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Live Review: Let Them Eat Cake

5 January 2015 | 1:55 pm | Guido Farnell

It’s a good thing that there is an after party where this madness can continue.

These days dance music festivals are designed to either cater for stadium sized audiences or provide a more relaxed boutique experience. The third edition of Let Them Eat Cake sees the festival increasing in popularity. Without completely packing out Werribee Park to the point of overcrowding, organizers maintain the feel of a chilled garden party in the park with friends and some of the most interesting and revered producers from around the world, all coming together to celebrate the start of the new year.

While the immaculate gardens of Werribee Park in the shadow of that rather grand Mansion makes an enormous contribution to overall the vibe, Let Them Eat Cake is also one of the most imaginatively staged festivals to hit town. Each of the stages is lovingly hand crafted - they challenge the artists on the bill to do them justice. The main stage is a Mandarin-inspired vision of gold and red, while the Versailles stage has the feel of an ancient Balinese temple, tricked out with multi-coloured LED lights and flame throwers for a little pyrotechnical magic.

The hoardes of shirtless ones that turn out to other dance music festivals are conspicuously absent. The handful of lads that do bare some skin off are skinny, pasty and definitely in need of some rays. The rest of the fashion conscious crowd add a little glamour and quirkiness to the proceedings.  A gaggle of Conchita Wurst wannabes, strutting their stuff in platforms and skintight neon lycra seem to get wolf whistles from the boys wherever they go.  The less flamboyant in R&S and Metroplex t-shirts, and others with their calico Bestival and Rush Hour branded bags, suggest this is a crowd of aficionados who really know their stuff. To be honest, most were nursing a hangover from the night before so lying in the sun and letting a cool summer breeze carry the music to their ears is as refreshing as the vigorous consumption of chilled beverages.

Jamie xx is a last minute replacement for DJ Sneak who turns out to be too sick to make it to the festival. He’s a big name draw card who kicks off a two hour set at 1pm. The dark dubby sounds he’s spinning feel punishing, at odds with the gorgeously bright and sunny day Melbourne has turned on. Playing Plastikman’s Spastik, which was released back in 1994, has the same kind of effect on us that hearing Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band might have had on some people in the '80s.

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It really was twenty years ago today and seeking fresher sounds we track down Melbourne’s own Rat & Co. The lads are dealing a lush wash of meditative ambient sound crafted from computer generated tones and drones accompanied by live percussion and vocals. As practically all the artists on today’s bill focus on igniting dancefloor mayhem, the serenity of Rat & Co’s set offers punters something different.  Back on the main stage, the much loved Todd Terje is spinning up a joyous mix of house, disco and Moogy electro funk that charms the crowd's collective pants off. Fans wished they were watching Terje's live show but the feel good effect of the tracks he was spinning still had them dancing.

It’s been a long time since Axel Boman took us on his Family Vacation and much to our surprise he’s hosting quite a party at the Guillotine stage. As a huge and eager crowd vies for space on the dancefloor, Boman deals a funkier take on Basic Channel’s deep but rigidly austere tech but keeps the mix simmering with subtle melodies and a very light Balearic touch.  Dealing one of the few sets that saw us shake our groove things for almost two hours, Boman’s set remains a personal favourite of the day.

Aussie duo Ginger & The Ghost are rocking out on the Swamp stage, styled like a verandah of an old weatherboard cottage. They have a theatrical experimental pop thing going on and it's like Peaches meets freak folkers CocoRosie. A little while later on this stage, the irrepressible Worlds End Press drop an epic indie dance party for those seeking respite from purely electronic beats.

The No Signal stage turns out to be a broken television set broadcasting some pretty hard dubstep. Damn Moroda, comprised of TZU’s Corey Mcgregor and James Mangohig, gives this stage's bass bins a serious workout with their hard and rough dubstep, providing a new context for Aussie hip-hop. Later, Russian expat DJ Vadim rips the place a new one with a bass-heavy set of reggae and dancehall infused grime and dubstep that applies a solid pressure to the eardrums.

Spread over five stages and a sound truck, everything starts to become a bit of a blur as the crowd takes them all in, walking in circles between the various stages. Alexander Nut, freshly landed in the country and driven straight to the festival, spins sunny tropical afro Brazilian vibes. Fatima joins him to deal her distinctly modern and abstract take on neo soul by showcasing cuts off her acclaimed Yellow Memories album.  Super groovy Psychemagik drop a bouncy set of disco house that takes in many of their edits, including Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams and Donna Summer’s I Feel Love.

Bulgarian beat master KiNK plays it live and has the eager crowd loosing themselves in his eclectic beats that shift from techno to house, and even disco. Goldie drops a seamlessly mixed set of hyperactive drum and bass. These sounds have not changed much since 1994, except that these cuts, which have the power to make the ground tremble, have paid attention to the recent London Bass movement. Norway’s Cashmere Cat ups the ante with scorching set of genre-defying beats that pit his underground intent against more mainstream impulses.

The day’s predestination is, of course, standing squarely in the middle of the expectant throng waiting for seminal Detroit producer Carl Craig, without worrying about what may be happening on any of the other stages. Looking as cool as a cucumber, Craig plays the decks and a drum machine with robotic precision at times literally looking like an automaton deejay dispensing hypnotic, but highly repetitive, beats for our listening pleasure.

These days Craig seems to dial in a beat on a drum machine and layer in sounds and effects over the endless thud of four on the floor bass drum kicks. The set up allows Craig to sample and re-edit on the fly and this is perhaps best evidenced when he breaks down and reworks Millie Jackson’s We Got To Hit It Off turning the old seventies disco classic into a grinding techno meltdown.

Over an epic couple of hours the beat hardly changes as Craig unfurls that classic Detroit sound we have all come to love. This music is less about the spectacle and more about the party it incites. Once Craig sets them in motion, the crowd just does not want him to stop. It’s a good thing that there is an after party where this madness can continue.