Music Photography

The Steady As She Goes + Occults @ Black Bear Lodge, 13.02.2014

The Steady As She Goes @ Black Bear Lodge, Thursday 13 February 2014

I have the (not very good) photos to prove I was at this show but forgot to log it in my all-singing, all-dancing spreadsheet of gigs I have attended/photographed or write any notes about it.  It was only when I was doing some backing up and syncing of my hard drives that I stumbled across the photos and realised that I probably needed to post them up. But some 9 months after the event and with no notes to go on, there’s nothing to really add.

From memory it was a last minute decision as I’d been working late but had the next day off.  Not sure if there was a third act that opened the night, I’m guessing there probably was.  having just done a quick Google check it turns out there were another couple of acts that night; Kate Jacobson/Ola Karlsson and Ben Salter.  I’m guessing I made a snap decision that I probably already had enough photos of them…  Sorry guys.

Blank Realm + Four Door + Lucy Cliche + Sewers + Thigh Master @ The Underdog, 08.02.2014

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A last minute gig and the excitement of being asked by The Guardian slightly tempered by the thought of a late show. I know that if I were to go back through the This Is Not A Photo Opportunity archives, the most common themes from the last eight years would be lighting, contracts and late shows. I’ve said it more than once, but I don’t want to be out seeing bands that don’t start until after midnight. The annoyance at late shows is always compounded living in Brisbane with its terrible public transport system but either way, watching a band play in the early hours isn’t usually a very enjoyable experience.

It’s a first visit to the Underdog, the revamped Step Inn, The Shamrock as it was called when I first moved to Brisbane. Nothing stays the same for very long in Brisbane. The old band space was a terrible room for seeing bands, and especially photographing them. The renovations have vastly improved the place although it’s a bit of a shame to see the extended old band room being turned into the restaurant part of the pub, with the area that used to host the pokies now hosting the music. It’s not the biggest space, maybe 150 people could squeeze in, although the sound system and lights look to be a vast improvement on what was here before.

Sewers are entertaining, while Four Door take me straight back to 1990-91. Close your eyes and the last 25 years just disappear. Blank Realm are excellent. The band don’t start until about 12:15am and I only stay for about 40 minutes. I miss the chance to get some photos of Bedroom Suck Records’ boss, Joe Alexander, swinging from the lighting rig, which is a shame.

Although I’ve already received a promo download copy of Blank Realm’s new album, I pick up a copy on vinyl on the way out. Grassed Inn should be one of the albums of the year, although by releasing at the start of the year they run the risk of it being forgotten by December. It’s good to see that it’s made the Australian Music Prize long list; given that there’s never been a Queensland winner, and next to no Queensland acts have even made the shortlist over the last decade, could this be Brisbane’s year? The trouble is that the way the AMP is set up, with the majority of judges based in Melbourne and Sydney, Australia’s stupid state parochialism makes anyone from outside of Victoria or New South Wales rank outsiders when it comes to the crunch. By criminally ignoring Queensland all these years, they also run the risk of being accused of tokenism; we’ve never awarded it to anyone from Queensland, let’s make it their year, normal service can be restored next year.

As seems to always the way when you’re photographing for someone new or to a tight deadline, there are issues. Somehow the act of transferring the files from my notebook to an external hard drive, in order to use my all-powerful desktop to do the photo crunching at speed, results in the files completely vanishing. There’re no longer on the notebook’s desktop, but they didn’t make it across to the hard drive either. The only course of action is to go back to the SD card and use a file recovery program to try and find the missing files. After a number of passes through the process, I find that all I can recover are the JPEGs; the RAW files have completely gone. So the JPEGs it has to be.

Luckily The Guardian only wants a couple of photos to choose from. Blank Realm have a singing drummer so I send them one close up photo of a singing drummer knowing that never in a million years will a publication print a photo of a drummer to accompany a live review. The second photo is wider shot of a keyboard player/singer with a bass guitarist in the background. As predicted they go with the second photo.

Laneway 2014 @ RNA Showgrounds, 31.01.2014: Part 3

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Savages were always a good idea on paper. I liked the image, the manifesto, the album cover photo, I just didn’t think much of the music the couple of times I tried listening to the album.  Everyone told me that I needed to see them live so I quit Haim after a couple of songs and watch almost all of Savages set.  Live, they’re still nothing special.  For the most part it’s a work(wo)man-like performance with no real thrills or much in the way of stand-out moments.  The best song they play for far is the song they end with, a 10+ minute long epic that starts with a drawn out monologue by Jehnny Beth as the intro to the song that sounds far more scripted than it does a spontaneous soliloquy.  Not being overly familiar with their songs, I think it’s called ‘Fuckers’ and appeared on a Record Store Day release earlier this year.  It’s the one truly exciting moment of their set, the only time when it all comes together to a point where you can understand why people said that they were a band that you have to see live.  Even though it might be a perfect 10 minutes and go a long way to making up for what proceeds it, it’s not really enough to justify the hype.  I had high hopes for photographing them but instead they play with only backlighting and so the photos I get are really disappointing.

Lorde’s Pure Heroine was my favourite album of 2013.  It’s a ridiculously assured and confident album and at less than 40 minutes, it never outstays its welcome.  I love her voice, especially when she sings in her lower register and as a big fan of female vocals and harmonies, it was always something I was going to really like.  Despite that, I was apprehensive about how it would work in a live setting; how do you replicate all those vocal tracks?  If you don’t, it’s highly unlikely that the songs would stand up.  In the end she did the obvious approach and used backing tracks, with just another two musicians on stage, one on keyboards, one playing drums.  They’re hidden in the background and in the midst of all the dry ice so they don’t distract from the main focus and at times you can barely even make them out.   From start to finish, you just can’t take your eyes off Ella Yelich-O’Connor, it’s just a complete performance.  Plans to nip off and photograph Jaguar Ma are ditched to spend more time watching Lorde and by the end of the set there’s no doubt as to who the act of the day will be.

One of the great mysteries is why on earth The Jezabels are headlining Laneway.  By headlining I mean playing last on the festival’s largest stage, even though there are still bands playing after them on the other stages.  Whereas both Lorde and Haim packed the Alexandria Street stage, The Jezabels played to about 10% of the crowd that had previously been here only about 30 minutes earlier.  Compared to earlier, when it was a struggle to push through the crowd to the photo pit, it’s now just an easy stroll.  I stick it out for a couple of songs and that’s more than enough.

The Zoo stage area is packed for Danny Brown.  Whereas getting through the crowd into the photo pit for The Jezabels was a breeze, getting into the pit for Danny Brown is a real squeeze that gets worse the closer you get to the stage.  It’s one of those moments, the only one at this year’s Laneway, where you feel uncomfortable in the photo pit, when there’s an air of dread about the whole thing as you consider the structural integrity of the steel barrier and the pressure that’s being exerted on it by the very large crowd.  It’s insanity at the front and I can’t say I miss those days of being crushed at the front of a show that I used to endure in my younger days and before I started photographing.  It can be bad enough when you end up pushed up against the stage at some shows at The Zoo, with only a few hundred people behind you, let alone when you’re pushed against barrier with the weight of thousands to support.  As excellent as Danny Brown is (and I love the photos I get of him tonight), I only stick it out for a couple of songs.  I might have a barrier between me and the audience but I just don’t feel comfortable thinking about what happens if that barrier collapses.

As good as Warpaint are tonight (and they are excellent), it’s disappointing that they play in a mix of no lights and red lights together with a smoke machine; all the things my camera hates.  Thinking about the band in retrospect, they’re one of those acts that seems to only ever play festivals in/near Brisbane and so we never get an opportunity to see them play a full set at a headline show of their own.  I guess we’ll be seeing them again in Brisbane at one festival or another the next time they put out a record in three or four years time.

Laneway ends with a couple of sets on The Zoo stage from Run The Jewels and then Earl Sweatshirt rounding off the day.  By this time of the day fatigue is really setting in and it becomes a case of marking time sitting down until the next act.  It’s always the way at music festivals; by the time you get to the pointy end of the day with the main headliners, you’re too tired to appreciate and enjoy it.  It just becomes part of a countdown until the end of the day when you can get off your feet, get the 10kg camera bag off your shoulders and have something decent to eat and drink.  Both Run The Jewels and Earl Sweatshirt are fun but lack the excitement/sense of dread that came from seeing Danny Brown a couple of hours earlier.

Laneway was an exceptional, easily the best booked festival of the year by a country mile. As can now be seen by a Splendour bill that recycles a fair chunk of this year’s Laneway (with a few BDO acts for good measure) but for about 4x the price.  At something like $120 a ticket, Laneway represents ridiculously good value when the other summer festivals were well over $150 (I think Soundwave/BDO are in the $180 area these days).  I can’t wait until next year.

Laneway 2014 @ RNA Showgrounds, 31.01.2014: Part 2

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Originally I had no intention of being anywhere near the Alexandria Road stage for Vance Joy but in the end decide that as there’s not much else on, I might as well fill in some time.  He starts off with some song that talks about someone wearing the same old socks to bed and you realise pretty quickly that if you saw him busking on the side of the road, you would just walk on by.  It regularly feels like the aim of most modern musicians is to get a sync deal for an advert, surf video or for FIFA on Playstation /Xbox.  I guess Medibank Private is the real winner in the case of Vance Joy.  Knowing that his debut EP was called God Loves You When You’re Dancing should have set everyone’s alarm bells ringing.

Youth Lagoon are another band I photograph to split up the walk between the Alexandria St and Carpark stages as the timing is right but don’t spend enough time to form much of an opinion.

I actually end up listening to most of Daughter’s set but from the seats in the mini-grandstand located in the VIP section.  It’s always good to have somewhere you can sit down, have a breather and also download some photos at a festival and most of them have really improved in regard to this in the last couple of years.  Earlier on in the day the security on the gate to the VIP section weren’t letting any of the photographers in.  Although we all had the correct wristband, we also had a photographer’s pass stuck on us which was crossed out on the list of approved passes to be able to get entry to the area.  It then became a very convoluted exercise in having to remove the sticky photographer pass and put away any sign of camera gear before security would let us in.  Security knew we were all photographers but so long as we didn’t have a visible photo pass or any obvious camera gear about our bodies, we were free to enter.  Festival jobsworths at the very top of their game.  Daughter are nothing special, one of those pseudo folk bands that have cluttered up the music scene in the last few years.

Collapse Board were offered an interview with Chvrches before Christmas that I had to cancel as the writer who requested it wasn’t sure if they could do the time slot we were given.  I really regretted cancelling it and if I’d had a bit more notice I would have done it myself.  I just didn’t think I had enough time to do enough research and prepare some considered questions to do a good job and make it worthwhile for the band.  In retrospect I really wish I had done it, even if it meant struggling through it the best that I could as it was a good opportunity and I hate turning those down.

Laneway is pretty good for not having many clashes but there’s a period in the late afternoon when there’s only fifteen minutes between bands playing on the three main stages and unfortunately Chvrches are time-tabled in this period, so there’s barely enough time to photograph them for the three songs before it’s time to move off. I would have liked to have seen more but I’ll have to wait until next time and hope that they’re not playing a festival where they’re scheduled against other bands I want to see.

Kirin J Callinan might still owe me a copy of his album on vinyl [at least he did at Laneway and at the time of writing, he’s since sorted out for me] that I pre-ordered and paid for the last time I saw him in Brisbane, but I still want to go and see him play, if only for a few songs.

I’ve seen Kurt Vile a couple of times before.  The first time was a packed and infuriating show at Woodland that I was photographing where he played in the dark and I ended up being on the wrong of him, so all I got was a view of his hair.  The second time was a show in London at the Kentish Town Forum about 15 months ago that was nothing special, partly thanks to the sound in the venue and partly because he’s just not that engaging a live performer.  One really enjoyable thing about the Forum show, and the Mark Lanegan gig at the same venue in the same week, was that both of them cost less than the equivalent of $30 a ticket; last time Lanegan played in Brisbane I think it was more than $75 all-in.  The latest Kurt Vile album was a bit of a grower, it took some time to get over the change in sound from simpler, largely acoustic base of Smoke Ring For My Halo to the fuller sound and saxophones of Wakin on a Pretty Daze.  As he’s playing a standard festival mid-afternoon 45 minute timeslot, it’s a surprise, albeit a very pleasant one, when he includes the two longest songs from Wakin on a Pretty Daze in his set, the 9:31 minute ‘Wakin on a Pretty Day’ and the 10:26 minutes of ‘Goldtone’.  It’s almost half the set gone in two songs, with the majority of the rest of his time also being cuts from his most recent album.  I stay to watch as much of his set as I can before I need to move to go and photograph Haim.

Everyone loves Haim and I just can’t understand how a band that sounds like a cross between Shania Twain and Gloria Estefan & Miami Sound Machine has managed to become so critically acclaimed.

I’ve also never been able to fathom the Fleetwood Mac comparisons, although the band through in a cover of ‘Oh Well’ as their second song, a much earlier song from the Peter Green-era of the band rather than the slick 80s version that all the comparisons highlight.  I’d say it’s another case in this copy/paste age of one writer including the comparison and others following suite.  Eventually if enough people state something, it becomes a fact, a bit like that recent story about how Iggy Azalea has matched the Beatles record in having their first two releases go to Number 1 and Number 2 in the US singles chart.

Photographing the band is another case of not knowing quite where to look given that two of the band are wearing short shorts, the other a short dress, and being in the photo pit means a very uncomfortable view.  I also get to experience the whole ‘Bass Face’ thing, which is all a bit ridiculous as it’s not like this hasn’t been a thing in rock/metal for at least the last 40 or so years.  It’s as if people are amazed that not only can a woman play a bass guitar but she can multi-task to the extent of making stupid faces at the same time.

Laneway 2014 @ RNA Showgrounds, 31.01.2014: Part 1

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In an ever-diminishing festival season, Laneway is once again the best looking festival.  Once again they’ve managed to put together the most interesting and exciting line-up and mostly managed to avoid booking the same old, same old that the competition book year in, year out.  In fact, the way that the other festivals have been booking Laneway alumni over the last few years, it has become tomorrow’s festival today and for about a third of the price.

The Creases are this year’s triple j Unearthed competition winners despite having released a single on Rough Trade.  Sadly they’re fairly landfill.

After catching a couple songs from MT Warning in passing between stages, I head to Cass McCombs on the Car Park stage, who is playing a ridiculously early lunchtime set.  As a recent convert via his new Big Wheel and Others album, I’m looking forward to seeing him, even if it is in the bright sun and heat of the early afternoon.  Based on my limited one album knowledge, he plays it far too straight though.  Big Wheel and Others has a lot a variety, sounding like a cross between Ryan Adams, Elliott Smith, Badly Drawn Boy but today he just really concentrates on the alt-country sounding songs.  It’s a gentle lunchtime set but he’s also capable of a whole lot more interesting things.

I got sent The Growl album from their PR people last year and gave it a couple of listens but didn’t really think much of it.  They’re better live but still a very derivative sounding band.  Cam Avery’s voice sounds really good but none of the songs really goes anywhere.  There’s communal handclapping in every song; could this be the new floor tom?

Next up Drenge provide further evidence that the DFA1979-inspired guitars and drums two piece has really been done to death and needs to go away for a bit.

I really enjoy King Krule and stay to watch almost all of his set.  Everyone I know at Laneway and chat to tells me it’s terrible but they really love the album.  I still haven’t heard the album but probably should check it out sometime.

Having recently interviewed Adalita, I was really keen to go and photograph her but find it a really frustrating experience as she never opens her eyes.  I prefer the photos I took of her on film during the third song.

Like a lot of people, Calendar Days was one of my favourite albums of 2013, even though I think the whole Dolewave sound is rapidly approaching its sell by date (if that point hasn’t already passed).  Still, Dick Diver do it better than anyone which might explain why it sounds so tired when other bands do it.  I think this is the first time I’ve seen them and arrange my timetable to make sure that I get to see most of their set but it just sounds terrible – like a transistor radio set to an AM station inside a biscuit tin.  Although many bands I’ve seen play in this cattle shed space over the years have struggled, it’s hard to think of anyone that sounded this bad, which is a real shame as it detracts so much from being able to enjoy the songs.

Big Day Out 2014 @ Metricon Stadium, 19.01.2014: Part 3

Pearl Jam @ Big Day Out 2014, Metricon Stadium, Sunday 19 January 2014

Arcade Fire are another band I’ve just never really understood.  I’ve said it before but there’s just something about them that really reminds me of The Waterboys so I’ve always struggled to comprehend how they’ve managed to become so feted. Tonight they play a first song with additional musicians before going down an 8 or 9 piece for the next few songs but at no point does it sound like there’s that many musicians playing. Although (surely) the whole MO of Arcade Fire is this “big” sound, it might as well be half the number of people as are on stage.  It’s all a bit try hard to impress.

With no Pearl Jam to photograph, there’s a big gap in the schedule until the next acts on the Red and JBL Essential stages.  I didn’t make it to the Boiler Room at all this year, whereas in previous years I’ve spent plenty of time in there.  The difference is that in previous years there was always plenty of interesting live acts whereas this year the organisers have just gone for dull-to-photograph but so much cheaper option of a bunch of laptop DJs.

Annoyingly both Ghost BC and Snoop Dogg are scheduled to start at the same time, 9pm.  On the plus side, the two tents are next to each other and so my plan of attack has me starting with Ghost for a song before moving over to Snoop for a song.  I decide on Ghost BC first based on the assumption that no hip hop gig ever starts on time.  Ghost BC doesn’t help the cause by playing an instrumental to start with before Papa Emeritus II comes out onto stage which makes it the best part of two songs before the run over to the Red stage where Snoop has already started.   The pit is packed and as a latecomer I’m way out to the side, unsure of how many songs have been played and not really wanting to push through the crowd to photograph from different angles.  All the photos are taken from roughly the same spot, which in hindsight is a shame.  It just felt like a rushed job to get a few quick shots in the time I had available although I do manage to take a few non-digital shots to finish up the roll of Tri-X in my film camera.

Although still really disappointed at not being allowed to photograph the festival’s headline act, I go and spent about 40 minutes watching Pearl Jam and take a few photos from way back in the crowd, outside the D-barrier.  I first saw Pearl Jam towards the start of 1992 in a small 500 person venue in Newcastle and it still remains one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen.  It was pre-Ten although ‘Alive’ had been released and made it to something like Number 29 with a bullet in the Top 40.  The show cost 4 pounds (50p more expensive than Smashing Pumpkins who I think also played that month in the same venue) and was sold out.  Despite only knowing one song, everything they played sounded like a classic and when Ten did eventually come out, I could recognise songs like ‘Black’ and ‘Jeremy’ from when the band had played them.  The one visual takeaway from the night was Eddie Vedder using the square lighting rig above the ‘dancefloor’ as monkey bars and making his way around the front of the crowd (while a load of women he passed over had a good grope).  It’s funny listening to Ten and Versus now as they just sound so MOR classic rock and although I only see 40 minutes of their BDO set, it’s very much the same sound.  In those 40 minutes I think they only play 5 or 6 songs and each one seems to disappear into some never-ending Neil Young-like guitar solo jam.  I like Neil Young and seeing him play with Crazy Horse at Phoenix festival in 1996 is one of my all-time favourite festival sets. (I also saw him the following year when he played at Reading with Pearl Jam as his backing band) but Pearl Jam aren’t Neil Young and just sound very ordinary, which is disappointing.

Originally I wasn’t going to see Deftones but I’d seen enough of Pearl Jam after 40 minutes.  Why they’ve become a band who’d decided to play 2.5 hour sets, I don’t know.  There are very few acts that can pull it off and I don’t think Pearl Jam are one of them.  I’d seen Deftones a couple of years ago at Soundwave and they were fun to photograph for a few songs so cut my losses at the main stage and wandered across to the JBL Essential Stage.  It’s a very similar to Soundwave (I’ve been told they pretty much played the same set), the only real difference being that last time they played in the middle of the afternoon, this time under lights and with a lot of strobing and backlighting making it harder to photograph. Deftones, Beady Eye and The Hives may have been brought in to make up for the loss of Blur from the line-up, but I would have much rather seen and photographed Blur.

I can safely say that I saw some of the worst bands in musical history at this year’s Big Day Out so it’s apt that my night ends with Major Lazer.  There are times when you feel that there’s a real generation gap and that you’re just too old for modern music and this is one of those times.  The tent is packed to capacity and overflowing well outside the tent and yet it’s for some awful, clichéd dance music that’s got a really dated sound much like a cross between Jive Bunny and 2Unlimited.  To quote Lorde, I guess I’m tired of being told to throw my hands up in the air.  I quit the photo pit after a couple of songs so miss the big flag and the Flaming Lips-style-ball-into-the crowd.  I don’t know how the other photographers could endure it so long.

Having caught the bus back to the train station, I find I’ve missed the train back to Brisbane by 3 minutes and so have a 57 minute wait ahead of me.  It’s a good job I brought my notebook as I can get started on the photos while I wait and on the train back.  Although I get back just before midnight, I’m up until almost 5am editing the photos to get them sent off and feel suitably wrecked for the next few days as a result.

Despite everything I’d feared about the move away from the Gold Coast Parklands, having the festival at Metricon was a good move. I expected the worst from the venue but it makes sense having a festival at a stadium, as so much of the infrastructure is already there, although in an ideal world it shouldn’t be down on the Gold Coast.

Most of the lead up to this year’s Big Day Out was about the behind the scene changes and poor ticket sales.  If I hadn’t have been photographing, I would have had no interest in going to this year’s Big Day Out; there was nothing on the line-up that would have enticed me to pay the best part of $200 for the day.  I say that as someone who has previously bought tickets for the Big Day Out as it took me seven attempts to get finally get someone to arrange photo accreditation for me.  It’s frustrating that having finally been rewarded with accreditation over the last few years that the line-up hasn’t been as good, or at least there haven’t been as many bands that I’ve really wanted to photograph, as it was back in the mid-2000s.

This year far more column inches have been devoted to the behind-the-scenes issues, with reports on the changes in management, poor tickets sales, and all the back-and-forth accusations after Blur pulled out at the last minute.  With festivals being cancelled or ditched left, right and centre, who knows where the Big Day Out goes from here.  It needs a better line-up, but as I’ve written previously, the lack of ‘white whales’ in the modern world makes the long-term viability of these sort of one-day, big main stage, big-name headliner festivals unlikely.

Big Day Out 2014 @ Metricon Stadium, 19.01.2014: Part 2

Bo Ningen @ Big Day Out 2014, Metricon Stadium, Sunday 19 January 2014

After The Drones have mostly emptied the Red Stage tent, Grouplove pack it out to capacity.  Within half a song it’s clear that the band’s main influence has to be the Eurovision Song Contest.  There’s no way a band could come up with a song like their opening song, the sort of thing you’d tune into SBS in May and would expect to be representing an Eastern Mediterranean country or perhaps one of the far Eastern, old Soviet country, without having an in depth knowledge of the event and without religiously watching the telecast each and every year.  I mean, there’s no way that a band would come up with something like this seriously is there?  It’s a tongue in cheek tribute, right? Oh. By the end of the day I can safely say that I’ve seen some of the worst bands in music and yet they manage to keep coming

After Grouplove, a band singing about going to the pub is a relief.  I would have stayed for longer than two songs but have a recommendation to go and check out.

They might be playing the tiny Headspace stage in front of a couple hundred people, most who are sat on the ground and only there because of the shade offered by the trees near to the stage, but Bo Ningen turn out to be Band of the Day by a country mile. One of the worst things about living in Australia is that new non-Australian bands generally only make it to this side of the world when they’ve built an audience in the UK/US and there’s some financial sense to touring over here.  I miss living in London and being able to see new bands in their infancy in small venues as they start to gain some attention before they break-out.  It’s more difficult to be surprised by an act in Australia.  I miss the UK festivals, Glastonbury especially, when you could always find your new favourite band playing a random stage as you were passing and just happened to take a detour or were lulled into the tent by an interesting siren call or just to escape the rain.  This is where the mainstream Australian festivals really fail as they just don’t take risks and book surprises.  The overseas acts booked are generally all established acts (unless they’re playing because they’re signed to the organiser’s record label) and are there purely for ticket sales.  Even the Australian acts are the ones getting massive radio play and often booked across multiple festivals during the year, giving an increasingly recycled look to most Australian festivals.  How a band like Bo Ningen managed to get themselves booked on the festivals smallest stage in the middle of the afternoon is hard to explain but whoever made that decision deserves some sort of award.  Having instantly become my new favourite band, the following day’s good news is that they announce an instore at Tym Guitars in the Valley and so I get to see them twice in three days.  Hopefully it won’t be too long before they’re back for a proper tour.

I’ve never really understood the attraction of The Hives. They do the same thing they always do and have been doing for the last decade and the crowd just lap it up.  After photographing the first three songs, we also get to catch the last song as we’re all waiting in the photo pit for Beady Eye and it must go on for 10 minutes.  It seems strange to play a fairly short festival set in the afternoon and include a massive finale song that consists mostly of crowd interaction rather than song.

It’s about this time of the afternoon that I find out the news about the Pearl Jam access that I didn’t even know about in the first place.  As seems to always be the case there were issues with accreditation.  I didn’t get the official email telling me I was good to go for BDO and instead got a email from the festival’s PR expressing surprise that I didn’t get the official email but that my name was down and everything was ok.  What the official email contained, and what I didn’t know about until the middle of the afternoon, by which time it was all far too late, was that you had to apply separately to photograph the festivals headline act.  The names had been given to Pearl Jam’s management and the lucky photographers had been selected and notified.

According to the onsite media, there were supposed to be 13 photographers but the list was extended to 16 or 17.  Given that there must have been 35+ photographers on the day it meant that most people weren’t approved to photograph them.  The reason given was that Pearl Jam didn’t want a load of people milling around right in front of them.  It’s a fairly poor excuse given the thousands of people in the crowd on the other side of the photo pit and I think it’s the first time I’ve ever experienced the headline act of a festival requiring a separate approval phase to photograph them.

If I’d known in advance that I wasn’t going to get to photograph them, I probably wouldn’t have bothered agreeing to photograph the festival.  The line-up was nothing to write home about (to say the very least) and they were the only act that I was really interested in photographing, for old times sake and everything, after Blur had pulled out of the festival.

I’d seen Mudhoney the night before at The Zoo at that all too rare of a Brisbane sideshow so only popped in to see them for a couple of songs to get a few quick shots.  They play to a similar amount of people as The Drones, everyone that packed the tent for Grouplove obviously had something terrible to go and see.

Blur were originally another big drawcard for me.  Even though I’ve never been much of a fan, I really liked them when I saw them headline Glastonbury one time, and really want to see them in a similar environment.  With the band pulling out of the festival very late in the day, going for Beady Eye as a replacement was just too obvious a strategy, even if DiS had given their recent album 0/10.  Similar to Blur, I was never a big Oasis fan. The first two ‘classic’ albums are both patchy with a handful of strong songs but a load of sub-standard filler and despite having seen the play on numerous occasions, from the big festival stages to the small cattleshed of Exeter Westpoint, I was never impressed with them live.  Although there’s obviously no Noel Gallagher, most of the recent line-up of Oasis are on stage and nothing much has changed.  Liam still stands there with his hands behind his back leaning into his microphone, the rest of the just stand there.  To be fair, the first song sounds ok, essentially like an average Oasis song, but the real difference is in the swagger that those songs had 20 years ago compared to the more plodding nature that Beady Eye come up with now.  It’s not terrible but it’s just not that good either.  Even though they have that 0/10 DiS-reviewed album to plug, given the nature of their addition to the bill and given the 20 year anniversary of Definitely Maybe,  I thought they would have been better to include more Oasis songs and more earlier on to get the crowd on their side.  Leaving the photo pit, it’s clear that the audience there to see them is tiny, even when compared to the one that had been there for The Hives, right before they played

Poor CSS. Last time they played at BDO it was in a full Boiler Room, with Lovefoxx crowd surfing out into the audience.  Today they play the tiny Headspace stage to a smattering of people who remember who they are.  Pop music is such a fickle business.  It looks like it really affects them as it all feels a bit half-hearted.

Big Day Out 2014 @ Metricon Stadium, 19.01.2014: Part 1

Big Day Out 2014 @ Metricon Stadium, Sunday 19 January 2014
This year’s Big Day Out line-up wasn’t the greatest, to say the very least.  It was clear that the organisers spent their money on the three big bands at the top of the bill, leaving them little to flesh out the rest of the day.  Although I was never much of a fan, getting to photograph Blur was a big draw and although I don’t think much of their albums, they’ve always been an impressive live band.  Blur pulling out left a very big hole, even though the organisers tried to do their best by getting three bands to replace them.  The trouble was that neither Beady Eye, The Hives or The Deftones would have made me want to go the festival and I’ve seen/photographed two of them in the last few years anyway.

The attractiveness of spending the day at the festival isn’t helped by the thought of it moving from its old Parklands home (the site being re-developed for Commonwealth Games accommodation) to a football stadium.  At least, unlike last year, I haven’t got jetlag from flying back from the UK just a day before the festival.

The festival’s line-up is well reflected in the train down to Nerang,  a weird mix of crusty old dudes in band t shirts and young girls in short shorts.  Although the festival has moved, a bunch of people who look like they’re the BDO’s target audience get off the train at Helensvale, the stop for the old Parklands site.  Maybe they didn’t realise/remember that they needed to stay on the train for another couple of stops.

Having moved to a new venue, I got an early train so that I could get in when the doors opened and have a walk around the site before the bands started playing, to get my bearings, identify where the photo pit entrances were, decide on the best routes between the stages and get some random, non-band photos around the site before the music starts and it becomes too difficult to find the time to do that.  Having got their early, it’s no surprise that the festival isn’t ready and the doors don’t open on time.  The ticket booth is the other side of the main entrance so I can’t even sort out my photo pass so that I don’t have to waste time on that once I get through the doors.  Instead it’s a case of joining the ever increasing queue in the hot sun of the middle of summer.  The highlight of the queue is the two guys, one wearing a Ramones t shirt.  His friend makes the comment that he doesn’t know The Ramones, prompting astonishment from his mate, who promptly starts singing a medley of well-known Ramones songs but to no avail.  It’s hard to believe that someone going to a festival like the BDO would be oblivious to songs like ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ and ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’.  The youth of today, hey?.

Having finally made it in through the main gates to the box office, as is always the way, I find that I’m not on the guest list.  It was a late confirmation from the festival’s publicity and came via a personal email as apparently I didn’t get the official mailout which probably should have set the alarm bells ringing.  Instead of being inside well in time to photograph the first band of the day, DZ Deathrays, I find myself waiting for the publicity rep in the ever-decreasing shade offered by the box office portacabin as the hot mid-summer sun slowly encroaches.  It feels like it’s par for the course for any and every music festival I photograph.

I finally get into the site, far too late to even think about going to photograph DZ Deathrays so do the only sensible thing and head straight for media room. This year, with the festival moving to a football stadium and the surrounding grounds, we’re provided with a proper portacabin of our own complete with sofas, tables/chairs, power and not only free wi-fi but free wi-fi that actually works.  It’s probably not as good as last year when we there was a free bar for the day and food but they have left a few free drinks and some nibbles to help out.  On the upside, there is AC and lots of it.  It provides an almost mandatory destination after photographing each band throughout the day

I eventually leave the confines of the media room and head to the main stage to photograph Bluejuice.  They weren’t in my original plan for the day as I can’t stand them, but I want to make up up for missing out on DZ and get photographing my first band of the day out of the way.

Violent Soho pack the Red Stage tent. It’s amazing what some heavy triple j playlisting can do for you.  Until recently Soho always felt like a well-kept Brisbane secret.  Being signed to Thurston Moore’s record label, moving to New York, playing an ATP at the request of Les Savy Fav provided a few column inches in street press but it wasn’t until the band came back to Australia and got connected to the ‘right’ people, in this case party label I Oh You, that the rest of Australia paid something more than brief, indifferent  glance.  It’s not that the band are better than they’ve ever been, they’ve always been this good.  It might have taken three albums over almost a decade but but that’s how the Australian music industry works.  Despite having seen and photographed them numerous times over the years, I think this might be the first time since Market Day in 2006 that I’ve actually photographed them with a photo pit.  I’ve always failed to get much in the way of decent shots of Luke Henry, as he either plays in a dark corner or I’m crammed in on the other side of the stage in front of James Tidswell and unable to move over to his side of the stage. I make him the main focus of my time in the pit and actually manage to get a few good ones for a change.

I endure less than two songs of Portugal.The Man but find myself losing the will to live and make a quick exit.  There are so many proponents of the triple j sound on offer today.  For anyone that would deny that such a thing doesn’t exist I would take them around this year’s Big Day Out and explain the slight difference between the commercial radio sound and the very mainstream sound of the national youth radio station.  Too much of the opinion on the matter has mistakenly spent too much time on genres as a defence, when the argument must surely be that it’s the safe populist FM radio range of bands in each of the musical genres played that’s much more the issue.  Despite the lunchtime temperatures being way above 30 degrees, Portugal.The Man’s singer manages to wear a waterproof jacket with the hood pulled tight so that he looks like a dark blue version of Kenny from South Park.  Maybe it’s just some kind of artistic statement.

In running away from the main stadium stage back to the media room, I stumble across Sneeky Picnic on the tiny outdoor Headspace stage.  I’m drawn towards the stage by the sound of something sounding really good and that sounds like a perfect antidote to Portugal.The Man.  The five piece sound fantastic and are one of the musical surprises of the day.  I’m really disappointed when I track down some tracks on Soundcloud and find that on their recordings the band are far too polished and clearly aiming for a really commercial sheen.  Playing live they had so much more grit and attitude.  The day after the festival I’m sweltering on the sofa listening to Cut by the The Slits thinking that if they haven’t already, Sneeky Picnic really need to have a listen to this.

Sometimes it feels that you just keep seeing the same bands at every festival you go to, and in recent times I’ve found myself stood in front of The Naked & Famous far too often than I would have liked.  Two songs and I’m out.

Violent Soho packed the Red Stage tent but before Grouplove repeat that feat, The Drones manage to largely empty the space.  I stay and watch the band for most of their set and conclude that the Big Day Out is a really good place to see them as they seem to really raise their game when they’re the outsiders on the bill.  Playing for only 45/60 mins, they play a strong set that you could almost call a ‘Greatest Hits’ package.

The 1975 are a band whose name I seen a lot of in the lead up to the festival and although I’d never heard them I was interested in going to check out and photograph.  When it comes to photographing festivals it’s usually the case to make the most of time to photograph acts from overseas as you can pretty much photograph the Australian bands several times a year if you really want to.  I really wish I hadn’t have bothered because The 1975 are terrible, one of the day’s true low points, so after a couple of songs I head back to get another fix of The Drones.