A festival of extremes: Soft Centre 2019

Soft Centre is unlike any music festival I’ve ever been to before in my life. Soft Centre is also unlike any art show I’ve ever been to before in my life. The one day experience transforms the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre in South West Sydney into a hybrid space that links the two disciplines with a sense of community and shared space. Highlighting the darker side of music and performance/media works, Soft Centre brought together artists spanning Sydney, interstate and internationally across disciplines for a festival of extremes and extra-sensory experiences.

Comprised of three stages and seven large scale art experiences, the festival is packed into the Casula Powerhouse and its surrounds. The main Turbine Hall was the entry point for the festival and set the tone for the whole day, greeting punters with the bass of a huge sound system booming off high ceilings and an altar of a stage flanked with huge turbine strobes under a mega projection. It’s all at once intimidating and awe inspiring.

Every new room either filled with a large scale work or performance, or both, follows suit. The Hopper Gallery stage was branded with Sam Whiteside‘s Verticies IV angular lighting piece that flickered and reacted to the acts playing below it. Works by Shohei Fujimoto and Lucas Abela connected the stages, inviting festival goers to interpret and influence the works by viewing lightwaves through reflection from different vantage points in the first and through cooperative touching of poles to trigger tones in the second. Jannah Quill‘s collaboration with House of Vnholy transformed the upstairs theatre into an immersive living work, where punters sat on the stage and gazed into a projector and at an array of lights constructed across the seats, translating patterns of light and noise from solar panels.

Harsh industrial sounds matched the exposed concrete, steel piping and fluorescent lighting of the indoor space. Aussie favourites like D-Grade, Female Wizard and Corin held their own among international drawcards like Anklepants33ENYBM and Gabber Modus Opperandi. Across the festival BPMs moved from walls of ambient to blistering post dance, with every niche genre imaginable on display in a gorgeous cacophony of syncopated drum lines, grubby synths and heavy drones. Gabber was the flavour of the festival, with the genre’s unrelenting bass lines present in some form across almost every set I witnessed. This energy bled into the crowd, with scenes at Soft Centre feeling like they were ripped from dreams of 90’s ravers imagining the future of partying.

Outside of the centre was a respite from the intensity, featuring the local lead riverside stage, a spread of solid food stalls and works that emphasised the natural world. A pile of yeasty dough was the main event at the Dough Pit, a performance piece where members of 110% collective kneaded and moistened a huge wad of would be bread and Holly Childs and J.G. Biberkopf‘s immersive mixed media piece greeted punters arriving via train with ambient sound and floral imagery strapped to trees.

Through the day, the Georges River Stage was a peaceful meeting place nestled among the bush complete with a gorgeous view of the river. By night the amphitheatre transformed into a open air dance party, with the spiralling scaffolding of the stage lit green like a creeping vine. Made up of acts from greater Western Sydney and curated by Krishtie Mofazzal aka Index, it was a space to celebrate community. Standouts were Atro and Aishani playing sets of full original tracks and Kilimi and Giulia bringing big club energy to the outdoor stage.

Soft Centre is a grand festival, and stands on its own among Sydney’s party landscape. The Casula Powerhouse feels like the only place such a festival could fit, with stages, artworks and acts that filled the spaces all the way to their high ceilings. For a one day festival it’s almost overwhelming in its scale and effect, with its highly sensory art works, immersive performances from DJs and musicians slinging powerful imagery, and avant guard, grandiose stage design making.

The festival sits between the worlds of art and music, with both mediums heightening and amplifying each other. The artworks felt more approachable and casual to interact with and think about, and the sets were elevated to an almost divine realm under intimidating angular structures. Something at this scale that champions producers and artists outside of convention is something to celebrate, and for their third year Soft Centre delivered an engaging festival that brought the community together under an altar adorned with twin turbines.

D-Grade by Billy Zammit
110% by Maja Baska
Gabber Modus Opperandi + Guilia by Jordan Munns

WORDS BY HOLLY O’NEILL

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Professional club rat, Libra, and music opinion haver.