Over the years we’ve seen plenty of movies tackle the almighty music festival – Take Woodstock, Bridget Jones’ baby, Wayne’s World 2 – but few have succeeded in bottling up the crackling energy, atmosphere and culture that make festivals such an integral part of our makeup as music lovers.
Sydney filmmaker Macario ‘Mac’ De Souza thinks he knows why. “They’re usually made by older writers or directors who remember their youth,” he said. NME“or by people who haven’t had their day in the music space.”
De Souza is none of these. The 39-year-old filmmaker – who is also a Kid Mac rapper – made his narrative feature debut with 6 Parties, about three teenagers and their coming-of-age journeys. Their stories may be fictional, but the music festivals surrounding them are not: the plot unfolds among real audiences watching real artists perform their real sets, providing a refreshing twist on the traditional concept of “docudrama”.
6 Parties had to hold their own “festival” in Canberra to shoot scenes with dialogue, but every performance seen in the film, from Dope Lemon getting groovy at Yours & Owls to Kwame getting sick at Big Pineapple, was pulled straight from an event real. “That was my only non-negotiable request,” Mac says. “Any live performance had to be taken directly from the source. It made the whole thing super hard to do, but you know, you really can’t fool 5,000 people singing with the Dune Rats.
Mac’s ambition to shoot on location during these events carried enormous risks. As anyone who has ever attended a music festival knows, nothing ever goes 100% to plan: unpredictable weather, technical difficulties, late artists and others dropping out at the 11th hour… Add to that the complexities of filming of a movie, and you have an impending nervous breakdown.
But as a seasoned documentary filmmaker – award-winning hits, including the Russell Crowe-narrated Boys Bra (2007) and Joel Edgerton-narrated fight the fear (2011) – Mac was able to roll with the myriad of punches he received.
“Putting those coming of age moments into the context of all those amazing festivals makes it so available and applicable to what so many kids are going through” – Ruby Fields
“I knew going into such a loose environment,” he says, “you would just be frustrated if you had a structural plan like you would with normal film. But having the experience I did meant I was able to say “OK, cool, that idea won’t work because that’s not where we thought the sun was going to be” or “OK, the scenery of this artist has just been pushed back so that we can no longer shoot there – let’s think, what can we do instead?”
This attitude gave 6 Parties some of his most significant scenes. In one, the cancer-stricken James (played by Rory Potter) finds himself invited on stage by the Dune Rats halfway through their set at last year’s Big Pineapple, where he joins them on guitar. to play “Scott Green”. It’s an energetic and slightly chaotic moment in the film, which does wonders to galvanize its authenticity. But as Mac explains, that wasn’t part of the script; James was originally going to crowdsurf, but the festival’s COVID-19 restrictions banned it at the last minute.
“We were scratching our heads trying to figure out what we could do instead,” he says, “and one of the Dunies said, ‘Man, we had that one time that kid was sick so he watched the show off-stage, and we invited him to play “Smells Like Teen Spirit” with us and the crowd left. And I was like, ‘That’s a fucking shitty idea!’ We had a take of that – we had seven cameras rolling, the crowd was going crazy, and it was so surreal.
This is just one of the rare cases where the contribution of Dune Rats has been decisive for 6 Parties. Another was the cast of Ruby Fields, whose festival staged an equally pivotal scene for the character of Maxie (Rasmus King). In 6 Parties, Maxie comes to terms with an abusive, drug-addicted older brother (Kane, played by King’s real brother, Kyuss) who pushes him to the brink of self-destruction. Maxie’s arc culminates with the film’s darkest and most sobering moment, where – without spoiling too much – her innocence is permanently shattered. In the distance, Fields can be heard delivering a powerfully raw performance of “Dinosaurs,” a song on his own with childhood demons.
When Mac first introduced him to the stage, Fields says, “it was so personal. And putting those coming-of-age moments in the context of all these amazing festivals, it makes it so available and applicable to what so many kids are going through and what I’ve been through – and am still going through in so many ways, so when I saw it all on screen, it really hit me in a big way.
“I watched about 20 films and listened to Hans Zimmer’s scores to try to understand [scoring 6 Festivals]” – BLESSED
In order to make 6 Parties to feel as authentic as possible, Mac met artists every step of the way. Alongside James and Maxie, our main ensemble is rounded out by Summer (Yasmin Honeychurch), an aspiring Indigenous singer-songwriter who finds a mentor in her once-estranged older cousin, up-and-coming rapper Marley (Guyala Bayles). . The latter’s arc was partially inspired by Mac’s own journey as an artist in Sydney’s burgeoning rap scene, but he admits he never really had “the raw hip-hop swag ” that Marley needed. This is where B Wise stepped in to advise Mac and Bayles on “how she could potentially take the stage and how she would deliver the lines”.
One of Summer and Marley’s pivotal scenes takes place in a recording studio, where BLESSED appears as a laid-back, wall-flying producer. It’s a tongue-in-cheek nod to the role the Ghanaian-born, Sydney-based rapper has played behind the scenes at 6 Parties: composing 23 pieces of original music for his score.
“I loved the challenge, just trying something new and expanding my creative horizons,” he says of the experience. “I make emotional music for the ears, but to match that with a visual component, it’s like a whole other world. I watched about 20 films and listened to Hans Zimmer’s scores to try to understand… It was difficult, but it’s something I’m really proud of. It was an atmosphere.
Having just finished its run on the Australian film festival circuit, 6 Parties hits theaters on August 11, before streaming on Paramount+ later in the year. Mac has yet to commit to a sequel, although he has a lot of ideas in mind. “I think Maxie and Summer’s stories are definitely unfinished,” he says, noting that he sees the most potential for their future arcs in an episodic format. The idea of a film centered on Marley’s journey has Mac beaming: “I would love to explore the story of a burgeoning Aboriginal artist with a baby in hand,” he says, “going around the world and see what might come of it. ”
Another potential spinoff, which would take a much less serious route, is “a Wayne’s World-esque comedy” which follows Dune Rats on their own crazy adventure. Fields would co-star – “they’ve always been like brothers to me, so I’d love to be a part of that,” she laughs – and bassist Brett Jansch thinks cameos should come from DZ Deathrays, Skeggs and Violent Soho.
“You really can’t fool 5,000 people singing with the dune rats” – Macario De Souza
“We always do wacky, stupid shit in the tour van,” Jansch says, assuring NME that Mac would have no shortage of hilarious true stories to me. “Maybe it would be like The Magic School Bus, and every time we try to get to a gig, there’s something crazy that gets in our way and we never quite get there – but we still have a crazy time! It could be like an Aussie spinal valve… or like Man, where’s my bong?”
After working with Mac on 6 Parties, Jansch, Fields and BLESSED say they’ve warmed to the idea of projects closer to the movie — which they all noted wasn’t the case a few years ago. There’s also a good chance that at least a handful of people will see 6 Parties and be inspired to hit up a Splendor, Groovin, or Spilled Milk for themselves. And then, of course, they’ll fall in love with music festivals, and our community of festival-goers will welcome them with open arms – a feeling that’s at the heart of this film.
“It’s a celebration,” Mac says in closing. “It’s a celebration of Australian music and a celebration of Australian culture, which I hope will really resonate with young audiences who, for the first time in a long time, can see themselves authentically represented on big screen. The key word throughout this five-year process for me has been authenticity. I hope this inspires them to chase their dreams, tap their best friends on the shoulder and tell them to how much they love them.
6 Parties hits Australian cinemas on August 11. Find this story in the July 2022 issue of NME Australia magazine