Splendour Not So Splendid

Following on from the demise of Rave, and the loss of 80% of my photo opportunities, yesterday came the news that I was dreading; that my photo pass for Splendour In The Grass, which I was covering for Rave and which was the only confirmed gig I had left in my diary, had been revoked and assigned to someone from a different media outlet.

It may have been a naive presumption, but I really didn’t expect it to happen.

Rave had asked me if I was interested in covering the festival for them in late April and confirmed that I was to be their assigned photographer in early May. With the benefit of a few days before the tickets went on general sale, accommodation was arranged and the deposit paid. Ironically the balance of the payment was paid to the real estate agent on the same day that the news came through about Rave closing.

The outlook from the Rave staff I had contacted in the days after Rave had ended was optimistic that the photo pass (and the two review passes Rave had been allocated) would still be given out to us and we’d still all be able to attend the festival in our assigned official capacities. Plus logic dictated that it wouldn’t end like this. After all, this year’s festival sold out within three-quarters of an hour. Changing accreditation to a different media outlet surely wouldn’t have made the slightest bit of difference given that Rave close four weeks before the festival.  I’m now in a situation of finding out that I’m not photographing the festival two weeks out, having had everything arranged and having been really looking forward to photographing it for more than two months. It feels like a really unnecessary cruel blow.  I guess PR are interested in you when you are of use to them but the instance that stops, for whatever reason, you’re history.

As ever, there were a number of acts I was really looking forward to photographing and seeing. Top of that list would be Afghan Whigs, a band I’ve been listening to since the very early 1990s. As I wrote when The Gutter Twins (Afghan Whig’s singer Greg Dulli and Mark Lanegan) played Splendour a few years ago  “My excitement nevertheless makes up for those missing out, to the point where I forget to change memory cards and then spend half the first song scrabbling around on the floor of the photo pit in the dark trying to find a spare card…the Afghan Whigs always were one of the better ‘grunge’ bands around at the time and one whose albums still hold up today when so much of the early-mid 1990s albums now sound quite dated and unremarkable“. 

The last time I saw the band was at a tiny club gig in Birmingham at a venue whose name I can’t remember (but it was under the Bierkeller place) in 1997 when the band were touring Black Love. After 15 years, they were the band I was most looking forward to seeing. The excitement at news of sideshows was quickly tempered by finding out that as ever Splendour had screwed Queensland and there were only shows in Sydney and Melbourne. Other than for ATP Mt Buller, I’ve never been interstate specifically for a concert (not even Spiritualized playing at the Opera House tempted me; I would have been more tempted if they had played their far superior first two albums instead of LAGWAFIS, but there you go) but this time I did look at the logistics of doing it. The problem was that the Sydney show (which would have been my preferred option) is on the Thursday night, which was the day I was heading to Byron to pick up keys to the rental house and it would have made it difficult to get get to Byron for a late-morning start at the festival. Not impossible but less than ideal. The Melbourne side show is on the Wednesday night which would make it easier from a timing perspective but not really from a financial point of view, plus I’d have to take another day off from work. So in the end I decided that I would make do with their Splendour set and make up for a shorter set and less songs knowing that I’d be photographing them.  At the moment, with no need to go anywhere near Byron, unless I decide to make use of my share of the accommodation that I’ve paid out for, I’m still considering a whistle-stop tour to Sydney for one-night-only as a stop gap measure to make me feel less miserable than I feel at the moment, but am not sure if I can afford it as it’s probably going to come in at another $400 to $500 when you add up flights, getting to/from airports, accommodation, food and the price of the gig ticket.

I was also looking forward to seeing At The Drive-In, a band I last saw playing the Electric Ballroom in Camden when they were touring Relationship Of Command back in 2001. Can’t stand The Mars Volta but ATD-I is another thing.

Never been that big a fan of Jack White but was really looking to photographing him; there’s always a photogenic quality about him and what he does. I would have preferred to have photographed The White Stripes back in the day but that was not to be. Then there was Dirty Three, who are always a delight and Mudhoney, who played one of my favourite gigs of 2011. I was also looking forward to photographing Lana Del Ray and Azealia Banks, and (The) Gossip, who were great when I photographed them at Parklife and to seeing Pond, whose recent Beards, Wives, Denim album I’ve been listening to a lot. I was even looking forward to photographing Billy Corgan given that I had to photograph Smashing Pumpkins from behind the mixing desk when they played at The Tivoli.

Even with Rave gone, there were no thoughts of the weekend being a jolly. I planned on spending as much time in the VIP tent/Gold Bar as I normally do, i.e. none.  VIP tents at music festivals are the worst; 30 seconds in there and you begin to understand why the music industry is on its knees.  I’d been in contact with other outlets to see if there was any interest in my photos and there was. Finding someone who wanted to use my photos was not a problem.  I had also hoped to give some photos to Offstreet Press, currently filling the void where Rave used to be and which is currently putting together big plans for the coming weeks. I don’t believe in firsties and the race to the bottom but had every intention (as ever) to make the most of my photo pass, work really hard, put in long, long hours, photograph as much as possible (stopping only to see the acts I really wanted to), manage on minimal sleep and cans of Red Bull (as ever) and try my best to produce a set of photos I could be really proud of.

As I said in my last post, it’s not about the money. I’d like to think that the fact that I was happy to incur more than a $500 cost for accommodation, to provide a good base for working (from previous experience, camping and festival photography just don’t mix) that would never, ever be met by any money that might come in for the photos, shows that. When you calculate an hourly rate for even a day festival, it’s never worth it from a financial point of view; after you’ve taken out travel costs and some allowance for food and drink, you’re probably talking in the region of $3/hour for the time it takes to produce a set of photos. As a photographer in Australia photographing for street press, you’re essentially paying good money for the privilege and even more so for the big festivals.

Even if a complimentary ticket were suddenly to be offered, it would be bittersweet and I’m not sure whether I’d accept it. I guess I probably would to salvage something from the weekend but as I said last time, paying for a gig or festival isn’t the point if I can’t get access to the photo pit to be able to photograph. I know I’d just spend most of the weekend being miserable and frustrated, framing every second of every set in my head, telling myself what would have made a good shot, analysing what would be doing if I were in the pit, where I’d be standing, who’d be the focus of my viewfinder at any time in the song. More than anything, I detest being referred to as a “snapper”. To me, if you’re doing it right, there’s so much more to it than just holding your finger on the shutter button. The three songs in the photo pit are a time of analysis and calculation; it’s anything but “snapping” away.

It would be interesting to find out who was the lucky recipient of my Splendour photo pass. Did the PR make the first move or did someone contact them to point out that Rave wouldn’t be needing any of their media allocation and they would gladly take those spare tickets and passes off their hands? I wonder if it was a local media outlet or someone from Sydney or Melbourne? Print or online? I wonder if it was someone that already had accreditation but decided two photo passes would be better than one. Despite the limitations on photo passes, media outlets with multiple photo passes is something I’ve noticed more and more in the last couple years.

They say bad news comes in threes. With the end of Rave and with my Splendour photo pass being cruelly snatched away at the last minute, I’m wondering what will complete this unholy trifecta.

Should anyone find themselves with a spare photo pass for Splendour that they need to get rid of or suddenly find themselves without an available photographer for the festival, feel free to get in touch. Alternatively, should the Splendour organisers decide they have room to squeeze one more person into the photo pit and are feeling charitable, my accommodation is booked and paid for, my annual leave to attend is all arranged, the memory cards for my new camera I needed to cover a photographing a day at a festival have been bought and I’m all ready to go.

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