Events: The Pleasure Garden

After a wildly successful inaugural festival, The Pleasure Garden is returning to the St Kilda Foreshore on Saturday the 9th of December for its second year straight. Co-founded by long-time friends, festival goers and organizers, Geordie Barker and Goose McGrath, this is no ordinary music festival. It’s an all-encompassing celebration of music, visual art, theatre, circus and more – a day that promises to hit all the right buttons and then some. The premise is deceptively simple – an immersive experience that brings people together – but there’s been some serious thought behind it, and a well-developed philosophy. I chatted with Goose McGrath to find out more about the festival, and the thinking behind it.

Geordie and Goose met at Rainbow Serpent Festival eight or nine years ago. Both had been involved in festivals and events previously; in fact, Goose, who grew up in the country, had been organising shows and events for folks in his area since he was fourteen! The two shared a passion for the festival scene and started their own company – Parachute International – managing events around the UK, Europe, Asia and Australia. They’ve been involved in the likes of Glastonbury, BoomTown, Future Music, Rainbow Serpent, and even Melbourne’s (in)famous White Night.

One thing they learned from their experiences overseas was that there seemed to be a massive hole in the Australian music festival scene – there weren’t any of the holistic, immersive experiences that were more readily found in Europe and that they craved. ‘Festivals like Big Day Out and Soundwave had no soul,’ says Goose. ‘People would buy tickets, buy food and booze, watch a couple bands they liked and then go home. They were designed to make people spend money, but not to let them meet new people or share new experiences. We don’t want people to simply be consumers – we want them to have an authentic experience.’

He admits that The Pleasure Garden takes a financial risk by adding content that doesn’t have an intrinsic return – most people are buying a ticket for the music, not for the arts program after all, and the fact that punters get 30+ bands for under $100 is damn impressive in and of itself. Add that to the fact that there are over fifteen respective arts components and you’ve got some serious value for money. The risk, for Goose and Geordie, is totally worth it; they really believe in creating a sense of community, in giving people the opportunity to experience new things and in creating a space for them to engage – with art, with music, with each other.

With The Pleasure Garden, Goose and Geordie are hoping to create an experience that leaves a strong and lasting emotional imprint. ‘I’ve been involved in festivals most of my life,’ Goose tells me, ‘and what I remember weeks and even years later aren’t the sets necessarily, it’s the moments I shared with people.’ It’s that inter-personal emotional connection that they’re aiming for. ‘Emotional memory isn’t just connected to the things you see and hear. It’s the things you smell, touch, the things you interact with. They’re what leaves the strongest impression. That’s part of the reason we have performers, like our mischief makers, interacting with the crowd. They’re also there to extend how audience members interact with each other. In an immersive experience like this, we’re hoping to change the way people look at one another, to create an environment where, through colour, movement, positivity and community, they can look at one another with wonder. We’re trying to break down the barriers between people.’

Everything about The Pleasure Garden is designed with that in mind – the fact that it’s a one day festival, held in the city, means that its more accessible to the general public, including people with diverse bodies, who might not be able to get around a camping festival, people who can’t afford the $300+ standard for a weekend festival, or those who can’t get the time off work. It also means that the psychological journey of the festival is different. ‘With camping festivals, you leave home, attend a festival and then come back,’ says Goose. ‘There’s a disconnect between real life and the festival – the experience of it stays removed from your everyday. But if the festival is near where you live, that lessens the disconnect, the wonderland is brought to where you are and it can infuse your life in a way that it otherwise couldn’t.’

Inclusivity is another major way that The Pleasure Garden is aiming to break down these barriers between people. ‘We’re consciously making choices to include people who are indigenous, female, queer, gender-non conforming, of colour, because we want to create an inclusive community and to ensure that these voices are represented. Plus, they’re all kick-ass performers so of course we want them on the bill!’

This festival aims to combat some of the negative aspects of other music events, namely, rampant consumerism, disconnection, lack of community and the harm caused by alcohol and drug use. ‘Australia has a problem with drug and alcohol use at community events – so often people are drinking a tonne or popping a bunch of pills just to have a good time, but if you need to take a bunch of drugs just to enjoy yourself at a festival, then that festival probably sucks.’ Goose knows that people will drink and take drugs at The Pleasure Garden – festival goers are festival goers, after all – but he’s confident that things won’t get out of hand like they do at other festivals. ‘We’re creating happy and fulfilling experience so people won’t need to do that to escape. They’ll be in a calm and centred environment which will ultimately be a lot safer for them. And if they’re in the right space and having a good time, they won’t need to go nuts on substances.’

The Pleasure Garden takes its name from the pleasure gardens of yore. They’ve been around since Roman times and were particularly popular in 1800s England. They even existed in Melbourne in the past! Traditionally, they are spaces of public entertainment, music, poetry, and fun. They’ve always been a bit salacious – the kind of places one would take their lover, the kind of places where real world rules could be bent. They were places of joy and amazement, where people came together to experience beauty and wonder. Indeed, Goose tells me that the first elephant in Australia resided at a Melbourne Pleasure Garden. Inspired by this history, The Pleasure Garden seeks to be a completely unique, community-building experience.

The festival will be held at Catani Gardens, a historic indigenous meeting place which was later turned into a Botanical and Social Garden designed by renowned landscape architect Carlo Catani. This year will see an expansion on last year’s set up with two extra stages as well as an expansion on last year’s – the Conservatory stage will be 13m bigger, for example. Tetrick Structures are providing art installation centrepieces that will bring colour, shape and life as well as much-needed shade and there’ll be a tonne of food and bev suppliers ready to meet all our dietary needs. Audiophiles will be happy to know that they’ve got everything in place to ensure a killer sound, even without an amphitheatre. Goose and Geordie have actually patented their own product called ‘Phonicurtain’ – a super mass loaded, supple fabric that will ensure a crisp, clean sound around the dance floor, loud enough for everyone to have a boogie without pissing off the neighbours.

The Pleasure Garden is easily the best new festival around and definitely gives its more established siblings a run for their money. While it’s still only a baby, it looks set to become a Melbourne institution. Tickets are on sale now and their going quick. Don’t miss out, head to http://www.thepleasuregarden.com.au/ to nab yours today.

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