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festival review: mona foma

Striborg at the Wim Delvoye Chapel.
Image: courtesy of Mona.

Mona Foma (or MOFO) is the summer art and music festival hosted by Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art (better known as Mona). Held each year in January, the festival has a national reputation and is considered to be a stalwart of Tasmania’s cultural fabric.

Reviewing a whole festival is a difficult task- every aspect of your experience is subjective and circumstantial, and while it’s my job as a reviewer to tell you what was good or bad, you might love Bach while I’m far more partial to a bit of Bad Brains. In light of this I decided to simply share my experience at Mona Foma – what I did, what I loved and what I though could be better. If you’re interested in any of the bands mentioned, your best bet is to check them out yourself.

Thursday Afternoon…

The thing about festivals is that they are sort of stressful: they’re a commodified spectacle and as an audience member you know that, in some way, you exist as part of the commodity being sold. Hence why lately, for some unfathomable reason, every festival in Australia has seemed to morph into a giant dress up party (I suspect this is probably the trickle down influence of Burning Man- to which events like Mona Foma probably owe a little more credit than they would ever admit to). The ratio of sequins to probable Mona Foma attendance was high- even on the plane over from Melbourne- and as dorky as I am, it made me just a little bit excited.

Friday Morning…

Astronautilus summed up my first day of Mona Foma perfectly when he said ‘you’re the woman of my dreams today’ before rapping about finding true love just before a Florida hurricane hits. I have just woken up this morning and my knees are seized from all the floor slides I was doing to Wrecking Ball with Danius from Slave Pianos in the weird school-esque disco at Faux Mo, the official festival after party. I saw a girl go down a slide face first into a secret pit of drag queens and danced with a guy in a mirrored black body sock; that was right after my friend and I drank a bottle of rum with half of the Sun Ra Arkestra in the dingy green room. The Arkestra keeps Sun Ra’s wild claims to being an alien from another universe alive through big band jazz, and they were really something else. With a saxophonist who was just shy of 90 years old, they still kept a blistering pace.

Mona Foma has the magical numbers that all Tomorrow’s Parties achieves, where the crowd feels large enough to be really buzzing, but is small enough that the acts come and hang out with you without worrying about getting mobbed. It means you feel as though you are a part of something, rather than just a paying attendee.

If this paragraph hasn’t piqued your interest in Mona Foma yet, then I have no idea what could. I only lift my ban on dancing (due to a back injury) for occasions where I have no choice but to have the best time possible, and even though my body is screaming ‘go to hell,’ this morning, it was damned well worth it and I don’t regret a single twerk of the night.

Saturday Morning…

Ok, now everything really hurts. There is quite a bit of walking/standing involved at this Festival. I’m half surprised that David Walsh doesn’t have a fleet of camouflage segways rolling around to ease the pain, but there’s always next year I suppose. I did however get the camouflage luxury ferry out to Mona to see The Red Queen and attend the MoMa Market. I’m doing a separate review of The Red Queen, so more on that and the majesty of the Mona architecture later.

The market was small and pretty underwhelming- the massive queues for food didn’t help either. Although it promised to be ‘a little strange,’ if anything weird was going on it must have been well hidden as I caught no sight of it. Perhaps ‘God’ and ‘His Mistress’* were getting odd elsewhere. The music on the small stage however was fantastic and it’s a shame it was given so little attention

Sunday Morning…

Last night was my wrap up. It involved one very wonderful Kathleen Hanna imparting sage advice whilst dressed in a business leotard, a live blacksmithing experience augmented and mixed by a sound/noise performer and a Norwegian black metal percussive set, complete with string section held in the black of night at Belgian artist Wim Delvoye’s Chapel beside the River Derwent. Yes, that sentence just happened.

Saturday night at Faux Mo swelled to include the youngsters of Hobart which meant a seedy club vibe and epically annoying queues for admission, drinks or the bathroom. My companions and I felt a little lost as this kooky little haven for artists had transformed from an intimate dance party into a club anthem beauty pageant. David, next year two more bars that are well staffed and some portaloos really wouldn’t go astray- have a heart! I saw you behind the bar grabbing drinks and you couldn’t’ have cared less, but seriously, spare a thought for the plebs who just want to party, and have paid a lot for the privilege.

Overall…

Mona Foma is a strange beast. For all its merit in committing to pushing the boundaries of experimental sound for a general audience, the line-up featured an incredibly glaring lack of women on the bill. There are no solo female artists yet the festival is bursting with solo male performers, including the embarrassingly self-indulgent Chris Thile on mandolin. If I wanted to see a white guy on a pedestal preaching Jesus to me I’d just head to church, thanks pal. Despite lacklustre vocals that were occasionally off key, an odd stage presence and rather hollow sound this guy is touted as a ‘genius’ in the catalogue- weird. Similarly, as much as I adore Mick Harvey and everything he’s done for music, are you telling me, dear curators, that out of the whole world of contemporary sounds on offer, one of the most interesting things you felt you had to share with us is yet another Serge Gainsbourg cover band? B-O-R-I-N-G! Including The Julie Ruin on your bill is not a get out of jail free pass, sorry.

Despite this, I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth and I had an absolutely wonderful time at Mona Foma. Hobart is relaxing and there’s an unpretentious vibe to the crowd which is really refreshing. Watching a guy who looked to be about 70 dance wildly with an 18 year old girl in a cut-off vest that screamed ‘CLITORIS’ across the back to Slave Pianos/Punkasila is what festivals are all about. Looking forward to the next instalment.

*the Mona car park features 2 reserved  spaces for ‘God’ and ‘God’s Mistress’.

2 thoughts on “festival review: mona foma

  1. I live in Hobart and I absolutely love MOFO. Thanks for visiting – I’m glad you enjoyed yourself :) (P.s. we did get one solo female artist – Ngaiire played on Sunday at 5.30pm – she was awesome, and if you want to include art artists (and why not?), Melanie Herbert’s installation featured throughout the festival, with a live performance piece by Melanie on the opening night (which I missed as I was still at work at the time!). I agree more would be nice though.)
    Look forward to your review of the red queen!

  2. Punkasila’s lead guitarist is my boyfriend :-) We started our relationship during MONA FOMA!:-) He’s currently working on a book about visual art in Indonesia during the Japanese occupation in 1940s

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