Live Review: Secret Garden Festival

29 February 2016 | 4:11 pm | Tanya Bonnie Rae

"A satisfying end to a two-day camping festival filled with kaleidoscopic colours, a variety of music and thought-provoking art installations."


Quite possibly one of the heaviest and most intensely vehicle-searched camping festivals to-date, this year's boutique, sold out, dress-up festival Secret Garden attracted more than 3000 punters on its first day. With hand-painted signs propped up around the farming property with directions to camping areas and signs saying "Hey you sexy thing" directing and welcoming guests onto the property.

Organisers this year decided to go cashless, employing what proved to be an extremely effective and practical wristband system. This made it a hell of a lot quicker and easier for crowds of people to purchase food and drinks, keeping lines to a bare minimum. Every stage looked almost like scenes taken straight from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and were tastefully decorated in beaming stage lights and multicoloured art installations.

One of the main 'chill out zones' consisted of a bunch of obscure-looking neon papier mache scarecrows lazing around on a bunch of haystacks and decked out in sportswear. The glowing sign above simply read "Applause". Over on the Garden Stage next to a multicoloured striped unicorn "spirit animal" on stage beside him, Aussie rapper and hip hop artist Tuka performed to a polychromatic crowd of punters. Heading along with the night's costume theme, everyone in the audience was dressed up in space cowgirl/cowboy outfits, singing along to crowd favourite party anthem Just To Feel Wanted, and Thundamental's Smiles Don't Lie. The audience was already visibly glowing and in incredibly high spirits.

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FBi Radio's Adi Toohey played on the Camp Queen stage, a reconstructed outdoor tennis court decorated with milk crates surrounding the outskirts of the stage. She spun mostly disco/funk tunes till around 10pm when a drag queen dressed head to toe in glitter and a sequined gold dress emerged from the darkness, singing opera on a microphone, from the top of a cherry picker. It was gloriously unexpected, and managed to capture the attention of everyone within the vicinity of the dancefloor.

The DJ set from Holding Hands on the Psychotic Aquatic stage proved to be one of the best sets of the entire weekend. Playing mostly moody, bass-heavy deep house tunes till close to midnight, the (still relatively unknown) DJ garnered a following of a small but loyal fan base.

Sydney duo Paul Mac and Jonny Seymour, aka Stereogamous, brought their glistening, bubbly personalities and charismatic stage presence over to the festival's Camp Queen stage. Playing real punchy, deep house and techno tunes till way past midnight and visibly having the time of their lives, the larger-than-life local duo had glittered-up drag queens dancing on stage with them till the end of their set.


Somehow miraculously avoiding the weekend's weather forecast of showers and heavy rain, the day started off in the sweltering heat. Signs pointing to "brekkie this way" lead punters to coffee, smoothie and food stalls selling everything from $5 fresh coconuts to (very average) haloumi and egg rolls and delicious mango smoothies with flaxseed oil, banana and coconut water. Most people seemed to have gone above and beyond with their festival costume ideas, with one group dressed as matadors, joining up with another dressed as bulls and chasing each other round the camping grounds to re-enact the Running Of The Bulls.

Over in the colourful, grassy stage aptly named "Welcome To Your Mind", was the Freudian Sips bar, the Zen Pen (decked out in bean bags) for those wishing to lie down/chill out and the teeny ten-person capacity Rave Cave where anyone could plug in their phone and play their own music. It also hosted a Kissing Booth complete with side options of "ear suck", "hicky" and "animal noises" along the "Spiderman peck" and "Eskimo kiss" mains served up on the menu. They also had a shredding booth where punters could write down bad memories on a piece of paper and shred that baggage.

In the mid-afternoon, Melbourne nine-piece band Saskwatch hopped on stage in matching netball costumes, with a hoop on stage to shoot through. Vocalist Nkechi Anele charmed the crowd with her voice, and the band's blend of indie-soul-pop set the tone for the remainder of the night. Nineteen-year-old Atlanta-raised musician Raury rocked up on stage (about 20 minutes late) and delivered a spirited rendition of crowd favourite God's Whisper.

Sampa The Great performed over at The Brain stage, which seemed to be having a few technical difficulties throughout the day. Her singing remained unaffected though, with Class Trip and Blue Boss among the highlights. Sydney's experimental dance trio Black Vanilla followed through with their distinct intricate and subtle beats, jumping around on stage to a confused but intrigued audience.

The night ended with Melbourne electronic music producer Roland Tings (Rohan Newman) spending far too long trying to engage the crowd in hazy, spaced-out beats before playing Pala and Devotion, off his debut album. He rounded up his set with the recently released blissful gem Hedonist, before playing Floating On A Salt Lake. It was a satisfying end to a two-day camping festival filled with kaleidoscopic colours, a variety of music and thought-provoking art installations.