Festival review: Dark Mofo 2023 Week One

Two days worth of music and art in Tasmania in one review.

As a Dark Mofo first-timer this choice of itinerary is based more on gut feeling than logic, accompanied by an attempt to see as much free programming as possible in two and a half days.

Below are short reviews of (almost) everything experienced at Dark Mofo 2023 Week One in chronological order.

Keeley Forsyth

The British actress (Mottled Prisoner in Guardians of the Galaxy 2014 and short film X Anniversary) and musician Keeley Forsyth brought her dark and experimental arrangements to an iconic Hobart venue. The utter control of her voice drove home the emotive powers of Forsyth’s music, which weaved through despair, self-mockery and hopes for freedom.

Up on the stage, smoke and strobes of light set the mood, while Forsyth worked through disjointed choreographic movements that felt unsettling and almost compulsive. Her hair was used as a performative device that often covered her face, merging with the rest of her black attire, which turned the body into a moving shadow.

It was a chilling performance that quaked with the sense of impending doom.

Keeley Forsyth performed at the Odeon on 9 June.

Max Richter: VOICES and Recomposed (Australian exclusive)

Max Richter: ‘VOICES + Recomposed’, Dark Mofo 2023. Photo: Jesse Hunniford, 2023. Image: Courtesy of Dark Mofo 2023.

This reviewer has to make a confession: I missed the first half (VOICES) of Max Richter’s two-hour long concert. A time mix-up meant a 7.16pm arrival and no entry after the doors had been locked. They had every right to do so – Richter’s compositions deserve to be experienced interruption-free.

After the half-hour intermission, the audience returned to see the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra (TSO) play Richter’s recomposition of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

Richter said that, in around 2012, he could no longer stand Vivaldi’s original composition due to the saturation of Four Seasons in advertising and as backing tracks. The aim of Recomposed was to bring back the joy and appreciation for the original score.

Solo violinist and concertmaster of the TSO, Emma McGrath was extraordinary, not only as a musician, but also in the way she confidently led the ensemble. Crisp, clear notes delivered Richter’s composition without hesitation, and it was clear through their interactions on stage how fond the composer was of McGrath and her phenomenal performance.

The whole ensemble’s commitment to the piece was palpable, which resulted in the sort of full immersion that makes one nod along with every movement and emphasis.

‘Winter, First Movement’ was brought back for the encore, but the impact of this performance was just as powerful, if not more so. Richter has done what he promised in recomposing a much loved – if not to the point of being clichéd – masterpiece. It was something that could be enjoyed and appreciated even by those who aren’t classical enthusiasts.

Max Richter: VOICES and Recomposed was performed at the Federation Concert Hall from 9-10 June. Max Richter will present SLEEP at Dark Mofo 2023 on 14 June.

Dark Park

Dark Park is an amalgamation of art and music, with major installations dotted across the site and performances in the Blue Velvet Lounge.

Ryoki Ikeda’s monumental light beam, Spectra returns to guide visitors on a pilgrimage to Dark Park. Its luminance is otherworldly, paired with a hypnotic soundtrack that entices visitors to stand and stare even in the bone-chilling breeze. It’s (quite literally) unmissable.

John Gerrard’s Western Flag video installation is physically located off to the side, making it less of a landmark, despite the work’s important message about environmental destruction. Gerrard’s works will also be presented in Melbourne in December as part of the NGV Triennial 2023.

The Blue Velvet Lounge is a laid-back pitstop with a centre stage for live performances and a beanbag area filled with an installation of television screens. It feels more like an area for socialising than genre-bending entertainment. Ogoh-Ogoh: The Purging (14-17 June) and Ogoh-Ogoh: The Burning (18 June) will also be held in Dark Park.

Dark Park was open from 8-11 June and will reopen from 14-18 June; free.

Fulu Miziki (Australian exclusive)

The Congo-based Afro-Futurist collective Fulu Miziki brought all of their warmth and energy to the chilly Hobart stage.

During their Odeon performance the mosh pit warmed up before the first song concluded, and the dance floor thrummed to the beat of the percussion. This energy travelled upwards into the seated area, where some couldn’t resist a boogie in the aisles.

Fulu Miziki translates to ‘music from the garbage’ in Lingala and the band used found objects to full effect, including utensils, PVC tubes and plastic water containers.

Every Fulu Miziki musician was adorned with a dazzling costume reminiscent of the hellish fantasy world in manga series Dorohedoro and the intricate masks of Kenyan artist Cyrus Kabiru. All the costumes were self-made from recycled material.

At the live show, it wasn’t only the music that fired up the stage. All present were invited to participate when the ensemble chanted ‘Love your life’ and held their hands up to represent the eagle totem. Full-bodied vocals and free-spirited dance moves were met every time with cheers from the crowd – and oh boy can they dance!

Fulu Miziki performed at the Odeon on 10 June.

A glimpse of Fulu Miziki in action.

Drab Majesty + Bitumen (Australian exclusive)

Hobart’s four-piece group Bitumen opened the set with industrial, electronic tunes and piercing vocals. The band debuted in 2016 and now has two LPs under their belt (Cleareye Shining 2019 and Discipline Reaction 2018).

It was clear, however, that the main attraction of the night was the US androgynous duo Drab Majesty, who appeared after a 30-minute interlude in their distinctive bleached wigs and sci-fi shades.

The performance looked identical to their Dais Records 15-Year Anniversary show at The Belasco in Los Angeles five months ago, making their music videos much more visually compelling than the live performance.

This didn’t seem to deter any of the fans, however, who looked on, danced and sang along teary-eyed with excitement.

Drab Majesty + Bitumen performed at In The Hanging Garden on 10 June.

Silent Symphony by United Visual Artists

A simple arrangement at the outset, Silent Symphony delivers an immersive experience in cosmic proportions through kinetic light and sound.

The set-up presents light poles that are able to spin and tilt freely on their stands, lined up in succession in Hobart’s City Hall. The soundtrack at times resembles a plane taking off, at others the kind of grainy feedback produced by scientific devices. At one point the lights flash and dim to the ear-piercing pop of small fireworks.

United Visual Artists is a London-based collective founded by artist Matt Clark, which specialises in site-specific installations and new technologies.

Silent Symphony is a sublime piece of work that lives up to its Greek philosophy-inspired core belief, musica universalis – ‘the universe hums with an inaudible kind of music’.

Silent Symphony was open from 8-11 June and again from 14-15 June at City Hall; free. Composer/Sound Design by Ben Frost and Sound Programming by Dave Meckin.

Without Us You Would Have Never Learnt About Love by Jason Phu

Jason Phu’s Dark Mofo 2023 project is a 15-minute performance installation of robotic toys ‘singing’ to YouTube tracks at the Baha’i Centre of Learning.

Audiences are asked to sit in place for the entire duration rather than pop in and out, or move closer, though a two-minute photo opportunity is presented at the end of the performance before the next group is ushered in.

‘Without us you would have never learnt about love’, Jason Phu, Dark Mofo, 2023. Photo: Rosie Hastie, 2023. Image: Courtesy of Dark Mofo 2023.

The stiff repetitive movement – think frantic spinning on the spot, drumming actions and flapping wings – and a monotonous choir means disengagement comes quickly and the humour doesn’t last long.

A point of contrast may be Phu’s installation everyone is dead, except for me. everything is futile, and i am tired. i wait in my little house, for the winter to take me for ACCA’s 2022 Macfarlane Commissions, which was powerfully humorous, ironic and a strong piece of satire.

Without Us You Would Have Never Learnt About Love was open from 8-11 June and again from 14-18 June at Baha’i Centre of Learning; free.

Night Mass: Exstasia I and II

Night Mass is one of those experiences that almost demands you attend accompanied – it’s a concentrated cluster of raves, live performances and bars that encourages wandering and may end up rather awkward for a solo introvert.

Across District X there are performances or DJs in action at any one time, ranging from Australian artist duo The Huxleys to Japan’s Violent Magic Orchestra.

There are also burning cars, a giant teddy with laser eyes and a gothic angel staring from a rooftop at the chaotic mass – weird, wacky and wonderful.

Night Mass continues on 16-17 June at District X.

A separate review will be published for the group exhibition Twist at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.

This reviewer travelled to Hobart as a guest of Dark Mofo 2023.

Celina Lei is an arts writer and editor at ArtsHub. She acquired her M.A in Art, Law and Business in New York with a B.A. in Art History and Philosophy from the University of Melbourne. She has previously worked across global art hubs in Beijing, Hong Kong and New York in both the commercial art sector and art criticism. She took part in drafting NAVA’s revised Code of Practice - Art Fairs and was the project manager of ArtsHub’s diverse writers initiative, Amplify Collective. Celina is based in Naarm/Melbourne. Instagram @lleizy_