Behind The Scenes At Elements Festival Where They Turn Wild Ideas Into Reality

Published in Music  
Elements Festival takes place at Landcruiser Mountain Park (Sunshine Coast) 16-19 December. Elements Festival takes place at Landcruiser Mountain Park (Sunshine Coast) 16-19 December.

Elements Festival has developed a reputation for delivering monumental stages and a fluid design that evolves with each new year.

The creative team captured global attention in their launch year, with their 2017 Cyclops Stage making it on Trancentral's list of the best festival dance floors in the world.

Head designer David Heron followed up this colossal design with an even larger and more ambitious construction in 2018.

Nowadays, the main stage sits at around 38 metres wide and over 9 metres tall. The sheer magnitude of the structure lends it a Lovecraftian vibe, just with cosmic wonder in place of the cosmic horror.

Still, Dave says his designs are barely a shadow of the impossible concepts that live in his mind.

"I dream away like a maniac and then tone it back to what we can actually do. When I'm on the dance floor, looking at our stage, I think of how it could evolve and how we could reuse what we've got to create something entirely new."

Elements is on a mission to become a zero-waste festival. In pursuit of this goal, Dave finds a new way to reconfigure the materials he already has each year, adding as little as possible while transforming the earlier installations into an entirely new landscape.



"We've got pieces of wood from the first stage that have been in each new stage for the past few years. Then at the Winter Festival, they became a fence. We took some pieces out, rearranged them, but kept some of the pieces in the new stage design, so everything feels like it belongs together."

The turning cogs from the 2019 stage are now water wheels in the 2021 design, which looks like an elvish village.

"We're going to use the Sonic Stage from last year as an entrance into the Elementary Area, but it'll be set up in a totally different way where the pieces are familiar but it doesn't look like the original stage anymore."

If you pay attention, you'll discover this is the way everything flows at Elements. It's like a psychedelic dream-state in which reality has been picked apart and rearranged to create stunning visuals that morph and change with the passage of time.

If you can look at a stick and see a gun in its curves and angles but also a dragon and an alien creature and an endless procession of shifting forms, then you have the imagination needed to create an ever-evolving festival like Elements.

Elements Fest Stage.2

However, these wild ideas are only the seeds. The next and most important element is an excruciating amount of hard work. Sonja Attar, the designer responsible for Sonic Sorcery – "the darker, moodier, more mysterious brother of the main stage" – explains there's no way of exaggerating how gruelling the construction process is.

"During the last couple of days of the build, I get four hours sleep a night (if lucky)," Sonja says.

"This is the stage when all the detailing of the design is happening and I have to make spontaneous decisions on where to put what. It's even more challenging with hardly any sleep."

Dave agrees. "It's such a mad rush. We work from seven in the morning to three in the morning. It's 80 per cent of the day that we're there for three weeks straight. We might have 100 people working, and that's just on the stages."

Of course, this is what leads to the most exhilarating part of designing a festival, as Sonja explains. "It is an amazing feeling to see the dance floor come to life from one day to the other and see all the punters enjoying themselves, as if the stage has always been there."

Though everything always looks perfectly orchestrated, Dave says a big part of the creative process involves workarounds for when things go awry. "We didn't get the cogs going exactly to plan the first year we brought them in, but we got the water wheels moving at the next party.

"I think having that water element and a bit of motion keeps it interesting in the day. Something a little bit different happening."

This is one of many details Dave has picked up from his visits to festivals all around the world. Whether you're in the US, South America, Europe, or Asia, stages come alive at night, but during the day, they're usually static.

Elements Fest Stage.3

So, taking inspiration from the name of the festival, Dave began working more and more natural elements into his stage designs. At any given time on the Elements Festival dance floor, you can feel the earth beneath your feet and the wind in your hair as you watch fire and water flow around a stage constructed of wood and metal; and these are far from the only elements that must be orchestrated to bring the dance floor to life.

"When you're in there, the sound system's massive and the whole stage is moving – there are LEDs all throughout the design, and they're synched up with the lights, the projections, the VJs, the performers, and the musicians. Everything's working together."

This brings us to perhaps the most interesting part about Dave's role. He's not just conceptualising and building – he's coordinating a multitude of artists and contractors in the construction of massive creations with many moving parts that draw in every other art form at the event.

Creators from all over the world work together to design and construct the most spectacular aspects of the festival, and they do their work behind the scenes. No one cheers for them when they're putting in 20-hour days to bring this monstrous event to life, and here's the crazy part – they're more than happy for it to be that way.

As Sonja says, the attraction isn't in the applause. "The most rewarding moment is when the stage is finished (often only an hour before the opening) and the entire team who helped build it stands in front of it, exhausted, dirty, in pain, but happy and content."

Elements Festival takes place at Landcruiser Mountain Park (Sunshine Coast) 16-19 December.

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