A weekend doesn’t seem to go by in Sydney without some kind of festival or celebration taking place. Whether it’s The Rocks Aroma Festival warming up winter, Sydney Cellar Door food and wine festival setting taste-buds alight, or Harbourlife hailing the arrival of summer with epic sounds, there’s something for everyone. Music and arts festivals particularly seem to dominate our calendars, offering an incentive for the best artists from all over the world to make the long journey to Australia. Here we present ten of the best annual music festivals in Sydney.
St Jerome’s Laneway Sydney Festival
St Jerome’s Laneway Festival began in 2005 as just that – an impromptu festival crammed into a small lane behind Jerome Borazio’s small bar in Caledonian Lane, Melbourne. A decade on and its one of the region’s biggest music events, taking place in January and February in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane, Auckland (NZ) and Singapore. Past lineups have included The National, Florence and The Machine and Foals, with Banks, Lykke Li and FKA Twigs among the artists confirmed for 2015.
Laneway Festival 2015 takes place on Sunday 1 February at Sydney College of the Arts, Rozelle
Sydney Festival entered its 40th year in 2015, wowing audiences with a two-week programme of diverse cultural events, including contemporary dance, burlesque nights, orchestral concerts under the stars with Sydney Symphony and huge sets from The Cat Empire, The Preatures and Vance Joy. Coming back round in January, the 2016 edition promises just as varied and thrilling a showcase, with opera re-imagined by the legendary Tom Waits and performances from the Roslyn Packer Theatre already confirmed.
Sydney Festival 2016 takes place on 7-26 January in venues around Sydney
Vivid Sydney Festival
A celebration of light, music and ideas that takes place from May to June annually, Vivid is a true wonderland of sights and sounds. Iconic buildings, including Sydney Opera House, Harbour Bridge and Customs House, are transformed into spectacular canvasses of colour and scenery, and venues host cutting edge contemporary music and DJ sets. Nothing quite beats wrapping up in winter warmers, clutching hot cider and staring up at buildings you thought you knew while they’re being totally transformed by dancing lights and colours.
Expressions of interest for Vivid Sydney are currently being taken
Listen Out Sydney Festival
Three years ago Sydney got itself a really, really good dance music festival in the form of Listen Out. A one-day blowout of the biggest sounds from the biggest DJs, expect the biggest names in dance music without lineup clashes and long walks between stages. This carefully-curated event describes itself as ‘the antidote to many of the things you don’t like about big music festivals’ and has already attracted dance giants SBTRKT, Childish Gambino, Alison Wonderland and Joey Badass for the 2015 instalment.
Listen Out 2015 takes place on 3 October at Centennial Park in Sydney
Secret Garden Sydney Festival
Sydney’s Secret Garden festival, located at a secret farmland location (of course), is in the vein of popular UK festivals like Boomtown Fair, Bestival and Glastonbury which offer guests (‘gardeners’) a whole new world to inhabit and become part of for a few days: cue elaborate fancy dress and acting in surreal scenarios. It’s all about good vibes at Secret Garden – ‘No dickheads allowed’ – and a large chunk of the proceeds go to charity each year.
Secret Garden 2016 takes place on 26-27 February on a farm just outside Sydney
Sydney Country Music Festival
Sydney Country Music Festival is back by popular demand after the inaugural instalment last year. Country aficionados will know why headliners like Adam Harvey, Adam Brand, Paul Costa, Beccy Cole and Felicity Urquhart make it a ‘must attend’ event in Sydney’s alt folk music calendar.
Sydney Country Music Festival takes place on 31 October – 1 November at Bella Vista Farm Park
Stereosonic Sydney Festival
Each year since 2007, Stereosonic has attracted thousands of electronic music fans in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane. With line ups like this year’s that boasts Major Lazer, Diplo, DJ Snake and Duke Dumont, it’s not difficult to see why. Sydney’s instalment takes place at Sydney Showground, home to the 45,000-capacity Spotless Stadium.
Stereosonic 2015 takes place on 28 November at Sydney Showground, Sydney Olympic Park
Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Sydney Festival
Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is legendary. One of Australia’s most famous and beloved events, it grew from a small LGBTQ march that took place on 24th June 1978 repressed violently by the police. If anything, the controversy helped it grow and now tens of thousands of people feature in the Mardi Gras Parade, with thousands more gathering to watch. Other highlights in the weeks-long festival include Fair Day at Victoria Park on 21 February and the Mardi Gras Afterparty on 5 March.
Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras takes place from February to March at various locations around Sydney. Dates and events tbc
Harbourlife Sydney Festival
A one-day festival of waterside partying, Harbourlife can’t be beaten for location. It takes place on the Fleet Steps overlooking spectacular views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, and is set adjacent to the beautiful Royal Botanic Gardens. House artists Eats Everything, Booka Shade and Klingande are on the bill this year, with past instalments seeing appearances from Flight Facilities, Todd Terje and Flume.
Harbourlife 2015 takes place on 21 November at Fleet Steps, Mrs Macquaries Point
Spectrum Now Sydney Festival
Sydney Morning Herald launched Spectrum Now in 2015. An arts festival featuring over 150 events in the form of film premieres, talks and concerts, it’s back by popular demand for two weeks in 2016. With a line up that featured music from The Cat Empire and Synergy Percussion and famous faces that included Cate Blanchett, Alan Rickman and Richard Roxburgh in it’s first ever outing, it promises to be annual festival not to be missed.
Spectrum Now takes place from 1 to 16 March in venues across Sydney
– Rosie Pentreath
Rosie Pentreath is a freelance arts journalist who moved from the UK to Sydney in April 2015, just to shake things up a bit. Formerly Digital Editor & Staff Writer at BBC Music Magazine, she has bylines in BBC Music Magazine, Homes & Antiques magazine and The Debrief, to name a few. When she’s not writing, she’s most happy running around with a Pentax MV1 SLR camera or discovering as much new music as she can. Rosie tweets at @RosiePentreath, writes on Medium and updates this blog with her experiences in Australia.