I’d arrived a couple of hours into the day and the ground was already littered with crushed beer cans, water bottles and prostrate bodies in various stages of intoxication. Rock ‘n’ roll rumbled from every direction. Every seat, path and scrap of lawn was crowded with music fans. I decided to wander around and get my bearings.
My first stop, the Boiler Room was, despite its name, a dark, cool and cavernous shed. In the distance, a small but enthusiastic crowd wiggled to Aussie electro-duo The Presets. They were at the end of their set, so I only saw about three or four songs. Between each song the singer said the word ‘awesome’ but little else. Here are a couple of observations about the performance: 1) People will dance to anything with a beat. 2) Watching other people play keyboards is not very interesting.
After escaping the Boiler Room I explored the stalls lining the walkways between stages. There was plenty of food to choose from – Indian, Mexican, Chinese. There were stalls selling t-shirts, hats, sunglasses – even ear-plugs (although I thought the point of the day was to let sound into your ears, not keep it out). I then entered the main arena and took a seat in one of the stands.
Aussie band, Magic Dirt, was in the middle of their set. I didn’t know much about them at all so looked in my ‘souvenir’ program. According to the entry for Magic Dirt, their last lp’s wall of sound ‘comprised 19th Century choral symphonies and 20th Century film soundtracks’. I didn’t hear much of this in the few songs played this afternoon, just a lot of clichéd rock star posturing and dull tunes. (Note: playing one’s guitar behind one’s head does not improve the quality of playing or the song.)
Unlike Magic Dirt, with their tats and leather, the Sleater-Kinney girls looked ready to go to tea rather than play rock ‘n’ roll. With an unassuming little wave, Carrie picked up her guitar, and away they went, straight into ‘Fox’, the opening track of ‘The Woods’. A reasonable chunk of the album followed – ‘Wilderness’, ‘Rollercoaster’, ‘Modern Girl’ and others. The guitar playing was razor sharp, with Corin and Carrie sharing solo duties, while Janet drummed up a storm. The shared vocals sounded great, especially Corin’s banshee wail, and more than a little like the B52s in the poppier songs.
It was a (too) short, tight set of songs, and the band exuded class, but the thing I’ll remember most about the event is the young girl who not only caught one of Janet’s drumsticks, but also acquired the set list. She was shuddering, and almost in tears, with excitement.
Back in the main arena, a Led Zep tribute band (Wolfmother, sorry fans) was grinding through lengthy blues workouts. I hid in one of the stands and ate muffin bars while making a few notes before heading off to find out to explore the ‘silent disco’. Hidden in a vast shed on the fringes of the event was an inoperative dodgem car rink. It had been transformed into a dance floor. It was filled with people dancing in silence. They listened to the music through headphones. Maybe next year they could expand that idea to the whole Big Day Out – a silent rock festival?
Back on the Green Stage, the Go! Team leapt into their brief, energetic performance. A multicultural, multi-instrumental group of three boys and three girls, they reminded me of ‘kiddy band’ Hi-Five or even a Christian group, such was their enthusiasm and wholesome youthfulness. All smiles and handclaps, they rocketed through a selection of songs from the debut album ‘Thunder Lightning Strike’.
Unfortunately, my initial enjoyment of the band was marred by the weather (it had started to rain) and a restless crowd. A pot-smoking scruff had positioned himself in front of me, and didn’t think anything of thwacking me with his backpack, or exhaling his mouthful of weed in my direction. Worse than either of those offences, however, was his need to chat with his friend. They didn’t seem at all interested in the band.
Oblivious to my discomfit, the Go! Team played on; led by the diminutive Ninja, whose energy was infectious – by the end of the set she had the whole crowd bouncing. The highlights were ‘Bottle Rocket’, ‘The Power Is On’ and ‘Ladyflash’, although the entire set was impressive.
It was then time to ‘bite-the-bullet’ regarding a much-avoided toilet break. I’d needed to pee since arriving hours earlier, but had taken one look at the intoxicated individuals staggering in and out of the toilets, and decided against the idea. But the situation was now at crisis point, and I imagined bursting my bladder and ending up the first Adelaide BDO fatality. I don’t know why people were still bothering to line up at the trough though, because the entire floor was dripping with urine, but I closed my eyes, held my breath, and joined the piddling ranks.
As evening approached, I made my way to the main arena. I’d intended spending the last couple of hours watching a string of acts on the Blue and Orange stages – Franz Ferdinand, The Stooges, and The White Stripes. The vast lawned area in front of the stages resembled a battlefield, strewn with garbage, vomit, unidentifiable liquid, discarded food and collapsed humans. And those that weren’t lying down were staggering dangerously. I began to feel like the only person at the party not pissed or stoned (or both). I set up an encampment in spitting distance of the main stage and waited patiently for Franz Ferdinand to appear.
But first I had to sit through an hour of The Living End. I didn’t imagine it would be so painful, but by the end I was almost beginning to hate the whole concept of rock ‘n’ roll. There must be something about the Australian environment that nurtures the spirit of the ‘yob’ and turns the majority of homegrown bands into entities that embolden that spirit. In the 80s we had Cold Chisel, Swanee and Aussie Crawl (among others). In 2005, we have The Living End. I thought the enlightened 90s might have cleared out this sort of rubbish. Obviously, this is not the case.
But the crowd loved them, and lurching, bellowing drunks soon swamped my little sanctuary on the grass. The music was a kind of pub rock/rockabilly fusion that seemed to celebrate, above all else (and appropriately) getting drunk. One song was introduced: ‘this is about getting’ pissed and goin’ out on a Friday night’. The fans roared, and off they stomped. I was forced to retreat to a safer spot beyond the crowd.
Forty-five minutes later and Franz Ferdinand took the stage. Amazingly, the folks who’d been bouncing around to The Living End’s ‘yob-abilly’ moments ago were now pogo-ing to Scotland’s version of indie-disco. I fought my way back through the crowd and found a good position from which to watch the band, only to find myself, once again, in the midst of a group of people with no obvious interest in what was happening on stage. Couples kissed, took photos of each other, others drank, told jokes. The guy next to me even attempted a conversation on his mobile phone.
Meanwhile, back on stage, Franz Ferdinand scratched their way through renditions of songs from their two albums – ‘Do You Want To’, ‘Take Me Out’, The Villain, ‘Matinee’ and others. Their music was less polished, more abrasive than their records, but the playing was tight, and the sound was mostly good, apart from the occasional moment when wind swept away the vocals or a guitar riff or two.
To combat the nuisance crowd in my immediate vicinity, I tried emitting extremely bad vibes, and, by the end of Franz Ferdinand’s set, I’d been able to clear a reasonable space around me. The fact that I’d also threatened to strangle the guy in front of me might have also helped. (He’d recklessly pogoed onto my foot.)
Iggy Pop started on the Orange Stage within minutes of Franz Ferdinand’s departure, and I wandered over to watch him for a while. By this time my enthusiasm was waning, and my legs and back ached. A few minutes of watching Iggy drag his emaciated 59-year-old body about the stage wearied me even more. The band chugged through a few Stooges’ standards – ‘1969’, ‘Loose’, I Wanna Be Your Dog’. They were lurching into ‘TV Eye’ when I decided I’d had enough, and left, seriously concerned that Iggy’s pants were going to fall down before the end of the night.
I’d missed The White Stripes, but decided I could listen to them on my iPod, in the comfort of my bed, far from the maddening crowd.
1) If a pop singer asks the audience to clap or wave their hands, about 95% will do so.
2) Music fans are a generally good-natured folks, despite their over-indulgence in alcohol. But they are terrible slobs. I’ve never seen more rubbish on the ground than at the BDO.
3) For a great many people, the BDO is a social event. A chance to drink, dance and party. The music itself is secondary to the socialising.
4) According to the latest issue of the Triple J magazine, the Australian music scene has never been as healthy as it is today. If this is true, where were the good Aussie bands at this year’s BDO? Are Wolfmother, Magic Dirt and the Living End really the best we can offer? Maybe I just need to look harder.