The Pleasure Garden is an immersive, creative arts and music feast. A delight for the senses, a treat for the soul – so to speak. A place where imagination and magic coalesce into sensory wonder amongst a diverse and unique musical programme, mischievous roving theatrical performances, inspiring art installations and large, thematic stages.
Inspired by their work at festivals across Europe — Glastonbury, Secret Garden Party and BoomTown Fair — festival directors Geordie Baker and Glenn ‘Goose’ McGrath wanted to bring Europe’s varied approach to the Australian festival circuit, bringing the values of community, liberation and escapism that exist in the UK, focusing just as much on its art, food and drink as it does its music.
“I think the biggest thing in the UK is really people’s community engagement and the ability to let go of the inhibitions and cover yourself in glitter and get dressed up and be happy to meet new people and engage with new concepts,” Baker explains.
With last year’s edition likened to a trip through the wardrobe to Narnia or similarly down the rabbit hole to Wonderland, festival goers are transported into a magical surreal world that makes you question your reality, with McGrath explaining that this journey begins from the moment you leave your front door.
“It starts the moment you leave the door and all the way through the front gate and then all of a sudden you’re in a space filled with colour, movement, theatre and art and you are surrounded by people dressed up in weird wonderful things,” he explains. “This year our dress up theme is Birds of Paradise, and the first 50 people through the gate in fancy dress costume get a free cocktail. We also do a Style Safari which is kind of like a fancy-dress competition at about 5pm, and the winner of that gets a golden ticket – a ticket for life.
“That theme sets the tone and the mood of the festival” McGrath continues. “Everyone’s fully dressed up and that changes the focus from people being observant and consumers of the product offered, to being part of the whole experience. The whole idea with The Pleasure Garden is essentially to emotionally walk into it with open arms and encourage people to be part of a living, breathing art piece. You are part of the art. Everything around you is part of the art, and that’s the immersiveness that we are going for.”
Set in Catani Gardens on the St Kilda foreshore in December, the heritage-listed site was chosen by McGrath and Baker not only for its beauty and space, but for also what used to be the central meeting place during the Gold Rush era. In this centralised spot, The Pleasure Garden avoids the disconnect associated with the amazing wonderland festivals located in bushlands. Instead, this is an amazing wonderland that is right in town at your doorstep.
“And that’s the kind of thing that people are going to take out of the festival and back into their own life,” explains McGrath. “You remove that disconnect between where the wonderland is and isn’t, so hopefully, this is very ambitious, but I want to change the world with events. I think you really can do that if you inspire people to take that positivity back into their environment. It’s not just another event for me, it’s something I really fundamentally believe in.”
Set for his first Pleasure Garden experience, Western Sydney artist L-Fresh The Lion, renowned for his powerful presence, inspiring live shows and thought-provoking lyricism, aligns perfectly with the premise of the festival that McGrath and Baker have created.
“I think it’s really cool,” he says of the immersive experience offered by the boutique festival, “it’s really great to see people switch up the festival formula in Australia, and that’s just presents itself as a different festival to the rest. We’re all about energy and positive energy, and getting your body, heart and mind moving all at the same time so I’m pretty excited to see what it’s all about, get amongst it and catch that vibe.”
Going one better this year with the addition of two extra stages (a Bass Station and a House Party stage), the outrageous lineup has almost doubled this year with the intention to diversify the musical offering. Alongside L-Fresh The Lion and the undeniably talented Forte cover star Montaigne, the festival will feature headliners New Zealand dub virtuosos Fat Freddy’s Drop and Melbourne’s own REMI who has captured the hearts of audiences around the country in recent years.
There will also be live performances from bass juggernaut Opiuo, producer Stickybuds, Chant Down Sound, MoodMachine, Thankyou City, JPS, Willaris. K, 8 Foot Felix, Lickweed, Monkee & C:1 & Dyzlexic, Mz Rizk and Mama Wonkita – plus a whole heap of other excellent artists from across the pop, dub and hip-hop worlds.
A highlight this year, is the increased presence of local and regional artists gracing the stages, including Brunswick based live electronic duo Rachel By The Stream (consisting of UK-born vocalist, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Rachel Clutterbuck and Melbourne MC, beatmaker and producer Mattriks).
“It’s just going to be such an amazing day. The acts are just incredible so we’re looking forward to seeing Fat Freddy. We haven’t seen them for about six or seven years so that should be good” Rachel explains before Mattriks continues, “and looking forward to doing a really good show ourselves and putting the vibe out there, playing on a nice big stage. We’re going to have some horn players and a backup singer which we don’t always have, and we’re going to have maybe a special guest get up for one song as well.”
With songs spanning reggae, dance and everything in between, this dream team is stoked to kick off the summer with The Pleasure Garden, after having previously performed at world-renowned Glastonbury Festival.
“Festivals just seem to be great because everyone is there and ready for it, it’s just much more fun playing outdoors at a festival than inside venues because the vibe is always really good and the people are there to party and have fun,” Mattriks laughs.
“I think we’ve kind of hyper and super colourful and vibey,” Rachel adds on, “and sometimes it feels constricted at a venue, whereas in an outdoor setting everyone’s just a bit more free and easy and uninhibited.”
Along with a huge line-up of musical offerings, the festival will also feature mischievous roving theatrical performances and a massive array of kaleidoscopic art installations. St Kilda’s foreshore will be transformed to present a collision of world-class music and immersive theatrical splendour, filled with colour, movement, eye-catching décor and art, carnival rides, and boutique cocktail and food options.
It’s been said that The Pleasure Garden will change you, and if last year is anything to go by, you’re in for a day in paradise.
When & Where: The Pleasure Garden @ St Kilda’s Catani Gardens – December 9. Tickets are available via the festival’s website.
Written by Talia Rinaldo