A couple of months back I got told to keep my New Years free because the AUD’$ team would be doing media coverage at Beyond The Valley festival. Initial hype soon turned to ecstasy when I saw the line-up. Denzel Curry, Yung Lean, Kaytranada, JAY1. Some of my favourite acts on the planet would be there and I had no idea what to expect.

I come from a small “city” in New Zealand with a population only slightly bigger than a football crowd at the MCG. I’ve only ever been to one festival for one day back in 2021. Once our car full of camping gear and snacks was ushered through the artist entry gates it started to dawn on me; this experience was about to be different. I’d packed about eight hours earlier, was running off about four hours of sleep, and here I was rushing to pitch a tent in 35-degree heat before our first artist interview with rising band Rest For The Wicked.

After failing and calling time-out on the tent build, we headed to the artist compound – a large country mansion titled Banurah Plains fitted with endless hallways, bedrooms, a tennis court, landscaped gardens, a Hollywood-esque outdoor pool, wifi, and bathrooms bigger than my apartment. It would be where we would spend the majority of our time; doing interviews, setting up equipment, editing, and charging our phones. While I understood that it was where the artists would be chilling before and after their sets, I didn’t quite understand exactly what that meant until later on that evening.

There I was, chilling in the lounge room charging my phone when I recognised a face from a live show I caught earlier in the year. It was Aitch’s DJ. I put my head back down, minding my business until a small commotion got my attention. I looked up and Aitch was right there. Right there! Like a metre away from me. We locked eyes as soon as he walked into the room and he nodded at me. AT ME! HUH??? My heart was exploding and I had to try to act normal. Imposter syndrome was running rampant for the next hour or two, but a little pep talk from the team helped me find my feet.

Outside of the luxury of my surroundings, my first personal highlight was meeting Texas rapper Mike Dimes who was our sixth and final interview of the first day. I hadn’t even caught a set yet! Chopping it up with Mike was surreal, he stayed and chatted for a good fifteen minutes after his interview before heading to his set, which we went and caught. My eyes lit up as I realised I had pit access for every single act, and that on opening night that meant Mike Dimes and Denzel Curry. The pit (for those who don’t know) is the grey area between the crowd and the stage usually occupied by security and photographers. And I was in the thick of it. Every day. Up close and personal, soaking in every moment.

As the sun rose and I awoke in a steamy tent, I made my way to the mansion with my backpack for a shower. The bath could fit two of me, and the shower pressure was the best I ever had (cue Drake). So naturally, I spent a good fourty minutes making the most of it before meeting up with the boys. Day two was a bit quieter for me, we only had two interviews scheduled and there weren’t any acts I was dying to see – so it was a much-needed recharge that consisted of lots of free alcohol poolside, good yarns, and a tanning session. On reflection, it was actually the most important day for me personally, as I had the space to come to terms with where I was at, and what I was doing; it was then my nerves would start to disappear.

But Day 3. Day 3 is when it got crazy. Real crazy. New Years Eve, there was no more fitting way that I could possibly sign off for the year. It’s barely been twelve months since I first had a zoom conversation about joining the AUD’$ team. And now here I was. You can’t script this stuff. And forgive me for the cliche phrase but honestly, it was a movie.

December 31 started with a Jnr Choi interview. His viral ‘To The Moon’ song has made him recognisable across the whole world. TikTok famous tunes aren’t usually my thing but I’ve had the remix with Fivio Foreign on repeat for months. Soon after we got confirmation of media time with JAY1. He rolled into the room with his manager and a bottle of Hennessy, dapped us all up and chilled on the couch until the chat got started. Both Jay and his manager Steve were mad cool, the experience was next level for me as he was one of the main artists I was listening to in my final years at high school. We got a photo together on the media couch. I was pinching myself. How was I sitting this close to somebody who I’d listened to for so long? It came out during the interview that Steve and JAY1 wanted to smoke and so we obliged and planned to link up with them straight after his set. More on that later.

In the midst of it all, we await our friends and Triple J competition winners FLY BOY JACK who were set to play the mainstage. Before jumping in a van with them to head backstage I quickly went to the bathroom (yeah the huge one) and as I came back I took a peek down the hallway that housed the artist rooms. Signs on the doors read names including JAY1, Yung Lean and Kaytranada. I realised then this shit is real. Like really real.

Our host/interviewer Matthew Craig whispered in my ear asking if I was shitting myself yet. Why would I be? I’d already met JAY1 and Jnr Choi, what else could possibly move me at this point? But what he said next shook me to the absolute core; “I just saw Yung Lean walking around the house”. Like, obviously I knew Yung Lean was gonna be there, I had for months. But the realisation that we would be walking the same halls, and sharing the same bathroom had me shook. This is Yung Lean we’re talking about. The Soundcloud GOAT. I’m allowed to fan out ok? Shut up.

As we waited in the blazing sun for our van, another pulled up and out got a man in a blue and black balaclava. My jaw dropped so far that it touched my knees. It was him. Lean. In the flesh. A foot away from me. Like a genie in a bottle, up he popped and floated gracefully past me. Time seemed to stop. We’ll put a lid on that experience for now.

The FLY BOY JACK set was top tier. They’re a special act. It was my first backstage experience at a show and being able to watch how it all operated from the artist’s point of view was very cool. Then it was back into the pit for JAY1. The crowd’s energy was exhilarating. I knew most of the lyrics to his songs and shamelessly belted them out. Jay and his entourage (including Jnr Choi) jumped off the stage into the pit mid-set and started pouring shots for the fans. It was hectic. As the set ended, we took that as our cue and made our way out back with security not batting an eye as we flashed our wristbands. JAY1 made his way off stage, down the stairs right to where we were greeting us with a flurry of fist bumps. Matt handed him a long-awaited and well-earned joint which we shared as a group chatting and laughing. After that, it’s honestly a bit of a blur. But let’s focus on what I do remember.

It was Yung Lean time. He walked onto the stage to an enormous roar from the crowd. His aura was something else. I’ll never forget it. Something about him, he just glided; a larger-than-life figure. He didn’t even need to do too much on stage either. It was just him and his DJ. I was stunned. Our trusty cameraman Clack saw my reaction and simply said “come with me”. I followed him backstage. We stopped and watched the GOAT do his thing from the side of the stage. Then. He pushed me on stage. The same stage as Yung f*cking Lean! And he started to take photos as I posed. I was in awe. I was literally on stage with Yung Lean. I couldn’t believe this was happening, all while ‘Ginseng Strip 2002’ played. We snuck behind some speakers, only metres away, and took as many photos and videos as we could before someone ushered us off stage.

As the set finished, his fans went mental. Some of them ran and attempted to climb over the 10-foot fence at side stage as he walked to his van. He went and talked to them from the other side, shaking hands and taking pictures. Instinctively I started videoing the scene from a distance before realising… I’m allowed to walk right to where he is. So I did. He made his way back to the van and time stopped. He walked towards me. Looking at me. I stuck out my hand. He raised his eyebrows and grabbed my hand with both hands for the cleanest handshake I’ve ever had. A presidential handshake. I was so gassed. He floated off into the abyss, vanishing in a puff of smoke, never to be seen again. It was magical.

And that was a wrap, almost. As the sun began to go down Matt and I made our way to the main stage for Kaytranada, the set I had been looking forward to the most. We stayed in the pit for the opener, but decided we had to experience the energy amongst the crowd. We went right to the back, in the thick of over ten thousand people. We had been front and centre the entire festival, but for Kaytra, we were brought back down to earth. And I loved it. The sunset was amazing, and Kaytranada’s feel-good, up-tempo selections captured the vibes perfectly. He played for about an hour and a half, closing out 2022 in the best way possible. We put another smoke in the air before heading back to camp to pre-game the NYE countdown.

Armed with a bottle of Henny under a hoodie we waved goodbye to the year that was (and the liquor) soundtracked by Nelly Furtardo, Dom Dolla and Jordan Brando. While the booze and the calendar were over, the memories certainly weren’t. I was riding the wave all night; a wave of adrenaline and disbelief manifested over the course of three very special days. A small-town kid, being in that environment was what I had dreamed of for years. I was floating on cloud nine the entire time. It was not only Beyond The Valley but beyond my wildest imagination. The best weekend of my life. The tone for the new year is set. Thank you to everyone who made it possible. My festival expectations are sky-high now.

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