All those indebted to the Australian underground community would have noticed the waves of anticipation and sadness on announcement of the tenth and final anniversary of Inner Varnika. The single stage festival was born of a humble scale and has been dedicated solely to procuring the finest underground musicians and DJs. Located on grazing plains a couple of hours west from Melbourne, the growth of this event has never been fuelled by glitzy marketing or crowd catering lineups. It has grown simply from the legendary stories that have continued to echo from this iconic doof.
The timing of this gathering couldn’t have been more critical. The scene had been sitting within a slump, following a summer littered with cancellations and closures of many reputable clubs and events. Activists had been doing it tough, with many already beginning to look abroad in search for their sonic fulfilment. The heavy clouds that continue to ravage regional dance blowouts began to open as many set up camp or journeyed along the Hamilton Highway. Like a martian landscape, Inner Varnika is sowed with hills and harsh rock formations.
A perfectly playful site to scale, sit and oversee activities with some tinnies. The single stage below is simple in form, a cornucopia with a clear nod to the smaller tents that likely first sat on the site a decade earlier. Either side of the stage sit two towering scaffold structures housing an outrageously large ecosystem of Funktion 1 speaker hardware. Melbourne sound wizards Purple Audio provided a system capable of moving 10,000 dancers for only 4,000 attendees. There was absolutely no compromise on volume at IVX.
Good Friday’s proceedings started as a sort of loading sequence, downtempo chuggers from Baba Noir and Yawung soundtracked the reunion of friendships as they completed their tent pitchings. Hypnotic live sets from local duos Hybrid Man and Sleep D reminded all just how much talent still thrives in Naarm. Ayebatonye also served up a phenomenal genre shifting set moving between Jack, UKG and Drum and Bass. The largely local Friday lineup saw great performances which really set the weekend in motion.
Mother Nature continued to remind punters of her attendance on Saturday morning; heavy winds and intermittent blasts of thick rain made early sets difficult to attend. The sunshine finally arrived on stage in the form of Flo Dill. The breakfast radio deejay’s smiles and sounds warmed all those who had lost their gazebos in the hours prior. Enduring onlookers stayed to witness the humble figure of Bobby Bird aka Higher Intelligence Agency grace the stage. Performing tracks composed three decades earlier, his sonics hummed through the F1’s which were nearly outperformed by the cheers on play of the tracks ‘Spectrum’ and ‘Speedlearn’.
The eager crowd stood to see what magic DJ Sprinkles would bring once again to IV. After watching Terre Thaemlitz’s reverential but slightly mismatched live slot on Friday, performing an improvisation of ‘Bill Evans - Peace Piece,’ dancers were preparing to witness something special. She slowly built the crowd into a deep percussive groove. Dramatic and spellbinding house music which was broken up suddenly by a generator failure, placing the stage in silent darkness for almost twenty minutes. Credit to Terre’s experience, she managed to slowly rebuild the audience's trust and craft a gorgeous continuing build that provided a hypnotising journey.
Boorloo based Yikes pulled out a terrific full energy, full noise party set. Andy Garvey b2b DJ Scorpion also turned heads with a progressive and break-filled sound, executing the most technically flawless mix of the entire weekend. Donato Dozzy was also a highly anticipated act that wowed the crowd on Saturday night. A Don of Italian Techno, he manoeuvred the Varnika vehicle to full speed for a gripping high force ride!
Suit Sunday, as always, was to tell the final chapter of this story. The weather had finally fared and the crowd was in funky spirits, ready to devour some dubby hip hop & RnB from local legend DJ Earl Grey. This was followed on fantastically by Dreamcastmoe who, with assistance from casual backing band, 30/70, truly uplifted any water drenched souls. DJ Plead presented a ripping bass filled tale to raise the energy up one last time and prelude the Sex Tags bookend.
Performing an all vinyl selection, Norwegian burger brothers DJ Fettburger & DJ Sotofett brought an exquisite five-hour close to IVX. Combining legendary house cuts, indiscernible ID’s and Phil Collins, the set overflowed with love and energy. The crowd implored the pair to continue playing well beyond their “10 more songs”. A perfect final page to close the ending chapter of Inner Varnika, and a performance that will be embedded in memories for a while longer.
Inner Varnika and all who enjoyed its offering were tested in this instalment. Likely the more brutal weather any seasoned punter had endured over the course of a three-day stomp. Thankfully, it was welcome to see all attendees were deep music lovers, immersing themselves in the sound and having a great time without concern for the elements. The show certainly came with its hitches, but these didn’t irritate anybody. A truly loving crowd made meeting strangers an easy errand. No clique’s or doofsticks found here.
So, the question remains if this will indeed be the end of Inner Varnika. Despite marketing of the event as its final edition, there exists a thick haze of surety that there will be something more. With the high praise spoken of the festival in the weeks following, it is hard to imagine IVX being the end of this epic thump. Whatever the future holds, the 2023 edition could certainly constitute use of the phrase ‘going out on a high.’
Inner Varnika is one of those special weekends which stays with you forever. A place away from the world we know, a freedom to express and get carried away. It’s an experience that will always fill your heart and warm your passion for music.
Words: Luke Sevior, host of Tepid Rhythm on Area 3000
Photos: Tom Hvala (thomasjpg)