“So…” my sister, Anna, begins between alternating bites of polish sausage slathered in upmarket mustard and waffle-on-a-stick drowned in chocolate sauce, “explain to me how this fits with the tiny concert we went to last night?”
She gestures towards a sea of food vendors, street performers, and interactive light displays. The scene is blissfully chaotic, a sort of maximalist carnival aimed at activating all your senses in unison. As an avowed hedonist, I am literally in paradise. Even the slight chill doesn’t bug me.
“I’m not sure, really,” I say, marveling at the phantasmagoric projections beamed onto the Sydney Opera House, across the harbor from where we’re posted up. “It’s all just… really fun, interesting, weird stuff jammed into a month. Tomorrow I’m seeing Spike Lee at City Hall. There’s a comedy show later in the week.”
“Fun, interesting, weird stuff” is about as good of a tagline as you’re going to find for VIVID Sydney, a month-long festival spanning May and early June. It ranges across the city and out into the suburbs, featuring light shows, concerts, chef’s dinners, salon talks, and TED-like symposiums. There is so much going on every night, it would be easy to think “who can actually attend all this stuff” — sort of the festival equivalent of the peak TV conundrum, “who watches all these shows?” But sure enough, people show up. Lots of them. Now 11 years old, VIVID has found its audience between Sydneysiders, New South Wales residents on short jaunts, and vacationers from further abroad.
In all the world, Sydney is perhaps the perfect city for VIVID. Having been to the city roughly a dozen times, there is one thing I know about the locals: they get out. Sure, they complain about rent and restaurant prices like anyone else living in big cities, but they do it while sipping $18 AUD cocktails at rooftop bars at 3 pm on a Wednesday. There is perhaps no more social big city on earth. So a festival that is just sort of everywhere all at once fits nicely.
Here’s a rundown of what I saw, smelled, ate, drank, listened too, and immersed myself in over the four nights I spent in Sydney for VIVID 2019. Of course, if you head to the festival next year you won’t be able to replicate this trip, it’s always changing, but if I know anything about VIVID it’s this: there will be lots to do and it will be big, bright, and loud in all the best ways.
DAY 1 — TURN UP FROM XIRA
Watching Xira at Sydney’s historic Ziggy’s Barbershop as part of the X|CELERATE: Women In Music program felt akin to seeing Billie Eilish a few months before everyone else got in on the secret. Xira came on stage an demanded the crowd’s attention from the word “go.” She was joined in her set by her fiance and two more band members, but it was always crystal clear whose show this was.
While Xira cycled through soul-funk-pop fusion cuts — hook-heavy songs that felt Coachella-ready — a projection of random Rick & Morty episodes played on a backing screen. At first, models and club kids danced up front while slightly-older Sydney hipsters bobbed their heads in the back like they were seeing some vintage Social Distortion. Eventually, the dancing vibes seeped toward the back of the room, like ink bleeding across cotton. By the time Xira turned control of the small room (with a collage of well-coifed 90s celebrities covering every inch of wall) over to Lupa J, the whole crowd was fully feeling the moment.
It was the sort of tiny venue, high-energy show that happens all too rarely these days. One of those nights where you think, “this person is going to be famous as sh*t in a few years.” When a festival can turn you on to that level of artist, it’s a good sign.