Let Them Eat Cake '18: Review
You have to feel for the people who happen to be travelling on the Werribee line on the day of Let Them Eat Cake, an array of tired civilians scattered throughout the back and front of the train casting a weary eye over the hundreds of young partygoers, drinking, blasting loud, obnoxious music. Carefree relics which must look like baby boomer’s voodoo dolls.
After a relatively smooth bus shuttle to the Werribee Mansion, we arrived at the festival grounds where you have to quickly applaud the organisers for their hard work in once again setting up such an incredible venue to host the festival. The promise of grandiose, regal grounds fit for the French monarchy at the height of its decadence was kept by the festival organisers. Lush, beautifully maintained grounds and thoughtfully constructed stage designs with an obvious attention to detail, down to the dress wear of bar attendants to the construction of the eating areas. The patrons however largely left their stately manners at home with more than ample bins and less than satisfactory use of them. None the less, surely Cake can boast a festival site that betters all of its NYD competitors.
One of the most enticing names on the bill had to be Âme. And of course, Âme delivered on their unspoken promise as one of the most captivating live performers on the circuit. With an enigmatic brand of electronic music, Âme’s productions are rarely defined, their live sets are definitely unique - in fact, no one does a live set like Âme. Peculiar blends of eclectic influences somehow organised into tracks that seem to physically ooze electronic sophistication - there’s scarcely a better way to start your New Years Day.
Moving onto Love Deluxe was a task that required a great deal of walking, questioning bemused security guards and complaining profusely about the lack of sitemaps on display. Eventually, ‘The Woods’ stage was discovered, where Michael O’Connor aka ‘Love Deluxe’, was a couple tracks deep into his first ever, full band performance. Synth heavy, Italo inspired piano cords and a hot damn vibe, O’Connor’s infectious set began to draw a number of people from the nearby food trucks to the stage. The re-imaginations of his productions were a good blend of new flavours and original melodies which saw the band deliver the kind of performance which showcases influence live bands can have at these kinds of events, and the need to continue to book them in the future.
Playing in perhaps the most interesting stage at ‘Cake’ was Palms Trax, the young wunderkid who returns to Australia on the back of his Sugar Mountain trip last year with great anticipation. Palms Trax showed exactly why he’s well on his way to becoming one of the worlds best esoteric selectors, moving between house, afrobeat, soul and disco - smooth transitions where a guarantee. There’s something about a set from a crate digger which seems to walk hand in hand with the sunshine perfectly, and from 1-5 Palms Trax skipped, trotted, galavanted and glided down a sunny, eclectic boulevard in his Sunday best. Palms Trax had the crowd moving to his diverse selection of music and chatter about his 4-hour slot was ever-present throughout the day. Ultimately a pleasant change of pace from the heavy techno and grime at the other stages.
Apparat is a peculiar top floor character to have on the Let Them Eat Cake lineup. On one hand, Apparat (Sascha Ring) is one of the most important voices in dance music. A pioneer in a, by its very nature, a genre which is sonically difficult to place, ‘IDM’. Occupying a relatively unique place in dance music with his ‘ever-so-Berlin’ distinctive, idiosyncratic, understated glitch techno makes Apparat somewhat of a brave booking as his music by definition is not ‘headline’ music. Especially in Australia. Many of the hard techno thirsty ‘main-stage campers’ at the Bastille stage felt the effects of this and the crowd thinned out with many punters opting to satisfy their curiosity with net sensation comic, Big Shaq or left to find harsh rumbling basslines elsewhere. In spite of this, those who left the ‘Man’s Not Hot’ meme in 2017 and stayed for Apparat’s show were privy to one of the most talented, complete artists on display. A vast array of ‘diggers techno’, occasional beat break cuts, elongated synth buildups rewarded in full by extremely well layered heavier sections - it may have alienated some of the 130-BPM Funktion-One chest vibration enthusiasts, but ‘Cake’ should be applauded for booking one of the circuits most esteemed techno crackerjacks and one of dance music's great scholars: a true highlight of the day. While Moderat enthusiasts were induced into a state of ecstasy as Apparat let Rusty Nails ring out through an admirably performing sound system at the Bastille stage the crowd filled out once more for one of Australia’s best-loved techno figureheads. If Cake took a gamble on booking Apparat the man who followed him was a sure thing - Stephan Bodzin.
Those who had left in search of rumbling basslines returned in enormous packs and the anticipation was both palpable and electric, a constant reminder for the influence Bodzin has over the Australian dance audience. As a figure who demands respect as one of the most prolific techno producers of his generation, a craftsman of some of the most revered, hard, driving techno compositions and a live performer of immense impact, there are few bills around the globe he hasn’t headlined. He delivered harsh, commanding basslines which satiated the ravenous appetites for brutal techno which were thick amongst the crowd. Powerful, vigorous and ultimately, disappointing and predictable. Given the number of satisfied Cake punters who were left in exaltation from Bodzin’s performance almost certainly leaves this opinion worth sweet bugger all, and at the risk of sounding a high-horsed contrarian, Bodzin’s set felt remarkably ‘dumbed-down’. For a producer who is often compared to classical composers, who has a rich history of classical training, Bodzin’s set felt like one of instant gratification. Long protracted buildups inevitably followed by the deepest, overpowering basslines and kick drums followed by fist pumps from Bodzin, raised arms and raptures in the crowd, perhaps he's buying into this "Godzin" hype a little too much. In any matter, Bodzin’s reputation as nothing short of a techno colossus in Australia was definitely sustained on New Years Day.
The head boy of lo-fi house and indeed, the golden export of the Australian dance music for this year certainly has to be Mall Grab. A discipline which has been heartily embraced, 2017 may likely be remembered as the year of lo-fi house for the electronic music community and given Mall Grab was performing on his home continent there was no shortage of partygoers flocking to the Guillotine stage to soak in the sun and dust their shoes a red cenna’ style auburn. This presented a difficult circumstance. On one hand, you love to see Australian selectors garnering support and appraisal, on the other, unless you were in the thick of the action the sound system was found a little wanting on the outskirts of the crowd. Opting then instead for a change of place to see Melbourne duo Kllo was a decision which rewarded us with some brief relief from the last few hours of 4/4 tracks. With a set fresh of heels from a European tour Kllo seemingly comes back a little more polished, and a little more confident with each sighting. Typically, their dreamy, melancholic sounds united perfectly with their upbeat, jovial attitude and performance and in an extraordinarily saturated genre of pensive vocal’d electronica Kllo find themselves atop of a very big pile. The perfect artist to sit back and admire beer in hand on a packed festival day.
Jon Hopkins has a truly sterling reputation as both a meticulous producer and as a performer. Sporting a blinding pair of white sneakers, Hopkins was given the duty of closing the Versailles stage at Cake. Hopkins had me weak at the knees. Absolute box office live, and gained more than a couple new fans for his exploits. Perhaps one of the busiest, most engaging DJ sets Hopkins was either completely captivating in his selections or setting a beautiful moment on the dance floor up for a suitably effusive crowd. One of the most ‘live’ DJ sets you’ll come across Hopkin’s has a profound beguile over his audiences, not a note seemed out of place in his set, every selection carried purpose and built on the last, Glue, the EP title track from Bicep's release this year was given a particularly fond response.
If anyone was at a doubt to the calibre of a performance they were seeing, they were given a number of assurances from Apparat who acted as both friend and hype man for Hopkins, joining him on stage to give credit a long time friend, colleague and collaborator. Perhaps the greatest commendation of all is that Hopkins is most assuredly an MVP, a DJ’s favourite DJ and an unmissable name on any lineup.