Splendour In The Grass 2010 – Day 1

From a personal point of view 2010’s Splendour In The Grass is one disaster after another, everything that could go wrong does go wrong and combines into one big mass of Splendour-related EPIC FAIL, and it all starts way in advance of the festival weekend itself

Firstly the dates are announced and clash with a conference I have to go to down at the Gold Coast (the ACCC regulatory conference if you really must know). If Splendour had been down at Byron this year it wouldn’t have been too bad but instead there is a drive back to Brisbane to negotiate before heading further north to the new site at Woodford.

Next, the publication I am hoping to cover the festival for and thought would be the best chance of me getting a photo pass let me know that I am way down the contributor pecking order and a photographer from Melbourne is flying up to cover it for them; Brisbane missing out on opportunities to Melbourne and Sydney obviously extends further than just being able to see the bands play sideshows!

Mess+Noise come through for me though but don’t apply within the required timeframe, meaning that I have permission to bring a camera onto site, via a letter that I have to show at every security checkpoint over the weekend, but not a photo pass laminate to get me into the photo pit at any of the stages. But, as I posted previously, I didn’t think this would prevent me from getting a few photos of bands playing earlier in the day and this largely proves to be the case. Obviously I don’t get as good a set of photos as I would have got from the photo pit but still get some photos that I’m pretty happy with all things considered, plus it makes it a much more relaxing weekend: if I had a photo pass I would be running myself into the ground (literally, considering the distance between the Amphitheatre and the other two main stages) making sure I make the most of having a photo pass and covering as many bands as I can humanly fit in over the three days.

Although there is a slight stroke of luck in that the conference on the Gold Coast ends at lunchtime on the Friday, the drive north means not getting to Woodford until late afternoon, and this is still further negated by the announcement of the timetable and finding out that I am going to miss a load of things I really want to see; the 10am Q&A session with Splendour organisers Paul Piticco and Jessica Ducrou, Violent Soho, School of Seven Bells, Yeasayer and Foals.  On top of that my estimates have me arriving just in time for Little Red…

Instead of sleeping in a tent on the Thursday night I do have the luxury of a nice bed and a nice 14th floor view at the Surfer’s Paradise Holiday Inn. However, the bad luck even presents itself at the conference dinner where I managed to sit in the wrong seat for the alternating choices of food, and so get chicken instead of BBQ seafood kebabs for a starter and salmon instead of rack of lamb for a main. After food and possibly too much free red wine I called it a night but forgot that the power in my room requires the swipe card to be inserted into the light switch just inside the room door and so wake up the following morning with a completely flat laptop battery, extinguishing any thoughts of doing any photo downloading/editing, blogging and the ability to recharge my mobile phone over the weekend. (I manage to charge it back up to a whole 6% before I check out and this does give me an extra day of mobile charge to tweet on Sunday, but there is not enough laptop power to do anything else).

Next disaster is realising that I’ve forgotten to bring my passport with me. I don’t have a photo ID driving licence and have had trouble previously with venue/festival refusing to accept the UK Citizen Card that I needed to get the last time I went to Glastonbury. Weighing up the potential outcomes of getting to Woodford and not having my ID accepted and having to drive through Brisbane on the way anyway, make a short detour to my place to pick up the passport an easy decision, and also allows me to go via Coles in New Farm to pick up ‘food’ for the weekend. It also means I could get changed out of a suit and into something more appropriate for a three-day camping music festival.

Having originally used Google Maps to plot a route to Woodford from Surfer’s Paradise, the map I had printed from the web has me going through Dayboro as opposed to just straight up the Pacific Highway. With there only being an estimated 18 minutes difference between the two routes, the scenic route seems to be the sensible choice, especially with it being Friday afternoon and getting ever closer to the start of rush hour.

In the end it is the right decision, as the drive up is beautiful and with no traffic to contend with, and I am in Woodford before 4pm. Nova are running their radio station from the Woodford Hotel as well as putting on live music from Mumford & Sons, Bluejuice and Angus & Julia Stone – can someone remind me what the difference between Nova and Triple J is again? – and it has been tweeted earlier in the day that Mumford & Sons would be playing at 4pm. As I’m passing through Woodford at just about the right time I decide to park up and go in for a drink and try and get a few photos of them, knowing the chances of getting anything when they play their Sunday night set on the Amphitheatre are slim. However, it turns out that Bluejuice are the first band on and so after one song I quickly finish my drink and make a hasty retreat to do the final few miles to the new festival site.

Straight from the off it’s clear that the festival organisers are taking a really hard line when it came to the no BYO alcohol rule: my car is searched at the entrance, my bag is searched at the main entrance to the site,  searched again at the next gate to the festival’s main arena section and once again at the entrance to the lower area of the Amphitheatre Stage. The three bag searches take place every time you go through each of the gates but there still seems to be an abundance of brought-in alcohol getting through all the checks judging by all the miniatures which have been discarded on the dusty ground.

With the tent put up and all the bag checks negotiated it’s time to actually start seeing bands and make up for all the time lost earlier in the day. It doesn’t take long to realise that Woodford is a very impressive festival site, way more so than the overrated marsh that was the Belongil Fields site at Byron.  The organisers have really pulled out the stops, although that’s not to say that everything about the site is perfect, far from it, and these issues present themselves over the course of the weekend. The first one is the narrow and very dark walkway up from the main entrance to the entrance to the main arena: whilst the Chinese-style lanterns look pretty, they don’t give off much light and even in the early evening twilight you can barely see enough to feel secure about putting one foot in front of the other and instead end up shuffling slowly forwards. Being the main walkway onto the site, it has the feel of an accident waiting to happen, although, with credit to the organisers, additional lighting is added over the course of the weekend so that the path and any obstructions along the way are visible.

Once through the next bag check and into the main arena, the abundance of stalls and the way these have been laid out show that they’ve gone for a lot more of an overall Glastonbury vibe this year than was possible or what worked at Belongil Fields, something further reinforced by the more quirky/considered elements such as the moored boat DJ booth, the abundant art installations around the site; things that actually make you stop to check out repeatedly and provide more than just a series of stages with bands playing on them throughout the weekend.

The substantial walk from the two smaller stages, which have retained their Byron Bay names of the Mix Up tent and the GW McLennan tent (and which have been placed far too close together this year, meaning the generally quieter sounds on show at the GW McLennan stage are constantly drowned out by the dance music spill from the Mix Up tent) takes its toll over the next few days and continues even when back in Brisbane the following week: it’s a real hike and means unlike at Belongil Fields you can’t quickly move between the three stages and make the most of the opportunity to see as many bands as you could down at Byron. But the walk is worth it; the amphitheatre is a very impressive setting and, more than that, the sound for just about every band playing the main stage over the weekend is excellent, at the back as well as the front.

After having missed half the first day’s bands, the first band I get to see is Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. I’ve got their first album on vinyl, always liked it and saw them a few times when they were touring it. The second album came out in August 2003 and I’m not sure why they were a very rare case of not following a band onto at least their second album (it’s usually after the third that my interest in a band wanes). But regardless of that, tonight they sound really good, so good in fact that even at the end of the festival they’re one of the highlights of the Woodford weekend; they’re a really pleasant surprise. The songs from the first album that I know sound full of vitality and the songs that I don’t know from their five other albums sound equally as impressive and instantly create a mental note to acquaint myself with a few more of their albums when I get back to civilisation.

Angus & Julia Stone are next up on the Amphitheatre stage and after having endured a couple of songs at this year’s BluesFest I decide that the best course of action is basically to run as far away as I can from the mewling beige-rock to go and see Midlake, one of those bands I’ve heard a lot about but have never seen. Midlake might have four guitarists but they also have two flautists in their midst, and, like the recent show where Parades played, I just can’t help but think of 1970’s prog rock (albeit with a US folk slant rather than the very English folk of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis.

I catch a few songs of Lisa Mitchell (someone else I’m seeing for the first time) and still wonder how she won the Australian Music Prize this year. Although you couldn’t help but initially like her when she was on Australian Idol, on the pure premise that she was different to everything else that was on show, the reason she didn’t last long was that she only had one voice and whatever the genre was that week, she sang it in the same way. There’s nothing wrong with having a distinct voice, and although I only end up watching 4 or 5 songs, tonight just seems to highlight the limitations in her voice. It’s nice enough but not a very strong voice and even after a couple of songs it just sounds like she’s singing having just run up a few flights of steps. She drops her single Oh Hark as the second song, and it gets the expected crowd reaction but the other few songs I see don’t really grab me and don’t seem to really excite the audience as much as the song they’ve heard on the radio. Although it’s the first evening (and there are noticeably more people of site tomorrow) the assembled crowd is much smaller than I would have thought, given her AMP, and her cross-over from Triple J to the more commercial radio stations and appearances on TV programs like Sunrise. I guess ultimately I’m disappointed, wanting some validation for all her festival appearances and winning on of the most prestigious prizes in Australian music for her album.

I catch LCD Sound System towards the start of their set (and again towards the end, via another marathon to the Amphitheatre and back to see a bit of Temper Trap). They’re another band that has largely passed me by over the last few years. Being stuck on the peripheries of the Mix Up stage tent I don’t get the full effect but begin to understand why they have the reputation they have, whilst still not really getting it. I mean, it sounds good, but not that amazing. A few days after the festival was reading an interview with James Murphy and pleasantly surprised to read about his love of Yes; further evidence that all things indie hipster are heavily influenced by very uncool 1970s prog rock.

I’ve never made any secret of the fact that I love U2. No ‘guilty pleasure’, I truly think they are a pretty amazing band. Boy, War, The Unforgettable Fire, The Joshua Tree, Achtung Baby, Zooropa are classic albums and add in the patchy Rattle & Hum, the U2-doing-Kid-A-years-before-Radiohead of Passengers Original Soundtracks 1 and Pop (although I’m not a big fan of it) and you’ve got a really fascinating musical and sonic journey. Although the last few U2 albums have been patchy, in my opinion largely due to Bono becoming lazy with his lyric writing and being stuck in couplet hell, No Line On The Horizon was a step in the right direction after solid-but-no-thrills All That You Can’t Leave Behind and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, and if there’s any band that could musically really produce a truly great album so long into their career it’s U2.

Andrew McMillen has told me he can’t work out what music I like (he keeps recommending me things that either don’t like or don’t like as much as he does). Having given it some thought, and although there are other key qualities (I prefer female singers, I like quintessential ‘English’ sounding records by English acts (excluding most of Brit Pop, which was generally awful)), I like bands that have ambition and aren’t prepared to keep making the same record, even if they crash and burn doing it. I love The Beatles. I’m blown away and depressed in equal measures that The Beatles did what they did in 7 years, were all over by the time Paul McCartney was 30 and that there’ll never be a band like them ever again. I Love Bowie; I love his constant changes in musical direction as well as the quality of his work. My favourite Australian band is The Triffids; whilst David McComb’s voice is one of the best things I’ve ever heard, Treeless Plain is different to Born Sandy Devotional, which is different to In The Pines, which is different to Calenture, which is different to The Black Swan: there’s a story, there’s growth, ambition, experimentation, it ticks all the boxes, even if at times it’s less than perfect. I think because of this I tend to like bands that I get into late and who already have a back catalogue to explore: I struggle with new bands as I’m disappointed on a far too regular basis when they release their second record and it’s more or less the same as their debut. I think I tend to give second albums the benefit of the doubt and most bands I’ll stay with for three albums before we usually go our separate ways: it’s not you, it’s me, we’ve had some fun times but we’re moving in different directions (well, actually you’re not…and that’s the problem)…

So yes, anyway, where was I again? Ah yes, The Temper Trap. As a U2 fan one of the things I just don’t get is how you can have near universal disdain and hatred and yet still be the blueprint for every other band to copy and become popular with. Temper Trap are a fairly shameless photocopy of one element of U2’s sound, a pale imitation and a yet have had significant success with it over the last couple years and are playing at Splendour to a huge crowd, as well as a whole host of other high profile gigs, including V Festival in the UK.  My advice (in general, not just to fans of The Temper Trap) is to go get hold of the U2 back catalogue; start at Boy, end at No Line on The Horizon, don’t forget Original Soundtracks 1 and just try to put any preconceptions and hatred for Bono on hold for a bit.

Grizzly Bear are another band where I just can’t fathom the appeal or the GW McLennan headline spot that comes with it.

Avoiding Ben Harper at all costs, I go and see the Scissor Sisters instead. Scissor Sisters are something of a guilty pleasure (no, really!): when I lived in London a music industry friend gave me an advance copy of their album, expecting me as a big Pink Floyd fan to hate their cover of Comfortably Numb and probably disappointed that I ended up really liking it. I saw them play early on at a smallish venue in London before they became massive and thought they were great although I didn’t follow them to their second album.  So tonight is just about having a relaxing and fun end to a long day (and it is) and seeing if Kylie turns up (she doesn’t, despite Nova telling me whilst I was in the Woodford Hotel that she had flown up and had been seen at Brisbane Airport). There’s no prior plan to take any photos but by the time of the last song, and with a fairly clear path to the barrier, albeit at the very side of the stage, I decide to get a few quick photos for posterity. I also get to see Jake Shear’s cock but in my surprise forget to take a photo of it (for posterity) before he manages to cover himself up with a towel. It’s another example of why only being able to photo from the photo pit in the first three songs is detrimental to music photography.

With the music over for the day, it’s time to head back to the campsite, although with everything looking completely different in the dark it’s hard to get your bearings and so it takes a few wrong detours around before I finally get on the right track. Walking up hill towards the tent I notice that my tent looks weird and it turns out that one of the poles has snapped. I don’t realise this at first and it’s only when I take off the fly sheet, which was giving it some structural integrity, that I realise. In the end some running repairs are made, involving using the third pole, the one used to form the porch as one of the dome’s main supports. In order for this to work, the other pole has to be shortened by about two or three of the individual pole lengths and this means that instead of being almost high enough to stand up in, it’s probably only just more that 2 feet high.  With the fly sheet just draped on top of what’s been put together it looks like gonna fall down at any moment and if it rains overnight it’s going to be useless at keeping the water out.  But by this time it’s 1:30am, I’m tired, also managed to set the hire car alarm off whilst sorting out the tent and couldn’t work out how to stop it at first and with the no actual door structure to speak of, it’s a case of lifting up the fly sheet and crawling in to get a few hours sleep, praying that the tent is going to remain upright during the night and that it’s not going to start raining, hoping that Day 2 will be a more successful affair than Day 1 was.

One Response to “Splendour In The Grass 2010 – Day 1”

  1. I now have a slightly better understanding of your taste. But only slightly.

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