A whole lot has changed since Paul Abad first carved out a space in the scene for Earth Frequency 14 years ago.
Long-standing festivals across the country have either grown up or got out, and new events are popping up every other week.
Yet, all this movement hasn’t been without growing pains.
While festival outsiders are quick to tar all outdoor music events with the same disparaging brush, festival insiders lament the “commercialisation” of their beloved underground scene.
As someone who’s been involved in the industry for the better part of two decades, Paul sat down with Dreamland to share his unique insights.
In this article, we chat to him about all things Earth Frequency – from this year’s event, to the evolution of the “doofing” scene and his thoughts on the current climate in Australian festival industry.
Transformative festivals are an antidote to modern life
Cast your eyes over the beautiful images and stories that came out of Earth Frequency 2018, and you’ll no doubt feel a twinge of yearning.
Beaming smiles emanating from glittery barefoot children. Braceleted feet pushing off the dusty earth in unison. Painted Indigenous elders crouched in reverence to the land. Tender embraces. Stretching bodies. Minds bending.
“The whole experience is always so beautiful, it’s hard to separate the moments,” Paul says of his beloved festival.
We’d go so far as to say that Earth Frequency is not just beautiful: It’s transformative.
Festivals like EFF speak to deep human needs – a fact that Paul is very much aware of.
“We get used to modern life, living in cities and embracing technology, but there’s something missing there. There’s an element of ancient tribalism in festival culture, from the ecstatic dance floor experiences, time spent in nature, and a break from the fast pace of life that a lot of people crave.”
“And of course there’s all the knowledge sharing, and hyper-creative music and art that festivals present, which to me is so far beyond the ‘default settings’ mainstream culture presents. People get a lot out of these events,” he said.
You don’t need drugs to have fun in a place like this
Which brings us to the one word on everyone’s lips. The word the nation’s media has been fiercely lobbing around for the last three months. The ‘d’ word.
If you’re wondering what EFF’s official stance on drugs is, it’s this: You do not need to take drugs to have a good time at Earth Frequency.
This isn’t a meaningless platitude – between the smorgasboard of exceptional music and the tonne of wholesome activities for the whole family to enjoy, you are going to have a good time at EFF 2019.
Allow me to elaborate…
Continuing to step away from the psytrance-heavy offerings of the doofing scene EFF was born into so many years ago, in 2019 EFF organisers have booked dozens of diverse, talented performers.
Local and international artists will offer a little something for everyone to enjoy, with the festival showcasing “a wide range of music styles ranging from live bands, to original electronic producers and djs” over the four days.
If, as many people standing in front of a buffet brimming with tantalising options, you don’t know where to begin at Earth Frequency, Paul’s top picks from this year’s lineup include must-see performances by Grouch in Dub, Electrypnose, Dub FX Live, kLL sMTH and Luigi Madonna.
And, when asked to narrow down his festival to one recommendation (a very unfair question indeed), he points punters to the much-anticipated Sunday night collaboration set between Android Jones and Clozee – an “the epic combination of his live VR headset visuals and her awesome bass music vibes”.
Our hot tip: When Android Jones VJs, make sure you’re actually on the dancefloor, because there’s a special surprise in store for your eyeballs!
More festival magic awaits inside Frequency Village. When it comes to creative spaces, nobody does it better than Earth Frequency.
Within the village, you’ll find workshops on everything from political activism (hey Jono), to building with bamboo, yoga (of course), voice clearing, massage, eco education and more!
Plus you’ll find the best market stalls on the Eastern seaboard, a lovely family space to relax with the kiddies, and a gallery featuring world-leading visionary artists (looking at you Luis Tamani) at EFF this year.
Planning to use drugs anyway?
“But, what if I want to do things while on drugs?” I hear you ask.
Well, this is what Paul has to say to you:
“Obviously this is something we don’t promote or condone at the festival due to the fact these substances are illegal, and they carry an inherent level of risk. But I think it’s important we acknowledge a percentage of any festival crowd will choose to do this, and having a real conversation about it will actually help make things safer.”
Here’s the crux of that “real conversation”, from an organiser’s point of view:
“Firstly, consuming an illicit drug in open view of other people at a festival is foolish and dangerous and totally not the vibe we are wanting to create at Earth Frequency. There are onsite police at most major festivals, Earth Frequency included, and in doing so, you’re making yourself an easy target for legal troubles. Every onsite drug offence detection that occurs is a statistic against the festival, and more reason for more police to be on site. We really want everyone to leave the event happy and safe, and not with a difficult legal situation to follow.”
And, while there’s little sympathy for foolhardy party-goers whose behaviour wrecks the wholesome vibe, Paul also adopts the “if you can’t be good, be careful” attitude:
“Educate yourself and follow basic harm reduction practices – There is plenty of information available online and from support services in the community and at festivals. The basic principles of harm reduction are: Take a smaller dose first and see how you feel. Never double drop. Make sure you’re with mates at all times. Don’t combine substances – be aware of contraindication risks. Make sure you get enough water, food and sleep.
There’s a lot of information out there which could help save a life, so be informed. Go talk to the people at our onsite harm reduction space The Consciousnest if you want some information and guidance. And make sure you check in with the paramedics if you feel unwell. There is no judgement, and we always have people ready to help you or your mate if someone is not doing well.”
Solid advice, Paul.
Behind-the-scenes at Queensland’s most-loved alternative gathering
With such heavy considerations in the forefront of organisers’ minds, you may wonder what it takes to keep a festival like Earth Frequency going year after year.
Well, stickybeak, you’re in luck.
Here are a few facts about the “awesome family and a fine-tuned operational machine” that is EFF:
- EFF has over 130 paid staff
- 600 or so vollies contribute to the festival every year (you the real MVP, guys!)
- Dozens of contracted companies and suppliers (each with their own teams) work with EFF every year… and that’s not including all the stall holders, artists and performers.
What on earth motivates Paul to keep putting on such an enormous undertaking with so many moving pieces?
“It defies logic sometimes, when you think about all the effort and risk involved. Natural highs maybe… every time it feels going through the wringer a bit, a fair dose of anxiety and fatigue and stretching limits, the potential for logistical or financial disasters.”
“But then when it comes together and you see thousands of people existing in harmony with such good vibes and gratitude for the space we all create together, it’s magic. There’s nothing quite like it,” he says.
The festival scene is changing, and that’s OK
Understandably, every year more and more people want to experience transformational events like Earth Frequency firsthand, and this has not always been well-received.
When asked about claims that the “underground” scene is suffering from “commercialisation”, Paul spoke candidly:
“I think ‘underground’ and ‘commercial’ are subjective ideas and everyone’s point of reference is different. Good music and positive vibes speak for themselves, my view is that everyone should focus on finding the music and people that resonate with them, not set limits on what they can enjoy”
“There will always be small private parties and properly underground doofs, but the days of the 500-1500 person illegal doof festival in state forest are pretty much done – it’s either go back fully underground (which includes not on Facebook!) or tackle the challenges of running a legal, professional event under the scrutiny of authorities. That’s the current state of play for outdoor events in Australia as I see it”
He also welcomes the newly formed Australian Festival Association’s arrival onto a scene where “the ones that have survived have evolved in terms of professionalism, transparency, safety”:
“I think it’s a great initiative and it’s much needed at the moment. There’s a range of issues which are in high discussion at the moment ranging from pill testing, event safety, policing, permits and compliance, and it’s definitely a great idea to have a group think tank and representative body for the festival industry. Hopefully a better dialogue from experienced event promoters will improve safety standards and practices in a real way in coming years.”
A message to worried parents
While EFF is undoubtedly an event with a mature view towards safety (and an impeccable record), after the spate of tragic fatalities at NSW and VIC festivals in the last few months, many parents are worried about their kids going to festivals
Paul’s message to concerned parents is simple:
“I would recommend parents become informed of harm minimisation principles and start tackling the potentially difficult conversation around drugs, rather than just telling their kids not to do drugs and hope for the best. Reducing the known risks and maximising available information and support is the key.”
It will also be reassuring for parents to know that EFF is one of the safest events around.
“We focus on both proactive and reactive strategies. Proactive means patron education – both before and during the festival, hydration and welfare services, dancefloor patrols, campsite wardens, good communications, and utilising Blow Me First for drink/drug testing at the festival so they can self-test and see if they are fit to drive.”
“Reactive means having the right support services on site, from paramedics, security, police, fire. Safety is our highest priority.”
His number on safety tip for punters?
“Take it easy. It’s not a race. If you balance your party time with chill time, and stay hydrated, fed and get a bit sleep every night, you will feel amazing by day 4 instead of being some sort of underslept rave zombie. Nobody likes zombies.”
Get on down to Earth Frequency 2019
Earth Frequency is undoubtedly a festival for creative, peaceful, nature-loving folks looking to make loving human connections.
If you’ve got good vibes to give, get on down to Ivory Rock and and be part of this wonderful event.
Final round tickets are available right up until February 14th, and there are still a handful of self-contained cabins available for those who aren’t so keen on the tent experience.
Get your tickets and see all EFF2019 has to offer here.
We’ll see you there!
A message to all who make EFF possible
Paul would also like to offer a special thanks to all who have helped EFF go from strength to strength over the last 14 years:
“I’d like express gratitude to the amazing people on the Earth Frequency team who support the vision and make the festival possible, to Ivory’s Rock and the local community for such an amazing place to hold the festival, and to the traditional custodians of the land, the Yuggera people.”