Poverty develops multiple physical symptoms, what with the eternally black eyes from not ever being able to sleep comfortably and appearing largely under/overweight do to never being able to afford food that isn’t simply edible plastic. But having to be constantly alert since any unexpected expense can send you to the street or leave you starving for a month while surrounded by supermarkets can strangely enough mess with your brain in pretty serious ways. Furthermore, poverty really interferes with mental illness treatments, with 96% of the mentally ill under the poverty line unable to afford food, shelter, and medication with their given income. Ultimately this leads to a nightmare in the brain with the only affordable treatment being trepanation. There is no way to run or ease the distress, simply to grit your teeth and, like going on the third day way without eating, bear the feeling of your organs chewing themselves apart.

Back in Lorne, the rains that would shortly wash Melbourne away have just passed over us. The air has changed from yesterday’s pure sulfur to something a little more breathable, though no one can really feel it through the thick layer of sweat that coats them. If you can’t eat bacon, the only option for breakfast that will only cost you your pinkie rather than the whole hand is a cone of potato chips. Wandering up the festival grounds, you can spot a few of the valiant schoolies warriors that accidentally took all their stockpiled MD on the first night. They were collapsed, gazing off into a horizon that had been obscured by trees upon trees. The crew chase down yet another gazebo that had come loose in the storm, morphing its aluminium frame into a kite. When they catch it, they throw the jumbled mess in a hole known as the ‘gazebo graveyard’, a pit of snapped white poles stretching out of the Earth and into the sky. In the space of a night, we had eaten a chunk of the rainforest. It is in this landscape of devastation that we are welcomed by representatives of the Gadubanud tribe.

Sitting surrounded by chips that have been beaten into mashed potato and to occasional drained plastic cup, it feels just a little messed up as the elder welcomes us to what rightfully should be his property and asks us to treat it respectfully. Recognition of the fact that this land we’re on was stolen from it’s actual owners through methods that constitute attempted genocide is an important step towards reconciliation, but too many folks treat such ceremonies with lip service.

024-aluna-george

Alunageorge deserves a shout out for being the first act of the day to bring me out of this constant worry that I was undeserving of being at the festival. The combination of the genuine ecstatic look on her face and the way she completely dominates the stage makes it impossible to not be enthralled in her performance, making it easy to abandon the workaholic twitches and the feeling of being a burden. The bass hits like a stomp to the neck as her London city accent merrily prances throughout. Not to mention that her Halloween orange fireman’s pants might have already taken the award for being the coolest piece of stage-wear all festival. But as soon as she leaves the stage, the moment fades. By the time that ILLY arrives onstage, the isolation is back in full swing.

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As I collapse into a pile a little ways away from the stage, I can’t help but feel guilty about it. I remind myself, as I force people to step over my crumpled limbs, that although I feel out of place, it isn’t really the fault of anyone here. The struggles of the poor within Australia stem mostly from failures of the state, whether it be the gradual butchering of the welfare system through the last 21 years, the lack of a public safety net for massive individual catastrophe like fleeing domestic abuse or recovering from addiction,  and a healthcare system that skirts by simply on the fact that it isn’t as bad as the US’s. Unless any of these kids have the first name Wyatt, they can’t be blamed for that. The festival, well they can kind of be blamed due to operation under a system that offers massive rewards to reap to keep up the system of income inequality, but in turn they are supporting the arts in Australia in a time where they are often forgotten or actively attacked. Excuses kept filling up my head over why even the idea of commenting on the class difference in any piece on the festival is actually the shittiest thing I could do. It was at this moment that I registered the hi-vis jacket of a security guard standing over me.

‘You ok mate?’
‘No.’
‘No?’ He kneels down into a pretty sick squat actually, ‘What’s go’n on?’
‘Depression.’
‘What was that?’
‘De-‘
‘You can say if it’s illicits’
‘…I got depression.’
‘Oh,’ he begins eyeing around the grounds for someone actually needing help, ‘that sucks. Ya know what’ll help with that? If you go to the front of the stage and dance a bit. Yeah, that’ll help.’ He grins.
‘Find some chick at the front to hook up with. Can’t have that tent empty, right?’I give a nod.
‘Yeah mate, I was with this chick last night and we were gonna fuck, but I had to send her off cos I was still working”‘. He laughs and stands up.
‘You’ll have no problem buddy’, he says as he leaves. Using every once of will, I picked myself up and brought myself to a shaded corner of the festival to curl up in peace alone.

054-golden-features

Due to being completely disconnected from the outside world, it came as a shock to see short, gothic programmer MØ had somehow transformed into a tall and lanky DJ with a Del Toroian golden slip for a face. The violent pulsar that is Golden Features soon morphs into the aggressively ecstatic Fat Freddy’s Drop which in turn transformed into the serene and powerful Ta-Ku. I sit still, internally flinching whenever someone steps too close. But just like the earlier storm, the clouds of self-pity pass without evidence they were much there at all. It’s time to eat.

There’s a pizza kiosk just to the side of The Valley stage, one that always seems to have a line 20 long, yet always has seating free. I take a seat with a slice next to two guys. One turns around.
‘Oi, mate, dab for us.’
‘Huh?’
‘Come on mate, dab.’ I raise my arms above my head in a way that a robot would describe as too stiff, but the two clap and cheer anyways. Old mate thumbs at his friend, who already has the festival equivalent of a thousand–yard stare. ‘This guy right here, he just finished uni with a GPA of 6.75.’ I assume the blank look on my face must be fairly telling, because he quickly follows up with ‘In South Australia it goes up to 7.’ His friend dashes off to munt. Four new strangers take his place. He asks one of them for a card, someone gives him a driver’s license, and he uses it to cut and rail some MD. With his mission completed, he gets up and runs after his over-achiever friend. The five of us remaining share puzzled looks over what just happened.

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The four of them have road tripped up from Ballarat, ready to give this year a proper send off. They’re joking and laughing, acting as if it was 11 in the morning. It’s a far more enjoyable conversation than the security guard. I take a photo for the group, and then they’re off towards the sound of Broods in the distance. Broods are both the musical equivalent of a rolling lavender fog in the early morning and the ambassador for the health goth community to the neo–hippies that make up the crowd. Honestly, there’s no better act on the lineup to have playing as the sun sets.

083-childish-gambino

Childish Gambino wanders out to massive applause. He floats across the stage in the pale blue light, a haunting spirit with no way to finish their business. His first performance in Australia of the back of his brand new LP Awaken, My Love!, there’s a fair bit of buzz. After all, Awaken, Me Love! is radically different from anything Gambino has done before, a loveletter to 70s pop and neo-soul featuring Cirque Du Soleil-tier vocal acrobatics. But there is one theme that carries on from his previous works: isolation.

During the set, he makes no attempt to interact with his bandmates. Instead he sings and dances with the demeanor of someone who has just found out they have the house to themselves for the next three days. It never comes off as something stemming from arrogance or nervousness, in fact it’s easy to miss considering how sucked into the music you are. And you will end up getting sucked into the music, whether it’s due to the sheer catchiness of tracks like ‘California’, or simply the ease that Gambino seems to perform these pieces. But the defining moment of the set wasn’t the blazing closer in ‘3005’, nor the eerie singalong in ‘Sober’. Instead it’s the moment before the encore, with the stage bare. Gambino returns back to the stage, with the same forlorn look on his face as his first entrance. He launches into an acapella piece, and the crowd goes dead silent for the next two minutes. The festival grounds feel as if they’re now cloaked entirely in that blue light. And for a brief few minutes, everyone on the grounds truly knows loneliness.

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