An excellent opinion piece by Paolo D
Hardware, who run Babylon, are a commercial enterprise. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with making money out of music, however, being a business first and foremost does have a huge impact on the motivation behind running a festival, i.e: making a profit.
Hardware have been strategic in identifying a niche in the festival industry marketplace, and they have filled a gap most noticeably left by the vacuum of EarthCore, and to a lesser extent, the demise of more mainstream day festivals, Stereosonic et.al. They have also positioned themselves differently to their main rivals, Pitch, who are an attempted carbon coby of Amsterdam’s Dekmantel festival.
Hardware used to run warehouse and stadium raves in the 90s and 00s, for example Two Tribes, and as such did not evolve from the doof scene. Hardware were in fact involved in Stereosonic, at least in the beginning.
Hardware originally focussed more on techno, trance and hard dance, but now due to the popularity of other genres like psytrance and tech-house, they have broadened their scope, which makes sense in terms of selling tickets to a new generation.
It is apparent that due to the cultural and economic background of Hardware, the values presented at Babylon are not in alignment with the ethos of the grassroots bush doof community. Let’s be clear here, Babylon is a relatively new, fairly well orchestrated, commercially driven music festival (that happens to be held in the country); it is not a community centred, grassroots organised, bush doof, that has evolved naturally from the collective efforts of collaborative crews. Therefore, we cannot judge Babylon, or Pitch for that matter, by the same standards that we might judge smaller, less profit driven doofs by.
The commercial nature of Babylon resonated throughout the festival. In essence, Babylon is nothing more than a microcosm of the over-consumption that permeates mainstream western society. Babylon is a capitalist venture, it is not a radical subculture or participatory movement that challenges the staus quo. Therefore, it will overwhelmingly attract a crowd that is familiar with acting and being treated like a consumer.
The prevailing attitude and behaviour of the overwhelming majority of punters (suburban Melburnians aged 20-30) felt something like:
“we’ve paid our money, we’re here with all our mates, so let’s get as fucked up as possible, and then go home when it’s all over.” In a sense, I don’t blame them. They’re young, most of them probably work or study hard, and they just want to have fun, and fuck the consequences.
At a festival like Babylon, there really is no genuine invitation or perceived benefit to contributing to the (temporary) community, taking ownership of your actions, looking after the environment or even connecting with others. Sure, there were visible signs saying “leave no trace, not a disgrace”, bins for cigarette butts, and some platitudes written in the A-Z guide. But in a social environment like a festival, leadership is critical, and at Babylon 2019 —as well as Pitch 2018— leadership was no where to be seen. Except of course for the hardworking paid or volunteer clean-up staff, which could be argued, adds to the air of entitled arrogance that breeds the belief that “someone else will pick it up.”
Which brings up the question of how do we as a community (i.e people who like dancing to electronic music in the bush) change this situation? Surely by some good old fashioned face-to-face interaction and positive role-modelling from older and wiser punters, I hear you say?!
The issue is though, with a critical mass of punters from the same demographic (20-30 year old suburban Melburnians), the attempts at positive role-modelling from older, more experienced and aware punters seriously lacks the weight to make a real impact. Let’s be honest here, we’re talking about social media spawned millennials who probably aren’t really even looking outside of their own spheres of influence anyway.
This is not to say that positive attempts to raise the consciousness of the newer punter are futile, it’s just that with such a disparity between generations at an event like Babylon, it’s just much more difficult. Me and two of my much older friends tried our best to create and maintain a space of maturity, creative expression, positive connection and environmental responsibility. But, after a few hours of dancing at Bloc 9, it just became way too tiresome of a task. We were defeated by the overwhelmingly similar, anti-social energy of most punters. Even simple eye contact is not so simple with this mob.
While I didn’t necessarily find the crowd at Babylon very enjoyable or even exciting to be around, I got the sense though that most people there, if you were to have a 1:1 chat with them on an typical weekday in Melbourne, are probably perfectly normal, good natured human beings. I myself am a 31 year old from suburban Melbourne, and I actually felt quite an affinity with most of the crowd — minus the stripper/pornstar/meathead/faux burning man uniforms.
I had the pleasure of running my mindful movement workshop at Babylon, and to my delight, the 20 or so people in my session were all super nice and engaged in what I had to share. That said, I wasn’t paid for the workshop, and while I am grateful for the ticket and a plus-1, I can definitely say that I will not be investing any time or energy into Babylon in the future, regardless of the lineup or how many people I know might be going.
In short, all of this to be expected when a profitable corporation, and not a passionate crew, puts on a festival.