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.