"The potential that exists up North is one of the main reasons I find myself returning at any opportunity; having spent my own formative years in Darwin as a young performer, seeing how the arts and music community has grown exponentially in the years since I’ve been gone has been exciting to watch."
The Northern Territory – specifically, the capital city of Darwin – has one of the most unique creative landscapes in the country.
A diverse community of artists across media are creating pieces of music, visual art, theatre and performance that could easily present itself in the same realms of notoriety as their “down south” contemporaries. The potential that exists up North is one of the main reasons I find myself returning at any opportunity; having spent my own formative years in Darwin as a young performer, seeing how the arts and music community has grown exponentially in the years since I’ve been gone has been exciting to watch.
Which brings me back to this particularly warm September weekend back on Larrakia land. Before the build up to the wet season fully sets in, Darwin plays host to a number of live music and performance events throughout the city. The one I’m here for is an all-out tropical rave, hosted by Spotify, Darwin-based social enterprise organisation House of Darwin, and fashion brand Afends: titled ‘Return To Earth’.
The idea behind the event is to celebrate Australian electronic artists, with pounding DJ sets driving a hot Saturday night in the middle of the city. Taking place in a car park mere metres from one of Darwin City’s main strips, the organisers made good work of turning an erstwhile bare space into an outdoor club, bathed in red lights and soundtracked by music that would make any Boiler Room fan turn their head.
The artists represent some of the best names the East Coast currently has to offer. Setting the tone, Juanita Sumner aka SOVBLKPSSY, whose sets I’ve been following for some time. The Ngarrindjeri, Ramindjeri, Walkandi-Woni multi-instrumentalist and producer has the unenviable task of performing before the venue is at its eventual capacity but nonetheless, SOVBLKPSSY lets the early attendees know the type of event they’ve rocked up to. It’s a great way to open things up.
Kalyani Mumtaz — fondly remembered from her Willow Beats days, sure, but more recently recognised as one of Naarm’s dynamic production forces — is also on the lineup and by the time she takes to the elevated stage in the carpark, the punters are started to feel themselves and the rhythms alike. The Trawlwoolway musician and DJ wastes no time in demonstrating her talents as a selector; deep grooves and beats match the growing sense of restlessness felt in the crowd that is beginning to gather on the makeshift dancefloor. If tropical madness is a thing that exists, then the energy Kalyani generated during her set perfectly established the scene for DJ PGZ to fully send it during his following set.
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DJ PGZ – aka Paul Gorrie – is a face who is super familiar, though I’ve never been able to catch one of his sets IRL ‘til now. The Gurnai/Kurnai and Yorta Yorta artist and producer has been lighting things up around Naarm for a while now; I know him mainly through his radio show on 3RRR, but more recently, his Boiler Room set has been on high playback for me.
A fusion of deep techno and bass-heavy progressions meet fresh takes on dance music from around the world; each blend is seamless, and the pace refuses to let up. Halfway through the set, I notice the crowd has almost begun moving together in sync; sweat glistening, handheld fans working overdrive to offer some small reprieve as bodies hurl themselves back and forth to each beat.
It’s not until Jono Ma steps behind the decks that I remember that this Return To Earth event is only meant to run until midnight. Taking a look at the scene around me, it already feels like we’ve been going into the early hours. Still, we’re not done yet and we can’t even say the best has been saved for last – every artist on this lineup has brought a brand of individuality to their sets that have made each super engaging.
Jono Ma is Jono Ma, of course: multi-instrumentalist, producer, award winning composer, music director and one half of Jagwar Ma, whose catalogue still holds a great spot in my heart as a mid-’00s festival/club tragic. Ma, along with Afends Creative Director George Barnes – under the name Dreamcatcher – go B2B to bring the crowd to the end of the event.
A kaleidoscope of beats and rhythms that reminds us why Ma is one of the best to do it meets Dreamcatcher’s own unique instincts as a DJ; making for the perfect way to send the crowd out into the night once ‘Return To Earth’ reaches its conclusion. We don’t notice how long the set has gone for, but as it entered its final minutes with the instantly recognisable sounds of the remix of Yothu Yindi’s Treaty, the crowd geared up to go off for the last time.
I’m told earlier in the evening that this particular carpark party is the latest in a series that have been held by House of Darwin.
Over 400 people came to party, a good portion of that number buying tickets on the door and rolling with the vibes that awaited on the other side.
Outside of the busy dry season events like the recently-finished Darwin Festival, the cynic in me kicked in briefly; wondering how long an event like this could sustain momentum and investment from the small community. It’s undeniable how much work the organisers in Darwin have put in, in making a platform that is welcoming to everyone; putting First Nations art to the front; and cultivating a loyal following that will come through each time.
To discover more local alternative electronic artists like this, enter Portal by Spotify below;