At the end of the last night of this year’s MONA FOMA festival, I was touched when a young woman came up to me, told me that she worked for MONA, and that someone else on staff had told her that I was MOFO’s most dedicated fan. I am more than dedicated to MOFO – I’m positively fanatical about it, book my annual leave the minute the dates are announced each year, and go to everything I possibly can. I’ve been to all but one of the festivals (my father passed away just before the second one, so I had a good excuse). I thought I was just having fun, but it’s kinda nice to know that my support of the festival has been noted.
So, as a recognised seasoned MOFO veteran, I thought I’d put down a few thoughts on how I approach the festival. These are of course, just my thoughts and you are free to attend MOFO (or not) in any way that takes your fancy.
1 – It doesn’t matter who’s playing
Seriously, it doesn’t matter. If you’re waiting to see who’s playing before deciding whether to go to MOFO, you’re missing the point. MOFO is not about going to see your favourite bands, or hearing your favourite songs. The spirit of MOFO is discovery.
Yes, there’s always one or two big name acts, but unless you’re very well-informed, there’s a good chance you’re not going to have heard of 90% of the artists on the programme. There’s also a good chance that 90% of them are going to be bloody amazing. So trust me, it really doesn’t matter who’s on the bill. Just go. You won’t regret it, I promise.
2 – Go to Everything You Can
If you pick and choose according to what kind of music you think you like, you’re guaranteed to miss something you would have loved if you’d gone. As mentioned in point 1, MOFO is about discovery, it’s about trying something you’ve never tried before, and it’s about taking you out of your comfort zone.
One of the things I love most about this festival is that people do try new things. I’ve seen little old ladies jumping about to Girl Talk or Pretty Lights, and spiky-haired, leather and stud-laden punks savouring chamber music in a cathedral. Every year I make a point of going to at least one (and usually several) things that I don’t think I’ll like. I’m at times baffled, occasionally bored, but have never failed to find something that makes me sit up and say, “Wow, I had no idea……”
3 – Go to the Smaller Venues and Get There Early
Following on from point 2 – don’t just hang at PW1 the whole time. There’s a whole bunch of stuff on around town in places like St Mary’s Cathedral, the Town Hall and the Baha’i Centre, and the Theatre Royal. Often these are free, or a very modest entrance fee. As a die-hard old punk rocker, it’s easy for me to dismiss these more ‘cultured’ offerings as of little interest to me, but I always enjoy getting to a few of them and expanding my musical horizons.
These venues often fill up quickly though, so to avoid disappointment, do get there early. If time and energy are limited, pick one or two to make the special effort to get in.
And don’t stress if you don’t get in – have a plan B, even if plan B is “sit in the pub for a couple of hours” or “go and have a much needed nap”.
4 – Pace Yourself
This may seem to contradict points 2 and 3, but they are not mutually exclusive. Know yourself and your energy levels. Yes, do get to as much as you can, and do get out to the other venues, but be realistic. See as much as you can, but accept that you can’t see everything, and prioritise.
And when your body is really telling you that you need some time out, then take the time out – it’s not a race, there’ll be plenty more awesome stuff to see when you’re done resting.
5 – Eat and Drink at the Venue
I’m a dedicated tightarse when it comes to most festivals, and will pack my own food whenever I can. Festival food is so often lousy, expensive, subject to long queues, and generally a waste of my time and money.
Not so at MOFO.
There’s a number of different food stalls at the venue, and a good chunk of them are run by MONA – these are the people who run the world-class Source restaurant, and they know their food. The food is excellent quality, reasonably priced, and service is generally pretty quick.
Likewise with drinks – these people brew their own boutique beer (Moo Brew) and have their own vineyard (Moorilla Estate) – so we’re talking top-quality beverages here, and while the prices may be a little higher than your local pub, they’re on par with most reasonably nice bars, and worthwhile for a very tasty brew.
NOTE: The one possible exception to this is the opening night, which if the pattern set over the last couple of years continues, is free entry, and so tends to draw very large crowds. However, even on opening night, although the lines for drinks did appear very long, they did actually move pretty quickly.
5 – Do the Festival Your Own Way
I personally am a front row girl. I photograph concerts as a hobby, and, being both short and claustrophobic, I can’t handle being anywhere but right at the front in a big crowd. So I do what I need to do to always be at the front – arrive early to stake out my spot, plan out when to eat and drink, don’t drink too much (so I don’t have to go and pee and lose my spot!)
Not everyone has my obsession for being at the front and would rather kick back with a nice bottle of wine and enjoy the music from afar.
I had several friends came to the festival this year, and if we’d worried too much about trying to hang out together, none of us would have had a great festival. One friend is a die-hard moshpit girl like me, and we spent most of the festival together. Others I touched base with now and then, had a drink early in the night, or a dance at the after party.
The best thing about sticking to your guns and doing your festival your way is that you can…
6 – Make New Friends
I’m fairly introverted and don’t find it easy to make small talk with strangers, but I always end up with some new buddies at MOFO. If you do the festival your way, you’ll meet others who like to do it the same, and you’re on your way to some new, compatible festival buddies.
Last year during MOFO a friend messaged me and said a friend of hers was going to MOFO alone and asked if she could give her my phone number. I said of course, that I’m resolutely doing my own thing but happy to catch up with her at some point. She never did call, but one night as I was staking out my spot on the front barrier, a young woman turned to me and asked if I was Megan – it was my friend’s friend, and she’d recognised me from my Facebook photo. We saw each other regularly for the rest of the festival (at the front, of course!), and have since become good friends, and spent the whole of this year’s festival at the front together too. This year we also met a couple of young women from Melbourne, and two middle-aged local women, and by the end of the week we had a quite a posse lined up at the barrier, looking out for each other and taking turns for bathroom and food breaks.
Last year’s festival was punctuated by conversations with an older couple from Victoria who were travelling around and decided to check out the festival. Like me, they decided to try everything, and though at first glance they didn’t look like people I would make friends with, our inquisitive natures around music gave us plenty to talk about.
So do it – keep an open mind, go to lots of stuff, strike up conversations, and you will make new friends. I can guarantee it.
7 – Take Your Kids (But Take Care of Them)
People who know me will probably be surprised to read this point, as I’ve never been particularly fond of children, and have been known to make the odd Facebook rant regarding less than pleasant encounters with children.
But really, as I said earlier, MOFO is about discovery, and kids love discovering things, and they’re in the stage of their lives where their minds are most open to new things. As a child of jazz aficionados, I’ve only recently realised what a blessing it was to grow up being exposed to varied and often quite challenging music, and am eternally grateful to my parents for giving me that exposure that has made me open to a broad range of musical experiences.
In 2013, MOFO introduced a ticketing system that goes beyond being kid-friendly, but actually encourages you to bring your children*. Not only do your kids get in for free, but parents actually get in at concession rate – so it’s cheaper to come with your kids than without.
So bring your kids – give them the gift of a broad musical education early in life.
But please, please look after your children. Tender ears need earplugs. And the moshpit is no place for small children (ok, maybe for short periods of time, if you keep them very close), and other punters who are there to throw themselves wildly around can’t be expected to watch out for small people underfoot.
(To the vast majority of parents who acted responsibly with their kids at MOFO – well done and thank you – you are bringing up some awesome little people!)
* I have no idea if this ticketing system will continue for future festivals; I’m just reporting the situation as it was for the 2013 festival.
8 – Buy a Faux Mo Ticket, Get there Early, then Go with the Flow
Last year was the first year of the Faux Mo after-party, and if you didn’t rush madly up after the main concert, you spent most of your night queuing in the lane. This year they introduced a priority ticketing system, and had more space available, so it was a lot less of a drama, but by the weekend there was even a small queue for priority ticket holders, and a very loooong queue for those without tickets.
So buy the ticket when you buy your festival pass, get up there, get yourself in, but then – relax. The smartphone app will entice you with tales of who’s playing that night, but beyond that, it’s a secret. Unless you’re lucky, or know somebody in the know, you probably don’t know who’s on where and at what time. So you can spend a lot of time queuing to get upstairs or downstairs trying to get in to see what you think might be on there. And then it’s not, or it’s in that room you didn’t find and you missed it anyway.
So be philosophical about it. Pick a spot and hang there for a while. Something interesting’s bound to happen.
9 – Have Fun!
See point number 5. This is how I do the festival. I think this is fun. You may not. However you decide to do MOFO, be sure to enjoy it. That’s what it’s there for!
Check out some of my MOFO photos and other posts: