RISING Festival 2022: The weirder the better

RISING Festival 2022: The weirder the better

The Wilds
Golden Square
Golden Square
The Wilds
Arab Strap
Arab Strap
Arab Strap
Xylouris White
Xylouris White
Xylouris White
Goon Sax
Goon Sax
Goon Sax
Goon Sax
Goon Sax
Goon Sax
Goon Sax
Yussef Dayes
Yussef Dayes
Yussef Dayes
Yussef Dayes
Yussef Dayes
Yussef Dayes
1 / 27
Photography by James McLachlan

RISING Festival 2022 is currently transforming Melbourne into a world haven for music, art and food that expands beyond the mainstream festival and events landscape.

RISING Festival, the arts, music and culinary extravaganza a whopping three years in the making with a troubled yet inspiring history, finally opens today. In doing so, it becomes Victoria’s newest major event as it plunges headfirst into the city’s first uninterrupted, full program of music, art, performance and ceremony. The political boffins behind the festival are tightly crossing their fingers and toes that RISING will reawaken and reconnect the city to the world, inviting audiences (in their words) to “get lost, go deep and shake loose”.

A festival of the night, RISING will electrify Melbourne and its surrounds with 225 events — including 22 commissions, 14 world premieres, and featuring 801 local and international artists —transforming the city  a celebration of its globally renowned culture and night life.

RISING Festival essential information

  • RISING Festival is Melbourne’s biggest arts festival, and the successor to Melbourne Art Festival
  • RISING 2022 will feature 225 events spread across countless venues throughout the inner city
  • The festival will run from June 1 – 12, with 801 artists performing in just 12 days

Stay up to date with what’s happening in and around Melbourne here.

Highlights from RISING’s opening weekend

The Goon Sax and Exek at Max Watt’s

It’s not easy to watch a band, otherwise in their element, succumb to technical difficulties in front of a supportive crowd. Max Watt’s is in many ways the perfect space for the Brisbane foursome, lit in hallucinatory green or subtle yellows, to delve into the more esoteric elements of their melodic post-punk.

Supporting EXEK had played their ennui-laden, krautrock-heavy, spoken word anti-spectacular without issue. The intermittent trumpet, harmonic pushes and lackadaisical drumming all fit the venue and provided the otherwise mixed crowd trickling into RISING’s second night an experience many weren’t likely to have elsewhere. Their post-punk sound is dreamy, ethereal and somewhat ambient – but no less edgy. Albert Wolski’s vocals crawl through as if filtered through VHS, cassette and floppy disk. There’s a real breadth of sounds to be heard in an EXEK set and those who enjoy the weirder, more leftfield side of punk – particularly ambient and krautrock (there are big CAN vibes throughout some of their music) – will find a lot to love.

But there was no escaping the palpable sense that when Goon Sax took to the stage, those subtle moments of inspiration that frontman Louis Forster has made them famous for – y’know, that trait he got from his dad, The Go-Betweens, you mighta heard of ’em? – never truly eventuated. They may well have, but fleeting sound issues put paid to our hopes. Perhaps our expectations were a little lofty, given how highly we rate the group – their records typically traverse the minutia of emotional breakdown from a panoramic array of angles. They should technically make for a mournful listen; their songs despair in an inability to communicate, repair or rebuild, yet The Goon Sax invariably manage to endear, each chorus unfurling into string-laden clarity and social catharsis.

But ultimately, it was easy to see that they seemed a bit peeved by technical difficulties at the end when they left the stage without a word. Admittedly, they then returned for a brief one-track encore, good sports, but then exited nearly as quickly and silently.

The Wilds and Golden Square

As the successor of Melbourne Art Festival and White Night, major public art exhibitions will always be RISING’s raison d’etre. The sheer scale of The Wilds will prove a highlight for most people this winter, with Sidney Myer Music Bowl transformed into a festival in-and-of itself thanks to the massive array of inflatables, careening over pathways and sprawling down embankments.

These and your usual accoutrements (warm whiskey, projection lighting, greenhouse seating, intimate exhibits with lengthy lines, ethereal sound effects pumping through speakers, a food parlour and shmancy Lighthouse restaurant) make The Wilds well worth the price of admission. However, the whole set up is made spectacular by the ice rink, which is flanked by a superb choir that uses the Bowl’s exceptional acoustics to create a memorable experience, that’s worthy of leading RISING’s comeback.

Golden Square is far smaller in stature (although three levels of carpark is far from diminuitive) but no less impressive. Video art is the focus throughout, with mixed notability as always, but there are certain exhibits that pack a serious punch. In particular, a triptych of found-footage overlayed with heavily accented commentary crawls into your mind and before you know it, you’re utterly captivated. The carpark roof is particularly amazing with its glowing neon igloo, Chinese dragon, and head-scratching grade four poetry. That’s one best left unexplained.

RISING festival extends glowing Melbourne biosphere ‘The Wilds’

Arab Strap and Xylouris White at The Forum

Arab Strap were key in modernising the UK spoken word movement that now flourishes under the guise of genre-crossers like Kae Tempest. Their debut album, The Week Never Starts Around Here, all the way back in 1995, was led by ‘The First Big Weekend’ which has since become the group’s signature song, combining spoken word vocals, drum machines, plucked guitars and themes of unglamorous late-night hedonism.

They’d go on to release a total of six studio albums, including 2003’s Monday at the Hug & Pint and 2005’s The Last Romance, before calling it quits in 2006. Hence, why RISING marked their return to Melbourne for the first time in 20 years, a little older, larger and increasingly circumspect, but no less powerful. The band’s various sonic and thematic signatures – drum machines, arpeggiated guitars, strings, spoken word vocals and themes of sex and death – remain intact but their music was notably musclier and more melodically persuasive.

Arab Strap were supported – in truly mature fashion – by Georgios Xylouris, who sings and plays the Greek lute, known as a laouto, is from the island of Crete. His musicianship was passed on to him from his father Antonis Xylouris, or Psarantonis as he’s known in the musical world, a renowned Cretan singer and lyra player. He fronts the duo Xylouris White alongside RISING’s musical curator, drummer Jim White. White was born in Clifton Hill, and as a young man was at the forefront of the experimental rock scene in the band Venom P Stinger, which featured Mick Turner on guitar. White and Turner would later go on to form the Dirty Three together, with the addition of violinist Warren Ellis. The fact that Xylouris’ lute is so tuned towards drone strings works perfectly for White’s avant-garde persuasions, and the two played with engaging improvisation and joy. 

Yussef Dayes and Jitwam at Max Watt’s

Progressive jazz percussionist Yussef Dayes first came to mainstream attention for his work with Tom Misch, the two combining beautifully on Misch’s standout second album What Kinda Music (2020). That record totally broke Misch’s mould and has since established both acts (Misch has just sold out two shows at the Palais ahead of playing Splendour In The Grass) as globally in-demand. Dayes is by far the more experimental and looser of the two – his real skill lies in his ability to meld contrasting genres effortlessly – but whether touching on Senegalese percussion or UK grime, Dayes showcased his exceptional technical precision at Max Watt’s. Those expecting the marketable pop of What Kinda Music (2020) weren’t left totally disappointed, but it’s safe to say Dayes’ sell-out performance was one for the real fans.

Final mentions reserved for Jitwam. Born in northern India, formed in Australia and New Zealand, now Brooklyn based – on stage, Jitwam is the product of his various upbringings and more. There’s funk, groove, breakbeat, politically-charged remonstrating, Prince-esque serenades, soulful house…you name it, Jitwam can and shall deliver. Shout out to my Footscray ballers, indeed.

BORIS, Bonnie Mercer, Rot TV

For all the incredible diversity and cultural specificity that exists within the world of genre-naming, we can’t help but feel that sometimes all this bubbling descriptive creativity gets a little ahead of itself. There’s subtle rhythm, playfully teasing guitar riffs and genuine frustration turned to anger that comes through Bonnie Mercer’s music, which completely belies the term ‘drone’. Same with sludge metal – I dunno if BORIS really have ever paid too much attention to their labels, but they are so much more accessible to pure hard rock and metal fans than the term ‘sludge’ suggests. Yes, there is a repetitive nature to their music that comes out over the course of a long set, but when those heavy guitars kick in and Atsuo’s powerful, genuinely uplifting vocals ring out across a venue like Max Watt’s we don’t believe there’s anything sludgy about it. Credit to Rot TV as well, amazing guitar work that’s given a slightly offbeat element through the lackadaiscal vocals. Makes them different, which is better than most.

RISING: What you need to know

Traversing the city’s iconic theatres, parks, public spaces, band rooms and bridges, over 12 nights Melbourne will come alive with an array of both free and paid, adult and family focused events; transformative public art installations; large-scale performances; intimate works of theatre and dance; and an expansive program of music acts from across Australia and around the world with the first major international festival lineup the state has seen actually happen in more than two years.

“It’s been a long time coming, but the wait is over,” said RISING co-artistic director Gideon Obarzanek. “It’s happening and we are so thrilled to share this moment, to share RISING, with the people of Melbourne.”

“When we first conceived of this festival, several years ago now, we wanted to create a large-scale cultural event that truly captured this city; that could not happen in any other place other than Melbourne – a festival that reflects this moment in time and I’m incredibly proud that this program does just that. Now it’s time for audiences to get out and experience it.”

RISING’s fellow co-artistic director Hannah Fox’s summary essentially was a sigh of relief: “Finally.” The palpable sense of excitement with a hint of exhaustion is understandable, given RISING’s horrible last-minute cancellation in 2021, which you can read more about below.

Our hearts go out to RISING, Melbourne’s cultural extravaganza now brought to its knees

RISING’s 2022 program

In a monumental public work visually proclaiming the festival’s commencement, a giant laser beam, almost one kilometre long, will shoot blazing light down the Birrarung (Yarra) river, coursing above the water to a nexus at Princess Bridge in MONOCHORD — audio-visual artist Robin Fox’s luminescent public artwork.

At a transformed Sidney Myer Music Bowl, RISING’s night garden of sensory stimulation, The Wilds, brings together the best of what makes Melbourne hum. Voluminous inflatable sculptures, towering projections, mind-expanding soundscapes and performances will transform the iconic space with cult snacks from some of the city’s most revered restaurants providing fuel for the night’s adventures. In a throwback to a decades-old tradition, the much loved ice-skating rink has been reinstated on the stage, allowing skaters of all skill levels to glide around the ice, while a caterwauling choir belts out reconstructed ‘80s and ‘90s hits. Overlooking it all is The Lighthouse — a glass domed, fine dining pop-up helmed by celebrated chefs David Moyle, Jo Barrett and Matt Stone.

RISING festival unveils glimmering 130-seat pop up restaurant in Sidney Myer Music Bowl

Smack bang in the centre of the longest continuous Chinatown in the West stands Golden Square —RISING’s swirling art car park. Featuring three levels of art, performance, parades and rooftop bars, the twisting maze of contemporary art features works from Paul Yore, Su Hui Yu, Scotty So, Tabita Rezaire, Jason Phu and Atong Atem, and provides the perfect viewing point for celebrated New York icon Jenny Holzer’s new commission, I Conjure that will be beamed across the facade of the Queen Victoria Woman’s Centre.

At Art Centre Melbourne, Kaleidoscope is a mesmerising symphony of light, sound and joy – a breathtaking mirror maze that allows audiences to step inside a constantly shifting illusion in the brand new solo project by Keith Courtney, one of the masterminds behind House of Mirrors and 1000 Doors. Next door at the NGV audiences can witness Still Lives: Melbourne, artists Luke George (Melbourne) and Daniel Kok’s (Singapore) work with five Australian Rules players to capture a moment in time bound by rope, while across town at the State Library of Victoria, Geelong’s pioneering Back to Back Theatre crack open the archive with Single Channel Video, a work that conjures an op-shop of the soul filmed live onstage.

Step inside a kaleidoscope as part of the upcoming RISING Festival

Three of Melbourne’s most beloved venues, the Forum, Max Watts and Melbourne Recital Centre, play host to some of the world’s most forward-thinking contemporary music acts, including Kelly Lee Owens, Baxter Dury, Lucy Dacus, Arab Strap, Masego, Shabazz Palaces, Sampa the Great and Andy Shauf. The festival’s Japan in Focus program shines a light on Melbourne and Japan’s musical ties, highlighting everything from Tokyo’s mid-’90s, “cut-and-paste” Shibuya-kei scene with acts like CHAI, Boris and Midori Takada. In Melbourne’s first major international line up in years, Australian talent holds its own with the likes of Harvey Sutherland, rising superstar Tkay Maidza, The Goon Sax, and Heavy Congress – a major live music event representing the city’s thriving sound system culture.

In must see dance, Stephanie Lake’s thunderous latest work Manifesto features nine dancers and nine drum kits and drummers performing a tattoo to optimism in precision concert to unleash rebellion, command obedience, radiate wonder and show tenderness. Rewards for the Tribe sees two of the country’s most influential and innovative dance companies, Chunky Move and Restless Dance Theatre collaborating for the very first time. 21 Pornographies features Danish choreographer Mette Ingvartsen embarking on a no-holds-barred, one-woman exploration of power, submission and observation, while The Dancing Public takes inspiration from mysterious mass dancing events that occurred across Europe between the 14th and 17th centuries.  In HIJRA’H, Indonesian choreographer and dancer Rianto dives deep into the history and culture of Sulawesi, while a powerful and mesmerising multimedia dance production from Marrugeku, Jurrungu ngan-ga reflects on the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in custody, and the years-long detention of refugees.

Performance highlights across the program include works from visionary theatre makers Nat Randall and Anna Breckon who return with Set Piece—a work that eliminates the boundaries between film and stage–and Platform Art’s Anything & Everything which provides a glimpse into the intimate online and IRL spaces where young people navigate identity, ability, gender diversity and consent. In 8/8/8: Work the world of Comic Sans reply-alls is taken offline, by artists Harriet Gillies and Marcus McKenzie, in an experimental marathon performance.

At Arts Centre Melbourne Eryn Jean Norville delivers an odyssey of theatrical storytelling in The Picture of Dorian Gray. A farty party for grands, teenagers and grandkids alike, Fart Fabulous is a playful, punk variety show bursting with circus, drag, dance, visual art and live music. Emmy award-winning filmmaker and artist Lynette Wallworth brings her renowned storytelling skills to the stage with HOW TO LIVE (After You Die), and at Federation Square, The Invisible Opera is a contemporary performance work for public space from multidisciplinary artist Sophia Brous.

One person adaptation of ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ set to hit stages in June


“RISING will deliver just what Melburnians and visitors enjoy the most – a fabulous festival full of art, music and nightlife!”said Melbourne Lord Mayor, Sally Capp,“Post-pandemic, we know that crowds are flocking to Melbourne’s events in record numbers.

“RISING will be our biggest winter attraction, and we can’t wait to welcome hundreds of thousands of festival-goers to this exceptional event that we have waited years for.”

RISING embraces the new festival model

RISING is a telling reminder that we’re in an interesting era for festivals in Australia at the moment. Fading are the days where we’d have multiple massive festivals throughout the year, each with a huge international headliner, who would often only come to play that show.

Nowadays, there’s a bit more focus on the boutique side of things, you’re quite likely to find a local festival that features a few bands who play that niche genre of music you like. But with so many amazing festivals like that popping up in Melbourne over the last few years, it’s hard for one to come along that strays far away from the pack. That’s where the brand new RISING comes in.

RISING isn’t your ordinary music festival. After a tumultuous start in 2020, and a quickly cancelled 2021 run, they’re ready for you to come and experience them in 2022. As we’ll dive into today, there’s truly something for all in their program, from Indonesian dance to artwork in carparks, RISING will have something for whatever you’re into.

Interview with Lou Bennett: Explore the limitations of English at RISING

As we move into a post COVID world, RISING is one of the first festivals to bring internationals back to our shores, but not world-famous megastars, rather cult favourites, critical darlings, and exceptional up-and-comers who are doing something a little different, and need to share their views and work with the people of Australia (or perhaps, Australians need to hear them). RISING 2022 will include a whopping 801 artists – 685 of them are Aussie – showing that despite the international artists to get chins wagging, there’s still a massive emphasis on promoting Aussie talent, as you’d expect from a government-funded program in a city where the arts have been ground to a pulp…yet survive.

There’s no doubt you’ve seen their killer posters around the grounds, so by now you’ll realise RISING is quickly taking over the Melbourne scene with their killer marketing (budget). It’s a cool new festival that’s set to become one of our biggest, so it’s time to dive into what it’s all about. Today we’re breaking down the festival with an exhaustive interview with curator Woody McDonald, checking out the ins and outs of their 2022 extravaganza that you’ve got to keep an eye on.

What’s it like (re)starting a festival in COVID times?

It’s the story we’ve all been hearing a bit too much lately, a cool, original thing was planning a 2020 drop, but was faced with countless cancellations, postponements and delays, only to come out of the weeds with a 2022 release and knock it out of the park.

COVID was a noticeable dampener for much of the festival world here in Melbourne, our biggest music parties were transformed into toned down or sometimes virtual events, often with a smaller, local only lineup, trying to keep as much of the same magic as they could from pre-covid times.

RISING first came into the world back in 2020, but for obvious reasons, had to pull out at the last minute. Same thing happened in 2021, where on the festival’s very first day, COVID caused the festival to shut down after only five hours. After two years of difficulty, RISING has been pulled out of the weeds for a killer 2022 run.

It can almost be too easy to just look at the negatives, but there’s almost no question that we did have some silver linings over those years as arts industry workers and festival directors had to adapt and find new ways to do what they do best, with RISING finding some new ways to go about things after the struggles in lockdown, and the limits and restrictions that are still in place.

As Woody puts it, due to things having changed so much in the last few years, now the festival has to be curated in new ways, which has unearthed some innovative ideas. Just the idea that a festival can actually go on after what’s happened is exciting.

“It’s been exciting, so much has changed for the better in the last two years,” Woody tells us.

“The idea that we actually have a festival happening is very exciting, it was really fun with local-only line-ups when the borders were closed, but now there’ll be a new type of stimulation in Melbourne, so, having these artists back, it feels kind of it’s great. Although, I’ve seen so many great local shows recently, that’s hopefully not going to stop anytime soon.”

Who to see at RISING Festival 2022?

It’s understandably our favourite part of festivals down under, who will we able to catch?

First of all, will there be clashes? Nah, that’s where RISING is special, with the standard festival formula featuring a handful of stages with artists playing shorter sets, RISING has an array of performances unlike anything else out there. You can catch anything from the latest indie act to a theatre performance and everything in between, all on the same night.

This year’s incarnation of RISING will involve artists such as folk star Lucy Dacus, saxophonist Masego, and soul rocker Moses Sumney, each massive artists in their own right, but each with a notable cult following that will bring a special flair to the festival. They will also bring that international flavour to Melbourne that has been missing over the last few years, and will reignite our scene.

On the Aussie side of things, we’ll get to see performances from artists such as Tkay Maidza, Sampa The Great, Teether, Harvey Sutherland, and many more that you can dive into here. It’s important to note that to follow through with the amazing visual emphasis behind the RISING festival, you’ll be able to see each of these musicians putting on a visually amazing show, truly making it something you’ll never forget. These performers are only the tip of the iceberg, the program covering art, theatre, music and much more.

Woody notes that while having Aussie-only focuses during the pandemic has been amazing, opening the doors back up to internationals like the above will inject some new life into the Melbourne music scene. He also explains why we should be used to seeing these types of artists in RISING lineups for years to come.

“We’re using this opportunity to present things that Melbourne audiences will respond to, and might not necessarily be mainstream enough for outdoor festivals, or may not be appropriate for that type of thing.”

What type of shows are RISING staging in 2022?

 As we’ve mentioned, there’s a lot of cool things on offer at RISING festival, you can catch anything from live music to dance to theatre, and even a bunch of amazing immersive visual arts experiences.

The shows aren’t the type you’d usually catch at a festival, and might not necessarily be mainstream enough for outdoor festivals or may not be the most appropriate for that type of thing. Not too often would you be able to catch a visual art experience or theatre experience like you would at RISING.

Woody notes the process behind the lineup and program construction: “This year, we’re trying to fit in with the initial vision of Hannah (Fox) and Gideon (Obarzanek) (Rising co-artistic directors) and where they see the festival going.

“There’s some well-known stuff and some obscure stuff in there, but it’s all worth checking out, it’s got everything from more avant-garde to contemporary art.”

On the contemporary art side, this year, you’ll be able to immerse yourself in visual art experiences like that of The Wilds. This type of event is what RISING’s all about, using our many amazing venues to try something a little bit different. It will transform the Sidney Myer Music Bowl into a mecca of art, sound and taste. The venue will mostly be jam packed with massive sculptures and soundscapes; you won’t recognise the Bowl.

On the theatre spectrum, Rising will always give a stage to those who mightn’t have found one anywhere else, with shows like First Nations-inspired The Return, or even a show by Emmy award winner Lynette Wallworth.

Australia’s macabre, untold history revealed in RISING’s ‘The Return’

Finally, there’s also some interesting dance shows hitting Rising this year, each bringing something original to the program. One of the highlights being Indonesian dancer Rianto’s HIJRA’H, which looks at the history and culture of the Indonesian island Sulawesi.

With so many amazing shows, it may be too difficult to choose, that’s where the team at Rising come in, their website is a hotspot for recommendations and assistance. They’ve even got a lucky dip, where for only $69+BF, you’ll get two tickets to some mystery shows, which you’re bound to love. 

Does RISING 2022 have a theme?

 Something that sems to be ignored in festivals nowadays is a theme. Programs are often loosely based on genre, but increasingly don’t even go as far as that. For RISING in 2022, there’s a strong Japanese theme, with a decent proportion of the program dedicated to performers from the dynamic Asian cultural powerhouse.

In the music space, there also is a bit of a theme, with an Artist-in-Residence, who will curate a number of performances across the festival. Aussie music legend and member of group the Dirty Three, drummer Jim White, will fulfill this role for 2022’s RISING. He’ll be bringing his years of experience to shows with artists like Ed Kuepper, Giorgos Xylouris, Jo Lloyd and Marisa Anderson. This is likely an area that will continue in years to come, where artists from all backgrounds will curate a section of the show.

Having a bit of a focus besides a genre really gives a point of difference for the festival, and Woody shares that this is exactly what makes the RISING festival so special: “That’s what I really like about the program.”

Flinders Street Station’s mysterious ballroom is reopening for RISING exhibition

Why is Melbourne home to RISING (and why winter)?

The local Melbourne team behind the festival have been working in the scene for years, and have immersed themselves in the Aussie scene in a big way. They understand that Melbourne has an awesome music scene, and RISING does a killer job in making the most of it all, through their use of the amazing venues and nightlife we’ve got on offer.

Much like the recent Melbourne International Comedy Festival, RISING isn’t your typical format for a festival, rather a bunch of awesome events that are spread out over a few weeks, you can catch as many or as few as you like. The idea of having so many venues in Melbourne making it the perfect choice for a festival like this, with everything in the city being so close together, it’s ideal and easy to catch a few shows in a night.

“Melbourne city really lends itself to that, it’s an easy city to access,” Woody says. “It’s a good city to catch a train in and do a few things in one night, with something like RISING, you could probably go to two or three different shows in a night and do something else in the city, it really works in that way.

“I think there’s a lot of Melbourne that is set up really well for that type of experience. I think Melbourne and winter is great too, particularly when you’re indoors. It’s a great city to be in and go and see shows in.”

What Melbourne venues are hosting RISING shows?

 As noted, you won’t have to trek to a campground to experience this festival, Rising’s shows will make their way into some of our favourite venues across the city. Similarly to Melbourne Music Week, you’ll get to see shows at venues like The Forum, Max Watt’s, Sidney Myer Music Bowl, ACMI and lots more, with RISING truly making the most of our venues, many of which have struggled.

Instead of standing out in a big field for a few days, RISING allows those true-and-fledgling music aficionados to immerse themselves in the music, with less people in an intimate venue. This idea being perfect for these times, where some are still wary about massive crowds standing close together.

“I think we’re not ready to be around huge crowds straightaway,” Woody says. “So, it’s nice to go and see something a little bit more curated, and a little bit more intimate.”

Rising kicks off on June 1, check out the full program and what they’ve got on offer here.