Big Day Out @ Olympic Park, Sydney (26/01/05)

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So, hmmm… this must be my fourteenth Big Day Out or something. Yes, I think the first one I attended way back at the dawn of the nineties (at least when The Pixies and Janes Addiction were still together and rocking my original cassette-stylee Sony Walkman) might actually have been my initial induction to the grab a beer and see a bit of everything vibe of music festivals too, for that matter. And now it’s 2005, The Pixies and Janes are all back together again, and I’m making my way towards the annual ritual of presenting my bag at the gates for the guest services folks to inspect, with the first intention once I gain entry being to grab a cold bottle of water to carry and then make my way swiftly towards Frenzal Rhomb, who’ve already started their set on the main stage.

Once I get through the gates; I’m instantly reminded of one of the great bits about every Big Day Out – simply checking out all the people and some of the more memorable natural (and substance-assisted) extrovert fans that seem to pop up throughout the day. Slipknot seem to have one of the most immediately visible fan (or should that be ‘maggot’?) contingents on the day, reminding me of 1999 when it seemed like 43% of people had a Korn shirt, while 41% had Marilyn Manson. And I have to be honest – this year I do feel a bit weird and old (kaboom goes the sound of the big three-oh) – but as they say, give a fu*k; I love my music. Repeat mantra to self – don’t try to see everything, just wing it on the day and you’ll have more fun.

Once inside, I get straight over to the main stage, where Frenzal have already pulled a pretty good crowd that’s starting to whip itself up under the combined guitar / bass / drums attack emanating from the huge PA – there’s even a fantastic run-through of ‘Mum Changed The Locks’ and I wonder whether the boys might have considering tempting fate by even including a bit of their currently ‘controversial’ ‘Tsuna-mi, Tsuan-you’ track (perhaps I missed it while waiting to get inside the gates). After Frenzal, I stick around while NZ’s The D4 roll out on the Blue side of the main stage; unfortunately I’m not really familiar with their tracks, but it certainly doesn’t seem to matter when they get going, and while they’re undisputably a tight act, perhaps there’s just a little bit too much blatant MC5 faxing going on for me to get really interested.

Heading into the Boiler Room to catch Decoder Ring’s set seems a little strange, but once I’m inside it makes perfect sense and I’m thankful for the clearer acoustics that bring out far more electronic layers and subtleties in their sound that might have turned to mush on one of the big outdoor stages. And just as everyone’s started to become all hypnotised and wistful from the beautiful electronic and instrumental textures drifting through the air, dark drum and bass demons Concord Dawn step up their glowing banks of gear and fire a barrage of hyperspeed junglist rhythm that takes the ambient temperature of the Boiler Room up several notches in a few seconds, Salmonella Dub frontman Tiki Taane contributing his MC flow to bangers off their recent ‘Uprising’ album.

Unfortunately though, I can only stick around for a bit of their set in order to catch a bit of Def Jukie RJD2 in the Hot House – from what I can see, he’s already gotten a potent brew of funk, hiphop and soul going on four turntables that has the collective hiphop headnod going out throughout the room. Back in the Boiler Room Koolism’s Danielsan has also got some incredibly addictive beats and cuts going on, and I silently curse the bounty of feasts all going on at once. But at this point, the question arises – do I go check out the much-touted The Music on the main stage, or do I subject myself to the smorgasbord of barely-controlled mayhem that is the EAR stage? In the end, the EAR stage wins out – and how.

This year, the always unpredictable Dual Plover label crew have the helm, and the first act I get to check out is The Von Crapp Family; and I have to say, they were everything that I hoped for, and more. An actual family, I get to experience the joy of a small boy playing the drums with He-Man figures in his hands, before Justice Yeldham and the Dynamic Ribbon device (aka Dual Plover label head Lucas Abela) unleashes perhaps the day’s most out-and-out scary performance, and one that makes Slipknot look like Simon and Garfunkel, a series of contact mics placed around a sheet of perspex that he repeatedly headbutts, massive pounds thudding through the speaker system (I’m told that the perspex frequently shatters and he cuts himself – talk about being true to your art).

Toecutter intercuts between his scattercore beats to talk to us about ‘child abuse’, and I even get to check out a slice of Kid Koala’s manic scratch-happiness; while at the same time realising that this is probably just a shadow of the turntable madness that will be unleashed at his 5-person Short Attention Span Theatre sideshows. I opt for this point to grab an all-important dose of sustenance before going to check out one of the bands whose performance I’ve been anticipating most today – Le Tigre. I’ve certainly been a fan of their albums for a while, and one of the best things is that they seem to attract one of the most devoted audiences on the day out of the acts not on the main stage, and the assembled seem totally partisan to Kathleen, Johanna and JD’s fuzzed-up guitar and electro delivery, tracks such as ‘TKO’ and ‘New Kicks’ going over huge.

At this point post-feed, I’m thinking that I’m gonna go check out the aforementioned Simon & Garfunkel (and Garfunkel, and Garfunkel, and…) on the main stage, so that I can see these bad boys from Des Moines, Iowa for myself. And I have to say that they don’t disappoint. When I first picked up a Slipknot album, one of my disappointments was that I expected a nine-piece with numerous percussionists, plus samples and a DJ to sound really way-out; and the album I picked up to me sounded a bit too ‘conventional’ – like Korn or Machine Head with more polyrhythms I guess. However, it’s obvious that Slipknot have upped the levels of their stage show in a similar way to the jump in scariness between ‘Iowa’ and the previous album, with their incendiary show slowly building up in pace, rather than the chaotic free-for-all of their earlier shows.

Have you ever thought about how much of an emotional jump it is to go directly from songs like ‘Mate Kill Spawn Die Repeat’ to ‘Buy Me A Pony’? The thought did strike me more than a few times as I watched Spiderbait’s Kram and Janet trade instruments, while Janet also took the mic for a fantastic version of ‘Fu*kin’ Awesome’, which was exactly as the title suggests. System Of A Down definitely impress with their tight blend of post-Black Sabbath crunch and curious Eastern European flourishes, and while I’m also less familiar with their discography, I definitely recognise ‘Boom’, which sends ripples through one of the biggest crowds I’ve come across so far today – yes, once that main stadium starts filling up, it’s an impressive (and also slightly scary sight).

The Streets also prove to be one of the biggest pullers on the day, with the recent ‘A Grand Don’t Come For Free’ album massively increasing the band’s fanbase, and while I’m not totally convinced that the tracks came across perfectly in a live setting, I still think some of the comments by other writers about ‘Skinner having to come up with some stagecraft’ are a little harsh. The Polyphonic Spree offer perhaps the day’s most surreal moment (next to Justice Yeldham), and come across a little like a cross between the Manson Family and the cast of Hair, no less than 26 brightly-robed band members contributing instruments and vocal harmonies to a rich blend of sound definitely touched by the psychedelic hands of Phil Spector and Brian Wilson.

I catch but a fragment of the Beastie Boys (their sound massively beefed up over this and their previous ‘Hello Nasty’ tours with the formidable addition of one Mixmaster Mike on live turntable duties), opting instead to exit the rapidly-cramming main stadium for a bit of Kid 606’s sound-killing-sound over in the Hot House. By the time I’ve arrived, it seems the Kid’s furious barrage has pretty much polarised the reactions of the audience, with only the headstrong left dancing (although this could simply be everything grabbing a prime position for the Chemical Brothers).

Speaking of the Chems, if there are ‘problems’ with their new album (as some sections of the music press have suggested), than they certainly weren’t evident during their scorching acid-riddled live set, and unlike Metallica, who last year had sheer meteorological coincidence on their side, the Brothers elected to bring their own lightning, sending seismic bombs such as ‘Block Rockin Beats’ (I think I even heard a bit of ‘Loops Of Fury’ in there too) out like a wall of sound – you could even hear part of the structure vibrating, which is always the sign of a good gig.

And then, the moment of truth, when the last band finishes and there’s the long file out of Olympic Park, people wearily making their way to the train platforms while their ears ring and the payback for all those beers in the hot sun slowly sinks in. Funnily enough this year, I’d walked straight into the First Aid tent at one point and ran into my old flatmate, who was coordinating medical activities, and the scene was all these people being carried in (most as a result of alcohol / drug / overexcitement-related misadventure) while the occasional walkie-talkie would suddenly exclaim ‘We have inebriated man down at Sector 5G.” Rather than head straight off at the day this year, I stuck around and helped some friends who were playing pack down their stuff and get out of there at the end of the day.

At the end of the day the crews were going around and making sure there were no drunk or lost people around who might be been locked in after it all shut – something I really never considered before. And then I looked back at all the trash and thought about the cleanup jump of Olympic Park following such a day of amplified excess. What a day. I’m thinking I might go next year…

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