Sydney Mardi Gras is one of the world’s biggest and most famous annual LGBT pride festivals, and its 40th anniversary celebrations did not disappoint. Jonny Marsh reports direct from a dancefloor in Australia’s biggest city.
It’s been a long time coming, but LGBT Sydney finally got the celebration it has wanted for so long, at the first Mardi Gras since Marriage Equality finally became law in Australia.
This was particularly poignant in the 2018 event, as Mardi Gras celebrated it 40th anniversary. Forty long years since Mardi Gras started out its long, colourful life as a protest, initially marred by police violence. It was never going to be a quiet celebration, and boy did it deliver!
The excitement across Sydney was palpable. People flew in from all over the world to attend, with an Atlantis Cruise even docking just in time for the celebration. For the first time in years it feels like the city has truly come alive in a flurry of rainbows and glitter, with major landmarks and smaller venues alike dotted in the iconic rainbow colours. The Parade was set to be the biggest ever, and the main after party had sold out in record time.
As usual the season kicked off with Fair Day – half way between a community fete and outdoor dance party. Queer families mingle with leather queens and gym junkies, dancing in the sun to local Sydney DJs. Sydney delivered a sweltering day and the Mardi Gras team did not disappoint, with a fantastic line up of entertainment, community stalls and food.
Aside from the official Mardi Gras events there was a huge selection of local and international parties to choose between throughout the month. From Spanish sensation Matinée, promoted in Sydney by Neil Singleton, who now resides in London; to new arrival ‘Go Out’, which this year featured a stunning performance from the one and only Beverley Knight, who flew in direct from the UK, there were more parties on offer than you could ever hope to attend.
Of course the highlight for many was the Parade. Over 200 floats with 12,300 participants in diverse colours shone brightly along the city’s main gay strip, Oxford Street, on a route several miles long with over 300,000 people of all ages, genders and sexualities gathered to cheer and celebrate. I was lucky enough to be DJing on one of the hottest floats – clubbing legends “Poof Doof” from Melbourne – with NYC diva Barbara Tucker singing live throughout. Last year Poof Doof won ‘Best Float’ and this year was even more spectacular.
This year the Parade had an overtly political tone with effigies of Trump amongst those parade groups taking a stand against the right wing and homophobia around the world.
While megastar Cher stole the show with a much anticipated appearance, she stopped to have a photo with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. However, on finding out the way he’s treated the LGBT community with the much maligned Marriage Equality postal survey, she later apologised on Twitter for taking the photo at all causing much embarrassment for the PM.
And what comes after the Parade? The Party, of course. With a stage that’s been graced by pop’s biggest names including Kylie, George Michael, Calvin Harris and Village People, the 40th anniversary had a lot to live up to. Often the guest is kept very quiet until the last minute but this year the secret couldn’t be hushed up for long.
For months rumours circulate – as they always do – about who will be the headline act. With an expectation this high it’s really got to be a big hitter. And with a sneaky social media ‘leakage’ with certain scene DJs and queens obviously being let in a secret they couldn’t ‘Cher’, the party sold out in minutes.
This year featuring six massive arenas and a whopping crowd of 20,000 party people, there really was something for everyone. From deep dirty house in the Horden, featuring London’s own Hannah Holland, to hands in the air anthems in the massive Royal Hall of Industries, each zone had its own distinct feel and an incredible atmosphere. The crowd was as diverse as the music, with every tribe of the LGBT community well represented. Many clubbers kept their outrageous outfits from the parade giving a fabulously mixed up aesthetic to the party.
Of course the real show stopper was Cher’s headline set. Performing just four of her biggest hits at just before 2am, the capacity crowd really couldn’t get enough. With a dramatic opening reveal, and a multi level backdrop featuring huge LED screens, dancers and hanging lights, the show could not have been any more impressive. The impressive crowd was left screaming for more as her show ended, people literally in tears after seeing such an iconic performance in their hometown.
As the party keeps rolling on, and the clubbers get a little more worse for wear, the bigger rooms slowly filter out and the party moves into the forecourt for an outdoor sunrise dance. DJs playing deep house kept the crowd on their feet until after 8am.
After a few hours sleep – or none at all – Sunday is certainly not a day of rest on Mardi Gras weekend. More than six tea dance events took place including Barcelona’s Matinée La Leche, which drew a capacity crowd to Australia’s largest nightclub Home. Meanwhile the unique and inimitable Apollo dance party also sold out in record time, delivering the unique trance and spectacular laser show they have become famed for. The official Mardi Gras event on the Sunday, Laneway, featured a show-stopping set by house music legend Barbara Tucker and music by Sydney’s finest.
All in all, 2018 was, by all accounts, one of the most impressive Mardi Gras’ years in recent memory. And if this was anything to go by, anyone in London should get booking their flights for next year right away.