JOLT Sonic Festival is a captivating mixed bag of sonic experiences

JOLT Sonic Festival is a captivating mixed bag of sonic experiences

Jolt Sonic Festival
Words by Augustus Welby

JOLT Sonic Festival 2019 happens over three days in September at Footscray Community Arts Centre. Led by artistic director James Hullick, JOLT Arts endeavours to develop Australian Culture through adventurous sonic arts performances.

The organisation emerged out of a free form concert series that happened in 2007 at FCAC, which is where Hullick was working at the time.

“A big part of that initial concert series was working with people with intellectual disabilities specifically, but also just sound artists generally and art music people across the scene,” Hullick says. “The idea of having this subtle integrated program was always the thing.”

In 2009, JOLT formally transitioned into the organisation it is today. They’ve since been putting on regular in-house events developed by members of the JOLT Arts community as well as hosting festivals on the international stage. 

“What we found was that because of the nature of arts funding and the prices of venues in Australia, it was cheaper for us to put on festivals overseas,” Hullick says. “We ended up doing festivals in Japan for a while and we did one in Switzerland. That was really exciting and actually the Japanese artists and organisers taught us a lot. The JOLT Sonic Festival 2019 is based specifically on what we learnt from Japanese organisers.”

The festival’s extensive lineup is spread across six individual concerts. There are three different performers in each of the six ticketed concerts and also three interlude performances, for which entry is free.

“We’ve based it on this idea of programming the Japanese use a lot, which I call the bento box of programming, where you have a lot of concerts that have a lot of acts in them,” Hullick says. “The acts might perform for 20 minutes each, something like that. So as an audience member, the function of the festival is that it’s introducing you to a whole palette of music that you might not have found some other way. You get a taste for it so you can then go and explore that more in your own time beyond the festival.”

The bento box model particularly appealed to Hullick for how it allowed them to integrate people with disabilities into the program without having to brand the festival as featuring these elements.

“That, in some ways, could be insulting to a person with a disability. We’re trying to find ways of just saying, ‘you’re all on the level playing field here and what a great artist you are’,” he says.

Hullick curated the festival with fellow JOLT community members The BOLT Ensemble and The Amplified Elephants, who’re all performing at the festival. A wide range of sonic arts will be on display over the course of the weekend.

“There is some rock stuff. Noise things from Cat Hope in Super Luminum with guitarist Lisa MacKinney, who also plays in Taipan Tiger Girls. There’s also more chamber orchestral based music. Carmen Chan Shoenborn’s written a graphic score for the BOLT Ensemble and so has Naima Fine. It’s quite different to what Cat and Lisa are doing,” Hullick says.

“Another act which I think is quite astounding is the Patrick Francis Family who are from an Indian background and they’re doing sound art, but it’s influenced by their experience of India and the music in India. Patrick Francis is a person with autism and his mother is playing percussion with him and it’s quite an astounding experience.”

Another really fascinating act is Alessio Dilettoso who’s performing with drummer, composer, improviser and instrument designer, Alon Ilsar.

“Another contrasting thread through the festival is Impermanence, which is led by Bianca Gannon, and that’s what I would call experimental jazz. It’s where jazz meets sound art. So there is a really big range of stuff within these lineups.” 

JOLT Sonic Festival comes to Footscray Community Arts Centre from Friday September 20 until Sunday September 22. For tickets and more information, head to