RECAP: Mode Festival 2023

Image: By Ravyna – Ravyna Jassani

Bailey recaps the highs and lows of this year’s ‘mode’ at Cockatoo Island

Mode Festival is in its sophomore year of turning Cockatoo Island warehouses into thumping stages for a worldwide selection of electronic music. This year, the lineup included international standouts like techno legend Surgeon, ‘Say Yes To Heaven’ remix producer sim0ne, hard techno wizard SPF DJ, among a mix of other acts. 

Like last year, Mode was about more than just the music. Multiple multimodal art installations decorated Cockatoo Island, and they seemed to be a hot commodity for the not-uncommon psychonaut you might see on the festival ground. Not to diminish the art as cannon fodder for those on drug-induced spiritual journeys; these installations were vivid with colour and rich with social commentary, even if most of us were too slow to understand. 

Speaking of drugs, police presence was a little unsettling during the day. Whilst not completely overbearing, the canines were active during the ferry boarding process and caught a few cookers looking to smuggle in a couple pingas over the water. On the island, the police did not go unnoticed. There were moments where, in the right light, when the sun had not yet set but the sky turned gradient, they almost faded into the crowd, and those unfamiliar with the nanny state’s practice of over-policing may have even forgotten about their occupancy, if not for a brief moment. 

Some standouts from the day included local talent D-Grade, who had selected an incredible range of electro, breaks, and acid tech, all seamlessly mixed together to create a euphoric, dark, and moody atmosphere inside the Void Stage. In what was a somewhat hard, high BPM day, this was a great show of an original and powerful sound, showing us that you don’t need to cut shapes at lightspeed to captivate the crowd.

D-Grade @ Void Stage – Image by Bailey Kang

Jamesjamesjames had another great set, including unexpected bangers. With remixes of Draingang alumni and original unreleased I.Ds setting the floor on fire, the homegrown talent proved once again their pension for getting the crowd grooving. 

Darwin brought the island past sundown with a beautiful showing of UK bass and garage, scaring the birds away at the outdoor RA Stage. Many attendees flocked outside for this one to watch the sun set to some banging basslines and a couple beverages. 

The ultimate showing was SPF DJ ripping up the dance floor in Void stage for one of the final acts of the day. They played some of the hardest tech of the night, making necks crank and feet tap-dance to the spectacle of a light show accompanying their selections. Mixing was on point here, with a real masterclass on display for all of the island’s temporary residents to see. It was a defining moment of the festival, and an impressive catch for the Mode organisers. 

SPF DJ @ Metro Theatre Mode after party – Image by Rory Olsson

Mode showed once and for all that Sydney’s nightlife is on the comeback, and the revival of underground electronic music has never been more obvious than in the explosive engine rooms of the former dry docks.

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