This year artistic director Brian Ritchie assembled a music program with more range and lustre than the 2019 Dark Mofo.
International headliners opened with subversive variety concert My Favourite Things, inspired by The Sound of Music. And if being “Von Trapped in Launceston” mightn’t sound especially appealing, the result transposed a saccharine classic into a wilder key.
Lead singer of The Dresden Dolls Amanda Palmer whipped out her ukulele for an edgy, blackly satirical rendition of My Favourite Things that paid tribute to wildlife lost in the bushfire crisis, as smoke haze continued to drift across Bass Strait.
And punk-pop Japanese girl band Chai thrashed pigtails to their personal faves, including a super-cute cover of Culture Club’s Karma Chameleon.
But the show was stolen by legendary Slovenian industrial band Laibach, playing Rodgers and Hammerstein as you’ve never heard them before.
The sepulchral bass of frontman Milan Fras growling out “Do-Re-Mi” or “So Long, Farewell”, opposite the ethereal vocals of Marina Martensson, set up an apocalyptic musical duel, almost The Sound of Music as a struggle for the soul of Europe, with surging electro-industrial and neo-classical orchestrations and disturbing video pastiches of totalitarian, militaristic and fascist iconography.
The latter have made Laibach a source of controversy and misinterpretation (they were the first Western band invited to play in North Korea, where irony’s in short supply). The theme emerged hardcore in songs such as Eurovision, with its dark refrain “Europe is falling apart”, or their take on reggae number Life Is Life, synthesised into a dark and martial industrial symphony, complete with images of swirling swastikas.
The music covered all bases. You could thigh-slap to Orville Peck performing in trademark cowboy hat and fringed leather gimp-mask. Or relax to the measured delights of Czech pipe organ virtuoso Pavel Kohout, who played J.S. Bach and improvised over five centuries of organ music.
Indigenous artists provided depth of soul and sound. An uplifting all-female rock band from Arnhem Land, Ripple Effect, sang in five languages, while classically trained tenor Jeremy Dutcher – a First Nations artist from Canada – performed poignant pop arias in musical dialogue with archival recordings of his ancestors.
The sustenance of First Nations language and culture also lay behind the festival’s most intriguing culinary adventure. Kipli Paywuta Lumi (“food across time” in Palawa) was a short bushwalk followed by an enchanting Indigenous banquet prepared and eaten, as far as possible, as it would have been pre-Invasion. We drank pepperberry cordial from abalone shells and ate fire-roasted flathead, muttonbird, wallaby and possum (all tasty except the possum, which was a little sinewy) in a contemporary replica of a traditional lina, or bush hut.
Meanwhile at Cataract Gorge, locals flocked to King Ubu, a massive free performance combining music, dance and puppetry, based on Alfred Jarry’s proto-absurdist play.
The Centre featured video installations overtaking a sports and recreation hub. You could, for instance, watch a short montage of a male bodybuilding contest from inside a men’s locker room pungent with accumulated sweat.
In Hypnos Cave, a kitsch boat ride was transmuted into a psychedelic wonderland of laser and projection art, while along the Tamar River, Daedalum Luminarium created its own world – a labyrinthine inflatable structure – half-maze, half-cathedral – for all ages.
Design ranged from fashion mavericks working with crystallised human sweat and different kinds of dust to gorgeous showcases of Tasmanian woodwork. Art exhibitions included painter Josh Foley working a portrait of Queen Victoria into a demonic critique of imperialism, the monarch redrawn with sharp red talons, a fountain of blood gushing from her breast.
Revellers flocked to all-night block party Faux Mo for throbbing electronica and bizarre performance art, and Tasmania’s arts festivals continue a tradition of having the highest quality of food and drink of any state.
Some locals remained stubbornly indifferent to Mona Foma, and the city is yet to get fully behind its moment in the sun. But that’s a boon to those seeking an international music and art festival that hasn’t yet become a victim of its own success.