Debuting in 2013, Inner Varnika is an intimate dance music festival based in Melbourne around an uncompromising vision for high quality music. The 2013 festival (which we did not attend) had featured rave-reviewed performances by Luke Hess, Wbeeza, XDB, Lerosa and a roster of both big-name and promising Australian DJs, including Andras Fox and Fransic Inferno Orchestra. The festival was due to return in April this year. However, with just few weeks to go, devastating news broke out as the organisers had been unable to secure the outdoor venue planned for 2014. Given the constraints, an alternative which married the original vision with practicality, had to swiftly be organised. Stakes were high, and the pressure was on.
It seemed like the first solution had come in Melbourne’s Revolt, a warehousey space that sat right next to some godly old silos of what seemed like a flour mill factory. A lot of groundwork seems to have gone into getting Revolt floor-ready, with good sound, expansive refreshment/smoking area and art décor that included python-sized bamboo and 80s televisions (that looked like they were extras on The Ring). But most of all, you got the feeling all the artists performing were made to feel at home, as the organisers shared the same musical ethos, something that can’t be said of many festivals.
Hand Stamped: Even Tuell
The second solution seemed self-explanatory: the quality (and the scheduling) of the artists that performed on the night. We’ve always idolised Even Tuell (but) from a distance: Having never seen him play before and found his (albeit great) DJ work online only on rare occasion, we weren’t entirely sure what to except. Having said that, here was a man who was one of the finest curators in the world (of Workshop, one of those seminal buy-on-sight labels) and a connoisseur’s producer, so the expectations were running high. Tuell did not disappoint, with a low-slung but chugging set that wondered around for a while, found its groove around “Keep Moving”, peaked around this covert classic and concluded on a sublime note with Tuell’s (and Midnight Opera’s) own Workshop Special 2.
We were unable to catch most of Gilb’R (of Chateau Flight, who seems to have dropped asteroids like Maurice Fulton’s “Jump Bugs” *suicide booth*); although this was due to being caught up in Room 2 with Magda Bytnerowicz who destroyed that small cave with a driving, engulfing set with barely a misstep along the way. Then came Fred P. We’ve raved about this man elsewhere; he started immaculately as always, and as the (official) closer upped his usual gear in to a more hurried pitch, keys and pads all floaty and up in the air, albeit with that trademark warm, jackin’ sound. A vivid and friendly crowd was peaking at that point, with not quite the earthly freedom of an outdoor festival, but close enough. We left Revolt at midnight feeling that it was a hard to eclipse another pristinely measured Fred P performance, but nothing could prepare us for what happened at Inner Varnika Afterhours at the Liberty Social.
The deepest of them all: Fred P
Speaking with a prolific Labyrinth Traveler, his message was that the definite highlight of the 2013 festival was Marco Shuttle on the 2nd day, and that nothing got him more excited than a risk-taking, pitch-morphing vinyl set. Rabih Beaini (aka Morphosis) began in similar fashion, but on an underwhelming sound system (which strangely fitted the sort of set he was playing, the mids and the highs muddled, at least to our ears). One hour in to his set we sensed it was something different, three hours in, that it was something special, and as 7am dawned we knew that we’d seen one of the greatest DJ sets in our time. There was this feeling that only a man with a magnanimous spirit (and a magnanimous set of balls) can play such a raw, off-center set at peak time yet leave such lasting impression on the crowd.
It was the sort of future-bent proto-techno his solo work hints at/treads on, but closer to an amplified, freewheeling sound organism (i.e. breathing/growing) whose pulses lag, change course (or multiply) without much warning, perpetually mutating into different forms. While (in another defining set) what Speedy J & George Isaakadis had done was to deconstruct things down to drugged-up levels, Morphosis takes the almost opposite approach. Label mate and fellow record hoarder/sound scientist Madteo likens some of his own DJ work to a ‘beatmatching gymnasium‘ (“drums matching-not-matching”). Yet Morphosis takes that concept to a whole new level, almost to to the point that some of the rapid trainwreck transitions sound mad on point (in context). But there was a ship and there was a storyline, and he was the captain of it — headed equal parts to the past, equal parts to the future.
Big man on deck(s): Morphosis
Yet segments of the set kept veering off to the point of collapse, the wheels about to come off (melodies and drums at a tangent, basslines ahead or behind), but then dragged back in line just as they were about to. Free jazz and songs you recognised were in the mix, but they were parts of a bigger whole. Ghostly middle-eastern passages sometimes drifted in and out of the mix, then glided into something entirely different. It was a challenging set, partly because it required more than the standard four-to-the-floor engagement from the listeners: to hear beyond the chaos and decode the underlying rhythmic cipher… and move to its pulse. But underneath the catharsis, there was a definite sense of freewheeling order, like gliding through the Amazon. For the people who tapped into that portal, it was exhilarating. Morphosis aptly recognised the energy of a feverish crowd, calling his Melbourne gig ‘a special one’ (“It’s not so common to find crowds like this, vibes, tech support, all this together so far from the “main” scenes. Well, main scenes, know this: it’s seriously insane over here, deal with it”).
Somewhat akin to the Millsian hit-you-over-the-head approach, it was a performance that transpired the real power, ingenuity (and promise) of techno music: The power to destroy and build, the power to keep pushing forward, the power to unite. Morphosis delivered (on) that promise. And so did the other performers, and the good people at Inner Varnika. We hope in 2015 they regain the cosy outdoor home they rightfully deserve, and take the only logical path ahead: return stronger.