Vivid Sydney will dominate the city more than ever for 23 days in May and June, spreading its reach for the first time to Barangaroo and as far as the somewhat unexpected addition of Chatswood.
The annual festival, which began as a modest "smart-lighting" event in 2009, last year drew some 2.3 million visitors to see light projections and sculptures around the city as well as attend the music and art programs.
Highlights this year will include a trail of light installations threading through Barangaroo, a large-scale mural created US contemporary artist Shepard Fairey in the CBD and performances from hipster darlings Fleet Foxes and electronic duo Goldfrapp.
And then there's the inclusion of light installations and sculptures in Chatswood – all on a steampunk theme.
"Every year we try to expand because we want to share the love but also we get approached by different precincts to be part of Vivid," said creative director Ignatius Jones. "I just help them find a differentiator – something they can own."
But, er, Chatswood and steampunk?
"It seemed to tie in with what Chatswood is becoming, which is a bit Blade Runner. It's hard to believe …"
Organisers say Vivid, which is staged by Destination NSW, the travel and tourism arm of the state government, last year brought $110 million into the state, putting Jones at the sometimes uncomfortable intersection between big money and art. However, it is a position he is well used to after many years directing Sydney's New Year's Eve celebrations.
"If you go talk to them about art you can see them very quickly switching off and drifting away," he says. "But if you speak to governments and corporates in terms they understand – returns on investment and KPIs, they actually get what you are trying to do."
The hugely popular projections on the Opera House are set to return and this year will be designed by Ash Bolland, who will turn the sails into living, breathing "audio creatures".
Described as a "response to the organic forms of the Opera House sails", the projections will be accompanied by music from Brazilian electronic producer Amon Tobin.
That other great crowd-pleaser, the Commercial Travellers Association building known almost universally as the "Mushroom Building", will become an exotic forest topped by a giant tree frog.
Jones believes there will truly be something for everyone and that the diversity of its visitors is one of Vivid's great strengths.
"When you get 40,000 prams turning up to a festival as well as the goths and the punks and the young emos you know you are doing something right," he said.
Bernard Zuel assesses the music program for Vivid
Influential DJ, Richie Hawtin and the music of minimalist composer John Adams, new funk/R&B star Sampha and the ACO, the much lauded folk rock singer Laura Marling and electro pop giants Air – not to mention the generation-leading indie rock group CampCope – headline what appears a genuinely eclectic music component for Vivid in 2017.
Hawtin, a Canadian whose techno productions revitalised the once-vital club hub of Detroit, may be the most exciting name on the electronic side but it's a close-run thing.
As well as the crossover appeal of French duo, Air, the Sydney pioneers of underground electronica, Severed Heads, will be part of a celebration of Repressed Records' 15th anniversary alongside Melbourne's relative newcomers Total Control, while DJ Shadow will be one of the guests at a "block party" curated by the Avalanches, who will perform their debut album in full. Meanwhile, at Carriageworks, electro/pop Brits Goldfrapp will be one of two special events, alongside the music/art assembly, Curve Ball, setting up in Redfern.
Back at the Opera House, Melbourne producer/songwriter and soul singer Nick Murphy (who until this year was known as Chet Faker) will be matched by the rising star, Sampha, while Marling will have some competition in the English folk field via Beth Orton, and all will be in awe of the harmonies of American folk-rock revivalists, Fleet Foxes.
If Bill Callahan's return with a career-overview show, and one-off show from jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves will deeply please their niche but intense followings, performances of Adams' The Nixon Tapes – on the same program as pieces by Jonny Greenwood and Bryce Dessner - and the Australian Chamber Orchestra's new film-and-music collaborative work, Mountain, could bridge the gap between art, experimental and classical music.