Today is a wet day. After a week of glorious sunshine – the day of the much-anticipated Days Like This Festival – it decides to chuck it down.
Rain doesn’t normally dampen my spirits. I’d choose heavy rain over intense hot sunshine for a festival any day.
But what does dampen my spirits is the looming apprehension I have about NSW’s new legislations around festivals, and how this might impact the day.
A new law passed in February that requires festivals deemed ‘high risk’ to pay $200,000 for police presence, among other rules. Days Like This is one of 14 festivals on the high risk list.
If the aim here is to make festivals safer, which the NSW government claims it is, that $200,000 would be much better spent on pill testing. Pill testing has been proven effective at saving lives. Sadly, police presence has not.
So, here I am wondering how these recent changes will trickle down from premier, to police, to party-throwers, and finally, to party-goers.
I arrive at around 3pm. Just as the heavens open. Like, really open. It feels like we’re being rushed through the entry gate, perhaps because of said downpour. And I can’t help thinking it all feels a bit manic.
Once inside, there are the many police with dogs I was expecting. In this downpour I look around but can’t really get a good grasp of what’s going on. There’s stages pumping music, but not many people paying much attention to them.
It seems like the crowd around the truck selling ponchos is having more luck pulling punters than the DJs themselves.
I try to buy a poncho myself only to be told they’re sold out. Righto, I hope this jolted start isn’t going to permeate the whole day.
The first act I’m keen to catch is Horse Meat Disco. So I trudge towards one of three stages, the Times Like This stage where they’re already playing.
Once I get to this little corner of the festival, I realise that with music in our ears, my friends and I are much less bothered by a little bit of rain and the police feel a million miles away.
The Times Like This stage is a funky silver disco ball perched in front of us. And inside are what look like two of the four British Djs that make up the disco dudes.
I look around and I notice happy faces and i’m reminded that this is why festivals are so important. Music, and safe spaces make everything else melt away. Troubles from your week, difficulties with friends, family, work, none of that matters here.
And Horse Meat Disco rolls out the perfect set to help us while away our daily grind.
I love what these guys are about. Forming in 2003, they wanted to revive the old-school New York disco scene experienced at The Loft or The Gallery in New York, but make it work for London’s scene today.
They don’t disappoint, getting me boogieing with 70s disco classics like the Original Dub Edit of Human League’s “The Thing That Dreams Are Made Of”, Sylvester’s “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” and T-Connection’s “Do What You Wanna Do”.
The unsettling image of police with guns in a crowd of music-lovers begins to fade away into a memory.
Friends are hugging, singing along, connecting and revelling together come rain or shine.
As Horse Meat Disco’s musical journey comes to an end, Denis Sulta pops onto the agenda.
Denis Sulta’s Boiler Room x AVA Festival DJ Set is on my most played list, so i’m keen to catch some of his set. He doesn’t disappoint. Serving up a set of techno treats with a bit of feel good with “Lola’s Theme” by The Shapeshifters thrown in for extra zest.
Sure, the music’s good, but when denis starts lobbing bottles of water into the crowd for thirsty punters, it’s the cherry on top. Random acts of kindness go a long way, especially in an arena where the flash of police uniform is still in the corner of my eye at every turn.
We don’t stay long at Denis. One of the most anticipated acts for me at Days Like This; is Tourist, so I ferry along to the third and final stage, the Moments Like This stage. The pace slows down considerably from Denis’ techno bangers to Tourist’s deep atmospheric melodies.
I’ve had Tourist’s new album “Everyday” on repeat since it came out in February, so i’m pretty stoked to hear him drop in a few tunes from it. Among them is “Love Theme”, which is a beautiful, floaty number that, in my opinion, captures us and holds us perfectly in its palm. A crowd in love.
As if on cue, the sun peeks through the clouds, elevating spirits and touching us with its golden dusky hue.
Tourist’s set takes us on a journey, with a few dirty drops in the middle and a grand finale of Damian Lazarus’ Re-Shape of Teddy Pendergrass’ “I don’t love you anymore”.
I make a decision to stay for some Palms Trax over watching Four Tet. It’s a bold move given Four Tet is a legend and I don’t know much of Palms Traxs’ stuff, but a friend recommends him. And I’m pleased I catch some of his tropical-inspired journey.
Eventually the pull of Four Tet grabs me though, and I move to the main stage to catch the end of his set.
When I get there, friends tell me we’ve missed something special.
I’m informed, not only did he take the crowd on one hell of a voyage – throwing in some jungle and heavy rap, just because he’s Four Tet and he can – but he did it with only the sort of sophistication you’d expect from someone who’s been a master of the industry for nearly 20 years.
Four Tet’s grand finale is his remix of Bicep’s “Opal”. One of my favourite tracks at the moment, and easily the highlight of my festival.
On to the Moments Like This stage for David August. I’m a big fan of This experimental dj, but it turns out that perhaps he’s a bit of an acquired taste. A few friends who hadn’t heard his stuff before weren’t into his slow, trippy vibe. Some felt it wasn’t right for a 7pm sundowner and got itchy feet looking for where to move to next.
It was at this point that I really discovered the festival had taken a turn into techno. We flitted between Dixon’s techno-heavy set, into Sven Vath’s similarly tecnho-heavy set, and on to Charlotte De Witte’s also techno-heavy set. Although I do leave Charlotte uttering the words, “holy shit, that is one badass bitch”.
We choose to spend our last moments at the festival at Willaris K. I find myself thinking that the Moments Like This Stage had the best sound and visuals compared to the other two. And i’m blown away by the fact that Willaris K chooses to bring some contemporary dancers onto the stage with him.
In what feels like a Daft Punk moment, the dancers - lit up with LED gloves and spacesuits - move like demons around the dj, while WiIllaris K drops banger after banger.
Willaris K ends with a nod to fellow Aussie djs; Rufus Du Sol. Premiering his remix of Rufus Du Sol’s “Underwater”. It was the perfect feel good way to round out the festival.
All in all, Days Like This was a festival of journeys.
It was an emotional journey given Sydney’s iron fist grasp on the city’s festival-culture.
It was a journey against the elements with both rain and shine.
And each set was an individual journey in itself.
But if each set felt like an individual journey, the cohesion between sets felt disjointed. There were moments when I wasn’t sure where i wanted to be, feeling thrust from spacey, trippy vibes, to deep atmospheric melodies, to jolting techno bangers.
Other than the police presence, the festival was easy, though. It had a compact layout, short drinks queues, short toilet queues, and friendly folk.
But I couldn’t help feeling a lack of soul. And this is a devastating realisation. After raving reviews from last year’s Days Like This festival, and a killer lineup, where my biggest issue was deciding who I could possibly bare to miss, I had held high hopes.
But I fear Gladys has succeeded in digging her claws into the scene.
Perhaps the Days Like This crew were feeling despondent about the new laws. Which in turn trickled into the heart and soul of the festival.
Or perhaps some international artists were disappointed to dj under grey skies where there would normally be sun.
Or perhaps punters were shaken by the police and their guns.
I don’t know. But something felt heavy in the air.
And just 3 days after the festival finishes, Days Like This announces via Facebook that they are crowd funding with other festival organisers to sue the NSW government. Which tells me that they were, as expected, deeply affected by the heavy handed rules.
Perhaps this years’ festival was the sacrifice they had to make to give them the ammunition to take a stand against the government. And I’m ok with that.
So, for now, I mourn the loss of the city’s musical and cultural scene. I mourn the safe arenas we used to unite in to celebrate life. I mourn the missed opportunities to create connections and bonds with others in a safe space.
I hope that Days Like This is successful in bringing back what has been lost this year.
Words by Alexandra Longstaff