I’ve got to say, I’m feeling pretty blessed lately. Last mailout, I wrote to you from the top of a wave-shaped granite inselberg in Hyden, looking out over a superb weekender. This time, I find myself on the cool banks of the Blackwood River, where it passes through Nannup – flanked by Jarrah and Marri trees, spiralling vines, purple enamel orchids and dewy ferns. Sure, the two weekends have had sandwiched between them a few less-inspiring days, in which I went to work, got the flu and lived out other forgettable details of routine urban existence. But at this moment, that all melts away – almost as if it never happened – dissolving into the vivid, fresh realness of here and now.
Picture a riverbank in a forest, grey-blue sky peeking through the canopy. Over the bank and down a trail is a stage, set in a sandy crater, surrounded by cocoon-like paper lanterns. Tree roots span the crater’s walls like tightropes, and people sit on them, legs dangling into the pit dotted with dancing bodies. Music from the hefty PA rings out across the clearing; through green thickets, over to huddles of tents. It patters across the walls of Brazilian food trucks and flits down the chimneys of jarrah farmhouses; it licks through campfires, bonfires, and crackling sooty fires in a stoney pizza oven. The music rustles the fur of possums and wallabies, skates over blue-wren feathers, swirls around gum leaves and carries on. Across an improvised bush cinema, an ad-hoc mini golf course, a ping pong table, a beauty hut distributing free clothes and glitter adornments. A marquee, set aside for chilling out, emanates its own tunes. Somewhere someone strums an acoustic song; elsewhere there’s the hiss of a tinnie opening, there’s the zipping of a tent door, there’s the rushing sigh of the creek. Everything’s covered in a blanket of serenity, but everything’s buzzing, vibrating at its own happy frequency. This is CAMP DOOGS.
If you haven’t heard of CAMP DOOGS, you might be furrowing your brow in this point asking “What’s he on about?” which is a fair question. A bunch of months ago (eight or nine or maybe more) a bunch of like-mind, creative can-doers came together with an idea. These folk included Coel Healy (from Water Graves) and Stephen Bellair (from Doctopus, Electric Toad etc), Ben Konto (Artrage), eventually Steve Hughes (Usurper of Modern Medicine) and Matt Aitken (Gulls, Gilbert Fawn, Mangolia’s). The idea was a camp, a getaway in some verdant corner of the state, with bands playing and good people hanging out being free and easy. I remember hearing about the prospect back then and thinking “yeah, that sounds cool.” Little did I know the extent of the vision – or, indeed, the extent to which that idea would grow. Come Friday, we all load our bags onto buses in sunny North Perth, grab colourful wristbands and set off on a southward journey. What lies ahead is more rich, more magical than perhaps anyone could have predicted.
“DOOGS!” Cry bus-riders, crunching snacks and chatting at a medium hum. We crawl along the freeway, finally escaping onto open road. Farms, country towns, flocks of sheep blur past. We stop over for a pee-and-snack break an hour out of Nannup, before sailing on, and the bus emits a cheer when we pull into the sanctuary. A fire blazes by the old wooden bus stop, and some young boys entertain us with sticks and flame while other buddies play cricket with gum-nuts. Eventually a ute rolls up and whisks us away, a few at a time, down a winding gravel road to a fern-lined campsite. The sun’s about half an hour off setting, and we soon find ourselves at the stage. It’s like nothing I could have envisioned, this specky pit, combining a fully-furnished stage complete with lighting rig, the glowing lanterns (hand-sculpted by Dimity Magnus), statues, yellow sand and the natural surrounds. First-time camper and our inimitable host for the festival TRISTAN FIDLER gives a “welcome to Doogs” – he’ll continue to say “Welcome to Camp Doogs” before every set over the weekend, as well as proffering countless amazing jokes. Grinning and opening our first beers, we dance about to the heady rhythms of loopy psych-prince SACRED FLOWER UNION.
Dynamics dip with an acoustic set from Bobby Burgess of DROP MACUMBA, then intensify with the LONG LOST BROTHERS who sound more ferocious and sanguine than ever I’ve heard them. Apparently Andrew Ryan’s sweet vocals can be heard over in Nannup town. MUDLARK deliver an absolute corker, I watch side of stage with my jaw dropping as Warsame Hassan tears up the drum kit like an intricate abacus and Steven Bovenizer scuttles his way round a dulcet, verbed out guitar. NORA ZION joins them on vocals and boy, what a sweet, silvery treat.
The pit is ablaze with energy as USURPER OF MODERN MEDICINE emit one of their reliably electric, grooving sets; DIANAS drop in to mix things up with both pummelling, rumbling rhythms and rich mellow harmonies. All through the night, incredible lasers dance across the treetops, forming mindblowing patterns and heiroglyphs on dark leafy canvases. Speaking of lasers, we soon hear from the motorik-heavy, densely spaced-out FRENCH ROCKETS, one-man-band NICK ALLBROOK (shredding distorted guitar and wailing vocals over drum machine), and an utterly blissful set from MMMHMM who fuse artful texture, candlelit rhodes-jazz, hip-hop and smokey house into a soothing and uplifting listening experience.
JO LETTERNMAIER takes over the decks, before REECE WALKER/EMERALD CABAL eventually do the honours. The whole evening’s overflowing with dancing, sipping and straight-up A-grade vibes, although in the wee hours the po-po finally show up to pull the plug on the substantial sounds. It’s a minor vibe-killer, but any despondency doesn’t last long. At one point we encounter a moth with a broken wing – the moth’s about as big as my hand and sits on it with the weight of a tiny mammal, looking at us with blue eyes and leaf-shapped antennae. After we spend a while trying to find it a safe spot to lie low, it takes to the skies despite having only one wing in tact. What a trooper. A true doog.
I wake up to the sound of pattering rain, not in my own tent for some reason, but instead sharing a sleeping bag in the ‘beauty hut,’ people walking by. At my head I find a mysterious silver can of food. A note reads: “DOOGS TREAT 4/9… GRAB A SPOON, PASS IT ROUND, SHARE THE LOVE. PS YOU LEGENDS.” When we get it open, we discover a supply of delicious caramel condensed milk which soon makes its way into cups of hot coffee. What an incredible doog act.
LOST/TUNELESS and CATBRUSH kick off the day with reckless but clever rock and roll; DIGER ROKWELL injects the surrounds with a healthy array of finely wrought, organic beats. The DJ sets have been amazing so far this weekend, with DJs Jefferson, Brett and Nathan whipping out gem after gem and narrating them with deadpan genius. Sometime around now one of them decides to play Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety, which turns out to be the best idea ever. We decide to go for a swim, which also turns out to be the best idea ever, and having woken up a little crusty, the chilly Blackwood’s quick-flowing water proves the perfect reviving elixir. Some doogs jump in an inflatable raft and rapidly float around the bend.
The sun’s out now in full golden glory and it feels like a day at the beach. HAYLEY BETH & BRENDAN JAY deliver a wonderful fusion of dark, smokey songcraft and tasteful digital beats; DOCTOPUS rouse the throng into a wild swell as always. At 4.20 (“You all know what that means,” announces Jefferson) THE WEAPON IS SOUND explode into a set of heavy, swirling psych-dub, which culminates in a dense on-stage dance party. Before sundown there’s a custom clothing auction courtesy Sally Bower and Beth Maslen, and a giving of thanks to such good folk as Lewis Ryan (who’s generously doing sound for the weekend pro bono) and the amazing cheery GLENN, who owns the property and who’s been a constant source of help and jocularity. At some point there’s a much-reported riverside acoustic set by Peter Bibby (which I’m sad to say I don’t witness)… then it’s the super entertaining, hyperactive glitch-rap of Sydneysider SIMO SOO, the hilarious and fantastic mess-punk of SABRE TOOTH TIGERS, and the sweet textures and undulating beats of another east-coaster – OUTERWAVES.
It’s grown dark and I go jam with ERASERS in the SLOZONE LAYER (chillout tent), which is loads of improvised fun. When I return, it’s to one of the most beautiful moments in recent memory. A huge bonfire blazes at the far end of the sand-pit, illuminating majestic Jarrah trunks. The milky way glimmers in all its glory above. And a hush has fallen over the usually-buzzing crowd, who sit and absorb the rare beauty of RABBIT ISLAND – Amber Fresh performing with mates Sam Maher and Jake Webb. The set is all hypnotic, crystalline waves of sound and stellar melody.. we even get to hear the sublime ‘Adam’s Song.’ Wow.
We explore the pop-up cinema (they’re playing MYSTERY TRAIN with live accompaniment from MUDLARK) and then dance to MT. MOUNTAIN’s powerful stoner riffing; FUCKING TEETH (captained by now-expat Bibby) meet technical difficulties but, true to form, still deliver a wildly entertaining set. There’s KUCKA’s avant-pop explorations, a majestically intoxicated set from garage louts HAMJAM, analog synth wormhole vibes from BASIC MIND before the boys in blue make another appearance. With the main stage shut down for the night, we migrate to the Slozone Layer where HUGO GERANI keeps us moving with amazing tape-based house jams. I call it a night before the music stops, so I’m not sure if Leighton Head fires up a set, but I wouldn’t be surprised… there are doogs in here who seem like they could go forever. Man, I wish doogs COULD go on forever.
Alas. We wake up in the mid-morning, eat one last delicious Brazilian meal, drink some juice and begin to pack up our things. Everyone’s still laughing and hi-fiving, but the knowledge that it’s all coming to a close makes these last hours bittersweet. We jump on the last ute back to the last bus, polishing off the last of our brews. The ride home is full of satisfied smiles and sleepily joyous banter – though it’s certainly more subdued than the ride in.
So there’s the shorthand way of telling you what happened at CAMP DOOGS, but have I been able to tell you what it felt like? I fear I haven’t. Thing is, ‘Doogs was unlike any other music festival or gig I’ve ever been to, because it wasn’t really either of those things. It was a couple of hundred people sharing a weekend bush adventure, everyone with their own tales to tell, with the music and art and food and other entertainment simply providing one common backdrop. The extra magic of the weekend grew from its spontaneous twists and turns; meeting a possum near the campfire, making new friends in the freezing water, discovering a strange new flower you’ve never seen before, attempting to shotgun Emu Export, walking past Trent as he boasts a Hawaiian t-shirt, zebra costume, sunnies and holographic landscape print. Doogs was a thousand different things for different people, but for everyone I’m certain it was an unforgettable experience full of mutual respect, generosity, laughs, tunes, “pos vibes.” And those vibes continue to flow, in conversation on the street and on the internet, with Doogs reminiscing and already excited for the next one. If you weren’t there this year, I can only recommend you get onto it for next time round – it’s not a clique of campers, it’s not a music festival, it’s something totally unique: a sort of temporary utopia full of all the things you need and none of the things you don’t. Food for the senses, and for the soul – a congregation of like-minded wanderers, enjoying being alive. That’s about as doog as it gets.
Photo by Amber Bateup