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Demonic Teddy Bears, 36-Hour Raves and Mulled Negronis: Seven Standouts From Week One of Dark Mofo 2023

Couldn't make it to week one of Hobart's boundary-pushing winter festival? Here's what you missed.
By Ben Hansen
June 16, 2023
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By Ben Hansen
June 16, 2023
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Dark Mofo is back for another devilish year where truly anything can happen. The annual winter festival is one week in for 2023, and it has already served up a slate of highlights delighting the senses of festivalgoers and local Hobart residents. Whether you were on the hunt for packed dance floors into the early hours of the morning, unbeatably fresh feeds around a firepit or hedonistic masquerade balls, there's been no shortage of sinister activations so far to prove why the festival is such a must-attend event — and, if you haven't made it along yet, to show why it should be at top of your hit list.

As the fest's second week kicks off with even more debauchery — including A Divine Comedy, an Australian premiere and an Aussie exclusive that reimagines Dante's classic examination of hell, purgatory and paradise; Soda Jerk's Hello Dankness, which compiles samples into a 70-minute survey of American politics circa 2016–21; and performances from Molchat Doma, HEALTH, RVG and Moktar — here's a look at seven standouts from the first week of Dark Mofo 2023.

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Rosie Hastie

THE BLUE ROSE BALL BROUGHT TOGETHER CHILDLIKE JOY AND LYNCHIAN CHAOS

Hidden among the haunting grounds of Dark Park at the base of Ryoji Ikeda's awe-inspiring light beam Spectra, The Blue Rose Ball unofficially opened Dark Mofo 2023's festivities the night before things well and truly got underway. A mysterious masquerade ball with nods to David Lynch and his television classic Twin Peaks, the event seamlessly paired debauchery with unbridled glee.

Dressed to the nines and faces covered, guests were met with a hedonistic ballroom encouraging them to indulge in their every desire. While wandering around the ball, attendees discovered eerie dancing teddy bears; tables piled high with lollies, cheese and charcuterie; a fairy floss machine; hidden rooms with NSFW performances; a brief interlude from a fully functional soft serve van; and a central stage with surprise sets from artists like The Huxleys — plus an open bar, of course.

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Remi Chauvin

THE GATHERING KICKED THINGS OFF — AND BARKAA WAS IMMENSE

After The Blue Rose Ball acted as a curtain-raiser, the ribbon was officially cut with The Gathering, a celebration of First Nations artists featuring Tasman Keith, dameeeela, Denni, Uncle Dougie Mansell and Madelena. While the night was a hit from start to finish, BARKAA brought the house down with a headlining performance that cements her as one of the nation's best and most important live performers.

The dynamic set was a certified rollercoaster of emotions, seamlessly switching from heartwrenching explorations of pain to moments of love, joy and laughter — sometimes within the same song. The power of BARKAA's performances comes from her willingness not to shy away from making non-Indigenous audience members uncomfortable while celebrating the strength of the First Nations community, before bringing everyone back together to dance, sing and have an all-around great time. When she brought out her friend and collaborator Dobby to perform their 2020 track 'I Can't Breathe' together, the audience was already in the palm of BARKAA's hand. It was a momentous performance that set the tone for the next 14 days.

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Jesse Hunniford

THE FESTIVAL'S INTERNATIONAL ACTS DELIVERED THE GOODS

While many people head down to Dark Mofo to immerse themselves in the wonders of Hobart as the chaos descends, the event also pulls some impressive big-name acts to headline the festivities. Week one of the 2023 fest saw Thundercat take to the stage to perform winding ten-plus-minute versions of his tracks, inserting long jam sessions into fan favourites like 'Them Changes' and 'Dragonball Durag'. Earlier that same night, Sleaford Mods provided a you-had-to-be-there kind of moment. The group's producer Andrew Fearn pressed play on his laptop and bobbed about, while vocalist Jason Williamson shouted tales of working-class England accompanied by erratically dance moves — all of which whipped the crowd into a euphoric frenzy.

Punk legends Black Flag were in town for an Australian exclusive set and rolled out the classics, running through the band's influential catalogue of 80s and 00s heavy hitters. Max Ritcher popped up for two sombre orchestral performances of his piece VOICES, which was broadcast live across the entire city during Saturday night's performance, soundtracking people's journeys between that night's festivities.

And despite bringing in a much-younger audience than the other global acts, "next big thing" singer-songwriter Ethel Cain felt squarely at home on the Dark Mofo lineup, blending dark religious imagery with her tales of small-town America — the anthemic choruses gliding over the screams of her rabid cult-like fanbase. All of this proved a Dark Mofo wonder without a mention of the likes of Squarepusher, Witch, Eartheater and Drab Majesty, who also peformed over the first week.

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Rosie Hastie

TRANCE PROVIDED A WILD, UNIQUE AND FULLY IMMERSIVE UNIVERSE FOR 36 HOURS

Berlin-based Chinese artist Tianzhuo Chen's TRANCE offered Dark Mofo attendees the opportunity to drop in and out of an all-encompassing performance space for 36 hours across three days. Depending on when you arrived and how much time you spent in MAC2, you might've had a vastly different experience to someone else. Some audience members may have discovered a full-on rave with bass-heavy techno and screamed vocals, while others would have stumbled upon a delicate moment of dance and ambient music.

A grand heavy-metal set, an intimate communal dinner, a hip hop dance circle, noisy experimental R&B, a downpouring of rain: they all featured throughout each of the three 12-hour performances, which were set in an otherworldy space filled with colourful larger-than-life characters and dream-like set designs. After wowing audiences in Asia and Europe, TRANCE found itself in the sleepy town of Hobart but couldn't have felt more right at Dark Mofo, asking attendees with an open mind and an affinity for the strange to let themselves be transported into Chen's one-of-a-kind world.

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Jesse Hunniford

NIGHT MASS TOOK OVER AN ENTIRE HOBART BLOCK, CREATING A DEBAUCHEROUS ARTS PRECINCT

Spread across four nights over the two weeks of Dark Mofo, this year's Night Mass has taken over an entire block of downtown Hobart, filling every stage, street, alleyway, bar and theatre with music and art between 10pm–4am. The festival's centrepieces, these debaucherous six-hour parties encourage you to wander through the different spaces and stumble upon something that you've never experienced before.

On entry, there's a set of burning cars manned by performance artists that look straight out of Mad MaxWander around the corner to discover a three-storey-tall teddy bear standing over a stage serving up deep electronic tunes and uplifting ballads of friendship (you can even livestream footage from a camera in the bear's face throughout the festival). Journey across the dozens of performance spaces at Night Mass and you'll find dimly lit dens, seated shows, multi-storey house parties, DJs perched on fire escapes and heaving dance floors. There's really not much else like it.

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Jesse Hunniford

THE WINTER FEAST PUT ALL OF AUSTRALIA'S OTHER FOOD FESTIVALS ON NOTICE

Always a highlight of Dark Mofo, the Winter Feast once again served up a showcase of the best Tasmanian food and drink. From Bruny Island oysters, top-notch local wines, truffle-topped pizza and winter warmers like mulled negronis to the headlining collaborative kitchen between Chef's Table alum Ana Roš and The Agrarian Kitchen, this culinary night market shows up its interstate rivals with the most diverse and produce-focused array of stalls of any Australian food festival.

Adding to the ambience is the hall's famous cross-filled ceiling, firepits to congregate around and a constant lineup of musicians to soundtrack your meals. There were even some surprise sets from musicians on the festival lineup, with Ugandan Afrofuturist-punk collective Fulu Miziki popping up to close out the festivities with a late-night Sunday-night set that had everyone hitting the dance floor with squid on a stick and a local Moo Brew in hand.

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Rosie Hastie

HOBART SHOWED WHY IT IS AUSTRALIA'S MOST UNDERRATED CITY

While Dark Mofo served up plenty of standouts and surprises, the backdrop for the entire festival is the beauty of Hobart. MONA remains one of the country's best galleries, serving up weird, wonderful and thought-provoking art in its stunning subterranean space; the city's pubs, bars and restaurants remain top-tier for anyone looking for quality seafood, beers, wines, whisky and produce-driven meals; and the surrounding harbour and mountains make for a spectacular backdrop for your adventures around town. In winter, just be sure to pack plenty of warm clothes.

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Dark Mofo 2023 runs from Thursday, June 8–Thursday, June 22 in Hobart, Tasmania. 

Still looking for Dark Mofo inspiration? Check out our wholesome-to-hedonistic guide, which'll help you stack your festival itinerary based on the level of chaos you're after — and our last-minute picks, too.

Top image: Jesse Hunniford.

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Published on June 16, 2023 by Ben Hansen
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