Gaytimes brought a very strong local electronic lineup to Gembrook, an hour-ish outside of Melbourne, and the vibe was just about perfect.
Is it just us, or is the local festival scene crying out for more light-hearted, up tempo camping festivals in lush, forested areas, within a couple of hour radius of Melbourne?
The answer is most likely ‘Yes, but so is every other festival scene worldwide.’ Regardless, Gaytimes showed us all what we’re missing too often last weekend (February 18-20) when it brought a who’s who of the local scene to Gembrook, in the Dandenongs, an easy hour and 15 minute drive from the CBD.
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The Dandenong Ranges are the perfect location for a festival. While the likes of Pitch and Rainbow Serpent (both beautiful, highly-recommended electronic doofs) are stuck in featureless paddocks, the Dandenongs are an oasis. They even make the beautiful bush surrounding Strawberry Fields look dry.
Gaytimes took place at Gembrook’s huge Gilwell Park, licensed by Scouts Victoria, with a capacity of 3,000 people. There was lots of room to breathe, more so than most people realised, due to the separate car parking arrangements. People could still drive in their campers with an RV pass, but the prices made it fairly clear that these were in limited supply.
With no cars to deal with, there was actually enough room for you to go and find your own camping space, if you were crafty, which is virtually non-existent at other festivals. In such beautiful bushland, camping was a pleasure.
This was the festival’s sixth edition, formerly staged at the equally incredible Lake Mountain Alpine Resort in Maryvsille. Both destinations are capable of turning an average festival into an annual highlight, and Gaytimes was no average festival.
It was short and sweet; from Friday at 5pm til Sunday night. Standard weekenders feel short for festivals – they make you really appreciate the extra day of a long weekend – but the short journey to-and-from almost makes you feel like you gain a day. It’s basically the perfect length if you take the Monday off as a recouperation day, allowing you to make the most of the evening programming on the Sunday night.
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There is one major drawback of operating a festival in the Dandenongs: the noise constraints.
Gaytimes consisted of one main outdoor stage in an open grassy field, and two much smaller outdoor stages set down into small clearings either side. All three outdoor stages had to stop playing music by 11pm each night, although the two smaller outdoor stages were largely art and performance focused anyway.
This left two poky little Scout halls-cum-hot and heavy indoor clubs near the main stage, smaller than your average Melbourne bandroom, as the only areas playing tunes after 11pm each night. The music and lighting was great, and one of them was actually a chapel with ‘
No Ballgames Inside’ painted on it, but if you didn’t feel like raving in close quarters from 11pm onwards, you were heading to bed. There was one small chill-out tent with room for about 10 people less-it-get-real-awkard, and that was it.
Conversely however, this brings us to the festivals major selling point: the people. At any other festival, if the main stage shut at 11pm and the only other options were glowing hotboxes, you’d have campsites blasting 20-tethered UE MEGABOOMS in every direction.
Past 12pm, Gaytimes was dead quiet. People were actually sleeping, or at least on Xanax or something. The point is, they were respecting each other’s proximity, without a speaker anywhere within shouting distance.
As a first-time attendee, the first night, it was a little eery. By the second night, it was just damn-well appreciated. The attendees were just about the nicest people you’ll meet anywhere; the first time this writer’s ever been called ‘gorgeous’ or ‘babe’ by anyone, let alone a security guard, a food truck operator, a barman, and a steward.
Finally, we come to the music. It was uplifting, for the most part a lovely mix of house classics, obscene poof doof staples, with some lovely live performances and a few obscure cuts thrown in for good measure. Haiku Hands brought phenomenal energy, but in one of the few sets to last more than 45 minutes, HAAi was a clear standout.
It all begs the question, could just any festival thrive in these conditions? If regular doofs popped up at Gilwell Park, could they ruin niche festivals like this for everyone?
It’s certainly susceptible, but Gaytimes filled us with great faith for festival nature, that we’d love to put to the test more often.
Gaytimes ran from February 18-20 in Gembrook, Victoria. General admission tickets varied from $260-340 and sold out nearly immediately. For more information, head to the Gaytimes festival website here.