Maitreya Festival: doof the night away

20 March 2012

Written by: Cass Savellis

It’s been a week since Maitreya, the bush-doof that takes place annually in a large clearing a stone’s throw out of rural Carisbrook, and I must admit it’s taken me about that long to process it. Having never gone to a doof before, and this year’s Golden Plains (which fell on the same weekend) pricing itself out of contention, I gave in to the pleading of my doof-lovin’ friends (‘you’ll love it!’), thought, ‘why not?’, packed my patchouli, and booked the ticket.

For those not in the know, a doof is a dance experience particular to Australia – a large, open-air rave-type party centred around psychedelic trance, which DJs play loud and continuously. The bush setting is paramount: doofs are as much about the earth and nature as they are about dancing your arse off to psytrance until the sun comes up. For me, an indie girl more partial to The Libertines or White Denim than jumping up and down to electronica played at 150bpm, I didn’t know quite what to expect.

Running from Friday to Monday, Maitreya was soaked in sunshine, with market tents, food stalls and the three stages set up all throughout the eucalyptus trees. Everything was pretty. I’ve never seen so many hippies before in my life. Daytime was great, spent drinking cold beers out of Eskies and chatting with friends. Making new friends from other campsites was easy, almost a prerequisite – Maitreya is without doubt the friendliest festival I’ve ever been to. At one point I asked my friend if they were all like this. ‘Of course,’ he said. ‘That’s one of the reasons I love them’.

But night time was when Maitreya really came into its own. Heading down to the main stage was surreal – ‘can’t you feel it calling?’ said a friend, and the weird part was I could. The stage itself was amazing – a massive triangle flanked by screens playing the weirdest stuff you’ve ever seen (at one point I was transfixed by a running lamb that pulsated into millions of baby lambs, then a kind of mutating lamb-ipede). On Saturday night, a set by an outfit called ESP changed my worldview – unbelievably hypnotic, detailed music that I could just not stop dancing to. ESP DJ Space Tribe is apparently one of the pioneers of psytrance. All I know is that I loved it – and so did the crowd, with everyone totally, un-self-consciously consumed by the music. At one point a girl came on shooting fire from her wrists and I almost passed out from the sensory overload.

I danced till dawn, and then some. Going home the following day was bittersweet: I had a ball, but I was spent.

The big difference between Maitreya and other (rock) festivals I have been to is difficult to articulate. With rock festivals, the focus is on the individual – you’re jostling for a good spot, you want to see these particular bands, if someone pushes you in the crowd you get pissed. With doofs, the focus is on communality. If someone pushes you when you’re dancing, it doesn’t really matter, because it’s as if you’re pushing you. You’re all one. It’s a tribal, almost primal calling. Hence the focus on the earth and surroundings. Does that sound way too hippie? Definitely. But the fact is undeniable: the friendliness, the openness and the call of the stage was something I have never experienced before, and I loved it.

So for a rocker, I happily admit I am now a doof aficionado. It’s taken me a few days to get the music out of my system, and I am itching to go again. Sign me up for next year. Unless Golden Plains has a really good line-up.

Renee Tibbs completed the Master of Global Communications at La Trobe University last year and is a former editor of upstart. She blogs at duck down the alleyway, where this review was first published. Follow her on Twitter: @reneealleyway.