Let Them Eat Cake returns to Werribee Mansion for a day of pure hedonism

As its namesake would suggest, Melbourne’s boutique electronic festival Let Them Eat Cake screams pure hedonism. Hosted in the lush gardens of the Werribee Historic Mansion, revellers spill through manicured lawns, lakes and garden beds. Designer cocktails flow from bars and gourmet food is served from stands spotted around the beautiful site. 

The very idea of a New Years Day festival is in itself kind of hedonistic. It’s the sort of idea that would only be thought up by the sometimes indulgent tendencies of electronic dance music lovers. You can tell most people have had a big night, or are kicking on straight through the day.

The New Year’s Day party concept is something that’s been catching on of late. In Melbourne, Freedom Time, Animals Dancing and a swag of others host increasingly popular events on New Year’s Day. It’s for a good reason. In my experience, New Year’s Eve is an often underwhelming occasion. As I hop on the Werribee train line, fresh faced from an albeit brief sleep, it’s hard to not to be smug. The station is full of haggard looking punters trying desperately to get home to nurse their hangovers. For attendees of Let Them Eat Cake however, the party is only just getting started.

Gone are the days where travelling to the European meccas of techno music was a prerequisite to seeing stacked lineups. Cake‘s 2018 edition boasted some of the worlds finest house, techno, electronica and hip hop. Kicking things off early on the main stage (one half of) German techno king pins AME brought his live set to Australian shores. Following on from that, local legend Mike Callander continued to heat things up with thumping kicks echoing around the mansion.

The man of the hour, Stephan Bodzin, took to the Bastille main stage with a roar from the crowd. He’s often slated as one of the best live techno acts in the world and it’s easy to see why. Donning his trademark sunnies and eccentric stage performance, Bodzin launched into an hour and of swirling pure synth euphoria.  

As well world class internationals, Cake has a quality local focus. Making a triumphant return from their seemingly endless world tour schedule, Kllo won over the hearts of their audience. Miss Blanks brought her signature sass and high energy performance and Nite Fleit‘s crowd kicked up so much dust boogying, I had to cover my mouth with a shirt. Melbourne queer scene icon, Salvador Darling, as always impressed, backed by a crew of dancers cooler than everyone in the whole damn place.  

Following a powerful performance from Nadia Rose, I relaxed in the plush grass enjoying a well earned break, when all of a sudden hundreds of people began flocking to the stage. I quickly realised it was time for Cake’s most controversial booking to date, Big Shaq. 2017’s biggest meme took to the stage and the ting went crazy. Alongside the high standard, quality focused line up, I was initially sceptical of the booking. However, in the context of the silliness that is New Year’s Day, it kind of made sense in the end.

Closing the Palace of Versailles stage, Jon Hopkins smashed out the absolute highlight set. Now in complete darkness, lasers cut the through the gardens and flames fired from either side of the stage. Hopkins delivered the thunderous techno everyone is looking for, but then pulls it back to intricate hypnotic melodies. It’s both intense and beautiful.

The team behind Cake, Novel, have a reputation for high production quality. Their booking prowess is unparalleled by any other Australian promoter and their focus on quality, decor and space sets them apart. The Funktion 1 sound systems cranked to perfection all day. I’m so often left underwhelmed by the sound quality at electronic dance music festivals in Australia. Perhaps I’m just going deaf, but it never seems to be loud enough or, on the flip side, distorts and lacks clarity. However, this is what Novel do best. At every stage, I saw dedicated Funktion 1 sound technicians flitting about the crowd listening from different points and fine tuning. It’s this attention to detail that makes all the difference. 

While there’s always more that can be done (e.g. no females on the main stage past 1pm), it did feel like they put in effort to create an inclusive and safe space. Their booking showed diversity, there was plenty of security and bottles of water being handed out and plenty of medics on site. 

Sadly however, this was not reciprocated by a large portion of the crowd. The number of aggressive guys embodying the very definition of toxic masculinity was out of control. Even as a tall, broad shouldered white male, I did at several points feel unsafe. I can’t imagine how more vulnerable people might have felt. I counted at least seven people with Native American feather head dresses on. I mean, come on, at this point it really feels like flogging a dead horse. Surely, in 2018 the message would be across that it’s distasteful and downright offensive. All of this left me leaving with a bittersweet taste in my mouth.

While I am in no way dismissing the responsibility of promoters to foster positive social change and create safe spaces, I recognise this is an issue that relates to Australian society more generally and is no way confined to this specific festival. There’s a serious problem with the way we socialise young men to feel the need to engage in such intimidating and dominating behaviour. It’s dangerous, unpleasant and goes against the history of inclusivity, diversity and respect that is rooted in dance music and it’s culture.

Grievances aside, it’s still very exciting to see Australia’s dance music culture expand and evolve. To have the ability to see world class acts killing it alongside our local favourites is pleasure and a privilege. ‘Til next year!

Words by Sonny Thomas
Photos by Duncographic