Words by Mona Chatskin Art by Bowen Shen
Bush doofs, a mystical world created about a three-hour drive from a major metropolitan area – usually Melbourne or Sydney – that exists as a mini city for three to five days.
A bush doof is a traditionally Australian electronic music festival, usually taking place in the bush (hence the name). Originating in the early 1990s, doofing started off in Sydney, where people would gather together in remote areas and listen to electronic music for days on end. The term ‘doof’ is slang for the heavy bass beats you hear in electronic music, and is now synonymous with dancing for hours on end in the middle of nowhere.
The music you’ll find at bush doofs started off as psychedelic and goa trance, which is generally quicker, heavier beats. Yet as the world of doofing continues to grow, so too does its music. Slower paced, electronic music like techno and house have now made their way into doofing culture and cemented their place at bush doofs – with different festivals now tailored towards different music genres.
These vibrant music festivals create a world quite unlike any other. And while they do share similarities to your more mainstream music festivals, you see a lot more wacky and wonderful things than at your average fest. Music is the fundamental part of a doof, yet there is so much more to see and explore. Artists set up canvases and paint alongside the walking track, where you can check in on their progress throughout the day – picture a live, outdoor art gallery. A myriad of food trucks and stalls that sell everything you can think of surround the doof. Comedians, dancers and speakers all take their turns in the performance tents. There’s a lot more to a doof than just the doof.
And then there’s the actual doof. Stages, and the sound and lightings effects that come along with them, revolutionise the entire experience. Fluro, gigantic awnings hang over the stages, providing shade to doofers in the hot, sweltering heat of the Aussie bush. Stage decorations can be anything from spaceships that DJs perform in, to psychedelic visuals that flicker day and night. Unlike more mainstream festivals, the music never really stops. At the stages, doof sticks are scattered through the crowd. A doof stick is literally anything that can be attached to a stick. It is both a dancing utensil, and a handy way to track down your group of friends while it is waving in the air. From rods covered with LED lights, to sticks with photos of your mate’s face, a doof stick is anything your imagination allows it to be. That’s right, anything. I once saw a wilting bunch of celery bopping away above the crowd.
There are also other, more comical and downright fucked things that occur only within the realms of a bush doof. At 60 second intervals, there is an almost definite guarantee that you will hear the sound of a nang going off. A nang is a nitrous oxide bulb (i.e. laughing gas), which people inhale through a balloon to give them a quick and intense high. Perhaps one of my funniest memories at a doof was when someone on my campsite was playing Ed Sheeran, and across the field someone shouted: “OY, CHANGE THE SONG WE’RE DOING A NANG.” Quickly, the music was changed to that emblematic of a doof, and surely enough, the distinct sound of a nang going off took all but 30 seconds.
A bush doof is also a place where the black-market flourishes. Just by sitting at your campsite, you will be offered an array of illicit substances quicker than you can put on your trusty fanny pack. And, because of the extensive amount of drugs so readily available, you see people interacting and behaving in ways unique to the doof. While drugs are a large part of doofing culture, it is also essential to remember that plenty of people enjoy doofs substance free (or well at least, legally).
Costumes are another central part of a bush doof. Everything glittery, fluro, lycra and tie-dyed is iconic to the doofing experience. Girls prance with attached butterfly wings, guys sport outfits they’d be too self-conscious to elsewhere. Perhaps one of the best parts of a bush doof is that absolutely no one gives a shit what you wear. It’s a totally judgement free zone.
Interestingly enough, bush doofs also instil a strong sense of community. Some of the most interesting and intriguing people I’ve met have been through doofs, and there is always an atmosphere of warmth at these events. People are always happy to lend you a hammer to peg down your tent, shout you a bevvie or a bottle of water, and they always say g’day – the true, Australian way. Plus, whether you wear it or not, it is inevitable for specks of glitter to haunt you for weeks after the doof.