Interview with the Absorb(ed) festival


Up several flights of stairs, opposite RMIT University, is one of a Naarm/Melbourne’s best small to mid sized venues, Miscellania which opened in mid 2021. Sometimes with a rooftop cookup, too, it has been a haven for the city’s emerging sounds, scenes, DJs, and producers. Late last century we might have all agreed to call a space like Miscellania ‘underground’ but in an era when every venue and scene has to announce itself to the world through Facebook/Meta’s Instagram in order to survive financially, ‘underground’ is not really the right term. Instead we might describe Miscellania as a community hub, or if we were talking to city policy makers, as ‘cultural infrastructure’.

Over the past few years, as Naarm has re-emerged from the worst of the pandemic, lots of new alliances, cooperatives, and projects have been birthed. One of those is the label Absorb and it’s annual festival Absorb(ed), which is about to have its third outing – a multiday event at Miscellania.

Absorb(ed) II 2023 3

Cyclic Defrost spoke to Kavil, Clem & Sasha from Absorb by email.

Q – Tell me about Absorb, how has the event grown since 2022?

Absorb(ed) is an annual 37 hour long event held at Miscellania in Melbourne, platforming the wider experimental and left-field dance communities across the country, run by myself (Kavil), Clementine (aka Tangerine) and Sasha. I founded the label Absorb in 2019, with its inaugural show platforming some of the re-presentations of classical and experimental electronic music being made in Naarm at the time, which took place at the small DIY venue Crazy Arms that Sasha was managing and booking. Clem played piano at it! So from the very beginning, the groundwork for the Absorb(ed) festival was laid out, with all three of us working together from the onset. Shortly after that initial show, the label’s first full-length release, The World I Want Would Be Celestial, Wet became an iconic timestamp of the era, featuring a number of artists who were pivotal to the scene of the time. An event (what was to become the first Absorb(ed)) was soon conceived between Clem and I to serve as a tongue-and-cheek, late “launch party” for the release.

During the early days of the post-lockdown era, we were looking for ways to showcase all the inspiring music we had come across during the pandemic, connect with the artists affiliated with the label and relive formative experiences at Crazy Arms, Soft Centre and importantly, the late (and great), Ham Laosthakul’s 24-hr IDM party, Soi.

Sasha had just opened Miscellania, a natural spiritual home for the event, and so concrete plans were set in motion to bring Absorb(ed) to life. We were ecstatic. The three of us were full of steam and everything came together quite seamlessly after that.

In the time since, with two editions behind us and a third just around the corner, we’ve slowly generated a certain ‘formula’ with the programming of Absorb(ed), reflective of our own curiosities and tastes.

Our ideas for what constitutes a good 30+ hour party are firming, as well as our understanding of how to play with and transition between moods and sounds across a weekend. For this iteration, the three of us have been meeting weekly for months, obsessing over the vision, teasing out the details. We want to work with new and exciting artists and are pushing for collaboration more and more – a large part of our ideas are centred around the community surrounding the label and festival.

The community support in particular has been pivotal to our growth over the last three years. Every year, people fly in from interstate, get excited for the merch drop, make memes, socially dissect the event online and really listen while they’re at the party – we really have the best audience.

Absorb(ed) II 2023

Q – This is an amazingly diverse lineup, and it gives me a lot of hope about that something new and exciting is emerging after the hell of the last few years.

Hope! That’s something to strive for.

The lineup is the result of three people from very distinct musical identities coming together with enough overlapping taste to make it work. But it’s really our different perspectives and backgrounds that make the curatorial process interesting. We want our lineup to have diversity in all senses, to be cutting-edge, to challenge passive consumption and reward active listeners.

There is no way to neatly categorise the lineup, but the event certainly has a distinct flow. The start of the first day is filled with live experimental and ambient-leaning acts, progressing into punk and gritty electronics, live dance acts, and a final hurrah at the end of the night. Saturday has always had a very upwards trajectory, with an emphasis on spiralling out of control. Psy-tinged IDM, glitch, trance, jungle, all of it. We have a ‘break’ at a certain warehouse/sharehouse – a four hour middle party to keep people going – before day two officially begins at 7AM on Sunday back at the club. The Sunday morning prioritises trance and euphoria, then makes room for our afternoon dance – soundtracked by scene icons (this was Female Wizard, Kia and Harold in 2023’s edition). Sunday night crescendos into upended club music and full-throttle dance, with a few final twists and turns. We’re keenly anticipating appearances from Cairo’s ZULI and a commissioned collaboration between NERVE, Tarquin Manek, Aarti Jadu and a very special secret guest to send off this year’s program.

All in all, we want to strike a balance between emerging and established artists, making space for people from different corners of so-called Australia’s music scene to come together and establish connections between each other. This work of connecting unusual dots is very important to us and what makes Absorb(ed) special.

Absorb(ed) II 2023 2

Q – I’ve found Melbourne so much fuller of ‘right sized’ venues compared to where I grew up in Sydney. But I also know venues are really struggling at the moment. Tell me about how you’ve been able to build up such a relationship with spaces to enable Absorb to grow and evolve.

Absorb has been held from day dot at Miscellania. We have a close working relationship with the venue, with Sasha co-running and booking the space, and are ourselves closely intertwined with the club as regular patrons, performers and promoters.

So many of the festival’s key experiences spring directly from the club’s unique configuration: a sun-soaked rooftop upstairs, the staff, the community that regularly attends Misc events, right down to the ability to start our party at seven in the morning. Without Misc and the trusting relationship we have with the club, and without Misc’s own openness to experimentation, Absorb(ed) would not exist in the form it does today.

Miscellania is very much a rarity though, and increasingly so. While on the surface Naarm appears to have far more robust cultural infrastructure than Eora/Sydney, there are endless pressures and issues causing smaller venues to terminally struggle. It’s a scary idea, but Naarm could be a city without any small-to-medium independent venues in the very near future.

Not many people know about it because it wasn’t widely publicised like it was in Eora, but until last year Naarm has been suffering from its own version of the Lockout Laws since 2008, with a liquor licence freeze preventing any new post-1am licences being issued. More recently, there has been a monumental hike in insurance costs, as well as security rates, utilities and rent, while people are spending less and less on alcohol and tickets. Without serious government intervention, our clubbing days could be numbered.

With so many changing circumstances, we want to make the most of the present as we don’t know what the future will look like. So for now, we cherish what we have and will celebrate our fullest and hardest. We’re lucky to have the platform to do what we do.

Absorb(ed) III is on March 9 & 10, 2024 at Miscellania and features an immense lineup. Tickets and more info on Humanitix.


About Author

Seb Chan founded Cyclic Defrost Magazine in 1998 with Dale Harrison. He handed over the reins at the end of 2010 but still contributes the occasional article and review.