Review: Inner Varnika
As the last public holiday before Winter makes festivals an untenable practice, Easter weekend is for many a last call for open air dances and fewer festivals are home to a better reputation and cult following than Inner Varnika.
With a concerted effort dedicated to musical exploration, Inner Varnika has, over it’s now eight instalments, cemented itself as a destination for intrepid musical expression, its programming has been designed to challenge, educate and explore the deeper realms of dance culture, all the while encouraging brave and free performances from its bookings. This fact, bookended with the ‘suit Sunday’ tradition and a strictly limited capacity ensure sell outs at the festival are an inevitable formality.
As a centrepiece of Victorian club culture Inner Varnika is a double sided coin: it reels in enormous artists of international appeal, but also acts as a spotlight on the emerging artists locally, on the weekend past we were treated to memorable sets from both contingents. The blueprint to the IV setting is akin to many of the dance music festival builds across the country - a dusty, arid Australian prairie with nods to Mad Max and the Australian post apocalyptic. The stage itself is flanked by two precarious rocky outcrops which provide lookout points and places to rest tired legs while remaining part of the single stage shared experience.
Our unbridled enthusiasm to get ripped-and-roaring on the Friday night was briefly curbed as Darcy Justice’s initial start time was curtailed while the sound system attended to for reasons unknown after the changeover from WVR BVBY. By the time she took command of the IV one’s and two’s on Friday night the crowd had been eagerly tantalised, her performance, was a handsome payoff. Inner Varnika’s ability to provide a platform for some of the cities most deserving selectors is a wonderful quality, and amid speculation it may be pushed out of viability its importance must not be easily forgotten. Fewer are more deserving than Darcy Justice, her set was a testament to her calibre as a selector and underlines why she is so well loved by Melbournians. Thankfully, she saw an extended set time, and it paid dividends richly, with Energy by Sampa the Great arousing significant raptures from an Inner Varnika crowd rapidly working their way towards top gear.
The Friday night was thoughtfully curated. Though Sleep D and Andy Garvey offered no surprises, this was not a bad thing, the decision to programme the two one after the other was an adroit decision. Sleep D are very much part of the Inner Varnika furniture and looked at home while playing a live set specifically tailored for the festival and it was appropriately received while Andy Garvey crossed off another item from what is a rapidly dwindling list of Australian festival bookings, with a signature set of high octane techno and break beat.
I scarcely think there are better cures to a scattered noggin than a burger (with egg and bacon) from a community BBQ tent and a breakfast spressy mar, and enjoying both these things with a midday set from Lauren Hansom was particularly revitalising. Having had her mentally earmarked since her fantastic ‘Diggers Directory’ instalment I was eager to finally watch her work in the flesh. Her selections were fantastic, a textbook matinee set from a crate digger which toured us through eras and genre’s with adventurous panache. Thankfully, the steady amount of legs encouraged back onto the dance floor relatively early in the day and IOM fanfare has ratified my opinion.
The sunlight block of the Saturday was positively bursting at the seams and the harsh 29 degree Autumnal sun did little to dim the plight of the Inner Varnika populous as Bjorn Torske put the crowd through their paces with three hours of rapid house cuts in a set that was ostensibly Scandinavian.
The booking sensibility of Inner Varnika has been to spotlight emerging talents and luminaries alike - in the booking of DJ Bone the latter objective was mightily achieved. His Saturday evening slot had been the source of much campsite thigh rubbing from punters eagerly anticipating one of the most revered selectors on the planet. He delivered a frighteningly dexterous and supremely technical (three or so) hours in the booth, working his way through Detroit cuts at a breakneck pace, sporadically punctuating them with deftly placed house-ier reprieves with Chicago and New York classics.
The ‘Suit Sunday’ ritual creates a dramatic change in energy overnight and with formal attire, comes an unrivalled positivity exuded by relentless exchanges of business jargon and corporate repartee. This giddy excitement is tangible at the dance floor too, where the suit Sunday antics are fuelled by the knowledge that tomorrow we go home and evidently most people have left a lot in the tank for the last dances. Both Mafalda and Jimi Tenor gave popular performances but the night was owned by Tornado Wallace, who put out an instant classic, an incredible set worthy of being remembered in the annals of Inner Varnika folklore. Despite being no stranger to Melbourne crowds, Tornado Wallace’s set was ripe with surprises and raised hands, the memory of Sophie St Laurent’s ‘Sex Appeal’ blaring from the IV Funktion One’s will, thankfully, forever be etched into my memory.
While Tornado was indisputable and unequivocally brilliant Mr Scruff’s closing set was polarising, the call for ’10 more songs’ certainly wasn’t met with universal enthusiasm at the end of his set and has hastily found itself a part of club culture memes. His set was undeniably a romp, but the broad range of his selections disillusioned factions of the Inner Varnika crowd, apparently, many found Bob Marley in a closing set ostracising. It was surprising to see such an uproar from sections of the Inner Varnika punters regarding Scruff’s set, given that musical exploration and education are at the forefront of the festivals modus operandi and he is a known crate digger whose whole schtick is based on a daring personality. Perhaps people shouldn’t have been surprised by Mr Scruff’s eclectic selections in the booth, but even still, those most acutely aware of his audacious disposition would have been surprised to hearing the Baker’s Delight theme song ring out over the Inner Varnika sound system on Sunday night.
For what its worth, we loved Mr. Scruff’s set, it was a musical excursion where Scruff was the bus driver and in our eyes, the perfect artist to close the festival and another edition of the notorious Suit Sunday.
The reasons for Inner Varnika’s place as a festival with a cult following are apparent, it’s a festival where the temperament of the crowd is of equal value to the bookings. It’s an Easter weekend defined by considered programming, a culture of freedom, brave expression and suits.
Amidst rumours that the 2019 edition may be the festivals last the importance of its ability to celebrate pioneers and crown locals must not be forgotten.