From humble beginnings the Earth Frequency festival has earned a reputation among music festival goers as one of Australia’s premier music parties. Recently featured in the international festival guide Festival Fire, Earth Frequency represents a worldwide movement towards music concerts which push the boundaries of traditional entertainment. This shift in focus is exemplified by the adoption by festival attendees and organisers, of the term transformational festivals. In order to explore this diverse culture, I spoke with Paul Abad, the guiding force behind Earth Frequency Festival. Paul described a space where music, ecology, ritual, ecstatic dance, community, art and spirituality intersect in a complex yet loosely structured world set apart from the every day.
Paul Abad, the 34 year old key promoter of Earth Frequency, balances festival promotion with lecturing in web development at Central Queensland University as well as his own web development business. In his spare time he produces music, djs and creates sacred geometry inspired digital art. I asked Paul what inspires him: ‘For me art’s completely a process… it’s about getting internal visions to the outside world and I think it can be a vessel of change because as soon as we have some sort of idea or vision and can manifest that as a physical form…we can look back on it, we can reflect on it and then the process goes on again, it’s a bit of a cycle… it’s a journey’. For Paul, creative expression is process oriented and forms a journey toward change.
One of the strongest driving forces in the development of the Earth Frequency festival, from its humble beginnings as a tree planting celebration party back in 2005, is the coming together of like-minded individuals. From its earliest manifestation, Earth Frequency attendees have been comprised of individuals interested in connecting as an alternative community, one dedicated to ecological concerns and celebration of life via music and dance. Till acknowledges the popular cult of Electronic Dance Music Culture (EDMC), which I suggest music festival culture could be viewed as part of, or related to, as allowing individuals to ‘feel reinserted into a community’ (2010, 163). Till reflects on the importance of having an alternative community in an environment of post-modern individualism, with less community orientation, without ‘celebratory traditions, rituals and religions’ (2010, 163). Durkheim too relates the setting apart of sacred practices to community (1912, 47). Paul tells me:
‘When you think about connection to nature and spiritual connection to plants, and a strong focus on local community, all of that kind of stuff, I think people feel quite disconnected from [those things] because they’re saturated by mass media and fairly highly structured kinds of belief and ethical systems and I think it’s refreshing to think that some of that stuff is available to us in a more free and experiential way.’
When Paul describes some of the factors which draw people to Earth Frequency, it’s evident that he’s lucidly aware of the growing transformational ideology arising within transformational festivals. While it’s clear that festivals like Earth Frequency are concerned with ecology and the experience of music and dance, what I most wanted to discover is whether they might be seen as having a spiritual or religious dimension. Bailey’s term implicit religion or ‘those aspects of everyday life…[that]… might have, within them, some sort of inherent religiosity of their own (2010, 271),’ could be related to transformational festival culture, in that, there are spiritual aspects which arise organically, rather than being consciously constructed as religious. I asked Paul if he sees a spiritual dimension to Earth Frequency:
‘I’d say definitely yes, but I think, my definition of spirituality is pretty broad. I think it’s about people just finding a deeper meaning to everyday events… it’s definitely not a spiritual dimension in the sense of anything dogmatic or a fixed set of beliefs, but it’s the aspect of people gathering as a community, coming together, the joyful experience of gathering in a less confined environment and joyful experience of dance and music and art, and I think all these things are intrinsically spiritual… I’ve heard some people say that those kinds of spaces are their church, because that’s where they celebrate life.’
Paul completes his definition as seeing the festival space as inspiring attendees to bring out their best, to be good to one another and to be filled with happiness. Paul relates these values and attitudes to those found in religion and spirituality. He was very clear however, that while Earth Frequency has a spiritual dimension, the quality of it is not dictated by the organisers. Spirituality within the festival is open to individual interpretation and actively avoids dogma. This reluctance to formally identify with structured religion, to preference the term spirituality, and in some ways deliberately taking a position of distance from religion, is identified by Till as common within EDMC (2010 145). Paul’s comments do seem to indicate that transformational festival culture postures itself as an alternative to structures like mainstream religion.
As a long term participant in EDMC, I was interested in exploring the aspects of ritual and ecstatic dance found within festivals like Earth Frequency. Both Sylvan and Till relate some aspects of a dance party or festival to ritual practice (2010, 148 & 2002, 137). Turner’s theory of liminality during ritual practice could certainly be applied to festivals which require a pilgrimage style journey to get to the site; a period of liminality where one is ‘betwixt and between’ the ordinary world within the festival space; and a journey home, often involving a processes of reintegration (Mahdi 1987, 3). Sylvan additionally links ecstatic dance, a key focus of transformational festivals, with an experience of trance (2002, 128). I asked Paul for his thoughts on dance as a trance experience:
‘[Dancing is an] awesome opportunity to experience bliss. The point of release is where you lose yourself… ego, thinking mind, the voice of analysis and constant critical thought can disappear for a while and you can connect with the people around you and connect with the music, you can go deep within yourself.’
Paul’s description of bliss, connection, going beyond the self or deeper within the self is reminiscent of Bouma’s theory of transcendence as a social process (1992, 68). When viewed from this perspective the festival space is sacralised, it creates a boundary where the ordinary world ends, and a space where transcendence takes place is created through the shared values of the community.
Technology has always been an intrinsic part of EDMC. The axis mundi for dance music parties is music produced using cutting edge technology. Many people involved in this culture are very comfortable using contemporary media. All of Paul’s festival, creative and web development work involves media and technology. His web development business focuses on work for festivals like Earth Frequency. Paul sees media like the internet, Facebook and Twitter as the best tools currently available to use as mediums to build connections and community within the transformational festival scene. He notes that they are certainly an improvement on the older email lists and flyers which were the mainstays of EDMC communications prior to web based forums and Facebook.
Finally, I asked Paul to reflect on how he sees festivals like Earth Frequency portrayed in mainstream media. He related that while there are the occasional negative portraits which have always plagued EDMC (Till 2010, 165), generally these festivals are seen in a positive light. The shift in terminology to transformational festival seems to reflect a changing view of the culture. Paul sees this term as describing a space for individuals ‘embracing art, culture, community, spirituality and [we] want to get together and build a different way of living and celebrate whatever potential in our lives that we can.’
Durkheim, E. 1912. The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. London : Allen and Unwin
Bouma, G. D. 1992. Religion: meaning, transcendence and community in Australia. Melbourne: Longman Cheshire
Bailey, E. 2010. Implicit Religion in Religion, Vol 40 (4), p271. UK: Taylor and Francis
Till, R. 2010. God is a DJ: Possession Trance Cults of Electronic Dance Music in Pop Cult: Religion and Popular Music, 131-166. London: Continuum International Publishing
Sylvan, R. 2002. The Dance Music Continuum: house, rave, and electronic dance music in Traces of the Spirit, 117 – 151. New York: NYU Press
Mahdi, L, Foster, S and Little, M. 1987. Betwixt and between: patterns of masculine and feminine initiation. USA: Open Court Publishing
Festival Fire About. Festival Fire. 2013
Earth Frequency Festival About. Earth Frequency Festival. 2013
Image Sourced with permission from: https://www.facebook.com/paul.d.abad/photos