The Playground Weekender took place in New South Wales, Australia, between February 6th and 8th. Chris Beanland went Down Under for DiS.
Swimming in shark-infested rivers, drinking cold beer at all-day pool parties, and basking in 45 degree sun - not exactly an underwhelming weekend in Pilton’s overrated valley of shame, is it?
Australia’s Playground Weekender is everything that a boutique festival should be, and to top it all it takes place in one of the most beautiful places on earth. An hour north of the Sydney suburbs, we’re into the Bush proper. Ferried along the Hawkesbury River in a boat, we’re deposited in an eye-wateringly gorgeous gorge, hemmed in by sweeping cliffs and forests, at a holiday park with just a few thousand other revelers.
But it’s not quite as exotic as first appearances suggest. A friend of the festival’s organiser tells DiS that Playground was “Designed for English ex-pats living in Bondi”. And who is the organiser? “An English ex-pat living in Bondi!” comes the response. Fair dinkum, then, but we’re swept up and seduced by the place - funny how Australia can have this nagging effect on you; it builds little by little. It’s a little bit like falling in love.
And despite our initial concerns about the slightly lacklustre line-up (concerns not eased when we find out that we’re missing Architecture in Helsinki, Buraka Som Sistema and El Guincho, all playing down the road at the Laneways Festival the same weekend) we decide on the only option available: do the Aussie thing and make the bloody best out of whatever you’ve got yourself into.
Who Made Who by Jade Nolan
The festival has its share of big names - and these are what the crowd here really go mad for. Aussies miss out on so many tours, yet are drip fed the same music we get through Triple J, the festival’s sponsor, and Australia’s vital radio link to the musical outside world. So when headliners Primal Scream, Cold War Kids and The Streets (whose appearances have been widely trailed on the station for weeks) come on to finish things off on Saturday and Sunday nights respectively, the reception to all three is as warm as toast. None of the them are really for us though.
Further down the bill are more visceral thrills; Crystal Castles being the pick of the bunch. Despite some gremlins in the speakers we thoroughly enjoy the Toronto noiseniks as much as we did the first time around. Alice Glass’s maniacal stage antics remind us why many have such a burning desire to spend a debauched night in her company.
In the dance tent, Tom Middleton and Ewan Pearson both send temperatures soaring to near apocalyptic levels. Combined with the lack of freely available water, their glitchy yet crowd-pleasing sets threaten to drive some addled festival-goers to the brink of madness.
Jose Gonzalez is a calmer influence, and an utterly enjoyable one too; ditto Nottingham’s Crazy P (who are apprently 'big Down Under', arf), Denmark’s Who Made Who and also Salmonella Dub. Blue King Brown, meanwhile, fly the flag for Aboriginal music and politics (though for reference, nowadays the term ’indigenous’ is more common).
But that heat just keeps getting under your skin, sliding its way into your brain, even. There’s something sinister about it. We only learn on our way back to Sydney that, elsewhere, something’s gone very wrong indeed: while we were partying, Australia has lived through one of the most tragic weekends of its short history - the bushfires may have been several hundred miles away in Victoria, but they’re psychologically close enough to have touched almost every Aussie.
A flurry of worried texts and emails from the UK confirms the scale of what we’ve managed to avoid. It’s a sad footnote, certainly, but the reaction to what happened seems to pay tribute to a people who actually care so much about each other, and this overwhelming spirit of friendliness and hospitality is one of our abiding memories of a very special musical mission Down Under.
Cold War Kids photo by Cara Bowman