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Big Day Out, Adelaide, 2012

This year was the Big Day Out’s 20th birthday. Of course, it is the 21st birthday that we all celebrate as the big one (though one can only wonder why this is the case in Australia), which may be the reason that the festival was at, ahem, less than full capacity for its Adelaide show. Yes, that’s got to be it – everyone had a quiet night in to better conserve energy for next year’s show…

Okay, that’s really pushing it. A more likely explanation is the much-discussed saturation of the Australian music festival scene, where “the summer festival season is now a year-round event” (Adelaide Now, 27/1/12). What this means is big festivals like the Big Day Out are losing out to the plethora of other festivals that punters now have to choose from – ones that may have more genre-specific line-ups, or that may be cheaper. Add this to the recent parting of ways between the BDO’s founders Ken West and Vivian Lees (with Lees deciding to leave amid fears of the festival’s bankruptcy), and 2012 was always going to have some steep barriers to overcome.

So the BDO needed a bit of tweaking to save it from going the way of Soundwave Revolution. What this meant was downsizing. Downsizing, specifically, in Auckland, Perth and Adelaide. The organisers stated that:

“For our 20th year we have chosen to rebuild the Perth and Adelaide events from the ground up, with a goal to recapturing the magic of early Big Day Out shows.”

To be fair they kind of did this, featuring Soundgarden (the recently reformed grunge act from Seattle that headlined in 1994) and including a skate ramp next to one of the stages, which was graced by Tony Hawk as well as other local skating names. “Kind of” is the key phrase here, because it’s clear that there really wasn’t much choice in the matter – if bringing the BDO back to its downsized roots was such a coup d’etat, then surely this scheme would have been implemented on the Gold Coast and in Sydney and Melbourne as well.

Which, of course, it wasn’t.  Instead, the three Eastern Australian cities got Papa vs. Pretty, Art vs. Science…and Kanye West! And while on a personal note, the feminist in me (which is really all of me) has some major beefs with that man, he sure does know how to make some damn fine music (as long as you don’t listen at all critically to the lyrics). I mean have you heard My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy? Gold. Gold!

The major disappointment for me however, was that those talented young British rockin’n’rollin’ siblings, Kitty Daisy & Lewis, were also the exclusive property of the Eastern city shows.

But, all this being said – and there was more, that I shall mention below – the Adelaide BDO was certainly not a travesty along the lines of the 2011 Harvest Festival’s Melbourne leg, for example. While it was a little disheartening to see the Adelaide Show Grounds with what was surely no more than two-thirds – maybe even just a half – of the crowd that attended last year’s event, this also came with benefits.

Below I shall chronicle some of these benefits – as well as more of the, ah, hiccups – in what was my day at the Adelaide Big Day Out, 2012.

1100: Enter the show grounds. This is the earliest I have ever arrived at a Big Day Out, but this year I’m making the especial exception in order to see Los Angeles’ Best Coast. After loving their recent album Crazy For You, this is the band I am most looking forward to seeing.

1105: Sitting on the lawns in front of the Green Stage (which, considering its line-up, I fully expect to be spending the majority of my day at) I notice that the crowd definitely seems a little thin. I’m not too surprised though – while I was expecting that this year might be a bit smaller, it is still before midday after all.

1115-1200: I must say that, though I was most looking forward to Best Coast, their performance is a little lacking. The lead singer, Bethany Cosentino, doesn’t seem to be all that thrilled at having to perform ante meridiem, and so drowns her sorrows in a couple of Tequila Sunrises. Halfway through the set she also throws a little box of Cornflakes into the crowd in honour of a promise that she apparently made over Twitter, in order to encourage people to come to their early timeslot. It doesn’t seem like anyone knows what she’s talking about, but hey, a free breakfast is a free breakfast. The fact that she’s the only one with a microphone doesn’t help, as this means that the mood cannot be livened with some potentially amusing inter-band banter. Still, the earliness of the hour has not impeded her voice and I’ll admit to a little shiver down the old spine when she gets to that line in ‘Goodbye’: “And nothing makes me happy, not even TV or a bunch of weeeed…

1200-1220: Having never heard of them before, and not even knowing what genre they belong to, I head over to the Hot Produce Stage solely on the basis of this band’s name: Ben David & the Banned (it’s clever, but not too clever). I am amused to hear the first line that comes out of them is an exclamation by one of the guitarists: “Did anyone just see all the beer that came out of my nose!?” The very same guitarist is wearing a baggy Hawaiian shirt – a brave and often misguided move that for some reason seems to work here. It turns out that “The Banned” are a punk outfit and while this kind of music largely struggles to endear itself to me, I stay for the rest of their set, sheerly out of a sense of solidarity with these enthusiastic ruffians. They’re clearly having fun, loving what they’re doing and, best of all, have a sense of humour to match (acknowledging the fact that many people who might have wandered over to their set had Frenzal Rhomb not been playing at the same time, the lead singer cheekily announces: “Now we’re going to play some Frenzal covers”).

1230-1300: Now it’s back to the Green Stage for London’s The Vaccines, who manage to channel everyone from The Beatles to The Clash. Okay, I’ll put all my cards on the table here: I have a particular weakness for British indie boy bands. A particularly rampant weakness. Still, I do think others in the crowd would share my opinion that they put on a rollicking good show. The lead singer Justin Young’s prancing about the stage – in a way that only a British rocker with a mop-top can pull off – was rather swell.

1300-1330: Now I’m entering the vast, dark, cavernous pavilion that is the Boiler Room for Sydney locals Bluejuice. Their set has already started and by the time I get there, vocalist Jake Stone already has his shirt off and is soon to be followed by his partner in crime Stavros Yiannoukas. This band knows how to put on a show – and I’m not just referring to the fact that they have plastered themselves in glow-in-the-dark strips (come on, everyone like glow-in-the-dark stuff). No, the band is bursting with a mirthful energy that will not be topped by any other act this day.

1330-1335: A quick stop off by the Hot Produce stage to see up-and-coming locals The Honey Pies. A lovely little band, to be sure, but I’ve already seen them live, so I quickly move on to the Skate Stage for…

1340-1400: …Mariachi el Bronx. This 8-piece (!) band from L.A. is the alter-ego of The Bronx (a hardcore punk band who would also be playing later in the day). There’s a point in their set where they thank the organisers for including a band like them – that is, one that invokes the sombrero-clad, mariachi folk bands of Mexican tradition – at this festival. It was an interesting, even brave, move on the BDO’s part indeed, yet one that clearly paid off. When dedicating one of their songs to all those in the crowd who were stuck in jobs they hated, they advised: “life’s too short; quit that shit and get a mariachi suit like us!”. Wise words indeed.

1400-1500: My friend wanted to go see OFWGKTA (that is, Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, shortened simply to Odd Future. Phew.), so I thought I’d check them out for a bit. After distinguishing little more than the words “fuck” and “bitch” from their vocal repertoire (never a good combination), I decided to skedaddle. And so I waited for their set to finish by the nearby Green Stage where The Getaway Plan was playing. Meeting up with my companion once more, we took a walk over to one of the new features of this year’s festival – wait for it – a giant inflatable waterslide, completely sans charge! Though the line-up wasn’t all that long (one of the perks of this ‘new-and-improved-and-downsized’ festival), I didn’t want to be late for the next act on my list, so I forwent a go at riding the beast.

1500-1545: Ah, Kimbra. Such an amazing voice, and such a consummate performer (even after getting off the plane from L.A. nary two hours before). At just twenty-one years old, she’s the kind of person who makes you ask yourself, “What have I been doing with my life??”; that is, the kind of person who should fill you with a jealous rage, but doesn’t, because she’s just so darned lovely. Wearing an amazing be-sequined, banana-decorated poodle skirt with matching top, and showing such expression as she belted out crowd favourites including ‘Cameo Lover’, ‘Settle Down’ and a Bobby Brown cover, she is a marvel to behold.  I had planned on leaving her set a little early in order to get to the next band, but instead I stay for the whole thing.

1545: Battles, an experimental rock group with no vocalist, aren’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. But by gum, with a live performance such as this (picture a keyboardist with two keyboards ergonomically tilted upwards and placed on either side of him, and a drummer with his crash cymbal positioned above his head so that he can stand to hit it) they certainly are mine. Of particular note is their single, ‘Ice Cream’, which features flashes of strawberry, vanilla and chocolate ice cream images on the screen behind as they play.

1600-1605: It’s probably about time I head to the main stage to see something. Hilltop Hoods are playing; why not? I like ‘The Nosebleed Section’ as much as the next person. I arrive to hear the following announcement: “This is dedicated to my ex-girlfriend. Fuck you!” Hohoho, what a laugh. I leave soon after.

1615-1655: Back to the beloved Green Stage for Boy & Bear. This should have been one of the better sets of the festival. There’s a large, expectant crowd amassed and the band is in fine form. Unfortunately, the same thing can’t be said for the audio set-up. During Kimbra, I had thought I noticed a bit of funny business coming from the speakers, but put it down to the ear-ringing that goes hand-in-hand with every festival. Nope, it seems that I may have been onto something. When the left side speakers aren’t flickering in and out, they are completely not working. @BDOorganisers If you want a sure-fire way to confirm the opinions of all those critics, this is the right way to go about it. To the credit of the band, they just kept going without making a fuss. And for the most part, the audience does the same.

1655: I catch the last ten minutes of Cage the Elephant as I wait for the next gig on the main stage. With the lead singer proceeding to fit his microphone in his mouth and going crowd surfing in what is a fairly patchy crowd, it is a ten minutes well spent.

1705: I didn’t expect, a mere five minutes before their set was to begin, that I would get any kind of decent spot for My Chemical Romance. I was wrong. In fact, I found myself just three metres from the front. As Gerard Way made his entrance, the woman in front of me exclaimed, “look at the crowd – there’s no-one here!”. She was right, but was it because of overall low attendance numbers, or because MCR are just a little obsolete post-naughties? To be fair though, they’re solid, enjoyable performers who know how to work the crowd (“I want to interact with you, Adelaide,” Way drawls). They close with ‘Welcome to the Black Parade’, and come the first ping of the piano, the crowd goes ballistic.

1800-1820: Wedged between the main stage and the Skate Stage is a half-pipe skate ramp that is one of the ways in which the promoters have tried to “[recapture] the magic of early Big Day Out shows.” Crazily talented skaters have been tearing it up throughout the day and it must be said, this little curiosity is actually a great addition to the festival. I decide to check it out now because the grand master, Tony Hawk, is going to be doing his thing. I am duly impressed.

1825-1905: Röyksopp. An electronic act from Norway, they are best seen to be believed. They get my vote for best costumes (picture, for example, a nightmarish headpiece that is a cross between a turnip and H.R. Pufnstuf).

1905: At this point my friend wants to go in search of a pretzel for dinner, so I feel I must mention the food on offer this year. Two years ago, the only vegetarian option available (apart from hot chips, which I refuse to count) was a bean burrito. I was lucky in that instance in that I am a burrito fiend, but still. This year however, there are far more options – including Indian! – and I’m almost disappointed that I thought ahead and packed a sandwich.

2000-2050: Of course I head back to the Green Stage for Foster the People, and it seems like a fair proportion of the festival-goers have the same idea. Unfortunately, the band is heartily lacking in stage presence and don’t inspire that uplifting joy that their music otherwise does. It feels like everyone’s waiting for that song, and are happy to pay less than full attention and talk through the set until it comes. When it finally does, at the very end, everyone loses it and suddenly girls are springing up on shoulders like it’s Spring-time and they are daisies are freeing themselves from the shackles of the earth.

2100: I suppose I should mention Soundgarden because they’re headlining. And so I will.

(This is one of the attempts at recreating a nostalgic feel for the BDO’s 20th year that didn’t go so well. Soundgarden headlined in 1994 and broke up in 1997 only to reform in 2010, for who knows what reason. Ok, next!)

2110: I decide to leave the main stage area and get a good spot for the other big band of the night, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds.

2130-2220: I must admit, I stay for this set mostly out of a sense of duty and so that I can say I’ve seen one half of Oasis (a disclaimer: yes, I am aware that technically there are other people in that band). They were fine, but let’s be brutally honest, they got one of the top-billed spots solely because of who Noel Gallagher was. Fifteen years ago.

2230: My big day out is over and I catch a bus back to the city.

In summary:

Apart from the embarrassing sound malfunctions and awkward lack of people at gigs that deserved a better crowd, this was not a bad day out at all. Some of the afternoon/evening bands were truly quite fantastic (Bluejuice, Kimbra, Battles), even if the night’s headliners were not.

If they choose not to cancel Adelaide’s Bid Day Out next year, as they have Auckland’s, I would like to request that they keep the skate ramps – very, very occasionally, ‘90s throwbacks are great, and this is most certainly one of those times.

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