Forget lining up all night outside a nightclub you never really wanted to get inside anyway. Forget hotel muscle-bound bouncers with an inferiority complex throwing you out for breathing the wrong way. Forget standing next to a few hundred thousand other sweaty humans, trying to crane your neck and stand on your toes to catch the merest glimpse of midnight fireworks. Forget all-night bar queues and forget price-gouging cab drivers and forget trying to work out a way home after the festivities are done.
Instead, find Lost Paradise.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that nobody has ever had a good New Year's Eve at a party, nightclub or hotel. You might have thought you did once, but I'm sorry to say you are mistaken. The preparation, the far-too-high expectations you put on yourself and your night, the stress of whether to line up a midnight kiss or proudly go into the new year as an independent woman/man who don't need no woman/man -- it all gets too much, honestly. Far better to pack up the car, wrangle a few mates and retreat into the bush for a few days of fun and music, only to return to the real world once the new year is here, emerging like the beautiful butterfly you know you are.
Lost Paradise, in the stunningly gorgeous Glenworth Valley just north of Sydney, is one of dozens of New Year's Eve festivals that currently run around Australia every year. If you've got the time, energy and money to do it, these types of big, loud, fun music festivals are probably the best option of a bad bunch for ending your year -- no need to organise transport, house parties, nightclub tickets or entry queues, or pick between a bevy of options in search of the 'coolest' way to ring in the new year. Pack a tent, a spare pair of undies and a metric tonne of glitter (more on that later) and you're sweet.
Last year, we described Lost Paradise 2016 as "like a big backyard party that just spiralled out of control; in the best way possible," and "sitting somewhere between a bush doof on a big budget, and a big festival but minus all the unnecessary bells and whistles." In 2017, the vibe remained loose and casual, fun and relaxed, but with a few big makeovers -- a few impressive new stages including as submarine parked on the edge of the river to allow those swimming and lazing on inflatables to groove while staying cool in the blistering summer heat, more food and bars, hammocks dotted through the grounds, a far-expanded Shambala Fields spiritual area full of massage and yoga classes, and a bevy of new roaming entertainment from a mobile disco to acrobats.
It's not too much of a stretch to say that you could have an incredible time at Lost Paradise without seeing a single band, so overflowing were the side attractions.
Nevertheless, we're here for the music. Meg Mac is the first act we catch on the main stage, and she's belting through a beautiful, haunting performance accompanied by a small choir of backing singers. She's one of Australia's most beloved young performers, and she's on-form here tonight, but she's kind of the wrong vibe for a festival otherwise comprised of dance music and upbeat rockers, and not exactly the perfect fit for getting punters amped for the night ahead.
San Cisco did a better job, their sweet indie-pop numbers getting crowds jumping and dancing into the early evening, before British visitor Nadia Rose turned things up a few notches with her high energy London hip-hop and grime vibes. This was far more to the audience's liking. With an all-female support crew in her DJ and hypewoman, the MC confidently strutted the stage on her first Australian visit.
Day one headliners Rufus took to the stage, shrouded in darkness, amidst swirling smoke and pulsing lights, and turned in a typically entrancing, beguiling set of dreamy, melancholic dance-pop. The trio are now veterans of the late night festival slot, so this wasn't much that we hadn't seen before, but their performance never gets any less interesting or bewitching -- retro 80s-style synths, crooning vocals, driving beats and a stunning light show form the bedrock of the Rufus sound, which can equally inspire enthusiastic dancing or quiet, introspective swaying, depending what point of the night you're personally at.
Their mysterious sound pulsed through the forest late into the night, mingling later with the old-time bangers coming from the most popular new addition to Lost Paradise -- 'Your Mum's Disco'.
A wooden cabin equipped with stereo speakers and an iPad, but no DJ, Mum's Disco drew the most passionate crowd of the weekend. Why, you may ask? Because the iPad was linked up to a Spotify playlist of retro classic guilty pleasures like 'Nutbush City Limits', the Venga Boys and Dolly Parton, with punters encouraged to queue up their favourites for the crowd to enjoy. Lo-fi, but high fun.
Lost Paradise is famous for its costumes. Each year, organisers ask punters to embrace the 'escape' element of the festival so evident in its hidden location and spiritual focus -- no grungy skate shoes or sweaty singlets here, instead a sea of festival-goers dressed as angels and devils, echoing butterflies and birds, men and women alike decked head-to-toe in glitter, glow sticks, flowing loose dresses, lurid makeup, fluoro wigs and shiny alien-like clothes. In between, others opted for NBA team uniforms, some dressed as Popes or clergy, and one clever group came as an entire Mario Kart race, complete with cardboard racecars around their waists. The must-have accessories were oriental-style paper umbrellas, while a competition for best totem pole saw huge flags and light displays looming high above the crowds at any given moment.
Skegss would have been the first act of the second day for many at 4.30pm, after a scorching morning saw most retreat into the river or scuttle under the nearest shade structure. As the sun dipped behind the mountains and heat finally relented in the valley bowl, fans were met with a bizarre and frankly disappointing set from the slacker rockers, with near-incoherent stage banter and a set of droning, unimaginative surf-pop songs near-indistinguishable from one another. The trio managed an upbeat and energetic set, but channelled their energy into jumping around the stage and bouncing off one another rather than coming up with stage banter beyond "everyone having a good time?" and "who's having fun?" Skeggs are an entertaining proposition on record, their summer-drenched rock tunes dripping of sun and surf, but they disappointingly proved little more than a noisy distraction today.
Suddenly it's 9pm and I'm eating a kebab at Mum's Disco while dancing to Outkast's 'Hey Ya' with a group of girls dressed as Ghostbusters. The ironic banger tunes don't let up - Daryl Braithwaite's 'Horses', Neil Diamond's 'Sweet Caroline', Dolly Parton's 'Jolene', every word shouted and screamed into the ink-black night sky. Somehow, Sophie Ellis Bextor's 'Murder On The Dance Floor' played every time I was there, but who's complaining? Mum's Disco had the perfect spot, nestled snugly between the bars, the food and the other larger stages, meaning most punters had to wander past at several points in the day, and it never failed to disappoint. Who knew that young adults would pay several hundred dollars for a ticket to a music festival, but remain highly entertained by a Spotify playlist of songs from before they were born?
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Sampa The Great and Little Dragon entertained on the main stage with colourful and upbeat sets of hip-hop, electronic and soul-tinged dance-friendly tunes, but the night belonged to Sydney rockers DMA's who put in arguably the best set of the weekend. With huge euphoric singalong choruses unashamedly inspired by Britpop heroes Oasis and Blur, and with a fashion style maybe best described as 'lost and found bin at suburban op shop', they didn't exactly fit the bill for the glitter and glam-filled festival, but they blew many away. Serving up anthemic rock songs, full of passion and feeling, DMA's would have converted many fence-sitters into full-blown fans as they clsoed out the main stage.
Day three, the final day and New Year's Eve itself, saw Dean Lewis bring his emotion-charged folk-pop songs to hungover crowds early in the afternoon. Seemingly every one of his plaintive, confessional songs are about lost love and heartache, or at least a lovelorn over-emotional teenager's cliched rom-com idea of love, all about dancing in hotel rooms and late night cab rides and leaving town and loving someone either not enough or far too much, each seemingly custom-created to soundtrack the climactic moment or end credits of the tearjerker romantic movies they rip their stories from. But he's an entertaining and earnest festival act, fronting a small band (including members of The Preatures) as he talks about breaking strings and not having enough fun songs to play in this set because all his tunes "are too depressing", and being fully aware that most in the crowd are only there to hear his hit song "Waves", which - he repeatedly and tongue-in-cheek reassures the crowd - is coming at the end of the set. Raw, stripped back acoustic numbers often with just guitar and keys, full of emotion and conviction, he's a charming and endearing performer and a welcome addition to the bill for the final afternoon, as weary punters prepare to rouse themselves for the final few hours of the year.
He's followed by Matt Corby, the former posterboy for Australian folk-pop music who has somewhat disappeared from radars in recent years, reinventing himself again from the long-haired and bearded, wounded guitar minstrel of 'Brother' days to a more upbeat, jazz-y performer who fronts his own band and strolls the stage, microphone in hand. He's a more confident and outgoing performer now, but offers little in the way of crowd interaction, but the thousands gathered don't seem to mind much -- they dance and sing, they jive, as they eagerly wait for the likes of singles 'Knife Edge' and 'Monday' to pop up.
Cut Copy's re-emergence onto the Australian music scene earlier this year was a welcome one, with the electro-rockers having been absent for some time. They're still the fun, upbeat festival act they once were, and in a prominent slot on the festival's closing night, they prove a formidable force, but they're just a warm-up for the night's headliners to take us into 2018. Client Liaison, the kings of retro chic, took to the stage decked in white and surrounded by palm fronds, to bring their high-energy disco tunes to the masses.
It may have seemed an odd choice for New Year act -- an act that looks so unashamedly to the past, ushering thousands of festival-goers into the future -- but it was a treat. Back-up dancers, synchronised dance moves, cannons of confetti and goofy dance bangers which cannot fail to put a smile on even the most cynical of faces, Client Liaison counted down the end of 2017 and heralded the beginning of 2018 with a huge dollop of good old-fashioned, daggy fun.
People come to these festivals for an escape. Its entirely possible, even probable, that NYE in the city will be -- despite the promise and hopes and aspirations about casting off the last year and welcoming in the new one afresh -- one of the worse nights you'll have all year. Entry, drinks, food and transport will be ludicrously expensive, and you'll have to wait in an interminable line just for the privilege of forking over your cash. Here, unless you're a real Scrooge, you'll be guaranteed to have at least a decent time for at least a decent portion of the weekend.
You escape the city, the smog and traffic, and lose yourself in a forest for a weekend, to the soundtrack of cicadas and a bubbling creek and some of your favourite music. Lost Paradise is one of the more beautiful festivals currently on the calendar, and hasn't yet got big enough that it's been ruined by over-exposure to corporate logos and branded tents; still small enough that you can feel cool and 'in the know' by getting tickets. It's fun, silly and beautiful, all at once, and hasn't yet failed to serve up a good time.
It's better than waiting all night for a taxi home.