Live Review: Strawberry Fields Festival

24 November 2015 | 1:34 pm | Matt Feltham

"There's dust everywhere, but that doesn't stop us stomping and dancing until the music stops."

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The beautiful weather seemed to only last the drive to Tocumwal, and those of us who have arrived at peak time settle into the massive entry line. Some punters are already getting loose before they even make it in — the costumes are on already, and every car seems to have cracked into their tinnie supply — which will surely make the battle to set up camp in the dark even harder. If license plates are anything to go by, some people have made the trek from far and wide to experience Strawberry Fields.

It's dark by the time we get in, which makes figuring out when and where each artists is playing a difficult task in the absence of maps and time sheets. After a quick lap of the grounds we make a bee-line for the Deep Jungle stage to catch the opening of Willow Beats set. The uncle-niece duo are pumping out some infectiously bouncy tunes to a packed crowd, but the allure of Booka Shade starting over on the Wetlands/main stage means we have to bail early.

It seems curious to have arguably the largest act on the line-up playing early on the Friday night, but the German electronic veterans have brought the goods, including a live drum kit with its own LED light display. The main stage light show leaves something to be desired, but the atmosphere is incredible. The pit is packed and seems intimidating from a distance, but inside everyone actually has plenty of room to "dance" however they like. Cheers of delight accompany each pumping bass drop and atmospheric break, but pale in comparison to the thunderous roar at the end of the set.

The crowd is slowly thinning out for the evening, with some of the smarter punters conserving their energy for Saturday (and some others who may have hit Friday a little hard deciding to quit while they're ahead). But with Ryanosaurus' funky glitch, followed by Tetrameth's thumping psytrance closing out the Deep Jungle for the evening, we just can't pry ourselves from the dance floor.

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The new, larger festival site, just down the road from the previous home of four years, looks amazing in the light of day. Situated right on the Murray River, punters have access to a quick dip any time they like — even temperatures of eight degrees overnight wasn't a deterrent for some. The art and decor doesn't quite stack up against some larger bush doofs, but they're impressive nonetheless. The Deep Jungle's Aztec-themed stage and mapped projection is a particular highlight.

It's already scorching hot, so after a quick dip to wake up, we head back over to the Wetlands where Muska is churning out arguably one of the best sets of the festival. It's early, so the dance floor isn't packed but it's well and truly in full swing! There's something to satisfy everyone, as the set seamlessly incorporates elements of every electronic sub-genre under the sun. We're hanging for a break after dancing intermittently in and out of the sun for hours, but Boogs and Justin Martin pick up right where Muska left off and again we find ourselves glued to the dance floor.

The remainder of the afternoon is spent keeping cool and hydrated, sauntering through the festival grounds to catch glimpses of sets at each of the stages, and there's even time for a cheeky nap in the shade. Taking a break provides an opportunity to get to know some other festival-goers. It's a young and extremely social environment, and doesn't take long before groups have doubled in size and everyone is swapping stories (and substances) with their tent-neighbours.

It's costumes aplenty during the day. Dudes in dresses and chicks in nothing (literally) are all the rage among the less organised, but some punters have gone all out —some fashioning their own clothing and head pieces, and other sporting full body paint. Doof sticks are also in vogue — ranging from plain, geisha-inspired umbrellas, to random shit thrown together with gaffer tape (special mention to the dude rocking a giant Bill Cosby poster that was so heavy it needed a waste belt to support).

As the sun goes down again, we ditch the costumes for as many layers as we have available, grab a quick bite to eat, and head back out to scout the stages. The Saloon stage has been rocking disco tunes all day, which isn't everyone's cup of tea, so we make our way down to the Deep Jungle again where Wax'O Paradiso is rounding out some Latin-style beats. Andras follows with some incredibly funky bass lines which have the entire pit jumping. The set is accompanied by a surprise laser show, giving us an extra spring in our stomp. Back over at the Wetlands at the end of the night (morning?), Perfect Stranger bangs out some seriously heavy psytrance beats. There's dust everywhere, but that doesn't stop us stomping and dancing until the music stops for the night. For those of us who are able to get to sleep, it's a relief.

Sunday morning is all about lasts. Time for one last dip in the river, one last meal before packing up the camp site, one last goodbye to the people you met (who all but made the festival), and of course one last boogie. Bicep follows Soul Clap who both provide the perfect down-tempo tunes that we can sway and dance to with whatever little energy we have left.

There's still a few hours' worth of tunes left in the day, but reality beckons.