What is art if you cannot immerse yourself completely in it? Soft Centre is back with another event at Carriageworks on 11 June with a multidisciplinary, grunge, and unconventional theme that transgresses the mundanity of current artistic boundaries. Carriageworks will be transformed into a space for artistic exploration, industrial defiance, and club beats that make you swoon throughout the day. Honi spoke to the founders of Soft Centre Jemma Cole and Thorsten Hertog who gave us a run-down on how the multisensory experience will unfurl.
Misbah Ansari: What’s the concept or inspiration behind the upcoming multisensory festival?
Jemma Cole: I guess the concept behind Soft Centre and our one-day event happening at Carriageworks is that we want to be an immersive experience that blends contemporary art and music and light installations, emerging tech, and Audio Visual (AV) performances. We also want to challenge traditional boundaries or conventions of festivals and art. What’s really important to us is creating a platform for artists to showcase their own kind of innovative and boundary-pushing performances.
The name Soft Centre came from the fact that we were inspired by harder and more experimental forms of art, but also acknowledging the catharsis that happens and leaves you kind of gooey in the centre.
Thorsten Hertog: Well, yeah, the name Soft Centre is also sort of like an antonym to hardcore almost. And I think maybe from the outside people see the program and the sort of stuff we champion and they might teach and hold it as quite “extreme” or “out there”. But beneath that, there is a real human element.
I think what’s so apparent when you go to a Soft Centre event is a sense of community which we’ve cultivated over like six years of doing it. It kind of feels like Christmas every time it happens because we all come together and it’s this really beautiful melting pot of different scenes and subcultures that might, you know, typically otherwise kind of exist in silos.
Australia has such a rich experimental art and music landscape, but often all these little scenes become a form of self-preservation and also a consequence of there not being many spaces for such stuff to exist. These scenes are usually quite insular, but Soft Centre is about finding the connective tissue between all of them, you know. You’ll see that the metal scene is next to the club kid scene, and the performance art scene, and they’re all coming together for this big, super-charged, multi-sensory day at Carriageworks.
MA: What do you think are some conventional limitations in the art and music world induced by the hyper-capitalist system we live in?
JC: I think that a lot of festivals in Australia need to be safe and book on metrics and what’s going to move tickets.
But the huge difference between Soft Centre and the rest of the landscape that we pride ourselves on and the reason why we do it is that we love to encourage the element of discovery and people that might not have a crazy following on SoundCloud, but we just believe in them as artists and we want to give them the platform regardless.
And I think that is the real beauty of our community and having trust in us. You know, we released the lineup and people might only know a few names, but they come there so they can discover new things. And I feel like that is one way of challenging that kind of boundary within the contemporary music festivals that exist today and art festivals in general.
MA: Usually, music is just associated with the auditory senses. In what ways is Soft Centre trying to appeal to different senses and why is it important?
TH: At the core, it’s multidisciplinary.
So you’re not just experiencing music when you come to Soft Centre. There’s also performance art, there are these big immersive Audio Visual concerts, um, which is a big emphasis in this year’s program because we have access to this massive 30-metre screen in Bay 17. Um, so I think we have five or six AV concerts happening this year in there.
hen we started, one thing that was really important for us was to break down this sort of passive music experience. or a lot of people on a night out, the music is sort of background to them having a social experience, but Soft Centre is immersive.
We spend a lot of time thinking about how we can break down the barrier between the audience and the artist. We have three performances happening in the foyer this year at Carriageworks.
On May 7, we had this performance where dancers are motion captured using real-time motion capture technology, and on the screen behind them, the controlling avatars that exist in this sort of MMORPG environment designed in unity that audience members can actually log onto as well, and participate in with their own avatars.
So, it’s a very participatory performance like that. While Soft Centre is still hedonistic and really fun where you come and have a social experience, it’s also very much about being active and engaging with what’s in front of you because it’s quite testing. It’s challenging. It provokes thought.
JC: This also ties into the fact that our programming is always site-specific. Going into the space, we kind of want to find ways in which we can sort of be site responsive and challenge the way that that space has been experienced in the past. And I think we do that by our full venue takeover.
So people aren’t kind of going down the trodden path of what is expected, I guess.
MA: Does the Soft Centre event add a special niche to other VIVID events? When you’re planning things, does it usually have to fit in with the requirements of VIVID, or is it completely independent?
JC: Yeah, we’re really lucky. Like, I think Carriageworks, and Tom Supple, who have invited us to do Soft Centre as a part of Vivid, give us complete creative freedom. And we feel so lucky to be able to do that. What’s special about Vivid is that we’re kind of like a festival within a festival.
And as mentioned before, we book artists that wouldn’t commonly be seen. So, it’s an opportunity for discovering new art forms and new artists. And I think that’s what is so exciting about our festival.
MA: Do you want to give us a gist of the incredible lineup?
JC: The media release will have lots of detail, but I think broadly, there are three distinct spaces. Bay 17 is our larger capacity space where a lot of our AV concerts will be happening and you’ll see a huge range of music.
We have Hand to Earth, which is this really incredible collaboration between two Yolgnu song men Daniel and David Wilfred, and Korean vocalist Sonny Kim. That is going to be so special and really rare. They’ve never performed in Sydney or Eora and that is something no one should miss.
Later in the day, we have Avant EDM with Amnesia Scanner and Freeka Tet performing a world premiere of their work called kaoss.in.
TH: We have DJs playing, but also some really incredible live acts like a duo from New York called Deli Girls who kind of mix punk and industrial elements with kind of queer club music. They’re anarchic and they use their music as protest music.
And then in the foyer, we have some more of our performance art-driven works, like we have Marcus Whale premiering a new piece called Needlemouth, which is inspired by this Malaysian festival called the Hungry Ghost Festival, and Marcus Whale plays this ghost plagued by insatiable desire, and it comes from this idea that if there is a sort of desire that a person is never actually able to quench real mortal life as in, for example, an unrequited love that in the afterlife, they’re sort of plagued by having a throat that is the size of a needle so they can’t consume anything. They’re performing alongside Eugene Choi who’s playing the king of hell, and their costumes are designed by Megan Hansen who’s an incredible designer.
So you have these moments that are really theatrical. Alongside as well, the AV concerts as well as a club experience. The whole day, you’re just kind of moving between these wildly different moods.
You can further swim in the experimental ambience and notes of this festival with information about the tickets and lineup here.