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Björk, Bon Iver and the Boorloo Block Party

The pandemic changed the landscape of the Perth Festival’s contemporary music program, but 2023 sees a return to international form.


Santiago Felipe

After two pandemic affected years saw the Perth Festival’s contemporary music program embrace more locally-based iterations, with borders open and artistic freedoms restored they are back in the business of being an International Arts Festival, with artists such as Björk, Bon Iver, Bikini Kill, Peaches, Future Islands and more gracing various Perth stages. 

“It’s a kind of return to form for the festival broadly,” says Contemporary Music Programmer, Tom Supple. “Being able to program international artists and companies and bring them to Perth is essentially core business for the Perth Festival, so it’s wonderful to be able to return to that. 

“I do think, though, that the work that we did last year particularly in the contemporary music space, reorienting the festival community and trying to support some of the new commissions and develop partnerships with people who are feet on the ground, working day in, day out, within the contemporary music landscape of Perth was really fruitful work. So we’re excited to maintain some of those projects and partnerships and relationships across into this festival.

“Particularly with Flewnt realising his Boorloo Block Party (February 18) again for the second year, with a bit more of a national flavour, obviously. And Kobie Dee supporting him as a Noongar man to curate a line-up. To continue that relationship is super important.

“But being able to work with international artists, particularly some of you know, pretty significant scale, like Björk for example, it’s a total pleasure to be able to bring those kinds of artists to Perth.”

Björk returns to Australia for the first time since the 2008 Big Day Out for exclusive Perth performances (Langley Park, March 3,6,9 and 12) of her tour de force production, Cornucopia. 

“You’re looking for artists who are in that sweet spot of delivering amazing, relevant artistic outcomes and spectacles and incredible performances,” Supple says. “You can’t get better than Björk, I suppose, in a contemporary music space. 

“A lot of people have been chasing an opportunity to present her in this country. And I was just fortunate to be in that conversation over a period of time. 

“We presented what we considered to be the best platform for her to present that work, in particular, the Cornucopia show. It’s a very specific show, obviously, there’s complicated technical elements to it. So it can’t just be presented in any venue, which is obviously why we’re going to the lengths of building a bespoke pavilion to put that show in. 

“There really weren’t that many other people, nationally, who had the same capacity to present that show as they wanted it to be delivered. Which I think is what put us at the head of the line in terms of having that conversation and securing Björk as the headline artist for the ‘23 festival.”

In 2012 Bon Iver performed under the stars at Red Hill Auditorium in Perth’s north. It’s one of those shows that has become the stuff of misty water coloured memories, and the chance to make even more of those will happen again on February 26. It ties in nicely with the festival’s 2023 theme, Djinda, which means ‘star’ in Noongar language. 

“It’s really great,” Supple muses. “Again, in terms of artists that make these incredible live performances, not just making great recorded music, but actually presenting these kinds of concept-driven shows. 

“Bon Iver is another really perfect example of the type of artist that we’re really want to showcase within the Perth Festival. I’ve been lucky enough to see him perform here in Australia on a number of occasions but also internationally. 

“Everything I know of that show is that it’s going to be an amazing spectacle as well. Particularly presented at Red Hill with that kind of backdrop of the city in the distance. It’s a good opportunity to connect with the theme of the festival at that moment to celebrate under the stars.”

Also highlighting the program are shows from feminist icons such as Bikini Kill (March 1) and Peaches (February 26), with emerging beacons such as Kae Tempest (February 15), Julia Jacklin (February 21-22), Angel Olsen (March 7-8), and also making their way to Perth.   

“When you start putting together these programs, there’s obviously an intention to make sure that it’s reflective, broadly, of communities and genders and identities and cultural backgrounds, but, it’s quite fortunate this year that some of those artists like Peaches and Kathleen Hanna and Bikini Kill, that really kind of strong, powerful female voice that narrative thread through those various artists is pretty evident. And a pretty exciting one, I think, for the festival to be able to create that sort of story around. The importance of those voices through the decades and how relevant they continue to be in terms of their music making and politic as well.

“Then with Angel Olsen, Julia Jacklin and Kae Tempest, they have really strong biographies and personal stories. These are people who have really important things to say as well as making incredibly amazing music.”

Returning to full force has clearly been liberating for the Perth Festival team, now it’s the audience’s turn to indulge and take away their share of the experience.  

“I think generally, what we’re hoping for is to provide transformative experiences for people, to give them those moments that will stay within their memory for a long time to come. I mean, look at that Bon Iver show from 10 years ago at Red Hill and the special place that holds for people their collective memory. 

“I’d hope with some of these performances and moments in the program, that we can give the local community and people that are interested in contemporary music, the opportunity to celebrate and create these kinds of important memories.”

The Perth Festival runs from February 10th to March 5th 2023. Full program details at www.perthfestival.com.au.