Future Music Festival @ Doomben Racecourse, 03.03.2012 – Part 2

Back at the Flamingo Stage, The Rapture sound, look and feel like a band that’s well past its prime and who are not really enjoying the experience either.

I can’t remember ever seeing Fatboy Slim play before but he’s another of the day’s disappointments. He takes an almost student disco approach to his set, playing a bunch of classic tracks but dropping snippets of his own songs into them. It’s like a slightly less cheesy version of the Jive Bunny Megamix.

LCD Soundsystem have been one of my favourite bands over the last few years. The heavily Bowie-influenced This Is Happening album was probably my favourite album of 2010, there were fantastic at last year’s Big Day Out (even if they clashed with Grinderman and I didn’t get to see their whole set) and watching the stream of their mammoth, almost 4 hour last ever show at Madison Square Gardens one Sunday morning in my living room was one of those special moments (along with Coachella Live) that I really experienced the power of the internet’s possibilities and worried for the future of still photography when compared to video’s capabilities. As I wrote in my post for last year’s Big Day Out, I have all the time in the world for James Murphy; he’s almost like a role model for older people in the music industry. So I was always going to head over the DFA Stage to catch a bit of him and fellow LCD-founder Pat Mahoney’s set. Although it wasn’t specifically advertised as a DJ set, it’s what I was expecting, even if I was secretly hoping that it would be a new musical project. As you’d expect it was just a couple of guys playing some songs. Pat Mahoney smokes a lot, James Murphy walks around a lot, leaving Pat to do most of the “work”, at least in the early part of the set that I see. It is weird watching them laugh, joke and chat with each other on stage. It’s even weirder looking out and seeing that they’re playing to a small audience of LCD obsessives and casualties from the day seeking solitude in the quieter space at the very back of the festival site. Unlike everyone I’ve seen today, they do have some turntables and a box of records. Having watched Ruby Rose “host” the Flamingo Stage through the day I’ve noticed that while she might have a fancy pair of gold headphones around her neck, there’s nothing much going on in terms of any beat matching. Indeed as she was lining up Sweet Child Of Mine as her next song, she kept playing it through the PA (and not in an obvious drop-in of the main riff). I could be wrong, as it’s impossible to see from the photo pit, but what she plays sounds like it’s been pre-recorded on a laptop. Further evidence would be that there’s little in the way of an ongoing mix, more a case of fade out the track playing, fade in the next track over it. Naboo from the Mighty Boosh would be proud. As ever, taking photos of people DJ-ing on a dark stage from a photo pit doesn’t result in anything of much aesthetic value so I don’t end with anything of Murphy and Mahoney that’s worth showing.

There’s no sitting on the fence when it comes to The Wombats; you either love them or you hate them. I fall into the second category. I just find them annoying and irritating and don’t like their sound or their songs. To make matters worse they’ve become another one of those bands (like Friendly Fires a few hours earlier) that promoters keep bringing back to Australia on far too regular a basis.

Up until they had been announced as Future Music’s headliners, I’d never heard of Swedish House Mafia. I don’t move in dance music circles and these days I don’t keep much of an eye on the charts, not that it’s hard to do in Australia (or the UK these days I guess) when there’s no televised run-down of the charts. I did hear them a few times a day thanks to another one of my week-long listens to Nova for a blog post I was considering doing but in the end didn’t write (so I listened to Nova for a week for no good reason, feel my pain). It sounded like fairly generic house music, nothing special or memorable and left me scratching my head as to why they were headlining. As for Skrillex during the afternoon, everyone has gone to see them and it’s another long fight through the masses to get to the entrance to the photo pit. Although the only contract I had to sign today was for the band (it was nothing contentious and I remember some stuff about not using the photos for posters and t-shirts in there) it turns out that only an exclusive selection of the photographers hear today were deemed special/important enough to have been offered the chance to photograph them. So there’s a check in the photo pit of everyone’s laminate to find out who they’re photographing for and the anointed few get an additional photo pass stuck to their arm and their name crossed off the list. Those not important enough are apologised to and have to make their way back through the crowd.

For a band that don’t have instruments they take their sweet time setting the stage up and in the meantime we just stand there and wait. We watch a couple of guys carrying another guy who looks like he’s trying to eat his own face off up the photo pit and they deposit him near the dirt track road where a few paramedics arrive a minute or two later and start attending to him, watched by four or five police officers. Given the unpleasantness of the day, including the carnage outside the festival even before it had started, I was looking forward to reading about it in the papers (and their websites) the next day and especially looking forward to the statistics for arrests and those requiring medical attention but other than a few social photos, there’s not a mention of the day in either the Brisbane Times or The Courier Mail. It might be Brisbane’s daily paper but I get the impression that The Courier Mail avoids reviewing gigs that they can’t sit down at. Either I am a bit taken aback that something like Future Music could happen in Brisbane (and actually be in Brisbane rather than down at the Gold Coast), have acts of the calibre and status that it has, be attended to by what I’m guessing is well over 30,000 people and none of the papers review it, either from a music point of view or as a news story of arrests and casualties. Maybe the police didn’t manage to find anyone on drugs the whole day…

So we wait and we wait and finally the lights go down,

Although there’s a big white sheet covering the front of the stage, before it went up it offers a glimpse at the stage set, with a big cube prominent. Having seen this I decide that I’m going to head for the middle of the pit and wait for a massive entrance of hopefully lights and pyrotechnics. The curtain drops and I realise that I can’t see anything. All I can see is the cube, with an occasional hand in the air from one of the band. Quickly moving to the side I realise that it’s no better and wherever you are in the photo pit you can’t actually see anything. To make matters worse, it starts to pour down with rain just before the band starts. For all the rigmarole of making us sign contracts, and only those publications deemed worthy being allowed to photograph, the long wait and the band starting well behind time, and the driving rain, trying to photograph Swedish House Mafia is just a colossal waste of time. With the band starting so far behind time I don’t stick around and head out, back along the access road rather than fighting my way out of the crowd (which looks like it’s the biggest of the day, even more than were there for Skrillex) to the Flamingo Stage for New Order.

The difference couldn’t be more marked: whereas a few hundred metres away Swedish House Mafia are playing to tens of thousands, New Order have drawn a crowd that doesn’t look like it’s going to trouble four figures and at a squeeze could probably fit inside The Zoo. It’s far and away the smallest crowd of the day at either of the two main outdoor stages. Jessie J played to more people. Tinie Tempah played to more people. The Rapture played to more people. Even The Naked & Famous played to more people that have come to see one of the pioneers of electronic dance music. It reminds me of the similar situation seeing Kraftwerk play here at Doomben for Global Gathering a few years ago and seeing the band and their stunning show play out to a few hundred people in a significantly less than half full. Thanks to the late running Swedish House Mafia the band have already started before I get to the photo pit, opening with Crystal and following it with Regret. Frustratingly, the band are playing in the dark; it’s only later when watching them from out of the photo pit that you can see the full effects of video images being them. On top of the darkness, it’s also frustrating that drummer Stephen Morris is completely hidden behind his drum kit, making it impossible to get any photos of him.

There were really only two acts I want to see at Future; New Order and Aphex Twin, and the organisers have scheduled them both up against each other, both starting at 9pm and both finishing at 10pm. I knew that photographing Richard D James from the photo pit would be a waste of time, which was why I headed to New Order at 9pm but with the aim to head over to see a bit of Aphex Twin somewhere in the middle of the set. New Order start playing Ceremony as their third song, and as the lighting doesn’t improve, I decide that this is the time to head over to The Likes Of You tent and see some Aphex Twin

Despite having listened to Aphex Twin for almost 20 years, I can’t remember ever seeing him play live. He’s one of those acts that I can pinpoint the time and place when I first heard him; my housemate playing Ambient Works at about 6am after we’d gotten back from a house party that went on all night before being busted by the police telling everyone to go home. Good times. Although going to photograph New Order was the sensible choice, despite the lack of light, Aphex Twin’s light show is far more impressive. He’s playing raised up and sandwiched between video screens behind him and in front of him, you can barely make him out as he’s just a distant shadow in the middle of all the visual overload. On top of all this there’s all the lasers and light. It’s a really impressive sight and not only that, it sounds superb as well, with the sound as clear as a bell too. I couldn’t tell you anything he played but the combination of lights and music has stunned the half-full tent into awe.

I stay for a bit, take a few photos of the lasers and the pulsating video screens but then have to make a decisions as to whether to stay and see more Aphex Twin. I don’t know why but I decide to head back outside and back to New Order. Maybe it’s because I know a lot more of their songs and at least will be able to recognise then, maybe it’s a choice of a live band over one guy with a laptop, maybe I just feel bad that New Order are headlining but only playing to a few hundred people. I guess I’ll never know if it’s the right or the wrong choice but one thing I do know is that having walked out and chosen a spot in the open space about half way between the mixing desk and the stage, the heavens decide to open again and it rains fairly heavily for the remainder of their set. It’s depressing watching a band in the rain but as the stage is offering no shelter and as you can visibly see the rain being blown onto the stage, it must be even more depressing to be in such a legendary band, play to a tiny crowd and also get rained on. A stage hand runs out after every song to mop up the water on the stage but in the end Bernard Sumner tells him that he’s wasting his time and not to bother. The band are ok but I guess given the circumstances they’re never going to put on their best performance. Although the elements make it a miserable experience, it’s frustrating in a way that they only get to play for an hour and don’t fit many songs into that. I find out afterwards when checking out the online setlist that I missed all of Bizarre Love Triangle while over seeing Aphex Twin. I then get to see them close out with True Faith, 586, Blue Monday and Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart. I had hoped that after all these year’s Sumner would have dropped the “Love, love will tear us apart. C’MON”s from the song but sadly he’s still dropping them in to each and every chorus in the song.

With New Order only playing for an hour and playing at the same time as Aphex Twin, it’s annoying that once again Brisbane gets to miss out on anything in the way of sideshows. Both acts play additional shows in Sydney and Melbourne. Given that both acts play to small crowds, it’s clear that they’ve been the wrong choice of headliners for Future Music and an audience that would much rather have the latest big name DJs play rather than any heritage acts. Sadly almost everyone who’s come to Future would rather stand and watch Swedish House Mafia plug in their iPod and press play. It’s also clear, possibly because of the festival’s reputation and what else is on offer during the day, that having the two acts play hasn’t brought much in the way of an additional crowd, one that was unlikely to have come specifically to see the two acts. I can’t believe that it wouldn’t have been different if Brisbane had had the opportunity to see either or both acts at a side show in the city.

And so a thoroughly miserable day comes to an end. Will I be back next year? Yeah, probably. I probably will have forgotten just how depressing the experience was and how angry it made me feel having to endure the Future crowd for a day. Plus they’ll probably announce a band or two that I just can’t resist wanting to see. At least next year I’ll be better prepared for what to expect from a trip out to Doomben.

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