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Tropical Fruits presents Tribe – NYE11

Mon 9 Jan 2012 In: Events View at NDHA

A party can be in a gorgeous venue with idyllic lighting and spellbinding music but it’s nothing without the right crowd. There’s a special blend of happy, loving, spirited people that is the magical fairy dust that makes an event one for the books. This year’s Tropical Fruits New Year’s Eve celebration called Tribe was filled to the brim with that perfect sense of family and silliness that cemented it as one by which we’ll compare others to for years to come. Just to set the scene, Tropical Fruits is a volunteer organisation that has been staging fabulous LGBT parties in the rural town of Lismore for over two decades. This normally quiet town of approximately 30,000 people (per Wikipedia, although it feels much smaller) is about two hours drive south from Brisbane and roughly an hour from the costal party town of Byron Bay. This year my husband and two friends chose to take the road trip from way down in Sydney – nine hours going by a relatively coastal road and eleven coming back via a different, more inland route. Actually, the trip home wasn’t too rough thanks to delightful company, great memories, and a rockin’ road-trip soundtrack by current favourite DJs. It was 1,700 kilometres round-trip of head-bopping and laughs, but trust me when I say “screw the price, next time we’re flying directly into Lismore”. The Tribe events had kicked off on Dec 29th with an opening gala and film festival, little aspects to Tropical Fruits that truly make it shine. It’s like SF Gay Pride or Montreal’s Black and Blue, with an array of arts, crafts and community appreciation, just on a much more intimate scale.Unfortunately we missed the start of the celebration by arriving mid-afternoon on the 30th and our very first duty was to get banded with our weekend passes which we easily picked up at the Showgrounds, what would be home to most of the dancing to come. It was then off to check into our hotel and do some minor snack/booze shopping at the nearby shops before we could relax. With the technicalities out of the way we started catching up with own little tribe that was staying in nearby rooms. There was a pretty sizeable gang of us that had come from major cities around Australia and New Zealand. It’s a fun little family that has deep roots, with some of the relationships going back to their shared teenage years over 20 years ago in Christchurch. That said, being a relative newbie who recently married into the mix, the love is uniform across the board and from our very first night together at dinner that tone was set for the entire weekend. Right, time to get to the main event – New Year’s Eve. Even through there were lots of taxis about and a roving shuttle bus that only called for a gold coin donation we all decided to drive down to the showgrounds from the hotel. It was just easier and it wasn’t so far that the cars couldn’t be picked up the next day if necessary. It had been raining during the afternoon and early evening but the storm had cleared in time for our arrival. The break in the weather also allowed the many campers around showgrounds to dry out in time to get dolled up. Camping is big at Tropical Fruits, sort of like the old days at Lazy Bear when Fifes would be loaded with fabulously adorned sites that were cozy and inviting. A great accommodation for those attracted to the alternative environment and sense of community that comes with camping. Plus it was stumbling distance from the party. Easy peasy! And when I say camp, I also mean CAMP! This year’s Tribe theme really brought out a huge variety of outfits from both individuals and groups. I haven’t seen that many faux pelts and feather head-dresses since either Burning Man or the original Conan the Barbarian movie (it’s a tie). Good on ‘em for owning the theme utterly. The music started at 8 pm in the main hall, this year called The Temple, with a personal friend and rising star on the Australian scene, Melbourne’s DJ Kam Shafaati. This delightful person and gifted artist has been wowing the world with brilliant podcasts for just two short years, but in that time his skills have earned him spots at all the major Melbourne events along with not one, but two Sydney Mardi Gras stints in a row, with the second coming up in early March. A meteoric, yet well deserved musical career for a young man who also brings positive energy to our world. Since Kam was the opening DJ we all got their early, with most of our posse on the dance floor by 9 am and boy, am I happy we got their when we did. I’ll say right now that I enjoyed his set the most of all the music I heard over the weekend. Other DJs undoubtedly nailed their sounds and brought epic tunes to the party, but I feel Kam’s set built then energy perfectly. It was meaty, happy, mostly vocal, and the perfect jet pack for shooting us off into space. For those first two hours I barely escaped his music and as the crowd grew and grew, the energy in the room swelled with the overall adoration of the journey we were on. At 11 pm a big name from Sydney took up the march with his premier Tropical Fruits appearance. For the next four hours DJ Dan Murphy delivered a hefty barrage of big tracks including a choice, retro-stretch of epic, late 90′s hits it was impossible to pull away from, except of course for a small spot about an hour into his set when basically everyone in the venue filtered out to watch the traditional midnight fireworks staged from the centre of the showgrounds. For a little town nestled into the northern reaches of New South Wales they sure put on one heck of a show. For about 10 minutes we were wowed by a dramatic display that could be seen for miles and was surely enjoyed by many outside the venue as well as the biggest bang for miles. After the fireworks we piles back into The Temple for more dancing, spotted with little tours of the greater party landscape and massive amounts of silliness. It’s amazing the miles and smiles you can get out of $3.95 throw-away bug hats (lady bug and bee). During the night we periodically checked in with the music over in the other hall called The Forest. It’s a smaller, yet still sizeable shed a few steps away from The Temple but with a distinctly different sound and vibe. A darker space, both in music and decor, with simple dressing composed of a couple of lasers and a few well-placed mirrored mobiles, most likely the creations of Sydney’s celebrated mirror-ball artist Peter Sykes of Psyklonic Visual Effects (the most stunning and effective mirrored wonders around). Although the gifted and popular line-up of DJs Lady K, Feisty and Sveta were undoubtedly throwing down some truly deep beats, our ears and family were more tuned into the lyrical, prime time sounds in The Temple. I shouldn’t leave out the other mini-parties that added to the diverse Tropical Fruits offerings. The Fresh Fruits, or LGBTQQ youth who bring vitality and vision to the entire weekend, had their own lighter dance space called The Shrine. It was in a large house down from The Temple that was perched up higher than the walkway so through the night we could hear hip hop and pop pouring down from the windows. Not far away in a more low-rise building that also housed the chill-out lounge was the Cabaret, yet another creative and eclectic option at the event. All manner of performance could be heard seeping through its walls all night (and at one point I would swear cats were slaughtered), although our thirst for bigger beats kept us posted up in the dance hall. In the midst of all this was also a full-blown art gallery showcasing the creations of the region’s extensive artist community. It was open throughout the weekend and a great, mind-expanding break from the regularly scheduled exploits. At 3 am a wiry, smooth headed silhouette took over the reigns in The Temple, DJ Sandi Hotrod was in charge. She launched straight into some darker tunes that shook loose a few people who needed to take a break from the dance floor anyway, but soon picked the pace back up and pumped the hall through to a gorgeous ending at 6 am, at least that’s the reports we received from those who saw it out to the end. With the spectre of the pool and “recovery” parties looming we left at 4 am with intentions of getting some necessary rest (and I’ll leave it at that). Tropical Fruits on New Years Eve is the closest thing to Burning Man on the night of the burn that I’ve found in this hemisphere. The decor of the entire event is organic and inspiring. As a primarily evening event there is a huge variety of glowing, oversized installations that smack of Playa. It’s also a multi-day event in the same location so you can really snuggle into the environment. It becomes comfortable and easy, just like the sofas in the Cabaret. You also have a huge mix of people that breeds a rare sense of community. In the mix are fresh party boys, local elders and a parade of outstanding drag! At one point there was this other-worldly, late-night coffee klatch of a dozen monster drag queens and other assorted ladies laughing it up by the bar. One looked straight out of Mars Attacks, another had a 2-foot beau-font woven with Christmas lights, while another was a distant cousin of Edward Scissorhands with massive eyelashes that appears to be made from the golden fork of a giant. It’s those and countless other timeless moments that make this New Years Eve celebration truly unique in the world. But was it a perfect night? Sorry, but no, I can’t say it was. The biggest downer of the night was the unexpected presence of sniffer dogs in the party itself. Yep, that’s right, walking though the dance floor. This was completely out of Tropical Fruits control, according to one of the lead organisers who told me that the New South Wales police wanted to test out a new batch of pups and what better place to do it than at a party where you can expect something suspicious might be happening. We were warned about it when we picked up our passes, again when we arrived, and even as the dogs were entering the dance hall someone scurried ahead whispering their approach. We also knew they were only expected to be there between 9 and 11 pm, but all that couldn’t stop us from feeling like criminals, used by the cops as an easy training ground. They weren’t there long, but it was a pretty sour way to start the night and I pray it’s not re-enacted next year. Technically, the party was smooth as silk. With all those people there was barely ever a wait for bathrooms. This was helped by a massive, unisex stall-hall at one end of the property that kept the occasional toilet run easy. Also, although there were minor waits at the volunteer-run bar, everyone was very polite and the hard-working staff processed people quickly. Oh, and the drink costs were incredibly reasonable. When so many other parties have raised water prices for smaller bottles, at Tropical Fruits it’s still just three bucks for a big, cold one. Well done! A couple of needling things were the normally frozen otter pops that were handed out warm and completely liquid. This feels like someone just spaced on chilling bit, making them super-sweet struggles at best that should probably been held back and refrozen for the following night. Also, that damned light between The Temple and The Forest. Those who were there know of what I speak. It was blinding, relatively dangerous for epileptics and generally oppressive. But with the few minor sticking points being no greater than these, I’d say the night was technically a breeze. On New Year’s Day most of us reconvened at the Lismore Memorial Baths across the street from our hotel for the next official stop on the journey and one the best pool parties around. It was a gorgeous day, the music was pumping by the Olympic size pool that also boasted some super-fun, inflated and floating play-scapes, and bright eyes and shiny skin was in abundance. The one thing you can really enjoy at Australian parties is the utter lack of judgment. Everyone was there to have fun and it was free flowing to the beats of DJs Elscorcho and Lismore local Craig Wilson. After that it was off for a shower, an outfit change, and just a spot of food before returning to the showgrounds for round two and the final dance of the weekend. We all showed up early while it was still light out and as it was a lovely night we spent a good portion of the lit hours laughing it up and bouncing around down by the bar, greeting our ever-expanding family as they arrived. Once the drive to dance took us we returned to The Temple (the only venue besides the Cabaret that was running that night). DJ Buck Naked kicked off the night with what we thought were some rather dark tunes then handed the game over to DJ Master Sergent at 8 pm. The beats were just starting to kick up as I began to lose a battle with my tummy. My husband and I quietly excused ourselves at about 9 but hear from those who stayed that the rollercoaster journey continued with moments both memorable and not so much, but that’s ok. It was a last dance with family that might not convene again until December 31, 2012 so fabulous music or not, thanks to the company the holiday was complete. Tropical Fruits is a unique party that, as with Burning Man, words can only begin to describe. There are so many fabulous and caring facets to this annual celebration that you’d really need to be trying hard not to have fun. Yes, it’s a long way for folks from New Zealand, or for most people for that matter, but the payback for making the journey is outstanding. Let’s hope the cop pup issue gets sorted, but other than that I can’t wait for our return to Lismore. It’s a magical, loving time that has charged us up for the year to come. This and many other global party reviews by Leif Wauters can be found on SF-based event blog The Juice Box. Leif Wauters - 9th January 2012    

Credit: Leif Wauters

First published: Monday, 9th January 2012 - 8:57am

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