26 Feb 2012

Soundwave Festival 2012 (Brisbane, Australia)

Copyright 2012 Stephen Booth. All Rights Reserved.
I am somewhat of a Soundwave Festival (@soundwavefest) devotee. When the Big Day Out festival lost me due to excessive crowds and the other festivals didn't appeal to me due to high percentage of DJs/dance acts, Soundwave stepped in with hardcore, metal and heavy rock. A festival for music lovers who like their sounds to be a little bit painful on the ears.

I was most excited about the 2012 line-up as I've loved Sisters of Mercy since the mid '80s yet had never seen them. I was also a tad excited about Coal Chamber. These were basically the two bands I headed to the festival to see. So interesting how things turned out...

The weather in Brisbane yesterday was a little concerning. With an overcast sky and intermittent rain all week, I was imagining a swamp at the RNA grounds instead of a festival venue. When Saturday morning arrived after heavy rain all night, I was sure the festival would be cancelled. But no: Soundwave Festival goers are a hardy bunch and no festival would be cancelled if we could soldier on in the mud.

I pitied the international musicians who'd endured a 20+ hour plane trip, arriving in a city pelting with depressing weather versus the sunny Australian Summer they no doubt expected. Seeing their tweets about sitting in hotel rooms doing nothing or going to bad backpacker bars for lager saddened me. Honest, Brisbane has more to offer. I'm just sad none of you got to explore. Many musicians went to bed early on Friday night, played their set on Saturday, then flew to Sydney. Hopefully they have a better time in other Aus cities.

My man and I headed in to the festival around 12:30pm to avoid the horrific queues I'd read about on Twitter from more enthusiastic punters who'd lined up from 10am. We got saturated walking from the car to the queue. When we arrived at the venue around 1pm and had to queue way down past the Old Museum toward the RBH, we were a bit astounded. I wondered why Soundwave Festival organisers / the venue had not anticipated they'd require more than two entry points for hundreds of thousands of people...

After copping a swell sunburn merely from standing in line for 45 minutes, we finally got to the entry point. Bag check? Not really. Security geezer asked me if I had drugs in my bag. I said no. He let me through. Cursory glance at my bag. Perhaps that's why we saw copious empty vodka and gin bottles scattered throughout the grounds during the day.

ID check? No. Just gave me a wristband to drink. I suppose I AM over 40, so it was kind of obvious I was 'of age', but I saw them do the same to others who looked underage, so...perhaps the whole security / entry process needs to be tightened up a tad.

{While we're on the topic, on what planet does it make sense for a festival like Soundwave to allow children under 10 inside with an 18 year old relative? Hrm. In my opinion, kids under 18 have no place at music festivals but, at the very minimum, those under 15 shouldn't be allowed in. Just my two cents worth. I don't think it's a safe environment. The language of bands is inappropriate for children to hear. The violence of punters poses a threat to children who largely remain unsupervised. There's a risk of sexual interference. Whatever happened to just looking forward to turning 18 because then you got to go to gigs? Everything at once these days. Adult spaces become places in which adults have to mind their p's and q's because kids are everywhere. It's all a bit stupid. I have to question the mindset of a person who would take a child to Soundwave.}

Inside the venue, we got saturated again. Those plastic ponchos? Forget about them. Unless you have army issue waterproof ponchos, you're fighting a losing battle. Rains. Poncho on. Stops raining. Start sweating like a pig. Try to take off poncho after you've started sweating? No go. Almost asphyxiate yourself getting it on and off. And not in a Michael Hutchence way. Take it off, carry wet plastic around for next hour. No brollies were allowed in Brisbane venue, which sort of makes sense if you consider brollies as a potential weapon. Smart people will just wear their bikinis or DTs if the weather sucks in future.

Sadly, I missed Smoking Hearts () who I'd never heard of before I started tweeting with them on Friday night. I checked out their YouTube videos and they were so impressive. But couldn't get inside the festival gates quick enough, so missed them. You should probably try to catch them in your city.

Assessed the timetable and decided to check out Hell Yeah. After watching for around 20 minutes, I was reminded of the Goobacks in South Park. Unfair? Perhaps. But I can only take so much "Hells yeah, we's all bout drinkin' and partyin' and that's the way we's is, hell yeahs", with the Hell Yeah enthusiasts yelling "Hell yeah!" around me while pumping their fists before all I can hear is "Derk a derrrr". But that's just me. A tad too much testosterone? Perhaps. But that was to become the norm during this slightly macho Soundwave experience.

Tried to live tweet about the whole festival experience but realised Vodafone doesn't seem to support this type of crazy, reckless activity. So sorry for all those tweets that finally uploaded to Twitter simultaneously (and sometimes thrice) as soon as I arrived home and connected to my wi-fi...sorry.

We walked over to the food stalls near Stage 3 and spied the usual suspects: corn on the cob, dry burgers, soggy chips, Boost Juice, 7 day old bainmarie curry. So I opted for some at least crunchy albeit expensive Nando's fries while my man had a German hotdog. Apparently the sauerkraut was pretty tasty. So he said. Saw some amazing merch for sale so take your ATM card if you're all about the band t-shirts. I'm not because they make me look like I'm wearing a sack. I really like bands who cater for the chicks with their merch: kudos. We don't all look amazing in men's clothing.

Started raining so we ran under cover and experienced a bit of You Me At Six. I thought EMO went out of fashion in around 2005? My mistake. The kids loved them. I'd say this is the reason underagers are allowed in to this festival. The kids love those hairstyles and the eyeliner and the plaintive EMO vocals. Later on, I overheard a girl who looked 14 say to her friends that she wondered if she could fuck some of the bands while she was there. They all nodded in agreement. Swell. That's just swell.

Walked back over to check out the last couple of songs from Shadows Fall (@ShadowsFallBand). The band was stellar, as were vocalist Brian Fair's awe inspiring dreds. Wish I'd caught their entire set.

We decided to stay on for Meshuggah, as we'd heard they were pretty impressive. The crowd was going wild. They had a great, heavy sound. But after a while, all the songs sounded the same and I lost interest. You know it's time to move on when you're more interested in checking out the tattoos of punters than watching the band.

Next up: Coal Chamber. I LOVED Coal Chamber in the '90s so was really excited about seeing them perform. But bad sound (could hardly hear the vocals) and an increasingly negative vibe in the crowd meant after half the set, I was off in search of a more positive music experience.

I wasn't a huge fan of Bush () in the '90s: was put off by the whole Gavin Rossdale (@GavinRossdale) pin-up aspect which my female friends went on and on about (ironic, considering: see below); got sick of Glycerine as it was overplayed on the radio; and I was really into darker music at that stage (think NIN). Bush was a little too light-on for me. But after following Rossdale on Twitter for a while - he seems like quite a nice guy - I decided to give Bush a go. I'm glad I did. They delivered an incredibly professional, tight performance. Rossdale's vocals are fabulous - his voice has improved with age, if anything, and displays a raw, emotive quality in certain registers. Yes, he's still rather pretty and yes, in his singlet and covered in sweat, this is a bit too obvious to ignore. That aside, the band was excellent. A lover-not-a-fighter vibe - very welcome after all the overtly testicular, macho bands on display at the festival - crescended orgasmically with a divine cover of The Beatles' Come Together. But perhaps the line "Come together, right now, over me" was a bit too much coming from Rossdale's mouth, his writhing, wet, ridiculously well preserved body thrusting lightly....no, stop! Enough. Let's keep this G-rated. Just make sure you see them, okay?

Bad Religion (@badreligion) was up next. We decided to head up to the stands to get out of the sun for a while, and it was while I was sitting there with my legs comfortably outstretched that vocalist Greg Graffin decided to call me out for being an old fart. Not me personally, just the people who weren't down the front in the moshpit. Bad Religion has been around since 1979, and when you hear their brand of old school punk you can hear precisely where bands like Green Day and The Living End found their inspiration. For 'oldies' (and I say that sarcastically as their performanced outshone many of the younger bands on the day) they sure powered through their set. Make sure you see this band. They were dynamic and have always been very influential within the music scene.

Next up: Limp Bizkit. I have a hate hate relationship with this band for a couple of reasons. They seemed to attract - in the '90s - meathead, aggressive male fans. And just when Wes Borland (@wesborland) had created Black Light Burns - an AMAZING music project - he rejoined Limp Bizkit and has been touring ever since, depriving me of said amazing music. I caught them during a Big Day Out and they seemed to create a really negative vibe. As a bit of a girl, I didn't like this at all. Sadly, the aggressive behaviour of fans resulted in fights and sexual assaults during Woodstock '99. Then, the combination of an aggro crowd and an overcrowded Big Day Out venue in Sydney 2001 resulted in the death of punter Jessica Michalik, who died of asphyxiation. So I wasn't expecting much at all, apart from macho men beating their chests.

I was pleasantly surprised. Limp Bizkit's performance was astounding, brilliant, inspiring. Wes Borland is a god. His guitar skills are mad, insane, and he shreds like nobody else. His attire - always something LB fans speculate on prior to gigs - didn't disappoint: his body painted white; wearing thigh-high white stockings; black (?) undies; a white tuxedo jacket; black mouth, eyes and faux mo; and what appeared to be a black mohawk parted in the middle and slicked down on both sides. Part Charlie Chaplin, part something you'd pluck from horror author Clive Barker's mind. He banters with his guitar; while Fred Durst (@freddurst) is busy handing out 'beer' to the audience (so he said, but I hear from Sydney punters that it's water), Wes entertains the audience by riffing on Nirvana and the like. Durst, clearly adored by the fans, went down to the front of the barricades and sang a song holding hands with the crowd. But you can't overlook Sam River's dirty, grungy bass sound that is the stronghold of many Bizkit songs. I was up in the stands rocking out for the entire gig and even, god forbid, sang along to Nookie. Disappointed there was no rollin rollin Rollin to be had, but nonetheless, incredible set. They also dedicated their performance to the memory of Jessica, with Durst speaking some rather harsh words about how the greed of the Big Day Out promoters / organisers were a large part of why her death happened. They tore down the Limp Bizkit banner to reveal a banner with the word 'Jessica', a heart dotting the 'i', which stayed there as a reminder to the crowd to take it easy and play nice. I found the sentimentality displayed by the band about this incident quite heartwarming. It seems the band members have matured but their music remains as heavy and powerful as it was in their heyday. Watching the crowd heave and swell with their music from an aerial perspective was incredible. What power musicians wield, huh.

{As an aside, just heard recently Wes' Black Light Burns has scored a label contract, so look out for his new music. I think he's better than sliced bread, I really do.}

Limp Bizkit's poor relative of the night was Marilyn Manson (@marilynmanson). Appearing to be inebriated or high on something, he staggered and moaned his way through an incredibly unimpressive set. His voice seems to be ruined and he could barely stay in tune. In fact, he was more out of tune than in tune. He ranted on about drugs like he was a 15 year old nerd trying to gain favour with the tough kids at school. When he started his cover of Depeche Mode's Personal Jesus, I was out for the count. I decided to go to the loo instead. It seemed the more appealing option.

After a bit, from the other side of the venue I heard the recognisable pounding of Joey Jordison, Slipknot's (@slipknot) drummer extraordinaire. So we ran back to see their set. There were fireworks. There were flame throwers. There were rotating and rising drum sets which narrowly escaped being turned into rotisseries from said flame throwers. There were scary clowns in red suits. There was leaping into the crowd from high structures and crowd surfing. But mostly, there was just a solid performance by an amazing band. When vocalist Corey Taylor told the crowd to jump, they did. Seeing around 100,000 fans jump at the same time was really something. Incredibly enjoyable gig. Despite my hatred of clowns.

When System of a Down (@systemofadown) took to the stage, I was a little apprehensive. My man loves the band, but I never really got into them. Like my 'meh' opinion of Tool, there are some bands I just don't get which other people seem to obsess over. Anyhow, the first thing I noticed was that Serj Tankian's (@officialserj) voice sounds better live than on album. Also, while he looks like a bit of a geek in music videos, in person he's lithe and sensual...he moves like a bellydancer, all sleek gyrations. Unfortunately, this trance he placed me in was broken by the rather nasal vocals of guitarist Daron Malakian. By now, the crowd was pretty exhausted but they all managed to sing along to Chop Suey. All in all, a great performance by a band known to shake things up musically.

Lastly, the band I'd been looking forward to all evening: Sisters of Mercy (@_SistersOfMercy). As an ex goth from the '80s, I am an obsessive fan of their music. So imagine my disappointment - no, actual sadness - at seeing a tiny stage enveloped by smoke from an over zealous machine with a tinny backing track emitting something that vaguely resembled Temple of Love (which is, usually, quite a ballsy, atmospheric song). Seeing Andrew Eldritch up there flanked by nobodies, all with egos the size of the RNA grounds, trying to recapture something that can never be...I suppose that's what happens when a frontman continues with a band name sans the actual band that made it special. Is he continuing just for the money? Some people compare Eldritch to Peter Murphy from Bauhaus. Okay, they look a little similar, but that's where it ends. You know why? Because Peter Murphy has taken inspiration from his past but has his feet planted firmly in the future. I felt a bit depressed after seeing Eldritch, and we decided to end the night there.

Overarching impression of the festival was that Soundwave punters are getting younger and more aggressive. Not sure if that was due to the bands playing - who probably all felt like they were in a time warp - but there was a distinctly bad vibe in the air. There were far too many people at the festival; the queue for entry was ridiculous, the shuffle to get from stage to stage exhausting. It's still the best festival of the year in Australia, but at risk of suffering from Big Day Out-itis: don't get too greedy, festival organisers. Next year, I'd recommend less tickets be sold to ensure a more enjoyable experience for punters.

Still, thanks again to the festival organisers for picking some great bands. While I didn't enjoy myself as much as past Soundwaves, I REALLY enjoyed the bands I thought performed well. My favourites from the festival were, surprisingly, Limp Bizkit and Slipknot. Thanks to all the bands for their energy in spite of jetlag and to the punters for their enthusiasm despite the crappy weather. See you all again next year...maybe.

Copyright 2012 Stephen Booth. All Rights Reserved.

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