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PilotFest brings vibe to the AFC


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Look, full disclosure, I work at the Adelaide Festival Centre. Heading into my fifth year as an usher, I can spin some fun yarns about getting vomit on your shoes, or spectacularly broken scenery. I can also offer a purely anecdotal snapshot of the audience that most frequently patronises our fair city’s arts centre: it is old.

Do not read “old” as code for “conservative” or “cantankerous”. They are people who are significantly older than me (22), but they are a marvellous group of people who love the arts, and with whom I’ve had wonderful discussions about the art on display. But it is disheartening, year after year, making social plans following a shift that never involve meeting my peers at the centre.

Programming is only part of the challenge in attracting diverse audiences to a venue. The greatest obstacle is, if you’ll forgive the vague artsy nonsense, the “vibe”. This is one of the trickiest elements to get right in a venue expected to be all things to all people, such as the Adelaide Festival Centre (AFC) – one demographic’s sense of a good vibe does not match that of another.

Marketing, pre-show dining, post-show drinking, car parking, public transport access, bike parking and décor are all accorded different priorities by different groups, and it is difficult to adapt processes, people and infrastructure to build a good vibe for everyone, regardless of programming.

Enter PilotFest, a program of performances by exciting and high-quality local artists curated by Luke Penman of music blog play/pause/play and the team at Pilot Records, who manage a roster of local bands that fit loosely into the definition of “hybrid electronic music”. PilotFest premiered at Arcade Lane in 2013, and was picked up for the AFC’s January Sessions live music series.

The evening kicked off with DJ-wizards No Birds and Slamagotchi performing in the sun-soaked Amphitheatre (vibe), to an appreciative crowd that nonetheless stuck to the minimal shaded areas available. Food stalls including Veggie Velo (vibe) and an outdoor bar (vibe) took up the plaza, and Radio Adelaide broadcast an OB from the foyer (vibe). Are you starting to see what I’m getting at? Vibe.

The true joy of PilotFest was seeing these bands, which I’ve seen before only in pubs or basements, on a big stage backed up by professional kit and world-class techies.

Moving downstairs into the Space Theatre, a series of fantastic interactive projection art installations occupied the corridor between the stairs and the auditorium (vibe). In the pitch-black theatre, set up with tables around the periphery and a large open standing/dancing space in the middle (vibe), we were treated to sets by Glass Skies, Sparkspitter, Brokers, Odessa, Question Question and Urtekk. The evening was well-paced, with enough room between sets to refill drinks – the $5 beers proving especially popular (vibe).

Sparkspitter, Brokers and Urtekk were particular highlights for me, demonstrating innovative and unexpected combinations of the traditional instrumentation and electronic reshuffling. Each also had a wonderful sense of stage presence and an energetic connection with the audience. Question Question especially could learn from this, with a great musical performance marred by the “stand behind a console and never look up” disease from which electronic artists so often suffer.

My apologies if you were expecting an in-depth critique of the music. They were all great, and some appealed to me more than others: go listen to their work on Bandcamp or see a show and make up your own mind. The true joy of PilotFest was seeing these bands, which I’ve seen before only in pubs or basements, on a big stage backed up by professional kit and world-class techies. It made them sound amazing, look amazing and feel, finally, like competitors on the national and world stage.

And the result of a good vibe coupled with good music? A good-sized crowd of people, mostly 20-somethings or thereabouts, had a good night. I rocked up alone, but immediately met a bunch of friends and acquaintances, and met some new people. We danced, we talked, we bought drinks, we hung out, we went out afterwards. This might not sound like much, but it’s the first time I’ve seen it happen here in four years.

What’s the lesson then? Go hard on collaborations like PilotFest. The AFC, in programming this event in association with Pilot Records and play/pause/play, put its trust in knowledgeable and talented locals and empowered them to create a great vibe and put on a great show. This is a sign of a growing collegiality in the sector between institution, artist and audience that can only improve our cultural experiences and outputs.

Well done, everyone.


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