SOMETIMES inspiration strikes in the most unlikely of places. For Alison Wonderland, the muses came to her one night at a Gold Coast strip club.
“There was a DJ playing and I went up to him and asked, ‘Can I have a spin?’ He was like, ‘Are you good?’ He actually let me play and I ended up DJing for an hour at this strip club.”
Later that night, basking in the glow of her surprise set, Alison thought how great it was to play somewhere other than a typical nightclub. Her agent suggested they book a tour in non-traditional venues.
From there followed the birth of her summer festival tour, the WonderlandScarehouseProject, a multi-series event that makes its return this weekend after a year off (it takes place in Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and Auckland, with condensed versions in Adelaide, Hobart and Perth). While the party has grown, it hasn’t changed from its core ethos: to showcase music Alison herself personally feels passionate about in a setting outside and beyond the expected.
‘There’s No Ego Involved’
TUCKED into a booth at the Paramount Coffee Project cafe in Los Angeles, Alison is visibly excited about the lineup she handpicked. “It’s kind of like a live mixtape,” she says. “It’s all the acts that I absolutely love, like Lido, Party Favor, Quix, A$AP Ferg. There’s no ego involved. I literally just wanted people that I fuck with.”
She’s ordering lunch when her boyfriend drops by unexpectedly to casually drop off a gift. It’s a small plate from Supreme’s collaboration with Katsuhiro Otomo, creator of legendary manga series Akira. The gift is practical: A place for the couple to put their keys in the home they share with Alison’s manager nearby, but undoubtedly will be hung on the wall as a treasured object.
While Scarehouse may have sat last year out, Alison herself did not. She’s toured almost constantly since the 2015 release of her debut LP Run, and is ready to drop its follow-up, Awake; an album written while in Los Angeles, her new home away from home.
For the new album she re-teamed with Lido and for the first time, joined forces with songwriter/producer Joel Little, known for his work on Lorde’s debut Pure Heroine. Little served as a great studio cohort for Alison who trusted his feedback and suggestions, however small they might have seemed.
Still, as sanguine as that relationship was, recent singles like ‘Happy Place’ accurately reflect how Awake is a candid look at her struggles with anxiety, self-confidence, and the often overwhelming experience of living. Personal doesn’t being to describe it.
“All of it was one big whirlwind journey towards me feeling a lot more grounded,” she explains. “Everything I said on the album was actually happening in the time I was writing it. There’s a lot of pride I feel in writing.”
Taking a year off from Scarehouse was strategic. Alison says she wanted to give the festival the attention it deserved. “I didn’t expect to be so busy in the last few years. I wanted to take the time to plan it and put on my dream lineup.”
For artists who might be used to posh green rooms and luxe accommodations, putting ego aside might be a necessity when traipsing to the remote farmland of the chosen Scarehouses near Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, and Auckland. These “haunted” locations are off the grid, only accessible by a “dedicated compulsory phantom bus service” – but Alison is remaining cagey about the details, saying she wants to keep some mystery around the event.
She says she saw an opening for events that serve as an equaliser between artist and audience. “There’s not that much in terms of a festival experience in Australia right now that’s coming from a super DIY perspective,” she says. “I didn’t want any pretentiousness. I want people to be there for the music and to have fun. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you look like, or what you’re into, just go there and let it out.”
Alison also acknowledges that Scarehouse reenters the musical landscape at a time when the nightlife atmosphere in Australia might feel a bit clouded, thanks in part to Sydney’s lockouts, which she says is just “killing the nightlife”.
It’s fine to be awkward, I feel you. Just get out there and have a dance.
A festival goer herself, Alison knows what makes for a good time. In some ways she’s actually concerned she’ll be as starstruck around her fellow artists as a punter might.
“You should have heard me squeal every time an act said they would play,” she gushes. “I’m such a fangirl of music. Even if they’re super cult-y and not many people know who they are, if I’m a massive fan I will freak out every time I see them. I was thinking the other day, ‘How am I going to talk to Lunice?’ He’s one of my biggest heroes.”
Replace “fangirl” with “expert” and Alison’s role as the creative force behind Scarehouse comes into sharper focus. She knows through experience as a globe-trotting DJ how to make a room go off and she knows, perhaps by instinct, what to look for in new talent regardless of genre.
Scarehouse reenters the musical landscape at a time when the nightlife atmosphere in Australia might feel a bit clouded.
That personal taste is reflected in an eclectic lineup unified by Alison’s personal touch if by nothing else. Carmouflage Rose, for instance, is a Brisbane rapper she happened to hear on triple j Unearthed. Brownies & Lemonade, who will present their own stage, is an underground party crew she’s gotten to know from spending time in Los Angeles, her home away from home.
Along with Ferg, Lunice, and Lido, they’ll be sharing a rotating lineup with Odd Future’s DJ Taco, Sydney-based sister duo Kinder DJs, London house mavens Antony & Cleopatra, and of course Alison herself, who promises to premiere a slew of new material in her sets.
“I want it to be about an experience,” she says. “I want it to be a journey from the start to the end and I want people to feel that it’s okay to be themselves. It’s fine to be awkward, I feel you. Just get out there and have a dance.”