It is easy to write doofs off as environmentally-destructive parties solely devoted to mindless hedonism. In fact, painting doofers as drug-using dole bludgers seems to be a favourite past time our mainstream media.
Yet, despite this stereotype, the doofing scene is a haven for artists, freelancers, and small business owners equipped with both heart and sense. Doofs are breeding grounds for creative and entrepreneurial freedom, which in turn bring forth a multiplicity of benefits to the wider community – benefits that no price tag can capture and pin down.
Defying the Australian cultural deficit
With so many of its frivolities and failures now out in the open, the doofing scene has little left to hide. If anything, a more scrupulous look at its anatomy reveals a far-from-seedy underbelly of dialogue, debate and, yes, dancing.
Sydney-based collective Wierd is one example of the movement’s defiance towards the Australian cultural deficit. Alongside throwing music festivals, the collective hosts creative workshops including “art tune talks”. These events, which transcend the usual night-time hours of Sydney’s clubbing economy, are comprised of panel discussions, DJ sets and art curation. By bringing experts and fans from a variety of disciplines and fields into one space, Wierd creates the sort of intellectual and creative stimulation arts aficionados can only dream of: Young people painting and drawing while they listen to the roundtable dialogue is a common sight.
Accepting environmental responsibility
While such unbridled creativity is commendable, it isn’t the only driving force within the doofing subculture: Care for the planet’s well-being has become integral to the scene’s identity.
With some parties uncertainly hovering within in a semi-legal space, understanding of an unwritten environmental code is vital to the scene’s prosperity. Some doofers even organise outings to clean up and preserve bushland, meaning that certain rave locations become cleaner once doof crews begin to use them.
In May this year, Dragon Dreaming Festival announced it will be conducting a full environmental audit of its event. In addition to the individual “leave no trace” waste ethos, festival goers will collectively leave behind a permanent legacy on the festival site: “We will be creating ecosystems through a systematic revegetation project” the festival’s Facebook page reads.
It is understood that waste management responsibilities lie with punters as well as organisers – an attitude the greater community would do well to embrace.
Johannes Beer, an avid psytrance fan and cinematographer, says that, having grown up in the doofing world, his business Beer Cinematography is now ready to “branch out” from producing conscious content for the event industry alone.
Being a part of the doofing community has inspired him to work more closely with sustainable businesses: “With my skills as a filmmaker, storyteller and digital marketer, I can help accelerate the growth of businesses that make the world a better place. That’s a value I definitely learnt from the psytrance scene.”
Can doofing get you a job?
While much doof culture centres on volunteerism, the festival industry does present viable career options – not just for musicians, but for visual designers, photographers, cinematographers, sound and lighting engineers, start-up fashion designers, market stall operators, performance artists and more.
Jessie Ray, a part-time artist, doofer and performer who works full-time in harm reduction, pinpoints her doofing experiences as central to her artistic progression and professional development. Like Johannes, Jessie views the doof scene as a training ground hallmarked by supportive, open-minded and rarely cliquey people.
“Many years ago at a tiny doof in NSW I was having a great Sunday with my friends when someone drove their car up to the dancefloor. They pulled out a bunch of paints and said, ‘If anyone wants to paint, go for your life’.”
“I started trip-painting for the first time and it was transformative. I was quite socially anxious and that allowed me to engage with the party while developing a skill and without having to talk. It made me feel safe.”
“From there I thought hang on a second I can keep doing this. I started using doofs as my exhibition deadlines. I was exploring themes that would come up during my weekends away – philosophy or biology or the ways humans interact or trauma. It was massively transformative in how I approach my art. It not only gave me excuses to exhibit frequently; it made more people see my art, buy my art and support my art. It gave me confidence to keep going.”
It’s common to hear punters describe their integration into doof and rave scenes as “transformative”. These spaces foster new ways of thinking and being. (A number of social researchers and academics have actually “proved” this. One study, using the 2015 Black Rock City Census from Burning Man, showed that over 75% of respondents had an at least “somewhat” transformative experience. 85% said that this altered consciousness was “still persisting” six weeks later.)
Jessie suggests that doofing changed her life – not simply by stimulating alternative thinking but by leading her into a career in harm reduction.
“Doofing restarted my art and art helped me connect with people running festivals, not just those attending them. I was a part of this community for about six years and then this job came up with a harm reduction outreach program in NSW… For whatever reason, I satisfied all the criteria and I got the job.”
“It blew my mind that I could work full-time on doofing and drug awareness projects, connecting with the community more, finding joy in doofing rather than pure escapism and helping people learn how to party and engage with substances in a less harmful way,” she said.
An uncomfortable financial reality
While this scene may be flourishing, the reality remains that it may not offer everyone a long-term career.
With numerous promoters running smaller-scale festivals at a financial loss, it is clear that many events continue in spite of their profits, not because of them.
Outsiders who see doofs and festivals as an opportunity to maximise profits without giving back to the scene are met with suspicion. AWOP (Another Way To Pay) is one example. Disliked among both punters and small operators, AWOP is a “pain in the ass” that brings an unnecessary third party to transactions, a service fee and no options to opt out, says Kobuki, DJ and owner of the Cat Palace Party Bookshop.
The ultimate middle-man: NSW in crisis
In the grand scheme of things, however, outsiders like AWOP are merely an annoyance. The greatest threat to the doofing community is trigger-happy state governments armed with compliance kalashnikovs.
In New South Wales – a state that once proudly held Australia’s cultural capital – lockout laws, red tape legislation, sky-rocketing festival policing fees, invasive strip searching, excessive enforcement of noise complaints and an atmosphere of uncertainty have smothered the entertainment industry like a fire blanket.
One need only look at the charred remains of Mountain Sounds, Defqon, Psyfari, and the many small businesses in their wake to see the destruction wrought by over-zealous policymakers. According to Kobuki, Gladys Berejiklian’s preference for a cultureless, vapid wasteland (“our favorite fun monitor”) means that “the smaller, more affordable events I could attend as a start-up business have largely dried up.”
For festival promoters faced with these exorbitant compliance costs, there seem to be few alternatives – either offload costs onto punters and staff or cease operations.
Over-regulation is quashing opportunities
Emphasising the importance of recent political developments in New South Wales, Johannes explains:
“[more funds go towards] making sure rules are followed and often ridiculous security standards are met. The photographers and videographers are amongst the last people on the payroll. They just rock up once the event is going. Other people build the infrastructure and do the promotion in the lead up to the festival, meaning they get paid much earlier. I’m doing what I do because it’s a lot of fun and I love being in my zone. But, at the same time, if I were to give advice to someone starting out in the doof industry, I would tell them to find another source of income to supplement their passion.”
Kobuki, a market stall owner, suggests that the NSW “war on festivals” is hitting small businesses particularly hard: “The larger festivals that can operate have to charge their stall holders more to insure they have the funds to run their gig. To afford to attend those events, I would have to charge the punters more and so on, and that’s just not doof!”
Jessie echoes this frustration: “When you can’t dance, you can’t make art, when you can’t make noise and you can’t gather in community, what’s the fucking point? That’s not a state I want to be a part of. I tried to change that from within for years. I put on art events, I made sure art didn’t die in Sydney and I made spaces for people to gather. If you can’t make change, you have to accept what is and find a better life.” Having recently joined the creative exodus to Melbourne, Jessie is even more acutely aware of the artistic roadblock in Sydney, where prohibitive housing prices and the government policies all but prevent artistic subsistence.
Why do we care?
At the end of the day, while cultural events fuel economic growth, they play a much more significant societal role.
Jessie highlights the “historic urge we have to be in nature, to be wild, to not have to mask our emotions and keep everything so controlled all the time. If you don’t give people that outlet, people start imploding. Instead of going out into the bush and stomping it out and screaming at the heavens, they might take more harmful or aggressive measures instead, to release this ennui, whether that’s through increased substance use, self-harm or disengaging from society.”
Doofs, perhaps more than any other dance music scene don’t just offer opportunity for “jobs and growth” – they offer a sense of community and the capacity for healing in natural surroundings. And that is priceless.