Parklife 2011 @ The Riverstage, 01.10.2011

Originally I wasn’t sure if I was going to put into photograph Parklife again this year. It always coincides with a really busy time at work every year when I find myself flying between Brisbane and Melbourne for work all around Victoria. I guess what helped me decide was that the original call out from Rave went completely unanswered and so they emailed all the photographers again to say that they needed to put someone forward by the deadline later that day. I’m always surprised by the lack of interest from photographers for Parklife. While I’m not much of a dance music fan by any stretch of the imagination, it’s one of the festivals I most enjoy photographing for a number of reasons:

  1. It’s the start of the festival season and it always takes place at a time of excitement of what the summer months might bring in terms of photo opportunities and good bands playing shows in/around Brisbane.
  2. As the first festival of the season it’s always good to break the winter break (although it’s only really been a couple of months since Splendour), get straight back into photographing a multi-stage event and to get one of the major festivals ticked off.
  3. As it always coincides with the stupidly busy time at work, it’s refreshing to have a good excuse to not go into work and spend all weekend in front of a computer writing up reports. Saturday was my first full day off in over a month and despite the long day and time spent on a computer renaming/editing/resizing photos, it’s left me feeling slighty reinvigorated for Monday morning, at least a lot more so than had I spent the weekend writing reports.
  4. It happens in the middle of Brisbane, something that makes it much more appealing than getting down to and back from the Gold Coast or an expensive long weekend away to Byron or Woodford.
  5. As a camera-bearing voyeur it’s far and away the best festival going for people watching. It’s a one day free pass into another world. Do people come up and ask for you to take their photo? Yes, of course they do, as they do at any festival, but for once I do want to take their photo. Anyone who knows me knows how much I hate social photos but Parklife is just different. It’s the one day of the year when I really look forward to people asking me to take their photo.
  6. I don’t think you really get it in Australia in the same way as you do in the UK but the first day of summer is a noticeable event as everyone loses several layers of clothing, casts off their winter fashions and suddenly, out of nowhere, there’s all this naked flesh on show. Parklife is a bit like that. Parklife is the first day of summer.

Despite its locality, I’ve never managed to get to Parklife for the very start. Plans to get in to see the much touted (although possible just from their mates) Pigeon don’t eventuate and instead I manage to make it to the Riverstage for the second act of the day Wolf Wolf, yet another triple j unearthed winner. A triple j unearthed winner seems to be a mandatory requirement for every festival these days although as time goes on I’m having more and more issues with it. Although I’ve obviously never applied, based purely on reading the press release spiel advertising the slot on the bill never provides much information as to how the acts are chosen, what the scoring criteria is, who the judges are; the whole thing is a bit of a black box process, with bands entering at one end via triple j’s website and one being magically selected out the other end. There’s also been the obvious change over the last five or six years where much more attention is given by the station to acts winning the ongoing and never-ending triple j unearthed competitions, only reinforcing the notion that triple j revels in its position as a feeder station for commercial radio and is obsessed with it’s own brand. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing, it’s just that it all becomes a bit self-fulfilling when they’re in the best position to hype a band by giving them as much exposure as it can and then making a big noise about discovering them. As for Wolf Wolf, well he’s dressed in a dinner suit, is wearing a wolf mask and plays some not-to-exciting, standard fare dance music to a crowd of about 10 people.

Despite the big noise, other than the massively overrated and really-quite-dull-actually duet with Gotye, I’d never actually bothered to find out what Kimbra’s solo stuff was like. I’ve blogged many times that one of my greatest irritations about the Australian music scene is that it follows UK and US music fashion two to four years behind the times and in watching Kimbra perform it’s clear that the Australian music industry decided it needed an Amy Winehouse/Duffy, white female soul singer of its very own (even if it had to get one from New Zealand). It’s all very slick but all a bit soul-less and the continual hand movements quickly begin to irritate (although I guess they make for more interesting photos). Watching Kimbra it’s also scary just how wide she opens her mouth when she sings. I couldn’t work out whether the hair was all her own but I saw her walking around after she’d played and it looks like it is her real hair. Off stage, and not towering over the everyone in the photo pit, she’s tiny. Maybe that’s why the hair looks so big…

If there is one major annoyance at Parklife, it’s that the bulk of the live music is on the two stages furthest away from each other; the main Riverstage ‘Sahara’ stage and the small ‘Atoll’ stage. Most of the day is spent doing the long hike between these two stages and I only make it to ‘Kakadu’ for Digitalism and don’t make a single visit to ‘The Cave’ stage this year. Even worse than having the two stages the furthest apart, the one way system that Parklife has in place again means you’re forced to take the long way around, with a final walk back up the slope when you get to the entrance to the Sahara stage. Heading back to The Atoll stage also means negotiating your way through the crowd to get onto the one-way path away from the main arena. When you’re working on very tight time schedules, first three song rules and only a matter of minutes to get from one side of the festival to the other it starts to get tiring, even more so when you’re carrying a heavy bag of camera gear and especially so when you’re making the trip between stages in the hot early afternoon sun.

In typical festival photographing-mode fashion, the afternoon goes by in a flash. After catching a bit of Yacht DJs, having been told they had onstage dancers to photograph only to find they didn’t make their appearance until well after we’d had to vacate the photo pit and a most of Little Dragon, who were ok but not what I would have pitched as a mid-afternoon sun festival type of band, it’s time for Death From Above 1979. Now, what I know about DFA 1979 is mainly through second hand information about how they’re the best band ever. Maybe I’m missing something or maybe I’m just too old but I’m just not getting it. At all. Seriously, what’s the big deal about this band? Or are they just one of those bands where the post-band mythology has completely taken over? I’m left thoroughly disappointed, having expected so much, both from the band but also from the photographic experience. Again, I think they would have been much better at a small club show rather than an outdoor stage at a big dance festival. Further disappointment is experienced by heading back to the Sahara stage to get some photos of The Naked & Famous. Having seen them a few times previously, I know not to expect much and it’s more about beefing up the number of acts I’m photographing today, making the most of anyone playing live as opposed to anyone hid behind some decks and/or a laptop and/or a load of wires and cables. The disappointment comes in finding they have probably the biggest crowd of the day (I don’t see headliners Duck Sauce though) and not only that, but when they play Punching In A Dream, the whole hill at the Riverstage is singing along at top volume. Australia needed a first album MGMT of its very own and once again they had to go to New Zealand to find one to fill the position and once again their about four years behind the time.

Crystal Fighters are fun to photograph but not really to listen too and having expected so much from Santigold she’s another disappointment. Comparisons always seem to be made between Santigold and MIA, which is a little unfair, but MIA is fantastic to photo. Although it was a really hard task photographing her at Parklife a few years ago, partly because of poor lighting on the Kakadu stage, partly because she never stops still for a single second, those photos are some of my favourite photos I’ve taken at Parklife. I guess Santigold also had to live up to last year’s main stage major female artist performer, Missy Elliott. And that wasn’t ever going to happen. That was another incredible performance and the sort of thing that makes me keep coming back to photograph Parklife.

A quick detour via Sebatien Tellier (who I think I might have been referring to as Jurgen Teller during the day when discussing my photographic plans for the day with some of the other photographers….) I head up to the Kakadu stage for the first and only time of the day. In a way it’s a shame, as having seen it from afar on the walk between the Atoll and Sahara stages, it looked like it had a sizeable crowd throughout the day who were really getting into everything and everyone playing the stage. Digitalsim have brough me here though, another act that I’d enjoyed photographing at an earlier Parklife. Last time was a prime slot on the Sahara stage so it’s surprising that that they’ve been relegated to one of the smaller stages and are playing at a similar time (from memory). Although the stage is much higher than the Sahara stage and the lighting isn’t great I manage to get a few decent shots but also spend a bit of time practising slow shutter sync on the crowd, remembering to turn the flash off when I turn around to focus back on the band.

Although this is The Streets’ final farewell, I can’t remember ever having seen them/him play before. After all these years festival line-ups and who I’ve seen gets a bit blurry (I even had trouble remembering who I’d seen at Parklife when I started writing this post a couple of days later and had to refer back to the program). But I’m 99.9% certain I’ve never experienced Mike Skinner live before, mainly because I’m sure I would have remembered it based on just how good The Streets were tonight. It’s a classic festival performance that has it all; girls flashing their boobs, crowd surfing guys in wheelchairs, naked men (allegedly, it’s referred to from the stage and mentioned in every review I’ve read but I didn’t see anything so it might have just been a figment of stage banter making good copy), and at the heart of it all Mike Skinner, playing up to the crowd, egging them on, encouraging them to support Manly in the NRL Grand Final and still finding time to sing/rap a greatest hits set of songs, with a really tight band, including The Music’s Rob Harvey on guitar, backing him up. I just wish I’d gotten to see them play before, although I’m sure this isn’t the last we’ll hear from him. It’s one of the real highlights of the day.

I’d always wanted to photograph The Gossip but didn’t put in to cover their show when they played The Zoo a few years back. It was a sold out show and as The Zoo doesn’t have a photo pit, getting good photos from a sold out show there can be difficult and I imagined that it would be a less than ideal situation to get a good set of the band. Plus it was in December and sold out summer gigs at The Zoo aren’t the most pleasant of experiences. It’s a decision I regret a bit though as The Zoo is my favourite venue and I usually manage to get some photos from most of the shows shoot there that make it to public viewing. I also regret it a bit as although the low height of the Sahara stage, the large photo pit and the good lights makes it easy to photograph, it feels a bit sterile and the stage just seems far too big for the band. Although the band is augmented to a five piece (with bass and keyboards), they still seem dwarfed by the stage, placed at the very back of the stage while Beth Dittos struts back and forth across the stage in front of them. You would imagine that a smaller stage like The Zoo, and the physical closeness of the band on stage, would have presented the band as a more unified unit, whereas tonight it feels and looks more like Beth Ditto plus backing band. That probably does a disservice to the band, maybe they prefer hiding in the shadows (so to speak) and they do sound great, so it doesn’t really matter. Maybe it’s just part of the regret at not seeing them on a small stage in a hot, sweaty venue in the middle of summer, with the band right in your face and having that connection between the closeness of the band on stage and the closeness of the band to the audience. But I’m glad to have had the change to photograph Beth Ditto and having good lighting to photograph drummer Hannah Blilie is something you would be unlikely to get at The Zoo. Ditto would make a fantastic photographic subject regardless, but give her a couple of toilet rolls (thrown at some point during the day from the crowd onto the stage) as a prop and she really comes alive.

I get to watch a few more songs from The Gossip (or is it just Gossip these days?) after the first three songs in the photo pit before one last walk up the hill and back to the Atoll stage for the last time of the day. By now the sun has long since gone and the fashion statements that made so much sense in the warm afternoon soon, now don’t look quite so clever in the mid-evening chill. There already is a steady stream of people heading for the exit, probably as much in search of warmer surroundings than for having nothing else they want to see at the festival.

Parklife has put some interesting headliners on each of it stages but having them all start at the same time (8:30pm) means realistically there’s only time to photograph one of the headline acts. It was never going to be Duck Sauce, at least from a music point of view and I’d already made my mind up even before the festival that Lykke Li would be the last act of the day for me. We’d been given advance notice that we would have to pick a side and stay there, and that there would be no photographing from the middle of the photo pit. I often call this the Robert Smith rule as The Cure have the same rule, allegedly to minimise multiple chin photos from photographers being below him and photographing him from a less than flattering angle. I can’t really see Lyyke Li having it for the same reasons. In a way I probably could have played it better than I did; having chosen the far side from the entrance into the pit I should have feigned to leave but stayed and gotten some photos from both side of the pit, rather than just staying on the one side as I did. Ultimately I find myself liking the side I’ve chosen, and watching her perform I don’t think there’s any real advantage in swapping sides, other than to get some shots from a different angle. I don’t know her stuff at all, only knowing her by the people’s recommendations. I like what I see from a visual point of view, even if it is dark at at times and even though the regular blasts of dry ice render the stage a wall of white smoke at times during the first three songs. Musically I’m left wanting to find out more, even though at times it’s hovering at the point of just becoming too twee and cutesy.

Parklife all over for another year but hopefully I’ll be back again next year.

2 Responses to “Parklife 2011 @ The Riverstage, 01.10.2011”

  1. Andrew Wade says:

    Dare I blame myself for the DFA1979 hype? 😛

    I’ll elaborate outside of a noisy concert hall situation; to me personally, receiving and EP from a family member who traveled overseas in early 2003 was a massive awakening from the top 40 stuff for me. It’s just something that I’ve been able to listen to constantly and never get tired of, much like what I guess the Sex Pistols (with Vicious, of course) was like when they first launched; high energy, rough and raw, and such a small window of opportunity to experience before they broke up. No post-breakup legend-and-myth hype for me though; getting caught in a riotous crowd at SXSW and watching their streamed performances from the US festivals just made me more and more excited and they didn’t disappoint. I think they’ll be seen as largely responsible for the huge resurgence dance-punk/post-hardcore will see this year or possibly the next.

  2. ed says:

    Ha! It was more from the SxSW riot and all the stuff on various forums about how exciting/amazing it was that they’d reformed but I’ll give you a small % of the blame. Watching them I just thought (somewhat ironically I guess) “DZ do this so much better than you do”! ps Sid wasn’t in the original line-up, Glen Matlock was the original bassist.

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