How a solar-powered music festival is leading a sustainable revolution

Going Off the Grid in search of something better. 

Off The Grid is described as a solar-powered celebration dedicated to transforming the cities we live in – ever so fittingly taking place on the Summer Solstice. Speaking to one of the co-founders and curators, Mary Grigoris, we gained some insight into the unique and thought-provoking festival.

In its third iteration, Off The Grid could be considered a cultural intervention of sorts. Yes, it’s a cultural festival in the heart of Melbourne’s Art District with a top-notch lineup, but it also plays host to a number of discussions about the environment. Perhaps most importantly though, it provides realistic solutions to the issues we face as a city and community in sustaining and nurturing our surroundings.

“Everyone wants to help and do their bit but no one knows what they can do because the solution seems too big. Off The Grid is a mini-mock up of what the future of Melbourne could be. Everything is solar-powered or powered off renewables and its zero waste,” Grigoris says.

The concept for Off The Grid came about when founder Ross Harding observed that while the financial and technological solutions to environmental problems existed, the biggest barrier to planning for a sustainable and healthy future was people.

“[You] go to a music festival and after three days of having fun and being a part of it, you leave the festival and you’re walking over cigarette butts and crushed cans and seeing all the rubbish,” Grigoris says.

“Cultural intervention refers to people coming in, seeing the solutions and then taking that away with them. We do that through creativity and fun, nothing is in people's faces. They can party and they can learn or they can listen to the talks. Nothing’s shoved down people's throats.”

Off The Grid is a creative and cultural experience that educates and facilitates change in perhaps the least in-your-face way possible: by throwing a party. With an expertly curated lineup, the event engages the community while keeping things fun. Expect a perfect summer’s day out, featuring the likes of Two Steps on the Water, Kaiit, Tony Yotzi and Jay Daniel, along with a live dance performance from SOMA.

“We tried to get a cohesive but diverse range of musicians who we thought would make it really fun. People want to dance,” Grigoris says.

When it comes to the food, all the vendors – from Rough Rice to Fresh Fork Catering – serve dishes made from locally-sourced ingredients and a majority of the suppliers for the festival are Melbourne-based. It’s all about keeping the focus local and zero-waste.

Continuing the local focus, all the speakers at the event are people working in Melbourne or wider Australia – from designers discussing slow fashion (and conversely, the impacts of fast fashion) to NASA-employed mathematicians discussing technology. “The idea behind these talks is turning [ideas] into micro-actions. People come and listen to solutions that they can go home with and implement on a micro level.”

Off The Grid is a refreshing concept in that it doesn’t simply halt at being a concept. If previous years are anything to go by, it has a meaningful impact on the way audiences interact with an event and a venue. “What Off The Grid does is allow almost impact-free hedonism. People still do all the things that they want to do, but behind the scenes, we work really hard so that people aren’t inconvenienced. You can still throw things in the bin.”

And it works. At the end of last year’s festival, there wasn’t a single cigarette butt or piece of rubbish left behind. “We can choose where the power comes from, but the waste side of it really relies on everyone pulling together.”

It’s all about creating a better, more sustainable future. “At the end of it, if we have any profit, it's going into building a solar project in Melbourne. The more parties we throw, the more projects we build.”

Off The Grid will take place at ACCA Forecourt, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, on Friday December 22, featuring performances by Jay Daniel, Chee Shimizu, Ben Fester, Dianas, and more.