Vivid Sydney 2017 review: The Sydney Opera House light show doesn't disappoint as mental health issues come to light amid music that appeals to techno heads and folk-pop fans
26 May Lighting the Sails If you had to choose where to start your journey between the seven precincts in Sydney for Australia's festival of the year, it has to be 'Lighting of the Sails' at the Sydney Opera House. While last year's entry focused on Aboriginal art and the characters that make up its storied culture, this year's projections — titled 'Audio Creatures' — were courtesy of Kiwi multi-hyphenate Ash Bolland. The director, cinematographer, 3D artist, graphic designer and musician saw the Sydney Opera House's iconic sails as shells in an organic, repetitive structure; and thus, the perfect canvas to project his otherworldly sea creatures. These microscopic beings morphed around Brazilian electronic producer Amon Tobin's soundtrack that started out menacingly before evolving into an enticing tune of discovery. Flora and fauna also converged to breathe life into the performing arts centre, while cross sections of insects, snakes and marine life made up this gigantic lava lamp of sorts.
Vivid Light Walk Amid the light trail that encompasses The Rocks, Circular Quay and The Royal Botanic Garden, a standout installation served as a meaningful conversation starter. 'Landscape of the Mind' by mental health organisation Black Dog Institute and amigo & amigo (Natalie Robinson, Katherine Boydell, Simone Chua and Renzo B. Larriviere) presented six transparent acrylic panels to raise awareness on what it's like to have anxiety. Through drawings compiled by participants in a research study, the sculpture detailed how different parts of the body react emotionally and physically to the debilitating illness. Often referred to as the "silent disease", this installation brought to light — literally — the thoughts that run through a person who finds it difficult to verbally express him or herself.
27 May Barangaroo What a way to welcome the crowds to Barangaroo, Sydney's newest precinct. What was once a fertile fishing and hunting ground, Barangaroo — a key aboriginal figure in Sydney's early colonial settlement (her husband is Bennelong, which the Sydney Opera House site Bennelong Point is named after) — is now a sprawling, lifestyle destination that sits by the waterfront.
For a Singapore equivalent, think Suntec City meets One Fullerton with sky-high sustainable office buildings on one side and multi-cuisine restaurants flanking its fringe. A reserve with thousands of native plants made for a scenic sunrise walk, the pedestrian streets were tastefully transformed for Vivid Sydney. 'You-niverse' by The Digital Shamans was a chilled out silent disco that allowed us to respond to the videos on three sides of an inverted pyramid that hung from the ceiling. As our hearts beat along to tracks such as Emiliana Torrini's 'Jungle Drum', we became part of the artwork that explored the interconnectedness of people as well as what divides and unites us.
Down the street on Shipwright Walk, 'A Day in the Light' by Danny Rose recreated the play of shadow and light that had us feeling like a kid again; lying on the ground or plastered on the wall for photo opportunities. We ended the evening with love.fish's Ink + Tonic Vivid cocktail, a purple drink that's a delight to look at as it was to wash down a dozen of oysters. Using a boutique ink gin from Husk Distillers in northern New South Wales, it's infused with butterfly pea flower that turns the vivid purple into a pink hue when tonic is added.
Goodgod Super Club Presents: Steffi and Magda Bytnerowicz This was the unfamily-friendly event we've been waiting for. Just as the lights went out at 11pm throughout the harbour, the evening was just beginning to unleash its full hedonism inside the Sydney Opera House. This time, punters returned to the Studio, which had been transformed to an underground club. Staying in was the new going out as evidenced by the throngs of people streaming into the Sydney Opera House basement. Over four evenings, Goodgod Super Club curated a lineup of Australia's best sounds, coupled with exports such as Berlin-based DJ Steffi. Together with Sydney's Magda Bytnerowicz, they surrounded the space with ambient house and techno, enlivened with the interior light installations — of course, it is a light and music festival after all.
29 May Vivid Live featuring Fleet Foxes It definitely wasn't a fool's errand to catch American folk-pop group Fleet Foxes live. We caught them on their fourth and final night, to which frontman Robin Pecknold retorted before the show, "It's great to be back, it's been a whole 24 hours. We're kinda the house band at this point." Watching a show at Sydney Opera House's Concert Hall is an experience in itself, especially with the help of the band's string quartet and wind instrumentals. Yes, it's a band that comes with a lot of baggage; namely music from their two albums and samplings of newbies from Crack-Up, their next album due on 16 June. While he barely speaks throughout the two-hour set, Peckhold is a charmer, tuning his guitar every so often while taking in sips of water. The thirst is real — especially if it's a non-stop shebang of hit after hit, from 'Ragged Woods', 'Fool's Errand', 'He Doesn't Know Why' and 'Mykonos'. The new nine-minute single 'Third of May/Ōdaigahara' was also a treat, while 'Tiger Mountain Peasant Treat' was given the acoustic treatment.
The crowd was solemn as the band performed, with head bobbers far and few between — an air drummer was sighted on the upper seats, while a kookaburra-like howl escaped during the breaks in between songs as a gesture of approval. A cover of Bee Gees' 'In the Morning' echoed the band's beautifully arranged tunes of melancholy before ending the evening with 'Helplessness Blues'. As with any American act that's been touring in 2017, a jab at Donald Trump's administration was obligatory, with Fleet Foxes lamenting that the Facebook Live stream was akin to those from the White House conferences, and that they should expect an angry face emoji. If anything, the faces worn on satisfied concert-goers reflected those heart-eyed, yellow bobs.