I was recently lucky enough to spend a year living and working in Australia. It’s an uncanny experience, being an Englishman down under. Everything is strangely familiar, yet there are thousands of cultural differences to wrap your head around: eating breakfast at 8am and calling it ‘brunch’; ridiculous beer size nomenclature (pots, scooners, middys, shmiddys) that were clearly conceived by someone who was day drinking; saying “too easy” while doing things that are widely accepted as easy, the list goes on…
Yet there was one Australian tradition in particular that blew my mind – a distinctive medley of counterculture, cranium-bending trance music and outback romanticism. I’m talking, of course, about the storied ‘bush doof.’
The Oxford English Dictionary describes a doof as ‘a large party or festival with dancing to electronic music,’ but this is a bit like describing base jumping as ‘an experience with gravity and nylon.’ The legend of the ‘doof’ goes back to 1992 Sydney, where a buzzing electronic scene was just starting to emerge. The gloriously titled Non-Bossy Posse were spinning trance tunes into the night, before an angry neighbour intervened. Apparently, she didn’t feel that the distinctive Non-Bossy noise qualified as music.
‘What is this doof-doof!?’ she cried, and a national institution was born.
As electronic music evolved in Australia during the 1990’s, so did the doof. Party organisers began to arrange gatherings further out of the city, to avoid the prying eyes of parents and police. Thus, the doof became the ‘bush doof’ which soon grew to be about more than just a loud PA and a motley crew of doofers. It became about nature and community, freedom of expression and visual art.
So, what really sets a bush doof apart from your everyday music fest? Well first there’s the music. Respecting its onomatopoeic heritage, music at a bush doof is exclusively electronic – but don’t expect to find David Guetta heading line-ups. A bush doof positions itself in opposition to the mainstream festival circuit, which means underground acts only, taken from warehouse party culture. The trippy music is typically combined with spectacular light shows that make for a truly otherworldly party.
Then there’s the location. The bush doof sentiment revolves around ‘getting out, man.’ Out from suburban boredom, from swanky nightclubs and surly bouncers, and, as the oldest and largest bush doof Earthcore puts it, ‘searching for the real response to stifling city saturation.’ The harsh beauty of the ozzie bush is fundamental to a true doof, which is reflected in the festivals themselves, where art installations are intertwined with nature and large structures are constructed from wood and foliage.
Finally, there’s the famed bush doof culture. I have to admit that psytrance music isn’t really my thing, but I attended a bush doof last year to truly immerse myself in ozzie experience. At Earth Frequency there was a strong focus on environmentalism, diversity and community. The doof operated a strict ‘leave no trace’ policy, meaning that festival goers had to bring everything home with them, and – having attended my fair share of British music fests in my time – I was pretty surprised at how party goers packed everything up without so much as a beer can left behind.
The tunes may not have been up my street, but the community was incredible to see: visual artists crafted jaw-dropping interactive works in the luminarium, while a wacky cultural village hosted ‘transformational workshops,’ with spiritual speakers, ‘healers’ and panels.
So, whether party goers wanted to immerse themselves in sacred grounds, get a massage or try a spot of yoga, there was plenty to do that didn't involve endlessly doofing our heads to the doof.
At night fire breathers and ethereal light shows combined with trippy art installations, making me feel like I was in a surreal dream. Then the sun came up, stretching over the magnificent sparsity of the bush and illuminating revellers, still serenely mulling around and chatting. As a kookaburra laughed in the distance, I felt glad I had finally experienced a doof for myself – this bizarre but wonderfully quintessential Australian tradition.