Driving into Australia’s Rainbow Serpent festival we get the feeling we’re entering another world before we’ve even witnessed any of the boundless hedonism, wild costumes, art and heavy-hitting bass that are about to become our life for the next four days (five if you’re in it for the long haul).
Dust shrouds the car as we cut our way up a rocky dirt track towards the entrance as dry wheat-coloured hills dotted with gum trees and boulders create a stark landscape against the clear blue sky of summer in the Victorian bush. A single love heart dangles across the road shortly after tickets have been checked and wristbands placed – marking the shift into the unknown for newcomers and a very special place for thousands who return each year.
Rainbow Serpent, or “Rainbow”, is the centrepiece of Australia’s “bush doof” scene (a term used locally to describe parties that shun the mainstream and happen deep in the natural environment away from capital cities), but the transformative festival has evolved to become much more since its early raving roots in the late 1990s. There’s still plenty of psy-trance, but these days you’ll find a very healthy dose of techno, progressive, melodic and feel-good house, disco, funk, breaks, minimal and more. All of this alongside traditional Aboriginal ceremonies, panel talks and guest speakers, workshops, performers and endless food and market stalls.
2017 marked the 20th anniversary of Rainbow’s first incarnation in a field near the town of Trentham, Victoria, in 1998. Now, more than 15,000 people from all over the world converge on sprawling farmland outside the tiny town of Lexton, about 150 kilometres northwest of Melbourne, at the end of January each year.