Working in an office block that overlooks the RNA showgrounds, I get to see the festival site take shape over the week leading up to Soundwave. However, come Friday afternoon, even as a veteran of far too many wet Glastonburys and Readings, looking out of the office window at the dark mid-afternoon skies and the driving rain, I find myself really not wanting to go and photograph Soundwave, especially as the forecast for the Saturday is for thunderstorms and more driving rain. Looking out of the window and listening to Billy Bragg, it could easily be a cold, wet November afternoon in London.
Come Saturday and I almost break the habit of a lifetime and get to a festival early. Close but no cigar. I realise that I’ve forgotten to bring my marked-up timetable and map and so have to go via the office to print out new copies and plan my day again in pink highlighter. Carrying so much extra gear, I also take the opportunity to drop off a load of additional wet weather clothing I’ve brought. If it gets bad I can always run back the five minutes to the office and pick it up. Despite the forecast it’s not raining at the moment and I’m hoping I’ve got enough to keep me and the camera dry unless the day really takes a turn for the worse. When I get into the festival, the conditions are a lot better than I thought they would be. Stages 1/2 are good and it’s only Stage 4 where you really need something that’s going to keep your feet dry. I don’t envy some of the security working Stage 4 all day who are wearing trainers and stood in a few inches of water.
I pick up my photo pass knowing in advance that we’ll be told that there’s to be no photos of Marilyn Manson or Limp Bizkit. Seeing the contract, it “requests” that you don’t take photos of either of the two acts. It’s an interesting use of “request” as the clause goes on to say you’ll be removed from the festival if seen photographing during the two acts.
I get to Stage 4/4a a few minutes before Chimaira are due to start, but although there’s a band playing on the other stage, the stage where Chimaira are due to be playing is already set up for Black Dahlia Murder. I’m not sure what happened to Chimaira and so instead go and see Zebrahead in the Stage 3 tent to fill time. The tent already has a healthy crowd but fills when there’s a sudden downpour. The rain has stopped by the time Black Dahlia Murder start and I catch a couple of songs before wandering over to check out the other side of the festival and Stage 5a/5b which are inside one of the showground buildings, similar to those used for Laneway. Even though this time around it’s a brick building, the sound isn’t a whole lot better than the corrugated iron cattlesheds used for Laneway. I see Attack!Attack! who are more of the same generic emo for teen girls.
I head to Stage 1 for first time today for Steel Panther. Despite never having heard of them before, there’s a massive crowd and everyone knows all the words to all the songs. They’re fun to photograph but I don’t have my eye in and manage to miss every jump shot on offer as well as missing the showing of naked female flesh being freely offered from the crowd that the band (at least most of it). From there it’s back to the inside Stage 6 to kill some time seeing a band called Kill Hannah, who I’ve chosen to see based purely on their name and having an old friend called Hannah I can report back to. The band aren’t much good and I wonder how many people have come to check them out because they’re either called Hannah or know someone called Hannah that they can share their experience with later. From there it’s back to Stage 1/2 for Lostprophets but despite trying hard to impress, it’s all a bit boring, even more so when you’re following the comedy 1980s hair metal stylings of Steel Panther. Unsurprisingly it comes over as and overtly serious and overwrought.
Watching You Me At Six back on Stage 3, the old man syndrome really comes into play: All these bands sound the same. Even the day after this year’s Soundwave, the majority of the the bands have blended into one of two categories; the first is the all-tattooed pretty boys who are well acquainted with hair styling products, who jump up in the air a lot, and play to a front row that’s largely young and female. The second category is the gnarly old guys, often greying but always with some form of extreme facial hair who play hard, fast, loud aggressive music for young angry dudes to fight to. The day after the festival the specifics of the songs played by You Me At Six, The Used, A Day To Remember, Attack!Attack, Kill Hannah and Lostprophets have all merged into one. The same thing has also happened to any specific musical memories of Black Dahlia Murder, Zebrahead, Trivium or Mastodon. I guess I should either do more research to begin with, take notes or use Twitter (rather than trying to preserve battery life so my phone can record my position via GPS throughout the day.
Having not been to Stage 7 so far and wanting to check it out during daylight hours before I head back there later, I make a detour to see Motionless In White. I know absolutely nothing about the band and it’s only the combination of some spare time and the awfulness of their name which is taking me to investigate. However, the roadies are still putting the drum kit together at the time that the band are due to start playing and although I hang around for a bit longer, I end up leaving for the main stage before I get a chance to find out what they’re like.
I’m a lot more unfamiliar with the far side of the festival site so trying to get to the photo pit is a lot more difficult thanks to barriers and no gaps to get through. Eventually I wind my way all to almost the back of the arena to find a gate to go through. I know nothing about A Day To Remember other than the crowd that have come to see them is massive, easily the biggest until the sun goes down. Afterwards I lose count of all the people wearing the T shirts of the band that they have obviously just purchased from one of the merch tents. I’ve been to a fair few festivals over the last 22 years but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a merch tent with some an extensive array of t-shirts as here today. It’s just a wall of t-shirts stapled to the back wall of the tent, it goes so high you can barely make out the actual designs and the lettering on the t-shirts at the very top of the display.