Global Gathering @ Fox Studios Entertainment Quarter, Sydney (30/11/08)

Global Gathering. In the world of music festivals, few names evoke such a universal response and acclamation among dance fans. For years Australians have looked across the other side of the word with a mixture of awe and envy, marveling at the astounding lineups that are on offer year after year from one of the UK’s preeminent dance festivals. For the first time, the brand was on tour downunder and bringing with it some of the biggest names in electronica. No one truly expected an event on the same scale, but excitement and curiosity were building nonetheless. Bizarrely, this festival was on a Sunday. For reasons unknown to most, the Future Entertainment crew had asked Sydney to commit to a festival that was going to badly tarnish people’s Monday mornings at work. As the lineup filtered out over the preceding months, it was clear the quality was there, but perhaps not in the volume people had expected (with some even calling it “Local Gathering”). Ticket sales were apparently sluggish and some were questioning if we really needed another festival.

Fate had dealt a nasty hand to the first leg of the tour, with the Melbourne show experiencing appalling weather conditions and a health scare to one member of Kraftwerk, which kept the electro pioneers off the bill. It seemed that fortunately, any outstanding karmic debts had been paid by this misfortune, as the Sydney sun was finally shining in all its glory. One of the perks (or so I thought) of doing the odd bit of writing is occasionally preferential treatment. It was with a certain amount of haughtiness that I strolled up with my VIP pass draped around my neck only to find that it appeared there were more VIPs than regular punters. Deflated, our queue was longer than that of the plebs. A rather lengthy wait in line was salved by some pumping tunes coming from the Area 21 stage – within 5 minutes we’d heard Kings of Leon, The Prodigy and some John Dahlback. It seemed if you were after hits, Area 21 is were you’d go.

A quick lap around the venue to get our bearings and we perched at the Future stage, the main outdoor arena for the day. Immediately, I was craving grass. The whole Entertainment Quarter was being utilised for the event, but it felt as if someone had simply decided to place a large stage in a car park. However, we settled down for an afternoon beer in front of the Potbelleez; love them or hate them, these guys put on a great show and they had an eager crowd singing along to their uber-hit Don’t Hold Back to round off their set. The little VIP area was awash with my fellow VIPs who were all probably as excited and disappointed as me to find out that none of them were as important as they initially thought. However, this area did provide the only real grass to be found on the day, and it was a welcome relief to recline for a few minutes and listen to some cheeky tech beats being dished out by James Taylor and Brendan Fing.

However, there was too much music on offer to remain idle for long – the hot sun drove us indoors to the Godskitchen arena, where The Orb were playing music that seemed a bit incongruous for a room clearly decked out for trance. Nonetheless, these seminal performers did what they do best, laying out a trippy blend of bottom heavy dub, electonica and a dash of reggae to some truly bizarre visuals. Heads were spinning as the Star Trek theme blended into a bizarre mash-up of the theme from the Muppet Show and I Wanna Take You To a Gay Bar. Funny stuff. They wrapped things up with their modern take on Little Fluffy Clouds, a truly timeless piece of music that can lay claim to defining a genre. Back at the Future stage, Dirty South was dishing out some fairly typical cuts, like his smash collaboration with Axwell Open Your Heart. There was some clever mixing on display as he blended elements of his Cicada remix with Breathe from The Prodigy, in all a very upfront set and perhaps not the best warm-up for Sasha – but can you blame him? He was playing what he is known for.

So it was perhaps an unreasonable amount of excitement that we watched progressive legend Sasha step up to the decks; and it was with almost equal levels of disappointment that the next 2-hours unfolded. Sasha started things off nice and deep, but the sound system made it so deep in fact that it was almost impossible to hear. Sasha’s music (as reflected in his latest Involv2er release) is largely driven by the detail and the texture, none of which was captured by the boomy, flat sound pumping from the speakers. Even thrusting into the middle of the crowd yielded little better and after an hour, numbers had noticeably thinned. Even massive cuts like his remix of Ladytron’s Everything You Touch only managed to get the hardcore in the middle of the floor really moving. There may have been a great set unfolding underneath the muddy, pumping kick-drum, but the production simply did not do it justice.

We were keen to check out Sneak, but so it seemed did everyone else – the side entrance doors to the Hordern were closed, so it was off to ATB instead. The Godskitchen arena was a contrast to what was staged outside – it as clear that more effort had gone into the production and the quality of sound was substantially better indoors. We caught the last few tracks of ATB’s incredibly enthusiastic set, the delicate vocals of Hide & Seek from Imogen Heap were met with wild approval. But many were here for the might Above & Beyond. A three hour festival slot is something of a treat and just after 7pm Tony and Jono stepped up the plate to a rapturous reception. To start with they were the musical equivalent of a bloody good affogatto – delicious, sweet ice cream soaked with bitter punchiness of a caffeine-heavy espresso shot – and boy was it going down smoothly. The powerful melodies of the Signalrunner’s Meet Me in Montauk transitioning to classic cuts like You’re Not Alone; hooray for festival trance.

As a student of music, I could not leave without paying homage to Kraftwerk – musical pioneers in every sense of the word. Inside the Hordern, Fischerspooner were laying down the end of a rather banging set. As things were wrapping up, their front man impeached the crowd “I strongly encourage you to do your shit right now,” before sending his blond hair into a circular flurry. The contrast could not have been greater as the curtain parted to reveal the statuesque figures of four very precise looking Germans in their tailored back jumpsuits, doing mysterious things behind their laptops. Bleeps and squeaks bounced around the Hordern as Kraftwerk blurred the lines between man (mensche) and machine (mashine) with their signature sound. Their sound was surprisingly punchy and seemed to really connect with a crowd that was much larger than I anticipated.

However, there was only one way to finish this day off: with the euphoric sounds of Above & Beyond. For the last hour the boys bashed out some quality tunes to an increasingly sweaty mob of happy punters – smiles all round. In all, Global Gathering never really stood a chance living up to its international reputation. And while the Entertainment Quarter proved a familiar and ultimately uninspiring venue, this was still a damn fine day of music. There was some obvious disappointments with the sound at some stages, yet on the whole there was something refreshingly down-to-earth about the whole event. With crowd numbers at almost manageable levels, this was a generally hassle free day out listening to an impressive cross-section of artists. With some better attention to detail and a more favourable day of the week, we may yet see Global Gathering return to do its thing in 2009.