Current Issue #488

Vivid vs. Dark Mofo: Which festival deserves to be your arty holiday of 2019?

Vivid vs. Dark Mofo: Which festival deserves to be your arty holiday of 2019?

Now you’ve survived Adelaide’s March festival haze, the lure of interstate winter festivals is all the more tempting. With Sydney and Hobart both offering impressive and overlapping programs, we’ve done the comparisons to find which mid-year destination is for you.


Vivid Live’s big musical draw of 2019 is British legends The Cure performing their seminal 1989 album Disintegration goth to bottom on May 24, 25, 27 and 28. While The Cure’s tendency to play three hour long sets means fans usually get a decent chunk of Disintegration whatever the occasion, the thrill of hearing those sinewy 80s guitar lines reverberate around the Opera House sounds quite appealing. It’s also quite sold out, however.

The Dirty Three will celebrate their 25th anniversary at both Vivid Live and Dark MOFO in 2019 (Photo: Bleddyn Butcher)
The Dirty Three will celebrate their 25th anniversary at both Vivid Live and Dark MOFO in 2019 (Photo: Bleddyn Butcher)

Australian record label Spunk! Celebrates its 20th anniversary over two nights, with the second evening on May 25 featuring influential 2000s folk troupe The Middle East along with Emma Russack and Melbourne’s The Ocean Party in their final farewell show. When paired with either a rare Australian show from experimental US artist Grouper on the Friday, or the 25th anniversary concert from the Warren Ellis-led The Dirty Three on Sunday, May 26, that weekend offers a beguiling mix.

The Vivid program also features Maggie Rogers and Kate Miller-Heidke both of whom are soon to visit Adelaide (Miller-Heidke, who will perform at the City Recital Hall as part of the wider Vivid Music program, is set to appear in the Adelaide Cabaret Festival in June). Away from the Opera House, Carriageworks’ Vivid program includes UK singer, producer and dancer FKA Twigs on June 9. Twigs hasn’t performed in Adelaide since 2014, which is almost worth a trip to Sydney in itself.

But… Twigs will also perform at Dark MOFO on Friday, June 14, and the overlap doesn’t end there, with Dirty Three will also making their way to Tassie on June 16. Sharon Van Etten’s Remind Me Tomorrow is one of the albums of the year, and will see her perform in both Sydney and Hobart on June 1 and June 9 respectively. In the context of the album’s dark electronic moods and Van Etten’s tendency to complement a certain Lynchian aesthetic (she performed in the recent Twin Peaks revival, after all), she would probably hit harder in the context of Dark Mofo than the glitz of Sydney.

Sharon Van Etten will perform at both Vivid Live and Dark MOFO (Photo: Ryan Pfluger)
Sharon Van Etten will perform at both Vivid Live and Dark Mofo (Photo: Ryan Pfluger)

Other key draws for Dark Mofo include 2018 Unsound Adelaide highlight Nicolás Jaar on Saturday, June 15 and Sigur Rós frontmant Jonsi performing his Riceboy Sleeps side project album with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra on June 14 and 15. Ambient producer Juliana Barwick put on an incredible show in Adelaide some years ago, and her collaboration with harpist Mary Lattimore on June 23 should be the aural equivalent of dreaming that you’re a whale. Regular street party Night Mass is under new management this year, featuring an eclectic international lineup led by Honduran-American producer Empress Of.


Vivid Sydney’s Game Changer series of talks includes US film auteur Spike Lee, who is currently enjoying renewed mainstream success with his Oscar win for Blackkklansmanfor (his first film in some years to receive wide Australian distribution, incidentally) and a Netflix adaptation of his 1986 breakthrough film She’s Gotta Have It.

At Dark Mofo, former Adelaide Writers’ Week director Laura Kroetsch has curated ideas symposium Dark + Dangerous Thoughts. Speakers, including Stan Grant, Yumi Stynes, Nakkiah Lui, Ginger Gorman and Julia Morrow, will delve into the world of identity politics across four days – like Q&A but without the IPA muppets the ABC has to book to quell accusations of bias.

Yumi Stynes (Photo Yumi Stynes and Dark Mofo)
Yumi Stynes (Photo: Yumi Stynes/Dark Mofo)


It’s damn near impossible to parse out highlights from the Vivid Sydney’s ‘lights’ program – the most efficient way to plan an experience is to just catch a bus into Darling Harbour and let the crowds whisky you away. Do look out for Claudia Nicholson and Spinifex Group’s light work projected onto the Museum of Contemporary Art – it features sound design from South Australian producer Lonelyspeck.

Claudia Nicholson's Let Me Down (Photo: Vivid Sydney)
Claudia Nicholson’s Let Me Down (Photo: Vivid Sydney)

Over on the apple isle however there’s the usual spooky transformation of the Hobart area with street parties and events such as the Winter Feast mass banquets, but 2019 will also include a new arts precinct ‘A Forest’ in an old Forestry Tasmania building. The visual art program also includes a major exhibition from Julie Gough at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, performance work from Mike Parr and work from Ai Weiwei, Alfredo Jaar and Oliver Beer at Mona.

Julie Gough’s Tense Past (Photo: Courtesy the artist/Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery/Dark Mofo)

Decision time

So if you’re a fan of the dark yet ethereal, and can afford to spend an entire week in Tasmania, the choice is relatively clear. However, if your definition of ‘dark yet ethereal’ is The Cure’s Disintegration or the heart string-tugging sound of The Middle East’s Blood, well, it’s time to brave the crowds at the Opera House.

As with all trips, the deciding factor may simply come down to: how many of your ex-Adelaide friends have moved to Sydney or Hobart? Fewer might have made the move to Hobart, but the odds that they can afford a house with a spare room are much higher.

Vivid Sydney
May 24 to June 15

Dark Mofo 
June 13 to June 23

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