Festival X graced our three major east coast cities over the past weekend, launching in Brisbane on Friday 29th Nov, Sydney on Sat 30th Nov, and Melbourne on Sun 1st Dec. The festival came in like a breath of fresh air for the ailing single-day festival scene, offering a good cross-selection of major genres to cater for most tastes, with trance, techno and house, bass and trap, and commercial all getting their own stages at most stops of the tour.
Melbourne, of course, put on its usual weather for the day, starting with sun and of course, then the heavens opening up mid-afternoon before ending as a cloudy and cool evening. The choice of Melbourne Showgrounds, however, was a saviour for this festival, preventing it turning into just another mud pit, with three of the five stages being held undercover and most of the walkways concrete or similar.
Arriving at the Melbourne Showgrounds around 1:30pm (by an express train – thanks Metro!) was relatively simple from Southern Cross station, and getting through the entrance was quick and easy. The solid police presence, including dog squad at the entrance, was a sign of how serious Festival X took attendee safety, with this writer witnessing a guy being escorted to an out-of-sight location before even entering for unknown but probably easily-guessable reasons. Getting into the festival was quick and easy, with many lanes for bag search, ticket scanning and entrance, meaning very little lining up.
The five stages were well spread out around the showground, making walking distances a bit longer than expected, but each stage being far enough apart to not interfere with other stages. (See a map of Festival X Melbourne here) Between stages were bars, food stalls, toilets (of which there were PLENTY of!), free water stations, even places to sit and chill. The Vanessa bus was there as well, offering people breathalysers and even a ball pit to dive into. The whole event was a cashless event, however the bars were charging a 1.4% card surcharge which was a little unpleasant given there was no option to avoid the charge even if you wanted to – not a big deal, but just stung a little. Drinks were standard festival-type of drinks, with most drinks being $12 (or $12.17 with the card surcharge) and around 1-1.2 standard drinks.
The Oxygen stage was the first stop for the day. Futurecode was already playing on our arrival, with a medium number of people already on the dancefloor enjoying what I can only describe as a type of tech-trance sound. The crowd was lapping up every track that was played, with cheers happening from track to track. There was still plenty of room to move and dance at this stage in the day, and the sound at the Oxygen stage was just sublimely tuned for trance. (Read our interview with Futurecode here or Listen to Futurecode here)
Ruben De Ronde came next, again at the Oxygen Stage. His classic-sounding trance style really hit a chord with those who were just arriving at the festival as people started pouring into the Oxygen stage from near the entrance. Within about 20 minutes, the trance stage was pumping, people just letting go and getting right into his music. His set just oozed with every sound that trance lovers could ever love. (Listen to Ruben De Ronde here)
Moving over to the Helix stage, Melbourne’s own Matteo Freyrie already had the pavilion thumping with his tech-house and techno sounds. Matteo had a good number of people moving with the Helix stage already half full. Sound at the Helix stage was great, however it suffered a bit towards the back of the pavilion where the echo off the back wall really created an off-putting reverb, which threw you off when you walked in. No problems though, just move forward towards the stage and issue resolved. (Listen to Matteo Freyrie here)
The “main” stage (the Pixel stage) was one of the few open-air stages. The stage itself was massive, with an exclusive VIP space (“VIP X-Perience”) to the left of the stage giving people who purchased or upgraded their tickets a better and less crowded view of the main stage. Given the main stage was open-air, it meant a larger space for people to dance, something which would prove beneficial later in the day. Generik had already started playing and had a large audience dancing to his sound, with his signature house sound captivating the people. (Listen to Generik here).
Trippie Redd was next on the Pixel stage. I will say, I’m not a massive rap fan but I appreciate that many are, and I also appreciate the talent that many rappers have and time they take to put into their music. There are some amazing rappers out there, both new and old. Of course, I could name a few, but music is a subjective thing, and I’m not going to get into a discussion on who is better than who as each person has their own taste and personal preference. However for this writer, Trippie Redd did not impress – and to be honest, it is most likely due to the extreme over-use of the air horn noise during his intro which just turned me off the rest of his set. Once, ok. Twice, maybe. Five or six times before you have even started playing music, that’s a bit much.
Hey Trippie Redd, 2001 called and they want their air horn back!
Back at the Oxygen stage, Sunset Bros were just starting to wind up their set. The stage was starting to become quite full at this point in the afternoon (although not as full as it would be later) and having the heavens open up just added to the crowd in the room, with many people running to find shelter from the rain. Sunset Bros capitalised on this with some remixes of massive well-known tracks, most notably a hard dance remix of DJ Sammy – Heaven which sent the crowd nuts. (Read our interview with Sunset Bros here or listen to Sunset Bros here)
Giuseppe Ottaviani followed on from Sunset Bros. Giuseppe was obviously someone a large number of people were looking forward to, as the attendance in the Oxygen stage swelled when he started, with loud cheers reverberating around the room when he stepped up to the decks. Giuseppe did not fail to impress, taking the crowd on a musical journey through trance, even dropping an amazing remix of Darude’s “Feel The Beat” through his set, which of course the crowd just erupted when that signature Darude sample came on. This just attracted more people to the stage and by the time the track was halfway through, the entrances to the Oxygen stage were just one big flow of people trying to get in to dance. (Read out interview with Giuseppe Ottaviani here or listen to more Giuseppe Ottaviani here)
Breaking from the trance for a short while, we headed over to catch Kölsch at the Helix stage. While Kölsch refused an interview with OzClubbers, his set at Festival X still garnered a large audience. His silhouette with the signature hat standing out on stage in front of the digital screens, delivering a mammoth techno set to the sheer delight of the hundreds of people amassing in the Helix stage. (Listen to Kölsch here)
Back to the Oxygen stage, Giuseppe Ottaviani was winding up and Cosmic Gate was getting ready to come out. An unexpected changeover of the crowd was taking place as one artist finished and the other stepped up, almost like Giuseppe Ottaviani fans and Cosmic Gate fans were two different crowds. But this did not stop the swelling of numbers in the Oxygen stage. By this stage, it was near impossible to get in the pavilion, with the only available space being at the very back of the building or out the side doors. The crowd however did not seem to care, as the mass influx of people into the Oxygen stage continued filling the pavilion to capacity. Cosmic Gate launched into their trance set giving trance-lovers a memorable set, with the most notable moment being when they dropped their signature track “Exploration of Space”, at which the crowd exploded into a mass frenzy of cheers and screams. (Read our interview with Cosmic Gate here or listen to Cosmic Gate here)
The crown thinned slightly in the Oxygen stage as Armin van Buuren stepped up on the Pixel stage. Giving his fans a selection of both new and old tracks, many from his renown A State Of Trance podcast, to the delight of the hundreds of people who came to see him play. This also meant the Pixel stage engorged to epic proportions, with it overflowing at the seams with people. Armin’s 75 min set at the main stage was one grand trance journey, even dropping a remix of PPK’s “Resurrection” that sent the crowd wild! (Listen to Armin van Buuren here)
Following Armin van Buuren on the Pixel stage was MK (Marc Kinchen). A 15-minute break between Armin van Buuren and MK gave a great chance to grab more drinks and also allowed for a bit of separation between a trance artist and a house artist. MK, as always, did not disappoint, with an amazing tour through various house styles that MK is so well known for, from cool piano house to deep tech house. And while MK still attracted a large number of fans to the Pixel stage, it was not to the same level as Armin van Buuren, which in fact worked in the favour of MK’s fans as it gave a larger space for them to dance freely without being concerned about bumping into another fan. This didn’t stop people dancing on others shoulders, with this writer even catching a glimpse of a triple-decker stack of people. The crowd erupted to MK when he dropped his track “17” and again when his collab with Gorgon City “There For You” was played. (Listen to MK here)
Wrapping up a full-on inaugural Festival X was Calvin Harris on the Pixel stage, Paul Kalkbrenner on the Helix stage, and a surprise massive back-to-back with Giuseppe Ottaviani vs MaRLo vs Ruben De Ronde vs Cosmic Gate on the Oxygen stage that sent trance fans into a meltdown. The first of what appears could become an annual phenomenon filling the gaps that appeared in recent years in the single-day festival space, Festival X provided Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne with an amazing array of world-class artists across five stages. We look forward to its hopeful return in 2020.