October 14.

2. Laneway Festival

The Laneway Festival is the ultimate rags-to-riches festival story. When the owners of a bar in Melbourne’s Caledonian Lane decided to spill a massive gig out into the laneway in 2004, many would have expected them to be slapped with some kind of fine for the crazy, jam-packed fun that eschewed. Instead, and perhaps as a result of increasing recognition of Melbourne’s laneway culture, the festival has grown into a highly-regarded celebration of new and unique music and has spread to five other cities. Previous years have hosted such talent as Florence + The Machine and Gotye, and the lineup for the 2012 festival (to be held on February 4) is to be announced next week.

3. The Falls Festival

You have to be snappy to get a ticket to this goodie. Like, really snappy. Tickets to this years’ Falls Festival sold out in a matter of hours when they were released back in August. But the festival, which takes place over five days surrounding New Years Eve, is definitely one to put in next years’ diary if you’re planning on being in Australia for the holidays. Set in the lush Otway rainforest, just inland from the picturesque seaside town of Lorne, Falls – as it is known to its friends – has become a highly sought-after place for the 18-25 set to party in the new year.

4. Meredith Music Festival

Falls may have capitulated the multi-day camp-out festival to new levels of hype, but it was the Meredith Music Festival that paved its way. Celebrating its 21st birthday this year, the festival takes place on the second weekend of each December. Alongside great music, the festival’s biggest drawcard – as every Meredith goer will tell you until they’re blue in the face – is the fantastic, friendly atmosphere. Yep, this one gets a hold on people and keeps them coming back year after year. Even the overnight camp-out to secure tickets carries an extra cheerful vibe.

5. Parklife

Towards the end of September, Melburnians tend to get a spring in their step. In part, you could put this down to the blossoms on the trees and the sun in the sky. But it’s also because Parklife comes along and marks the start of festival season. This year, Duck Sauce (Armand Van Helden), Katy B and Lykke Li – among others – kicked it off at Sidney Myer Music Bowl.

6. Folk Rhythm Life

There can be a lot of snobbery surrounding Australia’s more indie music festivals. “Oh, I started going years ago” and “it just got too…mainstream” are common utterances whenever Melburnians start talking festivals. So it’s a surprise that Victoria’s best-kept festival secret is not full of pretentious types marvelling at the ingenious illusiveness of their surroundings, but incredibly lovely people – and incredibly good folk music to boot. The family-freindly festival  is held about three hours north-east of Melbourne, and is this year due to move from its usual December timeslot to sometime in early 2012. There’s no website (we told you it was a well-kept secret) but you can keep an eye on the venue’s facebook page for updates.

7. Summadayze

Kicking off at 9am on New Year’s Day at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Summadayze sees many an electro-fan continuing their New Year’s partying long past the wee hours. As such, it’s at the more hedonistic end of the festival scale, but with killer lineups, the music is more than enough to see audiences through. 2012 is due to be welcomed in by Snoop Dogg, Calvin Harris, Moby and Grandmaster Flash (minus the ’80s leather outfit, presumably).

8. Apollo Bay Music Festival

If you want a chance to take in the stunning scenery of Victoria’s Great Ocean Road and to suss out the the best Australian musicians, you can kill two birds with one stone at the Apollo Bay Music Festival. Taking place over three days, festival acts play on various stages around the pretty beach town of Apollo Bay. The festival has a friendly, relaxed vibe, and showcases mainly folk, rock and blues – with a bit of jazz and hip-hop thrown into the mix. And the best thing? It’s on in April, so even if you’re home for the holidays, you can still soak in a little (late) summer festival love.