festival review: big day out sydney 2011
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more divisive issue than this year’s decision by Big Day Out organisers to allow festival punters to take a friend for free to the second Sydney show. Incensed concert revellers who had bought tickets for the first Sydney show made their opinions known, as well as those who had missed out on tickets altogether in other states.
Personally, the Big Day Out lineup didn’t particularly excite me. With the likes of Tool, Ramstein, Iggy Pop and the Stooges acting as a showcase of former headliners, as well as The Black Keys pulling out due to personal exhaustion, I was skeptical.
In past years the Big Day Out had appeared to be more suited to those who went merely for the sake of a once-a-year festival, rather than for the strength of its lineup. However, taking a positive perspective, having few bands to be extremely excited about, it presented an opportunity to see bands that would not feature in my personal timetable and experience a festival outside of the major stages.
Judging by the lines at the concert entrance, it appeared that most, like me, had recently bought tickets and opted to pick them up at the venue. Evidently the Big Day officials had not anticipated the numbers of people that would come at the opening time, resulting in a more than two-hour wait in line. This lead to missing the likes of The Naked and Famous, who were at the criminally early time of 11am, and the strong Australian contingency of Operator Please, The Vines, Little Red, Dead Letter Circus and Washington.
High-waisted denim shorts that showed a little more gluteus maximus than I cared for, shirtless guys, Ray Bans, pixie boots and a wide selection of bikini tops (which allowed for some good research, I’m long overdue for ideas on a new bikini to buy), were on display inside Olympic Park in Sydney. Boasting temperatures of 30+ degrees, which was a tad cooler than the Australia Day festival the previous day, Lupe Fiasco was one of the first acts that I watched.
Fiasco played on the Orange Stage, while Andrew W. K kept people busy at the Converse Stage and Amy Meredith appealed to a younger demographic on the other side of the festival. It was a new experience. In ridiculous heat, where it was difficult to differentiate between what was sweat and what were the water guards sprayed into the humid moshpit, Lupe did his best to keep the crowd interested and energetic. Fiasco ran around the stage jumping with his catchy choruses and introduced the crowd to his own brand of r ‘n’ b. Finishing off with his hit Superstar and his own take on Modest Mouse’s Float On with his song, The Show Goes On, hip hop and r ‘n’ b fans left feeling satisfied with the display.
While Bliss and Eso took over the Blue Stage, the Silent Disco presented a new opportunity to experience festival dance rooms. Hump Day Project and Silent Disco DJs provided an excellent dance mix for BDO dancers. Providing headphones to those who entered, the two channels in each headphone provided endless amusement to those watching from the outside. Dance music featuring everything from Aretha Franklin to Nirvana, mixed with the likes of contemporary songs like Shots and songs by the BDO-featured Bloody Beetroots, it was a better than average mix of music. I only wish that I had discovered the volume button on the bottom of the headphones before I had left the room.
After staying within the silent disco for an hour, Matt and Kim were next on the list. Being a huge fan of the Brooklyn duo’s second album, Grand, I saw them on the tiny Lilly world stage, while Angus and Julia Stone, Birds of Tokyo and Crystal Castles occupied other stages. The band’s combination of piano and drums on the small stage did not seem to deter them – their genuine excitement to be playing the Big Day Out festival was evident to all present.
‘Thank you all so much for coming out! The last time we were here we played in a toilet and a boat that went around the harbour over and over to about 20 people’.
Watching their set, I could only wish to turn back time to be present at those gigs. From the start, their energy was palpable. Their songs, recorded as upbeat, high energy songs, seemed to do little justice to their live performance. With Matt’s chair seemingly obsolete as he jumped around at his keyboard, as well as Kim’s energetic drumming, it would have been difficult not to jump around in sync with the band. With a set that featured Matt scaling stage scaffolding, Kim crowd walking and the band providing balloons for the audience to set off, it seemed that the crowd were returning as much love as the band was giving. The limitations which are associated with a piano and drum duo on their records, in turn giving the impression that their songs all sound similar, was irrelevant in the live setting. Finishing off with a cover of the dance classic Are you better off alone? by Alice Deejay and their hit, Daylight (which features in a Mars Bar ad), it was obvious that the infectious sheer joy of the set had affected all present. The only criticism that could be made was the unforgivable decision to place the band on an Over 18’s stage, as the band’s performance would have undoubtedly appealed to younger audiences.
After watching a snippet of the Adelaide band Lowrider, we made the heartbreaking decision to miss the Bloody Beetroots and Death Crew 77 in the Boiler Room, in favour of watching Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros at the Converse Stage. The 10+ members of the band played during remarkably cooler temperature to punters, providing an alternative atmosphere as well as sound to other bands that had featured on the day. The set featured long musical interludes which were interpreted differently from their Up from Below album. The set was punctured by periods of adorable stage banter and Alex Ebert, the lead singer of the band jumped into the crowd mid-set. However it appeared that their mellow, hippie-like music was unsuitable for the bigger stage. But when their crowd-pleasing song Home began, complete with new lyrics, it was understood why the crowd had turned out to watch the charming band.
Wolfmother began in typical fashion on the Green stage, while we headed to Iggy Pop and the Stooges. Knowing absolutely nothing about the band, (which according to some friends is a crime worthy of the death penalty), except for the fact that the lead singer has an aversion to wearing shirts, I arrived to find Iggy jumping around the stage with his fans. Unfortunately, although admiring his dedication to his fans, Iggy did little to retain my attention. However, from the adoration evident in the mosh, it appeared to his fans that the band still knows how to run a live show.
Sia’s eccentric personality on the night was matched by her outfit. It was with great difficulty that I managed to actually see her, Sia’s makeup appropriately acting as camouflage to the large piece of cardboard which was strapped to her shoulders, leading me to fear a large gust of wind to blow away the act I had come to see. However, Sia appeared to overcome any limitations associated with her stage outfit, providing an entertaining set, which featured hits such as Clap Your Hands and Buttons. Despite being a relatively entertaining set, I would have appreciated more time providing an alternative take on her songs, as I had the sensation throughout that I was listening to her album, rather than a live performance.
The psychedelic stylings of Ratatat were next on the agenda, with their work featuring on songs such as Pursuit of Happiness with Kid Cudi provoking me to check out their live performance. The New York duo opened with their classic Loud Pipes, with a holographic screen on both sides to compliment their performance. The holographic display included pigeons, African dancers, and Napoleonic men playing strings, as well as a multitude of other random images which seemed appropriate with the night time performance of the band. However, despite the nature of their music, which includes the heavy use of pedals and electric guitars as well as outlandish drum beats, it didn’t seem to translate to the live atmosphere.
Big Day Out overall was a little disappointing. Potentially had I seen other bands, such as The Deftones, Bloody Beetroots, or Rammstein (who I was later told were amazing…something about the presence of a giant plastic penis?) I may have enjoyed the festival a little more, with Matt and Kim being the only band who I genuinely enjoyed. With the logistics evidently not taken into account by organisers, as well as the lacklustre strength of the lineup, the Big Day Out’s reputation as the festival for those who know little about music and are not regular festival punters has this year, it appears, been cemented.