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Ability Fest is a leading example of what every festival should be

Triple j presenter Dylan Allcott couldn't have picked a better day to bless the public with his brand new baby. 

Image source: 
Sally Townsend

Triple j presenter Dylan Allcott couldn't have picked a better day to bless the public with his brand new baby – the country's first and only completely inclusive, fully accessible music festival, Ability Fest. Announced by Allcott late last year, the festival promised that every single patron would be able to enjoy the festival to the absolute fullest, with the focus on providing for the festival's less-abled patrons so that they too could enjoy the day without restrictions. Allcott and his crew delivered on what was promised in spades.

The venue itself couldn't have been more picturesque, set in the heart of the Coburg Velodrome with two huge viewing platforms flanking either side of the Main Stage, as well as one overseeing the d-floor at the Dance Stage. Each platform was complete with their own set of security guards ensuring the space was regulated so that patrons who actually needed the space were given first preference and prime viewing position. Running through and surrounding the Velodrome was a plastic grating track that ran the entire length of the festival to ensure complete accessibility and ease of movement for anybody with any kind of mobility aid – from the food, to the market stalls, to the toilets, to the Ferris wheel; not one part of the festival was left inaccessible by this track. Speaking of toilets, the festival had organised both separate disability toilets right next to the Main Stage area for ease of access, as well as a private additional emergency disability toilet area, also with accessible shower facilities.

The organised shuttle buses had regrettably fallen through at the last minute that morning but volunteer staff assured they will be available for future events. Despite that minor hiccup, every other aspect of the festival was perfectly executed – right down to the AUSLAN staff translating each and every word on side of stage for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. It was a beautiful thing to witness, hats off, Dylan – you bloody nailed it champ.

First up was emerging Melbourne electronic artist, London Topaz, who managed to draw a tidy crowd and warm up the Main Stage nicely with his stripped-back, pop-tinged dance stylings. Local legends Rudely Interrupted took the stage next, powering through an infectious set of sun-soaked pop-rock and winning hearts all over with their incredibly endearing presence. Singer Rory Burnside was reminiscent of an Aussie Jarvis Cocker with his effortless swagger; definitely a band to catch. Following that, was Big Words delivering a lush, super-sleek set of tasty hip hop numbers, then Melbourne favourites Japanese Wallpaper offering up some loved-out synth pop that went down just like cool lemon gelato on a gorgeous end of summer's day.

Meanwhile, over at the Dance Stage they'd been running a three-hour non-stop set from some of Australia's finest, with the lack of changeover between acts keeping the vibes upright until the sun came down. Warming up the stage first was NINAJIRACHI spinning up some ultra-dreamy pop-electronica to shake the dust off to, and following her was fellow Sydney-sider Dro Carey who perfectly complimented NINAJIRACHI with his own brand of up-tempo dance mixes; the floor now packed with folks loosening up their ligaments and settling in for the long haul. Made in Paris was up next, dropping some tasty melodic techno and minimalist tech-house beats to chew on in between meals before the main course, Melbourne's house champion Benson swung in to set crowd on fire, turning out a cracking set of all-time classics and closing with the eternal Cher banger ‘Do You Believe’ to howls of delight.

Back on the Main Stage, triple j's hottest new ticket Jack River hammered out a killer set of country-tinged indie-pop that had the crowd singing along with every word (sporting a beautiful patched-up jumpsuit that I'd kill to have in my wardrobe), and following that was electro-soul champs BOO SEEKA who slayed the stage and had the audience entranced with their absolutely relentless energy. Speaking of relentless energy, the irrepressible Tkay Maidza turned out to be an absolute favourite set of the day. Maidza was a one-woman non-stop powerhouse, building the crowd up to a fever pitch with her bombastic stage presence and never-ending enthusiasm, not to mention her incredibly sincere banter. She truly claimed the stage as her own, before having it snatched right back by Kingswood who stomped through a cracking set of pure raw fury. One of the festival highlights was definitely Kingswood's crowd participation moment – dragging a few fans on stage to sing a cover of the Destiny's Child classic ‘Say My Name’ with them. Hilarity did ensue.

Over on the Dance Stage, one personal highlight turned out to be the sleeper set of the day – the unstoppable Mr. Ivan Ooze. Coming off like the lovechild of Wacka Flocka Flame and Mindless Self Indulgence's Jimmy Urine, Ooze and co. straight up murdered the stage with their hectic brand of hardcore punk-trap that left the crowd breathless and gagging for more. Ivan Ooze is not to be missed.

Unfortunately, I had to miss Boogs' set to close the Dance Stage (many apologies), as I was completely fixated on the festival headliner at the Main Stage – a double-header DJ set from Client Liaison and Flight Facilities. The act was billed as 'back-to-back' DJ sets, but it should have read 'shoulder-to-shoulder' – both acts took the stage together for the whole hour and a half, simultaneously running the decks and trading off between songs almost arm-in-arm, with Client Liason's unstoppable front-man Monte Morgan playing the ultimate hype-man and dominating the entire stage in all of his manicured majesty, cutting shapes like a madman. Both acts were dressed to the nines – the former in pastel suits straight from the '80s, the latter dressed as both a bomber pilot from the '40s and a commercial airline pilot from the '60s. Downright stunning.

Morgan was on absolute fire tonight, acting almost as comic relief after such a long day. At one point he called to backstage for an ice-cold Fosters and handed out cartons of the world-famous (and well-loathed) Australian beer to the crowd, and at another point asked who here's hungry?” before handing out tray after tray of oysters to Kylie's 'Can't Get You Out Of My Head'. You can trust Client Liason to bring a touch of class to every event. The double-act held an a-capella crowd singalong to the unofficial national anthem, Farnesy's 'You're the Voice', before handing over the mic to festival organiser Dylan Allcott so that he could have the final word:

“The only difference between every other music festival and this one is... there is no difference. Every festival in the world should be like this. It was important to put Ability Fest on today, so that we could show the world just how easy it is to be this inclusive, and to cater to everybody, so that nobody gets left out”.

Amen to that. Thank you, Dylan. May the rest of Australia follow your incredibly impressive lead.

By Joshua Turk