Sydney summer festival guide

Stay hydrated and crowd surf through our picks of the best music festivals to rage in this summer
People sitting outside at a festival
Photograph: Supplied
By Time Out editors |
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The season for outdoor celebration has begun. Our city will heave with music loving throngs as fans make pilgrimages to temporary party pockets throughout Sydney and all over NSW. From line-ups that champion the new and local, like the DIY-loving Nag Nag Nag to New Year's Eve blowouts in bush-fringed locations, like Falls Festival, there's plenty to love. So fire up your group message and get tickets for the whole gang, here's everything you need to know about music festivals this summer.

Before you head off in a Native American headdress, check-in with our guide on how to not be a dickhead at music festivals. Or, if you're staying put over summer but want a rager quick-fix, peruse our best clubs, queer-friendly parties, and retro dancefloor guides for a guaranteed good time.

Around Sydney

NYE in the Park Hot Dub Time Machine
Photograph: Supplied
Music, Music festivals

NYE in the Park

icon-location-pin Victoria Park, Camperdown
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What is it? A massive New Year’s Eve party for those want to stay relatively inner-city without going full-fledged CBD. You’ve probably spent many a summer arvo and evening at Victoria Park in Camperdown but now you can luxuriate on the green with food trucks, booze and two stages featuring some of Australia’s biggest party starters. As far as full blown music festivals go this one seems pretty laid back, it’s like a picnic in the park that winds up into one big grassy dancefloor with their own special fireworks crescendo. If you’re an electronic party music fan, this is the New Year’s for you.

Go if you like: Seeing big to medium name acts live in a low stress outdoor party as you countdown to the new year.

The line-up:The Presets will be churning through their hedonistic electro past through to their most recent dance world offerings and the much hyped and mysterious Confidence Man live show is sure to delight YouTube trawlers. There’s also indie jingles from the Jungle Giants plus the genius chronological set of Hot Dub Time Machine at the lead-up to the countdown.

FOMO Festival
Photograph: Mitch Lowe
Music, Music festivals

FOMO Festival

icon-location-pin Parramatta Park, Parramatta
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What is it? Similar to the name’s engagement of youthful vernacular, this festival has one of the poppiest, trappiest, SnapChattiest line-ups in the mix. FOMO boasts a single stage with an all-in party vibe sure to be heightened by the vast, swooping grounds of Parramatta Park. The pros are that you won’t miss a second of action as no acts clash and you will always have excellent sightlines, the cons are that you may have to stay put in the crowds without respite. It has turned attending a music festival into an act of endurance, but hey – that’s what your summer is for. Proving the youth are our future, this festival is donating a dollar from every ticket to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and Heaps Decent.

Go if you like: Seeing massive hip hop and electronic music acts surrounded by thousands of your fellow youths.

The line-up: Nicki Minaj takes a break from beefing with the rap world to headline with recent Kanye-collaborator Lil Pump, hip hop innovators Rae Sremmurd, and R’n’B and neo soul slashie Kali Uchis. Look out for the achingly internet sounds of Sophie and homegrown superstar Anna Lunoe.

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Crowd on hill with trees at Laneway Festival
Photograph: Tim Da Rin
Music, Music festivals

Laneway Festival

icon-location-pin Callan Park, Lilyfield
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What is it? Laneway has been championing indie music since its first outing in an actual Melbourne lane in 2005. The festival has always supported music alternative to the big-time mainstream in unusual venues and for its 15th birthday has attempted to engage with public discourse about gender parity in line-ups (34 per cent of the acts are non-males) and, thanks to the band Camp Cope and their spearheading of a festival emergency hotline, the safety of its female and non-binary patrons. This year they’re once again utilising the natural amphitheatre and sandstone-rimmed courtyards of Callan Park to host their achingly cool but infectiously catchy performers.

Go if you like: Jangly guitars, women to and at the front, unconventional hip hop, and delightful discoveries from all corners of eccentric contemporary pop.  

The line-up: Usurping the thrones usually reserved for international acts, Australian faves Gang of Youths and Courtney Barnett headline. Laneway has a ripe bushel of fresh female voices to pick from too, with sets from Camp Cope, Clairo, Mitski, Jorja Smith, Ravyn Lenae, and more. And, don’t miss the excellent Yolngu hip hop from Baker Boy.

People at an outdoor music festival in the daytime
Photograph: Tristan Stefan Edouard
Music, Music festivals

Electric Gardens Festival

icon-location-pin Centennial Park, Centennial Park
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What is it? Shooting lasers through the January 26 public holiday, Electric Gardens is a massive celebration of everything EDM, dance, and techno. Throbbing all over the Centennial Parklands, thousands of electronic music fans will rave across four massive stages with some of the world’s biggest names in old and new club music. Shirking the folksy proclivities of their peers, Electric Gardens is an explosive mass of confetti cannons, trippy projections, rugby league-style bursts of fire, and strobing light shows with barely a guitar in sight. Born from a backyard rave thrown by two Aussie backpackers in London, this festival is now an alfresco megabeast that rips through four states over one hedonistic long weekend.

Go if you like: Untz untz untz – but live

The line-up: If you grew up going to clubs in the ’90s you will have certainly have had a dance to headliner Underworld’s mega-hit ‘Born Slippy’. The opening drones of the drum-heavy hit will be sure to bring back nostalgic dancefloor memories to the open-air festival. They’ll be joined by Colombian-American DJ Erick Morillo, local stalwarts Set Mo and Bag Raiders and Ibiza superclub Amnesia.

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Venga Boys
Photograph: Jormaas Images
Music, Pop

So Pop

icon-location-pin Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney Olympic Park
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What is it? Hop onto the Vengabus for this new nostalgia-fest that mines the recesses of your old So Fresh CDs to bring ’90s and ’00s artists to Australia for the first time. Held in the cavernous Qudos Bank Arena, So Pop will deliver on the feelings and aromas of your school dances with nearly every ear worm from your/our youth playing loud and live on stage. Further pushing the flashback factor, the concert will be hosted by Ryan Lappen and Jade Gatt from Cheez TV, undoubtedly cracking Dragon Ball Z jokes in-between sets from some of the biggest names in guilty-pleasure hitmakers.


Go if you like: ‘Mambo No 5’ and proudly sing all the words.


The line-up: Ride the rollercoaster of tween emotions with B*Witched, Vengaboys, Aqua and Blue. Marvel at the staying power of purveyors of one hit wonders Lou Bega (‘Mambo No 5’), Mr President (‘Coco Jamboo’), and Eiffel 65 (‘Blue (Da Ba Dee)’).

Nag Nag Nag festival 2018
Photograph: Jake Ollett
Music

Nag Nag Nag

icon-location-pin Multiple venues
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What is it? An Inner West festival that showcases the best of Australia’s underground music streams, Nag Nag Nag brings together artists who represent the idiosyncratic shadows of genres. It’s essentially the opposite of an arena spectacular; the festival takes over the Marrickville Golf Club and the Marrickville Bowling Club for two days of cheap schooners and the kind of lock-out defying bands who play live gigs every week in alternative venues. Uninterested in making the airwaves or the ARIAs but passionate about the guttural swells of live experience, the artists on the line-up explore the fringes of techno, punk, pub rock, disco and metal. Stomp on the sports club carpet, play a round of pool, or bum a durry on the bowling green, this is a festival for those who aren’t fans of festivals.  

Go if you like: Finding independent oddities and paying less than $7 for a beer.

The line-up: Local room-fillers Lucy Cliche and Rebel Yell will be instigating Dionysian revelry with their infectious dance beats alongside the thunderous thrashing rock of Dispossessed, Sex Drive, Cure and Red Red Krovvy. Get in early for fun new starters Romance, the Baby and Xilch and stay for the gabber mashing of Mana, odd pop from Parsnip, and the menacing punk of Ubik.

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The Jacksons
Photograph: Supplied
Music

Sydney Summer Series

icon-location-pin The Domain, Sydney
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What is it? The Domain is about to get a workout once the balmy weather hits and we’re not referring to the lunch-break soccer set. Sydney Summer Series is a new suite of outdoor concerts that will liven up the parkland throughout January. Their first offering is a real doozy, with key players of Motown and disco history coming to play all of their glorious hits back to back. There are tiered ticket prices but you can’t really get a dud spot in the flat grounds of the Domain. Prepare to ‘YMCA’ with gusto from wherever you happen to land a spot. This style of live show harks back to the glory days of Sydney Festival’s First Night outdoor concerts in the pre-lockout era – one stage and a jubilant celebration of international legends from the history of pop music.

Go if you like: Adoring artists from the canon of disco and offering yourself up at the church of Motown.

The line-up: Reading like an algorithmic Spotify playlist entitled “legends” the Summer Series is hosting the Jacksons, Sister Sledge, the Village People, and Kool and the Gang. Celebrate good times further with a Supremes tribute band kicking off the proceedings.

Road trip in NSW

Young men throwing hay and dancing at Mountain Sounds
Photograph: Supplied
Music, Music festivals

Mountain Sounds

icon-location-pin Mount Penang Parklands,
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What is it? This three-day camping festival sets up in the lush Mount Penang Parklands on the Central Coast. You can pitch a tent or opt for one of their glamping packages and the site is surprisingly easy to get to with shuttle buses running from Gosford train station and Sydney. Leaning into the hippie aesthetics big time with interactive art installations, bamboo structures and a chill out zone called the “cuddle puddle”, Mountain Sounds is a surprising mix of glitter-tinged bush bash and huge local and international acts. Separated into four stages you could be raging inside a vintage bus, catching an upcoming LGBTQIA artist at the Sad Grrrls curated stage, or stumbling across a hidden techno oasis.

Go if you like: Bohemian party vibes to accompany main-stage raving.

The line-up: Massive Aussie stars Angus and Julia Stone, Courtney Barnett, What So Not and Thundamentals head-up a blockbuster festival of genre-spanning artists. Watch out for rising pop star Kira Puru and a bevvy of female-led bands like Middle Kids, Good Pash, VOIID and Pussy in the Dark.

Lost Paradise festival
Photograph: Supplied
Music, Music festivals

Lost Paradise

icon-location-pin Glenworth Valley ,
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What is it? Getting one up on other New Year’s festivals, Lost Paradise is a whopping four days in the Glenworth Valley over the holiday period. It’s another camping festival but it’s taken great lengths to provide more than just a (killer) line-up of music with a packed program of talks, workshops,  multiple genres of yoga, nature praising spiritual experiences, and even a tree-lined pop-up library. There’s a Hawkesbury River-connected stream to cool off in and a small forest of hammocks for swinging in the breeze. It’s also kid friendly, with cute activities for little festivalgoers and a nightly nanny service so parents can fire up their glow sticks for some stress free raving. This year’s fancy dress theme is cosmic carnivale, but Lost Paradise is one of the only festivals we found to publicly denounce cultural appropriation in punter costumes. Good work, Lost Paradise!

Go if you like: Moshing until late then getting up early for a djembe drum circle and a chai.

The line-up: Three letters for you: M.I.A. alongside a cornucopia of heavyweights like the Kooks, Tash Sultana, Joey Bada$$, Dune Rats, Pnau, Vera Blue, and Peking Duck. That’s just the tip of the iceberg with four days worth of DJs and performers to discover, seek out the long form beats of Andras and the riot-pop of all girl group Rackett.

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Falls Festival
Photograph: Joseph Mayers
Music, Music festivals

Falls Festival

icon-location-pin North Byron Parklands,
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What is it? In its 26th year, Falls Festival knows what it’s doing and has cemented some pretty huge acts to show it. The trek to Yelgun is worthwhile when you have a line-up as assured as this with lots of extra trimmings – including expansive campgrounds, a Palm Springs-themed waterpark with actual pools to dip in, a dedicated arts hub with cardboard box battles and daily yoga, and a zeitgeist-engaging meme fancy dress theme. Escape the formulaic Sydney New Year’s plans and road trip to the North Byron Parklands for a proper big festival experience with some Northern Rivers nature flair.

Go if you like: Saying you spent New Year’s in Byron listening to Toto’s ‘Africa’ live.

The line-up: Young Guns, Chvrches, Vance Joy, Briggs, Odette, Juice Wrld and Anderson Paak play alongside ’70s rockers Toto and almost-vintage legends Interpol and Hilltop Hoods. Falls has also landed exclusive showings of Swedish sisters First Aid Kit and energetic party-starter Dizzee Rascal.

Craig David
Photograph: Paul Harries
Music

R'n'B Vine Days

icon-location-pin Bimbadgen Winery,
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What is it? A hybrid of R’n’B Fridays and a Day on the Green, Vine Days is a one-day R’n’B festival heading to Bimbadgen in the Hunter Valley. Knowing their audience resides in the nostalgia market, this festival’s format is less stage diving with a cruiser and more sipping pet nats on a picnic rug. Set in a winery, R’n’B Vine Days is sure to have your tipples organised and has ticketing options for standing at the stage or raising a (plastic) glass from the expansive lawns. That doesn’t mean it’s not going to get wild – the succinct list of headliners are all bonafide singalong providers and sure to get revellers folding up their camping chairs and on their feet.

Go if you like: Your R’n’B alfresco, but also sitting down with a buttery chardy.

The line-up: Bump along to Craig David, mime ‘Hot in Herre’ with Nelly and channel your teen angst with All Saints. One hit wonder Amerie will remind you of when you used to body roll at your school disco and DJ YO! MAFIA will kick it all off ’90s and Millenium grooves.

Travel further for the festival fix

Gaytimes Festival
Photograph: Supplied
Music, Music festivals

Gaytimes

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Pass under the giant rainbow in the middle of a clearing alpine forest and enter the wonderful world that is Gaytimes. Held at Lake Mountain Alpine Resort, Gaytimes is the country’s first queer camping music festival. The festival is restricted to 1,000 people and offers three days of broad-ranging live music and DJs, visual and performance art, and freedom of self-expression for everyone under the LGBTQIA rainbow. Gaytimes aims to provide a platform for emerging queer and gender diverse artists to shine, and they aim to create a safe space for LGBTQIA people to come together and be themselves. This weekend getaway curates an eclectic and diverse lineup that features anything from visual art to light projections, yoga classes to speed dating and more. In 2019 punters can look forward to Mojo Juju, Flint Eastwood, Electric Fields, Ella Hooper, Kira Puru, Cash Savage and the Last Drinks plus more. Gaytimes will also have two indoor club stages with big east coast DJs like Brooke Powers and Jennifer Loveless. As if life couldn't get any sweeter, the entire festival is BYO and there are gender neutral toilets.

Fuck Yeah Hobart The Flaming Lips performance for Mofo 2016 image courtesy Museum of Old and New Art and photographer credit Rémi Chauvin
Photograph: Rémi Chauvin
News, Music

MONA FOMA

Hobart's going to give Sydney Festival a run for its money come January, as it's taken over by over 200 artists for the Museum of Old and New Art's annual arts and music festival MONA FOMA aka MOFO, headlined by Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Fémina and Breadwoman among a bevvy of eclectic musical gems and oddities.

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Music, Music festivals

Beyond the Valley

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Beyond the Valley returns this year to the lush surrounds of Lardner parklands in south-eastern Victoria. As always, festival-goers can expect a tasty selection of artists spanning dance, techno, hip-hop and more. Headlining will be none other than the Kooks. They'll be joined by much-loved Aussie dance duo Pnau, as well as the multi-talented Tash Sultana Matt Corby, American rapper Joey Bada$$, ethereal British DJ Bonobo, festival favourites the Jungle Giants and Melbourne's own Alex Lahey.  Visit the website for the full line-up.  

Saul 2015 Glyndebourne Festival production still 01 photographer credit Bill Cooper
Photograph: Bill Cooper
News, Theatre & Performance

Adelaide Festival

If you like your art epic and/or European, you’re going to really, really enjoy Adelaide Festival’s 2017 program – the first under new co-artistic directors Neil Armfield AO (film and theatre director, former artistic director of Belvoir) and Rachel Heal). Given their pedigree, you kinda know what to expect – opera, auteurist theatre, Australian stories, strong visual arts component. And big names.

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Music, Music festivals

Freedom Time

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On New Year's Day the Coburg Velodrome will be transformed into a multi-stage, one-day-only festival featuring a swag of talented musicians, DJs and producers from our party-loving shores and abroad. Headliners include Hiatus Kaiyote, post-punk locals HTRK, wunderkind rapper Kaiit, the rythmic Senegambian Jazz Band, Sydney duo Angophora and disco divas (and Freedom Time co-creators) Wax'o Paradiso.  Visit the Freedom Time website for the full line-up. 

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