The dawning of the dooftival – Going behind the scenes at Babylon festival

Ah, the final days before you pack up your dreams and step through the cosmic time machine into the magical realm of a four day festival. The raiding of op shops, the frantic travel arrangements, meticulous costume planning and tempestuous cross-scheduling of set times. That feeling that you would like to bottle and sell is just about to be swigged for the first time by lucky doof virgins. Festival veterans will douse themselves in it and make the infectious elixir drip from the heavens like rain. Too much? If you think so, you probably haven’t experienced the unparalleled hedonism of Australian outdoor music event. But this weekend you can. The doors to paradise are being swung open once again, as those in the know make their pilgrimage to Carapooee in the shadow of Victoria’s Grampian mountain range next weekend, for the second launch of the skyrocket named Babylon. There are still a handful of tickets left.

It’s not been the smoothest star sailing for the Australian outdoor events scene in recent years. While there is an abundance of well-presented festivals promising stellar lineups jam packing the calendar, an ugly spray of these events are not what they purport to be. Below the surface, the occasional cowboys have marred the landscape with unpaid acts and broken promises, leaving unhappy campers scattered like the debris on day four of a sesh. More likely a product of poor planning and bad luck rather than bad vibes, they have nevertheless played a part in ever so slightly tarnishing the scene’s reputation, sowing unnecessary seeds of doubt in the hearts of otherwise carefree ravers. But the good news is that some people have dedicated their entire lives to making things right. Event professionals like the team behind Babylon festival are restoring confidence in the ever evolving scene, reaffirming that that the weekend of your life is just a quick ticket purchase away, and that Australia is still the place to bring your top level international bookings to.

Hardware’s Kyle Hand and Damien Kease have been in the industry for long enough to know exactly what sugar and spice make up the perfect festival pre-mix. When I spoke to them in November, the second edition of Babylon had been launched and they reported selling more tickets in their first two weeks than they sold in their first two months last year. Obviously the hard work they had put into building a solid reputation in their first year has more than paid off.

‘It’s going really well,’ says Hardware Booking Agent Kyle Hand. ‘2017 was our blank canvas last year, which was a gift. We owe it to the people who come to make this their ultimate festival experience. As people who are involved in this festival, we are more motivated to build a community than make money. A lot of people didn’t know what Babylon was going to be last year. Now we have built our reputation, people have confidence in the brand and we have been able to go up a gear this year.’ Perhaps what your average punter doesn’t know is that Hardware is one of Australia’s longest running events companies, the brains behind colossal, scene shaping events like Two Tribes, Tell No Tales and Pure that reads like their own chronology of Australian electronic music events.

“Get your permits signed, artists confirmed, security and staff briefed, transfers, toilets and trash down pat and you’re sorted. Run a tight ship and nobody will ever know, they will be too busy having fun.”

People might have thought it impossible for Babylon to top the lineup of last year, featuring the likes of Claude VonStroke, Joris Voorn, Lee Burridge and Carl Cox. But they did. The lineup for the 2018 instalment is a paean to diversity; mixing locals dripping in talent with internationals gilded in prestige. Stand out acts are too many to mention… mind shattering techno from the likes of Robert Hood, Pan Pot and Matrixxman; Deborah De Luca brought to Australia for the first time,… for added ‘doof’ a mouthwatering menu of psy trance featuring Infected Mushroom, Killerwatts and Pixel– if you like that sort of thing… two defining godfathers of everything we love, Laurent Garnier and the festival’s long term partner Carl Cox, back again. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

To stand out from the crowd, it’s crucial to have a concept and a point of difference in place. These days, you’ve got to be more than just a battalion of speakers in a field set among some cows and a few vegan food trucks. Hardware’s General Manager Damien Kease explains the thinking behind their ethos. ‘The idea was that we were trying to combine two worlds. We wanted to keep the spirit and heart of what a doof is and merge it with the professionalism you would expect from an established event. It was crucial that we made these two worlds collide within the parameters of a safe, reliable event that people could go to that wasn’t pure DIY/illegal.’ Among the camo netting and glitter tits, ravers and misbehaviours, the two became one.

‘We’re not saying that we’re professional and nobody else is, says Kyle. ‘But we want to do our part in redefining the perception of what an outdoor event of this scale can be. There’s one thing for certain, it does take a lot of organisation. You certainly couldn’t do one more than once a year!’

It’s not a bad aim to bring to the clubbing world. It’s great to see events companies proud to reinforce high standards of ethics to underpin the level and calibre of talent they bring to Australian shores, while honouring contracts with both artists and ticket buyers with integrity and honesty. The true players will not cut corners or compromise on professionalism or customer experience. After the debacle of Earthcore and Maitreya, people have understandably been up in arms, justifiably losing their shit on public forums like the Melbourne Doofers Facebook group. But the Hardware team have been taking note about what people are venting on, and using this as precious feedback to improve how they do things and move their events into the future.

Babylon is by its very definition outdoors, in a remote and rare location, at one with nature in the shadow of Victoria’s Grampian ranges. There are yoga workshops, a salivation of food trucks and eateries serenaded by a solid representation of locals, internationals breakthrough acts and established veterans. So is Babylon a doof, a festival or a clever hybrid of both? Dooftival or festivoof, there is one thing that is blindingly obvious. Managed properly as many Australian festivals are, it’s just a better space to party, mixing the freedom of the great outdoors with the professionalism and safety of a more urbanised event. Get your permits signed, artists confirmed, security and staff briefed, transfers, toilets and trash down pat and you’re sorted. Run a tight ship and nobody will ever know, they will be too busy having fun.

With such a wide array of genres, you might expect a bit of polarisation between camps. While it’s impossible to please all the people all the time, in this blissful utopia, Kyle and Damien claim that harmony between genre tribes is achieved. ‘Last year, the psy trance crew migrated over to watch Carl Cox play and plenty of the techno crew went over to check out the psy,’ recalls Kyle. In this kind of setting, people are much more open to expanding their horizons both musically and experientially. ‘People know what they are going to get when they come to Babylon. There’s a good blend of genres and experiences and people blend with it. I don’t think there are too many chin strokers out there that are too cool to get stuck in.’

Damion reiterates Kyle’s sentiment. ‘I don’t think we are trying to build a brand with inherent polarisations. You look at festivals like Rainbow Serpent and look around on the dancefloor and see they have made a space that welcomes chin strokers, industry people and regular punters. Crucially, they haven’t built their world around a lineup, it’s based on the reputation of the event. That’s a very unique thing. They can attract people that wouldn’t normally go to an event like that based on the experience. As a model, that’s the kind of ethos we are working with. What we are creating is projected to be a bucket list moment for everyone. We don’t want to be everything to everyone, but as festival grows, are really excited to become more experimental. Everyone can take what they want from it. Everyone can treasure their little piece of it.’

Damien is understandably proud that Babylon showcases the many ends of the spectrum. ‘At our techno stage, you will hear so many different forms of techno. From the kind of big room stuff that Carl Cox plays to the pressure cooker 300-people in a warehouse Dax J effect. We are here to provide the platform and open people’s ears. There are only the limitations you impose on yourself in terms of what genre you like. There is mass diversity within the genres themselves.’

It’s a tight knit team at Babylon with Richie McNeill and Chris Colaneri as festival managers, liaising with police and landowners and Damien and Kyle taking care of the bookings, promoters and local teams. ‘We couldn’t do anything without Kellie who cleans up all the mess we make and smooths things over,’ says Kyle. Speaking of cleaning up, it’s great to see how Babylon is revolutionary not just in terms of music and ethos, but also in terms of their clean-up campaign, naming ‘active participation’ as their weapon of choice. The rubbish left at this year’s Lost Paradise festival in New South Wales left a sour taste in the mouth of an otherwise outstanding event, where people carelessly left their tents and trash strewn all over the ground for festival organisers to clean up, starting 2018 on a decidedly bum note. Babylon does all it can to promote a conscious culture, with initiatives in place to keep the place as nature intended before, during and after the event.

‘In our new world, we take sustainability very seriously,’ claims the website. ‘Responsible on-site waste management is important to reduce our footprint on the land, leaving no trace. Babylon was launched with waste reduction as a core operating principle. Managing waste material behind the scenes is key and thus we have decided to implement incentivised programs to help promote our key ethos.’ The cups at Babylon are biodegradable, but their positive purpose does not end there. ‘We reward a full cup of cigarette butts with 1 x free drink or 1 x entry to our recycle raffle with prizes including lifetime passes to Babylon, Babylon mix CD’s, food vouchers + more,’ the website says.

While the organisers urge campsites to be as creative and out there as possible, they also ask for a $100 couch deposit paid for those wanting to make their own lounge rooms, refundable once the sofa surfs its way back out of there with its rightful owner. It’s provisions like these that ensure the festival site is left as nature intended. But seeing is believing. There’s only one way to find out… the final tickets remain. Get yours here.

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About the Author

Kate Stephenson's dangerous obsession with music and words has taken her to every corner of the globe in the quest for the filthiest bassline. Heralding from the mean streets of Harrogate in North Yorkshire, England, she earned her raving stripes in the early 2000s at celestial institutions like Back to Basics in Leeds and Bugged Out in Liverpool, standing in queues snaking for hours round the block in freezing February nights before she knew how to hustle a guestie.

Having decamped to (slightly) more clement temperatures, Kate now calls the outstanding city of Melbourne home, feeling oh-so-very-welcome in a place where you are actively encouraged to party from Thursday to Tuesday. Kate stays alive on a strict diet of techno,jungle drum and bass and cheeky garage remixes, smooshed in with a little bit of everything in between. You can either find her with hands in the air, by the front left speaker or typing up a storm in bed drinking Yorkshire Tea by the gallon.