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Sydney's Vivid winter festival finds its feet

Canberra Times logo Canberra Times 26/05/2014 Annabel Ross

It’s taken a while for the Sydney winter music, light and ideas festival to find its footing, but six years in, Vivid feels like an event firmly in its groove.

Thousands flooded the city’s harbour, streets, concert halls and museums for the opening weekend, kicking off last Friday night with the lighting of the sails on the Opera House.

UK outfit 59 productions, the video designers for the 2012 London Olympic opening ceremony, were commissioned to cast projections over the Opera House, decorating the sails in washes of vibrant colours, bold shapes and whimsical designs including a snakeskin print and butterflies.

On the other side of Circular Quay, artist Jess Johnson’s Gamma World lit up the facade of the Museum of Contemporary Art, where hypnotic images inspired by cosmology and science fiction were projected in an eight-minute loop.

Unseasonably warm weather drew more crowds than usual to marvel at more than 50 light installations that dotted the harbour. One side of the Harbour Bridge was illuminated for the first time in Vivid’s history, controlled by the public via an interactive touchscreen at Luna Park, and boats twinkled on the water, decorated with LED lights that changed colour as the boats moved into different parts of the harbour.

Vivid Lights director Anthony Bastic recalled when he first took the idea of a winter light festival to the NSW government. “I was told that Sydneysiders wouldn’t go to a winter festival,” he says. Bastic had just returned from the Fete des Lumieres in Lyon, France, where it was a frosty -8 degrees.

“I figured they could brave the elements,” he said with a grin.

Headlining the music section of the program was legendary indie-rock group the Pixies, revered by Nirvana and Radiohead – and a mostly greying, wildly appreciative crowd in the Opera House concert hall. Performing four shows over the weekend, the Boston four-piece, with Paz Lenchantin doing an admirable job of filling the shoes of former bassist Kim Deal, mixed classic tracks like Where Is My Mind? and Vamos with newer fare from this year’s Indie Cindy, their first album in 23 years.

Vivid’s director of music, Fergus Linehan, said the program is designed to appeal to “anyone who is culturally curious.”

 “There have been years where we’ve ended up with something quite specific, i think in 2012 it was very kind of indie royalty, with Karen O and Sufjan Stevens,” he said.

“We’ve tried to broaden that out a little bit so it’s not purely electronic or purely indie, and also to appeal to different generations.”

The opening weekend was a good showcase of this all-ages approach; other events at the Opera House included Jonti and Astral Kids’ effervescent tribute to the Avalanches 1999 multi-sampling masterpiece Since I Left You, and Timeline, a staggeringly ambitious and successful attempt at condensing the past 40,000 years of music into two hours, performed by the Australian Chamber Orchestra and the Presets.

Next week, disco don Giorgio Moroder will appear at three different events, and Pet Shop Boys will perform at Modulations, a new electronic music offshoot in Eveleigh.

The Ideas section of the program, encouraging creativity and innovation through workshops and seminars is hosted at the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Powerhouse Museum. Speakers this week include producer Flume and fashion designer Karen Walker.

Vivid Sydney drew a record crowd of 800,000 over 18 days last year according to organisers, who are expecting to eclipse that figure this year.

The nebulous structure of the event in its infancy has been shaped into something that is both comprehensive and easily navigated, says Linehan.

“It’s evolved from something that was very confused and had very little public sympathy, to something which is suddenly beloved.”

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