The 2017 Pleasure Garden Festival hit all the right notes but came off tone deaf.
Researching the festival online before going I saw a comparison that Pleasure Garden was part Glastonbury and part Burning Man. Two of most mammoth and unique festivals combined into one? Daunting expectations. To check out the official website spruiking wonder for the senses and magic -you might get a feeling that this is going to be something very distinguished.
Arriving at Catani Gardens it was clear the scope of this festival was small but enthusiastic. While it boasted a central, beachfront location, you can’t see or get to the beach. Furthermore, a “no-pass-outs” rule made taking a quick dip to cool off virtually impossible.
Once inside though there are some impressive food offerings. A diverse and delicious array of food trucks lined a whole area of the festival. “I want chicken wings,” I said aloud to my friends and lo and behold before me were chicken wings! High five to the universe for answering prayers. For my less carnivorous friends, there were plenty of vegetarian options. No side salad or single vego meal dilemma for them! Finding a place to sit and eat out of the glaring sun, however, is unlikely to happen.
With hunger in check, our minds wandered to booze. At the bar, the lines weren’t enormous to begin with but grew very quickly. Hitting the front of the queue I was told that the cup I was being given cost an extra two dollars but that I had to bring it back at the end. I might have buggered up the explanation of how it works, given that it was yelled to me amidst a sea of rowdy people eager to quench their thirst, but for a 12-hour event, this seemed a bit unlikely to work. Needless to say, I lost my cup a few times (woe is me) and that the system seemed poorly thought out. Given the number of glitter stations available (microplastics anyone?) The environmental aspect was lost on me.
The grounds at the venue were split up to allow for a variety of musical tastes from drum and bass and house, to hip-hop and indie experiences. This is really where the festival shone. With a plethora of musical acts from Aphrodirty to Fat Freddys Drop (headlining), there was something for everyone. It allowed for people to move freely from one station to another and kept people walking around the site. Every act, DJ and performer we saw on the day was committed to a good performance, Crooked Colours being my absolute favourite. Montaigne dominated with an energetic set, however as a big fan she couldn’t have gone wrong.
Musically the willingness to try and be so many things to so many people was the highlight of the festival. Pleasure Garden was unashamed to try and span the genres without fear of losing its message. However, it was in this that it seemed to jar itself on a cultural level.
Boasting itself as being profoundly artistic and creative it lacked the feel of an artisanal touch. Instead of local Melbourne artists being provided with an opportunity to show off their talents and create installations or exhibitions, what we got was some colourful flags and few fabric flowers. Some old furniture scattered around on a lawn, a few roaming stilt walkers, and the occasional costumed performer were as good as it got concerning artistic influence. The feeling of art and creativity were watered down to a few opportunities to get an unimpressive selfie. I know this, I took a few unimpressive selfies throughout the day. Two pianos set up for anyone to play, a hula hoop station, and some unusual canopies were the peak of creativity here.
The vibe was pretty mixed throughout the festival. People taking themselves very seriously and also lots of very casual festival goers who really didn’t seem all that into it. It was really easy to tell them apart. Did you have a girl wearing three overlapping bikinis and a carnival headdress in your group? No? Then you were a casual.
I was genuinely impressed by the number of people rocking up in feathered outfits, sparkly garments, and well-executed festival looks. The effort put into some of the outfits was fantastic and one of the advantages of a short and local festival. No one has the energy to adorn themselves like we saw at Pleasure Garden on day three of a festival. Especially after consuming half your body weight in goon and sleeping on the floor of a tent. Another cool thing was that everyone was super chill. Pleasure Garden was a dickhead free zone and has the potential to use this following to launch itself into a sincere and specific cultural identity.
The line for the bathroom sucked, but on the plus side I got through two seasons of Arrested Development while waiting for the loo, so that was cool.
In summary, Pleasure Gardens is full of intent and confidently marches forward towards a festival that could one day be an iconic part of the Melbourne music and arts scene. In 2017 though, with much straining and flapping of wings, it failed to soar. Wanting to have its cake and eat it too, it falls short of being a genuine, soulful artistic exercise and leans toward an unoriginal display of pretentious festival ideas. If there was a time travelling device that could take me back, would I go again? Despite how good the chicken burger was, probably not. But would I suggest you keep tabs on it for next year? Absolutely.
6/10 Sunburnt Festival Goers