The Best Music Festivals in Australia
The beauty of music fests in the Southern hemisphere is that they start heating up as the Northern Hemisphere begins to cool down. That means truly dedicated festies and culturally curious travelers alike can extend their festival adventures into a year-round endeavor. We've already named the music festivals blowing up in Asia – several of which occur in the Southern Hemisphere – so it's only natural we take a look at that other huge continent below the equator, fondly known as Australia.
The world’s sixth largest country divides the Pacific and Indian Oceans and is split into six territories and major cities like Perth, Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne, allowing for a slew of different climates and festival subcultures to explore. Here are ten music festivals that form the core of Australia's burgeoning and thriving scene.
Established in 2007, the Stereosonic Festival has expanded into a five-city and two-day event in Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Sydney and Melbourne. Promoted by Totem Onelove and Hardware, the event is a massive undertaking that’s become a two-week EDM tour of the southern tip of the country. Five stages hosting fifty total global acts are erected in each location, with anywhere from 30,000-60,000 or more attendees at each location. Interested in seeing acts including your favorite dance artists like Major Lazer, Calvin Harris, Tiesto, and Armin van Buuren across the world? This one’s worth checking out for certain.
The Rainbow Serpent Festival in Victoria fosters a culture of creativity through workshops featuring traditional artwork and movement, spiritual exploration, and five stages featuring 24 hours of ambient, psytrance, tech house, and live bands. There are even comedians, cabaret and burlesque performances, magicians, and some of Australia's best circus performers and fire twirlers. The Rainbow Serpent itself is an extremely important creation figure in Aboriginal beliefs and mythology, with the serpent having said to have shaped the landscape of the earth. In that theme, the festival puts a ton of emphasis on eco-consciousness; festival-goers are encouraged to only bring what they need over the four-day camping event, while every car that arrives also receives a bag for campsite recycling in exchange for a $5 deposit, which is refunded at the end of the event when you return the bag with your recyclables.
Ringing in the new year in the summer heat is the way Australians do it, along with the help of Field Day, a Sydney-based event that is nearing a decade in its existence. It mixes a number of top Australian dance acts with a plethora of top internationally known pop names, including A-Trak and Calvin Harris. 2016’s Field Day lineup includes RL Grime and Seth Troxler and rappers like gritty U.S. emcee Pusha T and UK grime don Skepta. The roughly 20,000-plus festival-goers who attend Sydney’s Domain festival ground have been consistently treated to a stream of top-tier ascending to superstar status performers, a tradition that still continues today.
Golden Plains Festival is what happens when 10,000 folk, rock, and funk lovers descend upon a private farm in the bushlands of Victoria in March every year. George Clinton, Bon Iver, Nile Rodgers, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings and globally-respected Aussie natives Fat Freddy’s Drop have all played the event. The event eschews corporate sponsorship, and is the sister event to the Meredith Music Festival, which is also held at the site’s Supernatural Amphitheatre permanent venue. The amphitheatre's stage is in a grove of massive ghost gum trees, with pine tree-covered seating surrounding the stage, making for a moody and surreal backdrop to the music.
Defqon.1 has a sister event that occurs in the Netherlands, and Australia's version of the event that hits Penrith, New South Wales’ Sydney International Regatta Centre in September similarly features elaborate staging (there are eight in all!) and a series of hardstyle and heavy bass for dance lovers, who flock from all over – or camp onsite– to see over 100 acts each year. With well over 50,000-plus in attendance, Defqon.1 is at the pinnacle of hardstyle, psytrance and bass-heavy dance events worldwide.
McLaren Vale, Australia is located 20 miles south of Adelaide in the midst of a wine region on Southern Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula. Thus, the name “Gorgeous” is apropos to describe the area (and the weather, too) where Gorgeous Festival is held yearly in late November, just as summer's getting into full swing. The vision of festival organizers Alistair and Sally Cranney was to create an event that would showcase the excellence of food and wine in the region, pairing it with Australian music. The festival’s recent move to the new McLaren Vale location of the Penny’s Hill Winery is a reflection of evolving festival offerings as well as a desire to accommodate the growing amount of festies who attend every year. Performers include the Melbourne Ska Orchestra, Kate Miller-Heidke, Stonefield, Falls, and more.
Occurring yearly in late November in the Victorian bush is the Strawberry Fields Festival, which festival organizers state “[celebrates] art, sound and creative expression...[from] a diverse selection of both renowned and breakthrough electronic music from both Australia and overseas.” One hundred and fifty musicians are in this forested fest, including the likes of deep-grooving house DJs like Justin Martin, Bicep and Soul Clap, and more underground-friendly American rappers like Oddisee. Featuring multiple stages, art installations and more, this one is much more full-fledged experience than mere music festival.
After just one decade in existence, Melbourne’s St. Jerome's Laneway Festival has literally become a worldwide phenomenon – it has since expanded to Auckland, New Zealand, Singapore, and Detroit. Starting out as a way for founders Jerome Borazio and Danny Rogers to hear indie rock in unique settings outside of their small, speakeasy pub in 2005, the festival's popularity and growth has since exploded. Proclaiming itself “an international signifier of essential music,” the event is founded upon the values of “championing community, fostering collaboration, encouraging self-expression, and finding ongoing excuses to have fun.” Hard to argue with that. Held in five Australian cities during January and February, the event has become a touring concert that now hosts 10,000-15,000 attendees per location and brings indie acts from all over the world, like Angel Olsen, Benjamin Booker, Banks, Flying Lotus, FKA Twigs, Ariel Pink, and way more. Take your pick!
Established in 1993, Australia’s Falls Festival originated in beachside Lorne, but has expanded to other locations in Marion, Tasmania and Byron Bay, New South Wales. No matter the locale, over the past 20 years, a mix of top Australian pop, rock and dance acts like Silverchair and The Temper Trap, as well as global acts including the Black Eyed Peas, Bloc Party, Big Freedia, Toro y Moi and more have performed. The week surrounding New Year’s Day is when the three-day, three-location gatherings are held, with a total of 60,000-plus attendees typically expected each day.
Speaking of amazing ways to celebrate New Year's Eve, from December 27-January 1 each year, the Woodfork Folk Festival takes place roughly 40 miles north of Brisbane. It's a one-of-a-kind event that sees many of the 130,000 revelers camping onsite in order to fully partake in the charms of the 250 hectacre Woodfordia forest and the accompanying festival music. Impressive numbers continue at this event: In 2013, 1,239 performances by 441 folk acts across 28 stages set the standard for this world-class, down-home festival. Founded by the Queensland Folk Association in 1993, the event stands as a testament to using music to fostering social dialogue and debate about environmental issues, global cultural awareness, and more.
Costerfield, Australia’s Yemaya Festival celebrates Yemaya, a mother goddess of Afro-Latino origin who represents home, fertility, love, and family. Festival organizers state that the event is “[t]hree luscious days and two luminescent nights of audio-visual enchantment across two stages.” Trance and psytrance DJs highlight the lineup, which, alongside the festival organizers’ desire to focus on “sculpture, décor, stage design, painting, performance art, lighting, projections, and lasers,” provides a truly impressive aural and visual experience in the forest.