In the beginning, Culture Jam didn’t create that much, and to be honest, we’re sceptical whether old mate God did either, although the universe did certainly start with a bang.
Ideas are fascinating things. Many creatives believe they are the product of a divine imagination that we channel through practise. While religion seems to think we need to take this higher source very seriously, there seems to be a lot of evidence that it has a fucking great sense of humour.
Culture Jam was born from absurdity, from those ridiculous late night conversations around campsites where you ask ‘imagine if’, or let organic shit talk flow so freely, pure genius comes out. We believe we all have this gift when we shake off our egos and let absurdity take the wheel.
It was also born out of frustration with a repetitious festival scene that seemed to keep following formulas, instead of breaking rules.
Culture Jam’s original meaning was the bringing together of different subcultures, as at the time the Melbourne scene was very categorised into what type of event you were holding. While it’s evolved to mean a lot more, the initial event aimed to bring together different genres and people, and break down a sense of ownership and identity that comes with scenes.
We really wanted to book Opiuo to headline, who had just released his first EP, but wasn’t playing many gigs in Melbourne yet. We managed to get him, and this combined with some crafty promo tactics (like fridge magnets on fliers, and crafty online techniques) saw us sell out Miss Libertine with a line down the road of people trying to get in. Many didn’t, and a bunch jumped the balcony to make it in!
The night was in the middle of winter and a total vibe, with hip hop in the front bar and a mix of live electronica in the back. It was unfortunately open to the public too, and at 3am a regular troublemaker was thrown down the stairs by security.
The night was the most successful Miss Libs had on record, and we proceeded with more events there on the agreement we could get and advertise ‘friendly security’. Some guards agreed and other laughed at the idea and didn’t work our gigs.
The first track ever played at an outdoor Culture Jam event was Haddaway’s ‘What is love’, played by ‘Yo Mama’ who wanted to start the day off absurdly.
At the time the venue, Ceres Environment Park, was dealing with backlash from neighbours who were petitioning against events. Things were sensitive and heavy electronic music was very high on the list of concerns.
Due to this we pitched an event that was family friendly, had breaks in the music for circus performances and games like tug of war, and had music that was social and diverse. It was a really nice little community gathering, that led to another 8 years and growing into a super fun and creative day event on the calendar that had up to 1500 people.
Being young and foolish, the organisers’ system of money handling at the time involved keeping it in his cargo pants pockets, and may have ended the night having a money fight with his girlfriend at a 711 after the gig.
We also lost $1500 on the bar, and after a week of confusion, a worker said they had found an envelope in their bag. It was suss, but helped shaped our ethos of trust and seeing the best in people when dealing with these kinds of matters.
We were asked to do a 2 hour take-over in the Video Arts lounge at Rainbow Serpent Festival. Run by Rich on Film who created film content for many of the earlier Culture Jam events. it was a punk space to challenge the overly spiritual and serious nature of the lifestyle area. We thought it would be hilarious to run with a Christian theme and play dirty hip-hop at a festival that at the time dominated was by 4-4 electronic music. We got a bunch of priest and sexy nun outfits, organised a keg (holy sacrament) and did live sermons about ‘not giving into the evils of the techno and Psytrance on the market stage’. People were bumping and grinding, moshing, doing sermons and exorcisms, and drinking the blood of Christ. Best of all we were right next to the Holy Cow chai tent making our scene, and the dichotomy was just perfect. We heard feedback that people were upset reading in the booklet that Rainbow was allowing Christian events, and realised just how gullible and perfect the Doof scene was for parody.
After a successful year of ‘Eeky’ Beat events (Cheeky, Tweaky, Freaky + Sneaky Beats), we decided to level up to a bigger venue with a new concept. We were told we should capitalise on the success of the series, but decided we didn’t want Culture Jam defined by one thing.
After weeks of brainstorming, the main organiser was chatting to his girlfriend and she said she was playing ‘Barrel of Monkeys’. It was the perfect name.
We ordered 3 monkey costumes online, and made a totally ridiculous promo video in the middle of the CBD, inspired by the punk spirit of Jackass. We also went out and did all our flier promo dressed as monkeys, hitting up street festivals and night clubs as these cheeky as fuck primates.
This night saw a diverse lineup and our first interactive visuals, which were manipulated live by people’s movements. It was another success apart from Sun In Aquarius missing his flight, Mr Bill smoking inside and ashing on the organisers synth (god bless him), and Ryan from Electracado slipping over and dislocating his shoulder before leaving, with paramedics arriving at dawn.
We had 2 more monkey themed events, and at the last one gave away the costumes in a gifting treasure box at Monkey Island.
While we’d had a few articles run in Beat Magazine for our Cheeky Beat events, this was a pretty big achievement for us promo wise.
One of the original crew had the idea to contact MX, using his uni email to appeal more to a community feel instead of a professional angle.
It worked and they asked to meet us early morning in the city for a shoot. We rocked up with the monkey suits and props, made friends with the lovely photographer, and got some awesome photos.
A week later a friend who worked in the city called us in excitement to tell us we were on the front cover in full glory! The article underneath boasted a large and concerning headline ‘KILLER DAD APPEAL’, which was a bit weird, so we cut out the top half and took glory in the fact our monkeys had been printed and distributed to 40,000 people that day.
This was a realllllllly bad time to throw warehouse parties in Brunswick. Thanks to someone over-advertising a warehouse party on Ovens St, that resulted in hundreds of people on the streets, and cars damaged, the council was cracking down hard. When you called Moreland council the automated message literally said ‘if you would like to report an illegal warehouse party, please press 3’. So, we went incognito. We played on the fact that it was the leaseholdes birthday, and when security asked what you were there for, only those who replied ‘Rob’s Birthday’ were allowed in. As you entered the space there was a bright room sectioned by a giant inflatable wall. It was appealing to innocence and was full of balloons, streamers and tacky happy birthday banners. You had to go right down to the end and squeeze around a little corridor to then see hundreds of people going wild in the main space. Just as the first guest arrived a police car pulled up and we thought we were done, but then they headed over the road to the Railway Hotel. There were actually police right next-door in the carpark most of the night, dealing with some Africans causing a scene. With all this commotion, we seemed to go under the radar. Maybe she’s born with it, maybe its white privilege. We were collecting money on the door in a shoebox and after the last door-shift we completely forgot to grab it . It sat there with thousands of dollars inside for hours, yet no one took it. The awesome creative space was recently knocked down to build another beautiful, inspiring set of apartments. R.I.P Playspace.
Revolt probably had more impact on us than any other creative entity. It was a massive modular warehouse art space that took over the entire bottom level of a 100 year old Wool factory in Kensington. It was a true creative playground with a cinema, ballroom, massive loading dock, years of theatre decor, and an epic steampunk main room with steel beams rising to the roof.
We heard they weren’t keen on electronic events, so we decided it would best to speak their language and pitch a more theatrical event, a crime themed party named ‘Unusual Suspects’.
They loved the concept, and on the day of the gig after helping us set up all day long, they told us to go home and get some rest, while they stayed up till late morning finishing the set design. We arrived the next morning and the place was transformed.
Unfortunately they also had double booked a theatre show finale that night, so later in the evening we had to usher in a formal crowd through the second dance-floor for the closing night of the theatre show. Literally the moment the last track finished on the second stage, the play began in the theatre room. We ushered everyone to the main room, closed the main doors, and Spoonbill brought it home.
They loved how we dealt with this situation, and our event, and this started an awesome relationship between Revolt and Culture Jam which got stronger and stronger. The founder, Ryan, is still a core part of Culture Jam.
This is a theatrical promo video we made for our second Monkey event. Everything was so synchronistic this day, like happening to find a set of decks set up at Docklands (before getting kicked out), or finding a giant soccer ball sitting the middle of a park with no-one around.
The night was really awesome too, we had a functional fountain setup inside and to get into the main room you had to enter through a big cave with a little pixie door inside it.
The seed was planted in 2012 when one of the original crew joked that it would be cool to throw an end of the world party. This was in response to the common narrative in the party scene that the Mayans had predicted the end of the world for 2012.
We were also getting inspiration from Secret Cinema in the UK, who were bringing movies to life through immersive experiences. Revolt was the perfect venue and had a lot of decor on theme. These factors combined saw us commit to an immersive post apocalyptic event, with a political narrative around how the world had got to this point.
We filmed a promo video that involved a post apocalyptic gang fighting New World Order cops. It was done in the drains off the Flemington Freeway exit and a number of cars must have thought it was real, with the actual cops soon arriving with pepper spray in hand. Funnily enough we were sitting down having an innocent afternoon tea break at that time, and after explaining we were beating up hippies in the video, they seemed to relax.
We spent days and sleepless nights building an immersive city of ruins; fuelled only by creativity, coffee and excitement. We had advertised ‘clothing of the old world is not welcomed and may be met with interrogation’ and this saw nearly all the crowd come in epic costumes. We convinced security to dress as militia, and before letting people in they were all sent to an interrogation booth.
The event led to three more World Beyonds, and opened up a new chapter for immersive events in Melbourne.
There’s two ways to achieve a Buddhist Zen like state. One is years of silent meditation retreats, the other is dealing with the old Town neighbours and having to retain a sense of calm. Next to Charnwood, the first Town site, is a little-co-op that is home to a number of residents on different dwellings. After getting the site owners on Charnwood onboard for the festival, the next step was getting the neighbours approval. The organiser visited their property, and brought his lovely girlfriend to sweeten the deal, as she has a magic way with this stuff. The founder of the co-op was actually a really lovely human and open to the festival. They had recently rejected a doof festival, which lead to a legal letter from the council saying it must be cancelled, so we made it very clear that we were coming from a very different place. One by one we got the neighbours approval, on very particular conditions, such as the music being turned off by midnight each night, and a little bit later on the main night. There was one neighbour who just kept giving us hell though, with aggressive messages saying things like all the animals and birds killed by our traffic would be counted and made public. Despite three neighbours making things really hard, the council got behind us, and the gig went ahead. It all went super smooth but we did stuff up on the main night when the stage manager left their shift and we were so busy or sleep deprived from working, no-one told Tom Cosm to stop playing. Short on music to choose from, his chill set turned into a doof one and went an hour over curfew. It could be heard way down the road at the campground. Oops. Sunday of the festival one of the neighbours came down and kindly asked the organiser sign a document to give them full access to the permit. Feeling cornered, he said no, and that’s when she lost it, as did her husband the next day who yelled at the organiser that he was a totally full of shit salesman who has no credibility. So yeah, that meeting didn’t end so well. The next year the council mediated an agreement between the neighbours and the site on the conditions of the festival. It took weeks and weeks and we were told to stay out of it, but finally a month before the festival they came to an agreement. The same couple that cracked it waited till the week before the festival and then tried to find a loophole in the agreement and cancel the event. On the Friday night just before end of business day, the organiser got an email from the council saying that they’d received this complaint, and that they’d need to assess if the festival can happen. That weekend $20,000 was spent, and none of the crew were told the festival was in jeopardy. First thing Monday the organiser drove to Benalla to speak to the council and was luckily told that while the neighbours had a lawyer in their co-op, he was not a planning lawyer, and that they would support us. This couple had shot themselves in the foot, and Year 3, our final year on that site, they went on a holiday we didn’t hear a single word from the neighbours.
The idea for The Town came after attending an event at a caravan park and thinking how cool it would be if we actually got to take over all the little houses onsite. This and having full access to all of Revolt’s decor made it a dream we just had to bring into fruition.
The site was technically not allowed planning permits for events, but the council helped us find a loophole called ‘The Carnival Code’ which is flexible based on the fact that carnies are always moving and don’t like bureaucracy. Technically, the first Town was a carnival.
Without even realising, the date we chose fell on a full moon, which synchronistically happened on a number of our events at the time. We then realised it wasn’t just a full moon, but a total lunar eclipse.
However amongst other challenges, the site owner only had given us 2 days to set-up due to a school group being on-site. He then reduced this to 1 day on the week of the event, a near impossible feat. We literally arrived onsite at midday with the gates opening the next morning at 9am. We worked hard and while it seemed impossible it could even happen, hope was never given up. The van bringing the screws broke down and we had no screws on site until sunrise the day of the gig. it was at the point that branches from the forest was being grabbed to complete decor pieces. Then at 8am, the council representative came to inspect to inspect, and we were no where near ready! After a very wordy site walk, and by some kind of miracle, we were given our POPE permit. At this point it was clear anything was possible, and this was going to happen!
We roped off the main area until later in the afternoon, telling everyone to chill at their camps, and built and built as fast as we could. It was 90 percent there by Friday night, which felt like a dream with lush chill music playing and beautiful lighting and vibes. The cops visited that night and everything that happened in front of us on the site walk was like a perfect movie script, with kids frolicking past and security helping people with directions. It would not have been out of character for Bambi to stroll past at that point, the universe was just dishing it out. They were seriously impressed and entranced by the event. They asked to see the bar but the organiser had left his shoes somewhere and couldn’t go in bare foot, but at that exact moment someone arrived with them in hand. We walked in and offered to show the Sergeant the liquor license, to which he replied.
‘you know what mate, you walk into a place, and you just know’.
The organiser replied ‘We can show you though, it’s right here’
‘The officer just reasserted ‘You just know’.
Another officer visited on Saturday and said she was coming back next year but as an attendee.
By Saturday evening we had finally finished all the little decor extras, like adding a giant spout and handle to the tea kettle dome that blew smoke with the press of a button. Saturday night saw the moon-rise directly above the main-stage, and like magic, just when it got over the top, the lunar eclipse happened.
It was completely unplanned and during our headliner JFB. It seemed to last forever, oscillating in and out of a beautiful blood red circle over the moon. The theatrics were on point, people BYO’d mailboxes, and the places was left spotless.
Something beautiful had been born and each year the ship got tighter and the culture of The Town grew stronger and stronger.
In 2015 Revolt Artspace had to close down, and also had to workout what to do with all their awesome theatre decor. We hit up our friend Michael who owns Second Story Studios, and asked if we could rent downstairs to store it.
It was available and within days we were shipping over trucks of decor, scavenging through Revolt to see what treasures were there and were worth saving.
It was initially a situation of biting off more than we could chew, as we suddenly had massive rent to pay each month and more decor then we knew what to do with. But it also helped us level up our events and start really building a name for ourselves for epic and cutting edge set design.
We had to move warehouse another 2 times in the years that followed, which wasn’t easy, but thanks to community love we always got through it. We now we have a permanent home in Reservoir and on the positive, after moving a whole warehouse full of decor, moving a house is a walk in the park.
We are eternally grateful to Revolt for letting us take on all this decor and give it new life, and our collection has grown massively since then with custom works and recycled props from theatre companies.
The organiser had an old car acquired from his Grandparents that he was about to sell, but with the World Beyond coming up, we thought it would be great to turn it into a steampunk mobile.
We got local artist Akurst to paint it, the crew at Norm Warehouse to chop off the roof, add metal bars, and install recycled metal Shisha parts we had got from a closed down festival store.
We got a friend to bring it to the venue on a car trailer, and it was an epic immersive installation for the event that people could get inside, right in the middle of the loading dock/smoking area.
Come the end of pack-down though we didn’t have the means to get it picked up, so were left only with the option to drive this steampunk convertible from Revolt Art-space all the way to it’s new home in Alphington. It was 3am and we took every back street possible along the way to arrive safely at a warehouse behind the Darebin council depot. It was such a nerve racking drive as this thing was certainly not roadworthy, and stood out so much. However…
Pirate Radio saw us head off into the seas on the Lady Cutler. We looked into actually setting it up as a real Pirate Radio and broadcasting the music, before finding out the fines were ridiculously huge. The gig sold and and we all boarded the ship and almost instantly an epic storm hit! It added to the theme perfectly, and the inside was packed and cosy due to outside being torrential rain.
We’d set up the joint with barrels, treasure chests and rope, and the ship was 2 story and had some cool little nooks and crannies. Amazingly, a week early we met someone who sent us on a treasure hunt to find a bunch of treasure chests they made years ago for their Nerf event. They even drew us a proper treasure map through Reservoir to find it. We ended up at a mechanic who specialised in vintage cars and they sent us down a trapdoor into the basement where dozens of them were being kept. Another perfect Culture Jam moment where fantasy and fiction meet.
We were donating a portion of profits to the Sea Shepherd, so at one point they rode along past us and were setting off their ships horns, which our ship started doing too. At the time Reuben Stone was playing and the sound of his Trombone was swirling around with all the ship horns. It was an epic auditory moment, as the storm raged around us.
We still have the awesome pirate flag we hoisted up on the day, custom made by local artist Tobias Miller, and we also managed to raise over 1000 dollars for Sea Shepherd.
We hit Dragon Dreaming with the theme of the ‘Merry Pranksters’, with planned skits across the weekend to cause as much mischief as possible. This include setting up roadworks and fake construction workers on major paths, including one to the main stage. We also set up a disinformation tent across from the info tent, and on the way to the opening ceremony spread our truth-bombs about the festival being used as a drug-trial for big pharma, and that psy-trance was made to brainwash the masses. The next year we decided to setup a space for the whole weekend and built Dragon Dreaming’s first mental asylum. We had nurses who would assess patients and a ball pit cell for therapy, with 15,000 balls. At times it blurred the line between a tongue in cheek space and an actual therapeutic space to talk to the nurses about your problems, and then release them in the ball pit. Interestingly enough ball pits have actually been used in therapeutic settings. If we do bring the Asylum back, it will be as an escape room where you get locked in and soon find out that the nurses working are actually patients themselves who have gone mad. Eeeek!
Harambe is a giant gorilla that quick became our Mascot. He was found on the side of the road by some friends one night, and later donated to Culture Jam. We later heard he used to belong outside a shop, so we figured someone stole him late at night then left him on another side walk where our friends found him. When we found this out (a few years into our relationship) we did considered returning, but honestly, he’d seen too much. He was a new gorilla now. You can hear the originals honours crying out loud
‘Oh sweet Harambe what have they done to you!’ Harambe’s first festival was the second Town, and each day things got more ridiculous, this guy seriously knows how to party. First he was on the back of a ute but naked in the middle of the Town Square, then suddenly he was suddenly covered in elaborate Shibari (Japanese Bondage). Things really escalated when on the last day of the festival during Sunmonx’s set (Opiuo’s side act) when we got a rigger to hoist him up in his bondage ropes and swing over the main-stage. He was always up for new experiences and genuinely believed we should challenge ourselves. Over the next years he became a regular part of our narrative, appearing everywhere from in a cyberpunk cage at The World Beyond, to on the roof at Stacks On wearing Hawaiian getup, to starting up his own Zoo at the third Town. At the fourth Town he played a Jungle set on the Friday night while a real DJ ghosted him from off-stage. Sure there were the sex scandals and the fact that he never slept, but his giant heart never stopped shining. His Zoo was such a hit, we were hired to take it to a city event called Petting Zoo. But their crowd was not like our crowd and later in the night he was stolen when our workers were having a quick break. They headed into the dance floor to find him and literally found a paramedic standing over his ruins with a torch, looking truly shocked. Just like the real Harambe he had died at the zoo. You could not make this up. We hosted a funeral for him at Stacks On festival, where sweet words were spoken of what he meant to us. He will forever live in our hearts. RIP big guy! While we don’t want to speculate, we hope the rumours of your resurrection at a future Town are true! <3
Licola, the current home of The Town, first got on our radar when someone sharing an office with us told us of this beautiful secret location. We organised a meeting but Licola made it quite clear they had a really bad experience with a festival 10 years earlier and vowed never to do another one. We told them about The Town, and explained how it was different, but they suggested pitching a smaller concept and seeing how that went. We considered it, but the time wasn’t right. A year later it became apparent we couldn’t use our Charnwood site anymore, as the venue restrictions on numbers were making it unsustainable financially, and left no room for creative growth. We contacted Licola again, and they said they were open to another chat. We prepared every reference we had, explained everything with complete honesty, and then finally called the manager. He was apprehensive as he was so burnt on this gig years back, but in beautiful serendipity, one of the crew’s name was mentioned and how his brother said he was an old friend of the manager. The manager said that literally hearing that name was the reason he was happy to keep having the conversation. It turned out they were really good friends when they were younger, so we had an in!
After some hard work, and putting all our cards on the table, they said they’d give us ago. When we got to site, the Manager loved our crew, how professional and friendly we were. Even after mistakes like accidentally pegging into a water line he just laughed and loved how honest we were about when things didn’t go to plan. By the first day of the festival him and his wife were kicking back at the Hotel on banana lounges, while their child rode their bike down the hill.
They absolutely loved it and the fact that everything we promised was delivered. He told us ‘we’d done the impossible’, which was to convince him that festivals could be done right at a site as special as Licola. Licola is still our home, and we can’t wait to be back for the next Town <3
Stacks On Festival generally had pretty good weather. The few years there had been rain it often hovered around Ceres and rained everywhere but on us, like some kind of a magic spell. This year was different. The torrential rain was on and off all day long, which saw the site first covered in puddles, and then very soon covered in mud. The whole grass dance floor turned quickly into a mud pit and everyone’s inner child came out to play in the rain. The kids were the first to splash around in the puddles, and the adults quickly followed suit. The subwoofers had 10cm of mud swimming in them, and once Ed Solo came on, all hell broke loose. It was tribal, wild, and a seriously epic time. It was also an awesome reminder that the best events often have weather that is seen as ‘bad’, and that if you embrace it, there is a wild energy you just won’t get on a sunny day. The decor needed a good clean (somehow the ball pit stayed clean though) and Ceres gardening crew were not too happy but also understood it was beyond our control. Looking back on our 8 years of Stacks On, this was certainly the most memorable. Also at one point the sun broke and a double Rainbow appeared. Viva la Stacks On!
Up until this year we never had any psytrance at The Town. We didn’t feel it fitted into the vibe of the festival or would work with our neighbours and community stakeholders. To play on this fact, we thought it would be hilarious to do mandatory vaccinations against Psytrance. We announced over the P.A to report to the medical office, and then set them up right in front of first aid. This included a protest doof with artist ‘Lunar’ banging out funky psy. People were parodying doing nangs with normal balloons, while others were lining up for vaccinations and getting fluids squirted in their mouth by our fake doctors, who ironically, were massive Psytrance fans. One of them even ripped her lab-coat off at one point to reveal she was an undercover Doofer in a fractal onesie! The no-jab no play policy was successful, until the following year when a Town Court hearing saw artist ‘Terrafractyl’ come to The Town, who made Psytrance so good and so unique, it was worthy of a slot. Saying that, after his set we told him that it was that rare type Psytrance we actually loved and he replied
‘Oh that wasn’t psytrance’ Tongue firmly in cheek.
Our last year at Dragon Dreaming, we thought it would be hilarious to setup a doofer retirement village. We were given a tent in the lifestyle area and transformed it with interdimensional cable, arts and crafts, a shisha lounge, tanning chairs, a UV ball-pit and pop up parties for the elderly. On the first night the legendary Mc Culkin ran an arts and crafts activity that involves cutting out and sticking doof characters onto vintage paintings of outdoor landscapes. One was made that night of a police car in a small lake, with a cop looking confused, and hippies being playful around the scene. The picture can be seen above, although by this point we’d lost a few of the hippies.
The next day the prophecy was realised when the cops actually got bogged down by the river, after telling girls they would be fined for having their tops off. We dubbed the painting ‘The Prophecy’ and put it up in the art gallery for $10,000, with a girl trying her hardest to buy it for $200 on the last night, which we just didn’t have the heart to do. Plus, it’s worth way more than that.
It’s important when looking back to acknowledge those who are no longer with us, at least not in physical form. This year saw someone very close to the crew pass away days before the festival, and one of Licola’s team pass away shortly after the festival. They were both beaten or being beaten by Cancer, and in their honour we named our stages after them. The Red Dragon Express was the main stage train, named after a good friend Adam, who was there with us building the first Town, and was the only person with coffee on site! That Town he set up a pillow fighting pole, and the year after he hosted an awesome renegade party from the back of his truck with the Dub Princess Band. He was a big inspiration to all of us, and the Saturday morning saw our friend Talll Paul play a piano tribute set which can be heard here. We had met Dan, who passed away a few months later, at the first Town at Licola. He loved The Town and the life it brought to his home there. The first year we asked if we could drive a car onto a cabin balcony and he climbed under it to assess. He came out covered in dirt and cobwebs, to which the organiser said ‘maybe this isn’t a good idea’. From that moment on he dubbed the organiser ‘butterfly’ for his fleeting decisions. As always it was said with a cheeky smile and laugh that defined him. R.I.P to these two beautiful legends, and may their spirits shine on. Life is short, and we host this events to celebrate the time we have and bring beautiful people together.