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MOFO’s twisted little sister, Dark Mofo, lifted and dropped its black veil two weekends ago during a eleven-day, music/art/food celebration of the Winter Solstice, and along with it, all that is dark, cold and deathly.

So what is Dark Mofo? And how is it different to MOFO?

First of all, let’s sort out our freaking acronyms:

MOFO: Stands for MONA FOMA.

MONA: Museum of Old and New Art, i.e. the peculiar museum in Tasmania’s capital, Hobart.

MONA FOMA: Museum of Old and New Art Festival of Music and Art, held in Summer in Hobart, Tasmania.

DARK MOFO: a festival held in Winter, held in Hobart, Tasmania.

DARK MOFO 2014 TRAILER – Video by Dark Mofo


While Dark Mofo has just finished its second year, MOFO, it’s elder sibling, has so far chalked six. Both are funded by David Walsh, the anomalous MONA-owning millionaire. Dark Mofo 2014 was held in June’s bitter Winter from the 12th-22nd, whereas MOFO 2014 was held from January 15th-19th.


MOFO (aka MONA FOMA) 2014 – Photo by MONA/Rémi Chauvin

dark mofo front


With Dark Mofo 2014, events were decentralised. You bought a ticket for specific musical events you wanted to see during the festival. At MOFO 2014, you paid a general admission ticket for five-day access to a large shed on Macquarie wharf, where the majority of the festival’s acts performed from the afternoon until midnight.

At Dark Mofo, there were public art installations placed around the city’s river edge. While MOFO also proffered art exhibitions, none were out in the open like at Dark Mofo. Take for example Yin Xiuzhen’s Washing River: frozen blocks of polluted Derwent river ice, and Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s Articulated Intersect, in which passers-by could manipulate triple-fold, superpowered light beams that shot confidently into the city sky.



articulated intersect


Both festivals have their respective afterparties: Faux Mo and Dark Faux Mo. It’s at these gatherings where the weirdness really kicks in.

Faux Mo laundry room MOFO

SECRET ROOM IN FAUX MO 2014- Photo by MONA/Rémi Chauvin

dark faux mo 2014

DARK FAUX MO 2014 – Photo by MONA/Rémi Chauvin


Dark Mofo is about rejoicing the darkness and coldness of the Winter Solstice: the one day of the year with the least sunlight. In contrast, MOFO simply dedicates itself to presenting you with a barrage of stultifying musical and visual performances; though, Dark Mofo held its own in this department as well. MOFO has music and art. Dark Mofo has music and art and food. Dark Mofo was designed more for families and locals more than MOFO.


Curators are the people who run the festival and choose which artists feature in it. Dark Mofo is curated by Leigh Carmichael, creative director of MONA. MOFO, on the other hand, is curated by Brian Ritchie from the Violent Femmes. While both curators know how to make your brain backflip in your skull, MOFO‘s Ritchie has had four more years experience in the fine art of brain-backflipping. Unlike MOFODark Mofo‘s acts tended to represent themes of death and darkness, such as the drone doom metal quartet Sunn O))) (pronounced “sun”).

sunn o, dark mofo
SUNN O))) – Photo by Chris Le Messurier


The Winter Feast at Dark Mofo was one of the festival’s distinguishing features. At the Winter Feast, ticket-holders could purchase Tasmania’s finest boutique foods, wines, beers and whiskeys. Outside of the main food hall, children and grownups sated their stomachs around flaming iron pyres, as blazing columns of fire and heat erupted intermittently amongst the crowd.

wheel of death 3


As the towering Wheel of Death turned another vicious cycle, musicians popped into existence, played their sets, and popped out again. One such quantum musician was Miles Brown, of the Night Terrors, playing a set with his trusty theramin, a curious electronic instrument in which the position of your hands changes the pitch and volume of the note.

miles brown

MILES BROWN @ THE WINTER FEAST – Photo by Iain Excellent

“Not many festivals cater to this darker vibe and it’s like a godsend for people like me,” Brown said. “I just like the idea of celebrating the opposite of Summer and the darker side of things. The weather makes it like nothing else. Everyone’s happy to be a bit freezing, and still have a great time.”

This sentiment of people “happy to be a bit freezing” was echoed by a local family man also enjoying the Winter Feast, “With most winterised cities, everybody cocoons themselves in their house. I think the whole point of Dark Mofo — which I think has been well proven here — is that people come out of their houses in Winter!”

winter festival


Surprise was an element oft-used at Dark Mofo. As such, two women dressed in loose silkwear and eerie ornaments carried a magical cart, wandering the Winter Feast grounds offering people spiritual readings using ‘mystical instruments’. “We’re Cosmic Arabs. We have various cosmic treatments. We can give you a spirit level reading if you like.”

spirit level


These “Cosmic Arabs”, as they liked to be called, said about Dark Mofo, “In Europe, Winter festivals are common. This gives Australia something in the middle of the year that celebrates it being wet, dark, cold and shit. And people are out. They’re here. They want it.”

An unfortunate misstep estimating how many people would turn up to Dark Mofo this year meant that many people were not permitted to enter the Winter Feast, on account of running out of tickets and space. Outraged comments and complaints from festival-goers precipitated a Dark Mofo social media response:

“This festival is now clearly an important event for Tasmanians, and in order to ensure its long term sustainability and survival, we will now start planning with a much greater understanding of the scale of the task. Please accept our apologies, we are only 2 years old, and this event is now far beyond our wildest expectations in regards to its success.”

The Nude Solstice Swim is another event unique to Dark Mofo. This year, hundreds of people turned up at 7:42am on Sunday morning at Long Beach, Sandy Bay (a few kilometres away from Hobart CBD) to strip off and dive into Tasmanian Winter water.

nude swim

NUDE SOLSTICE SWIM – Photo by MONA/Rosie Hastie


With Dark Mofo’s broader scope and specialised theme of the Winter Solstice, its musical repertoire was not as varied as MOFO. Nevertheless, it delivered several powerful acts.

Yo gabba gabba

YO GABBA GABBA – Photo by MONA/Rémi Chauvin

And which act is more powerful than Yo Gabba Gabba, the trippy US children’s TV program, featuring DJ Lance Rock and five giant monsters? Halfway through Yo Gabba Gabba’s set, gender-wandering rapper Mykki Blanco stepped up to the stage for a swear-free version of Haze.Boogie.Life. The kids didn’t really know how to respond.

mykki gabba


Speaking of unstable genders, Kirin J Callinan’s “power rock” set demonstrated one of the many personas of Callinan’s collection, and a prowess and professionalism few emerging acts manage to embody.

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KIRIN J CALLINAN – Photo by Chris Le Messurier

Post-hardcore Melbourne trio High Tension melted faces with earbusting guitar riffs and the gnarled, hagged voice of a fallen angel.

high tension

HIGH TENSION – Photo by MONA/Rémi Chauvin

For a hardcore punk band, The Bronx performed with a childlike vigour and enthusiasm that outshone their bad-ass demeanour. Established bands that are still grateful for their lot deserve the respect they get.

the bronx

THE BRONX – Photo by MONA/Rémi Chauvin

The music at Dark Mofo was as dark and biting as the Winter Solstice weather. MOFO, in contrast, music wasn’t bound by a theme. It just pummelled you with anything and everything: experimental soundscape music, Indonesian punk, alt-synth pop, country-folk, meditative jazz, tech-metal, and so on.


Dark Faux Mo and Faux Mo were the respective ‘afterparties’ for Dark Mofo and MOFO.

Faux Mo was held for all five nights of the festival at an isolated set of buildings adjacent to the river, North of Hobart CBD. Dark Faux Mo, held at the Odeon Theatre on two separate nights, was a time of amusement and confusion, with acts smattered across the evening, buried deep within the the Odeon’s labyrinthine cavities. Rumours of hidden rooms gave way to discoveries of actual hidden rooms in which you could have found curious musical performances, or sometimes even a bearded transvestite pole dancer:

cross dressing cowboy

DARK FAUX MO POLE DANCER – Photo by Iain Excellent

Part of the confusion, however, was less amusing than it was frustrating; so many people were packed inside the Odeon on the Saturday night that it made transitioning from one area to another, or enjoying where one was at, increasingly difficult. Total Giovanni’s set was a case in point: their exceptional set begged you to move your feet, but there simply was no space to do so.

total giovanni

TOTAL GIOVANNI – Photo by Iain Excellent


Only two years old, Dark Mofo is a festival in its formative years. The managing staff are still calibrating their estimates of how many people for which to cater. As a result, many people didn’t get a chance to enjoy the Winter Feast during the peak of the festival on the Saturday night. Dark Faux Mo, too, on Saturday night, was difficult to enjoy with such a cramped atmosphere in the Odeon.

Having said that, when you consider the public artwork Articulated Intersect (the manoeuvrable beams of light dispersed along the river’s edge), the spirit-shaking musical performances, the dogged commitment to upending expectation, and realising the idea of holding a music/art/food festival in the dead of Winter all tell us something: that Dark Mofo shows strong promise; that it revels in its originality and creativity; that death, darkness and Winter are concepts to be welcomed and accepted; that it is worth your while to give Dark Mofo a crack at least once in your life.

If you haven’t been to either festival, perhaps MOFO is the safer bet, but “safer” isn’t really the word to use here. MOFO will still stun you, it will still buckle your expectations, and leave you artistically invigorated. Dark Mofo authored a warming community hearth into its grand narrative, while MOFO focussed more on assailing you with visual and sonic assaults. Either way, make sure you go to one of them in 2015. And here’s a hot tip to get you started: organise your accommodation now, somewhere in the CBD, before there’s nothing left.

Words by Iain Excellent

Feature photo by Chris Templin

Click here for Repeat Button’s review of MOFO 2014.

Visit Dark Mofo website here.

4 Responses to “DARK MOFO VS. MOFO”

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  2. […] have done immeasurably well for themselves in Melbourne and beyond, having already been invited to play at Dark Mofo this year. Australia is waiting for their first EP to drop which will surely be slurped up ravenously by […]

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