[Exclusive Interview] Matt Chromatic, Creative Director of Defqon.1, Australia’s Largest Hardstyle Festival
We find out about the creative process behind creating "an abrasive yet somewhat wonderful playground."
The main stage 2013, courtesy of Defqon.1
Defqon.1 is Australia’s largest hardstyle festival. Next month more than 20,000 hardcore techno, hard house and hard trance fans (self-described “weekend warriors”) will make the pilgrimage to the Sydney International Regatta Centre in Penrith. Despite mainstream media tending to associate Defqon.1 with illicit drug use and lad culture (both of which the festival has policies against), it’s difficult to deny the festival’s production value. Look no further than the festival’s climactic end show: a carefully choreographed spectacle of fireworks, smoke machines, lasers and lighting effects (last year set against a backdrop of two interlocking dragons, which one YouTube user astutely observes “looks like a god-like gate to an empire!”).
Matt Chromatic is the Creative and Technical Director of Q-Dance Australia, the company behind Defqon.1. Since 2008 he’s been responsible for the production design of Defqon.1, overseeing everything from stage design to special effects at all of the festival's stages (eight, this year) as well as the end show. He’s also worked extensively on Defqon.1’s larger Netherlands counterpart, which sees up to 55,000 festival-goers. We had a chat with him about what it's like to work on the southern hemisphere's biggest production and what to expect at this year's upcoming Sydney event.
The Creators Project: Can you talk us through your creative process when coming up with the conecpts for Defqon.1?
Matt Chromatic: Each project is different but with Defqon.1 [Australia] we try to stay true to the Defqon.1 [Netherlands] feel. I draw my concept and then plot the lighting architecturally from that. Fortunately I get to work with some of the best in world when it comes to lighting operation, so I always ask for their input. Then I start drafting structural drawings for the construction and build process. This does not just apply to stages, but to the whole terrain of Defqon.1.
How long does the physical construction and testing take?
It’s a long process from beginning to end. An event like Defqon.1 can start—and need attention—from as early as February, and run through to show day [at the end of September]. But with many other projects in different countries along the way, we fabricate most items on-site in the week that we have for total construction, and spend a few days on-site programming—not to mention time in the lab beforehand.
Are you allowed to tell us what sort of budgets you’re working with here?
Budgets are not my thing.
How big are the teams?
For Australia, it’s just a handful of friends, which is a lot smaller than the European comparison.
What are the other main differences between the Australian and Netherlands versions?
The sheer size of the Netherlands event creates many differences, from crew sizes to options in product availability. Regardless of working on different events in different countries, Defqon.1 should taste like Defqon.1.
The end show really is the festival’s piece de resistance. Each year they just seem to get bigger and crazier. How do you keep coming up with new ideas?
The end show is a coming together of multiple talents and disciplines, of which my part is designing the stage and plot with fixtures, and directing the construction of the event/staging.
How did you get into this career?
People do not advertise for dragon slayers but if you can slay a dragon you should. Essentially that’s what lead me to starting my company.
Some consider it to be their tribe so they express it; spotting someone [on the street] wearing a small Defqon.1 logo on their shirt usually ends with a double raised eyebrow and a synchronised head nod.
How would you describe Defqon.1 to someone who’s never been?
An abrasive yet somewhat wonderful playground.
Any hints about what to expect at this year’s event?
A big thing for 2015 Australian edition is the expansion deeper into the lakes for the campground, which houses a new stage for The Gathering. This will add a nice new element. And there’s a physically immersive main stage that should really fix your red wagon…
Defqon.1 Australia is on September 18-19 at the Sydney International Regatta Centre in Penrith. For more information and tickets head here. To find out more information about the Dutch version of the festival head here.