Entertainment Arts Intense amps, angry elbows and nudie swims
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Intense amps, angry elbows and nudie swims

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Coinciding with the mid-winter solstice, Hobart’s Dark Mofo festival suited the season with dark, dense, intense and broody performances over 10 days.

Acts including the drone metal team of Earth and Sunn O))) shook the crowd to their intestines, and Melbourne artist Marco Fusinato who played for eight hours with a guitar and massive amp. Earplugs were provided. One critic who braved the performance described it as “incredibly loud – close to unbearable even with earplugs.”

Even the events such as the nudie swim on Sunday morning had a sadomasochistic vibe. Around 700 participants this year plunged – without clothes – into the murky, freezing Derwent River to take part in the race.

Edgy, dark, unexpected, slightly dangerous – and something to tell your friends about when you return back to the mainland.

The centrepiece of the festival was the mid-winter feast – where on Saturday night ticket-holders snaked up to 50 metres along the wharf to get into the enormous boat hanger on Sullivans Cove.

Inside the venue the vibe was medieval – with candles, trestle tables, mulled wine and music. Outside – there were queues for hearty fare such as barbequed meats, mac and cheese and seafood chowder.

Families huddled around fire pits and occasionally fireballs would burst into the sky from machines dotted around the tent (did they borrow them from Melbourne’s Crown Casino?). With the long queues for food, a lit-up ferris wheel – ominously called The Ferris Wheel of Death –  and the drums of fire, it was a scene not unlike something from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.

The family friendly event was a hit with locals – that is if they could get in.

Organisers were forced to issue an apology for the long queues on Saturday night.

“We will go back to the drawing board and re-think some of the site management planning, capacity, signage, ticketing, staffing, safety,” wrote Leigh Carmichael, the creative director of Dark Mofo.

“Once again we have been overwhelmed by the response to Dark Mofo and in particular the Winter Feast. After 12 months of planning, we had hoped that our estimation for how the site would deal with crowds was a little better than it was. However, we were unprepared. Over 80% of the pre-sale tickets were sold in the last few days, the good weather and the buzz around Hobart all contributed to us underestimating crowd numbers and behaviour.”

The feast was fine (although my piles of roasted meats quickly went cold in the chilly Hobart temperatures, and there was nowhere to sit) – but it was the music program that blew my mind.

In Praise of Darkness was my highlight of the festival. Starting at 10pm on the longest night of the year – it was suitably dark, wintery and baroque.

The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra (TSO) conducted by Estonian Anu Tali begun with a dark stage lit by seven enormous candles. A Gregorian chant drifted from the balcony. The mood was set. The concert achieved the spirit that it laid out in program notes: “With In Praise of Darkness, the TSO invokes both the serenity and portentousness of this longest night.”

For something completely different – and more challenging was Sunday night’s Diamanda Galas.

Avant-garde artist Diamanda Galas.
Avant-garde artist Diamanda Galas.

Diamanda defies categorisation – a performer, activist, avant-garde artist – Diamanda performed a show mostly in German that included long, dramatic poems, angry elbows on the piano and swooping, screeching vocals courtesy of her five and a half octave range.

It was a challenging performance to watch – I’m not quite sure I understood it. Further adding the surrealism of the scene was the heckler sitting behind me. Between songs shouted out “This is f**ked!” He was given stern warnings by other patrons and later stormed out.

In many ways this seemed a fitting end to Dark Mofo – edgy, dark, unexpected, slightly dangerous – and something to tell your friends about when you return back to the mainland.