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Weirdness, wonder and David Walsh: Experiencing the magic of Dark Mofo 2018

Mofo Fomo still getting you down? Here's our look back on the weekend that was

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Dark Mofo

If you think of most festivals as colourful, happy-go-lucky events full of sparkly revellers in technicolour clothing – then Dark Mofo is the sinister older sibling. It’s eerie, gothic and undeniably indulgent, and feels like you’re taking part in two weeks of delightful debauchery. You never know quite what to expect from David Walsh and his trove of curators, but one thing is for certain: they always put on a good show.

My arrival to Hobart was met with the words ‘come into my web’ emblazoned in red neon at the airport, and so the next day I did, beginning my venture with an immersive trip to MONA. Zero, the current exhibition, was a maze of lights and optical illusions, with silent films displayed on large walls, tennis-court sized pools of bright blue pigment, and a waist-high vat of oil which reflected off the ceiling. Like many of the works at MONA, it was the kind of stuff that left you seeing spots, and wondering if maybe you’d somehow ingested a tab of acid along the way.

After a mind-bending afternoon at the museum it was time to head to the Winter Feast, where Hobart’s Princes Wharf Shed had been transformed into a gothic dining hall, lit with neon crosses that hung from the ceiling and long, candle-covered tables. The sound of a live band competed with the cacophony of people deciding where to fill their bellies with warm cider and plates of food – and with so many stalls inside and out, it was a pretty difficult choice. Prowling up and down the centre of the tables were costumed characters decked out in full-body sequin suits; kind of a cross between Lady Gaga in ‘Bad Romance’ and the creatures from Stranger Things. Totally weird, and very Mofo.

The next night was a classical affair, with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra playing timeless melodies from Baltic Europe. Accompanied by renowned pianist Tamara-Anna Cislowska and complete with religious choral singing, the atmosphere was haunting, and made you feel like you were experiencing the performance in an old European church.

I chased this up with my first visit to Night Mass, a street-party which covered four main venues in the heart of Hobart. There was the Bang Bang Bar which was spread across three floors, the first of which was an ode to David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, complete with red velvet drapes and a framed picture of Laura Palmer above the bar. Then there was the Odeon Theatre, where a psychedelic rock band named Fascinator were playing, backed by visions of rippling water. David Walsh himself was behind me having a boogie to this one, clearly enjoying the fruits of his labour. Across the road and down a laneway was Cinema One, an underground cinema which hadn’t been open in Hobart for years. In one part, they were showing a silent, underwater movie, while the other was a massive rave cave, complete with indoor smoking and thumping DJ sets from Peder Mannerfelt, Demdike Stare and Miles + Shawn. At upstairs club the Grand Poobah, things were business as usual, although tucked away in the corner was a sectioned off space where old records hung from the walls and groups of six could go in and pick one for the DJ to play, having a brief, mini-dance party complete with novelty sunglasses.

Saturday night rolled around and it was time for Zola Jesus and Alice Glass at the Odeon. Zola was up first, appearing onstage covered in a red mesh veil, reminiscent of a horror-movie nun. She gave an intense performance with siren-like vocals that sent chills down your spine, particularly impressive considering there were some issues with sound feedback. After an hour-long set, she was followed by Glass and her guitarist Jupiter Keyes, who gave an epic performance. Glass was a total gothic-pixie-dream-girl, dancing around on stage, batting her big doe eyes and sending the crowd wild with her signature vocals and EDM hooks. She was definitely the highlight for me, and I managed to catch her later at Night Mass where she also put on a huge 90-minute DJ set.

Dark Mofo came to an end on Sunday, signalled by the epic burning of the Ogoh-Ogoh; a giant sculptural spider that was paraded through Hobart, before returning to Dark Park and being lit ablaze in a fiery web. After this, I wandered through the remaining installations, marvelling at Matthew Schreiber’s Leviathan;a geometric sculpture made from red laser beams, and Musical Universalis by United Visual Artists; a series of moon like spheres orbited by lights, creating the illusion of the lunar cycle.

There are other subtle elements of Dark Mofo that I’ve missed in this summary, things like Ryoji Ikeda’s Spectra that emanated from MONA each night, upside-down red neon crosses littering Hobart’s waterfront, and a Secret Society text-line that sent attendees scavenger hunt style clues. All of these details combined to create the sense of eerie wonder I felt attending Dark Mofo events – and the atmosphere in Hobart for its duration.

It’s confronting, fun, perplexing and utterly delightful all at once; a festival that encourages us to venture out into the winter chill – and get a little freaky while we’re at it.