As the Melbourne tram leaves a handful of festivalgoers battling the hurricane-like winds and the aggressive, torrential Sunday rain, I couldn’t help but glance around at the industrial estate under the Bolte Bridge and think – what a day for a festival.
HYBRID had set up in their new location of Melbourne Pavillion and were ushering in groups as quickly as possible – the rain was getting worse and outfits were getting wet – but it didn’t faze festivalgoers too much, who could hear the bass blaring from inside and keen to get their first glimpse of HYBRID.
Primarily used as a wedding destination, the organisers behind the day had done an outstanding job at turning the venue into a dark and moody warehouse with an emphasis on two things – noise and lasers. Upon first impressions, squinting through the sheer darkness, we could see towering speakers on each side of the stage which were echoing bass throughout the main ‘Osiris’ room. The stereo was so loud it was difficult to hear anything other than thumping, distorted drums without being front and centre. Worried about our ears, we made sure to grab a pair of earplugs that were being made readily available on the way in, and soon noticed that many others had done the same.
Soon enough, Hannah Lockwood graced the main stage and treated the growing crowd to her carefully curated, dystopian techno. Within 15 minutes the Sydneysider cycled through unorthodox drum loops, ever-changing bass and the occasional acid synths to turn the pavilion into a stomping ground, refusing to lower the energy in what was an exhilarating live show. The huge LED screen behind her – as well as the countless lasers cutting through the pitch-black room above us – ensured the performance was a visual and audial treat and one of the stronger acts during the first half of the day.
As the heaving, industrial set came to a close with an uplifting mix of moving pads and white noise that freed the crowd of being slaves to the dark beat, we separated ourselves from the crowd to explore the rest of the venue. Two bar areas ensured there was never a long wait for drinks and the huge smoking area provided a great escape from the booming music inside. The second, smaller ‘Lu-Cypher’ room – a ballroom turned post-rave space, housed Simona Castricum, who’s slow, percussion-heavy synth electro hypnotised the crowd despite the ever-present bass fro the main stage seeping into the room.
We wander around for an hour and a half waiting for the first international headliner – Omar S – to emerge from the shadows and come across Female Wizard. Female Wizard, along with Jada – a dancer sporting a clown costume and mask – were attempting to compliment Lockwood’s driving sound with their own personal twists. For the entire 90 minute set Female Wizard emphasised through – heaving drums that dominated the low end whilst countless wailing police sirens dominated the highs. From start to finish the DJ faded sirens in and out of the mix, and whilst it wasn’t our thing, a group next to us couldn’t stop exclaiming how the set was “high key life-changing” and “a spiritual journey”.
However excitements were running high and the time had come for Detroit legend Omar S to humbly approach the decks, sending the crowd into a frenzy. Donning his signature bucket hat and ‘FXHE’ shirt, the Motor City native fixed a vibration problem by placing two water bottles under a turntable before diving into a mix of the best Detroit has to offer. Following a fist-bump from DJ Stingray, the house legend wasted no time diving into his extensive catalogue of originals and remixes. Switching between uptempo funk tracks to cuts of his own such as ‘S.E.X’, ‘Set It Out’ and ‘Thank U For Letting Me Be Myself’ before inserting his CDs into the mixer only to find one left in there, which he sent flying off to the side of the stage. Despite playing a coherently quality set, there seemed to be a lack of adventure with Omar S’s music – almost as if ‘The Best’ was merely stepping up to the decks to keep the music going for two hours, rather than taking the audience on a personal musical journey. The set was outstanding nonetheless, but for some reason we just expected more.
As the FXHE head tears up the main room, we retreated to the smaller ‘Lu-Cypher Room’ to witness Switzerland’s Aisha Devi. Despite running 15 minutes behind, the wait for the singer’s unique, abstract sound was worth it. Devi assumed full control of her MIDI controllers and she danced around the stage, constructing moving periods of tranquillity and short, euphoric moments of bass heavy breakdowns. Swiftly moving through cuts such as ‘Dislocation of the Alpha’ and ‘DNA’ and blending them together to form one smooth performance, Devi used her angelic voice to whisper, sing and on one occasion scream through what was truly a magical hour. After an outstanding hardstyle-esque crescendo and prolonging ovation from the room, we couldn’t agree more that Devi was the highlight of the day.
Then, as the lights went dark and equipment was moved around, a menacing figure emerged from the darkness, donning a ‘DETROIT’ baseball shirt and his signature mask, DJ Stingray expanded on Omar’s temporary setup by using 4 water bottles to secure the turntable in place before diving into a stellar 2-hour set well worth studying. Starting off somewhat relatively slow, Stingray took the crowd underwater and within half an hour he was in the zone and we were treated to one of the most extraordinary, alienating rave-like experiences only HYBRID could ever offer.
Stingray’s razor-sharp mixing was no exaggeration – the Drexciyan DJ flew between records in a whimsical fashion, picking up a record, tossing it on the turntable and letting it play for no longer than 4 bars before quickly transitioning to it, rinse and repeat. The man knew his stuff and more importantly knew how to DJ, as we spent the two-hour set in awe – studying his mixing and losing ourselves to the swift, bubbly, analogue rave music. Stingray always kept the crowd on their toes whilst playing everything from Drexciya edits to his own works, Dopplereffekt and Underground Resistance – he represented the darker, heavier side of Detroit harder than anyone else could. Perfectly curated by the festival, Stingray left festival goers bewildered and truly cemented himself as one of the most prolific and paramount DJs in the modern era.
As Stingray brought us back to earth with a few hip-hop songs that lightened the otherwise heavy, raving mood, we headed for the train station to beat the crowd to find the sky had completely cleared up and the perfect storm that was Hybrid had come to a close. As some headed into town for the Legowelt show, I couldn’t help but feel that the people behind LEFAG, Crown Ruler and Bizzaro had truly done a terrific job at creating one of the most unique, innovative festivals and a true highlight in the Melbourne winter.
See you next year.