Festival X ushered in the Australian summer with a sizzling celebration of hip hop and EDM

Festival X ushered in the Australian summer with a sizzling celebration of hip hop and EDM

Photo: Lady Drewniak
Photo: Lady Drewniak
Photo: Lady Drewniak
Photo: Lady Drewniak
Photo: Mackenzie Sweetnam
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Words by Leland Tan

This was one huge party.

From the minds behind the defunct Stereosonic comes Festival X. Spanning five stages that were each dedicated to household names within various genres, and an expansive facility courtesy of the Melbourne Showgrounds, you were hard-pressed to spot an individual short of elation throughout.

Oxygen stage: Trance/progressive/house

Embodying this massive riot was the trance heavy Oxygen shed, which sat next to the festival’s entrance. Just an hour after doors opened, progressive duo FUTURECODE had crowds folding their bodies into criminal movements. Intensity was the name of the game and the aptly named dancefloor allowed little breathing room for its willing prisoners. Sydneysiders Sunset Bros and European maestro Giuseppe Ottaviani offered a more commercial BPM, but beyond sporadic remixes, the intensity never once diminished.

Dutch-Australian headliner MaRLo and Israeli duo Vini Vici packed the shed to the brim for their closing sets, each showcasing their prowess and popularity. Juxtapose that with German wizards Cosmic Gate’s 2019 comeback and it was difficult to pick a resolute champion of the stage. What was mildly amusing was that each DJ changeover was accompanied by a swap in fans coming/going, a testament to extremely nuanced tastes and diversity at the Oxygen stage.

Flux stage: Rap/trap/hip hop/future house

The second stage in sight, Flux, was sandwiched between amusement park rides and drink stalls and oddly close to the Showground border. The curious location and variety of performances at Flux possibly dwarfed its attendance. Many only ducked in while making their way to the bar or when shit-faced enough to consider purchasing a ticket for one of the gravity-defying rides.

Local producer Annabel Hartlett, aka Godlands, was one of the first to firmly grab the attention of passers-by. Spinning remixes of hits from Billie Eilish and Kendrick Lamar, Godlands displayed her crowd-reading prowess, balancing her grungy metallic drops with the lyrical deftness of rappers.

The same can be said for Sophiegrophy, whose energy brought her off stage and into the car park to get down and dirty with the rain-braving audience. But while American TikTok regular Blueface was Flux’s closing act, it was Alison Wonderland who stole the night with her big-house trap antics. House tastemakers Anna Lunoe and Tchami also carved the weirdly situated corner of the festival into an outdoor dance festival of their own.

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Helix stage: Techno/progressive/melodic

The stage that my mates and I found the hardest to leave, but also the most difficult to get in, was the Helix hall. If local party curator Laura King, who regularly spins in North Melbourne, wasn’t enough to get your feet shuffling then maybe Danish producer Kölsch would do the trick. Regularly selling out shows all over the world as well as commanding prime festival slots, the Panama hat-wearing techno wiz cemented his spot as a favourite among locals. With his silky, almost languid transitions between tracks, Rune Reilly Kölsch provided a sight and sound unlike any other, as the frosted glass panels on the warehouse reverberated every beat and pulse as if about to shatter.

Camelphat mellowed things out with a more standard supply of house hits, the highlight of which being their collaboration with Jake Bugg, ‘Be Someone’. Closer Paul Kalkbrenner’s live screeches and vocal interjections also made for an electric affair. The German is less an out-and-out DJ than a performer, lacing his progressive spins with his own voice for an otherworldly combination. It’s difficult to achieve this level of synchronicity while maintaining a party mood, but the man is a god.

Pixel stage: Dance/pop/rap/house

The festival’s biggest outdoor stage, which faced Melbourne Showgrounds’ sheltered stands, was Pixel. From 4pm onwards it was near impossible to be within 200 metres of the stage circumference. Boasting the industry’s largest names over the past decade, the acts on this stage were the sole reason for many to have upgraded their tickets to VIP, which allowed access to an elevated and unobstructed viewing platform.

Despite being an electronic-heavy affair, rappers Trippie Redd and Lil Pump were festival highlights for many punters. Having never performed on our shores, the Americans were greeted with huge reverence, especially Pump’s record-breaking Kanye collab, ‘I Love It’.

Steve Aoki has been around for ages and yet when people think they’ve heard it all, the producer churns out another earworm for the masses. And while he wasn’t a certified headliner, his afternoon slot spelt a perfect synergy. Armin van Buuren personifies electronic music festivals for many and the Dutch DJ/producer put on a masterclass, swerving from psychedelic to house to downtempo. It never felt as monumental as his other appearances across the world, but that didn’t much matter when ‘This Is What It Feels Like’ was all we needed for a frenzy.

The same can be said for Calvin Harris, who pulled out everything from ‘Bounce’ to ‘Blame’, ‘This Is What You Came For’ to ‘I Need Your Love’. After the producer had left the stage and spilled past his finish time, the crowd were still raring for more. The dispersing crowds didn’t feel very much done with the day’s shenanigans at 10pm, but the fireworks soon soothed the impending Monday blues. Maybe next year we’ll have it on a Saturday?

Highlight: Fantastic location and check-in.

Lowlight: Alison Wonderland deserved a way bigger stage.

Crowd Favorites: Armin van Buuren, Alison Wonderland, Cosmic Gate, Lil Pump, Kölsch.