Big Day Out Sydney – January 26th 2011

As a Sydney BDO virgin I was wide eyed with anticipation and Australiana overload walking past that monumental Olympic flame fountain (remember, the one that fucked up back in 2000 at the opening ceremony) and pristine sweeping silver grounds with, Olympian flags and names like ‘Cathy Freeman Drive’ alongside a flock of similarly amped music fans, albeit with more obviously displayed patriotism than yours truly.

Olympic Park did indeed put out, providing a perfectly spaced and accommodating venue for the longest pit stop on the country’s biggest traveling musical circus. Gazing around at the rubbish strewn stadium, swelling crowds of inked and sunburnt revellers, taking in the communal smell of alcohol, conspicuous smoke and sweat hanging heavy in the air with the deafening roar of fans and pounding bass accosting my ears, it is hard to believe that a mere decade ago, in this very spot, the world’s greatest athletes competed on the world stage, to masses of crazed nationalistic sporting enthusiasts in feats of strength and endurance under the hot Australian sun. I guess not much has changed after all.

It’s hot. Rrrreally hot. The conveniently placed Annandale Stage with its shaded amphitheatre is a good choice early on. It’s a smart move on behalf of BDO organisers as a way to attract a crowd to an otherwise neglected line up of brilliant local talent. Here, one could stumble upon the likes of Cameras, I Am Giant, Catcall and Smudge. However it was Chaingang who caught my eye, perhaps by the sparklebomb of a front woman, Hayley Foster, prowling around the stage on a mission to entertain the hot and bothered crowd seeking shade and evidently, rock n roll. Seemingly oblivious to the heat, the band powered through a high energy set, gaining many a new follower and impressing die hard fans in the process.

Over in the main arena, Lupe Fiasco pulled a sizable crowd but it was Australian MC duo Bliss n Eso (and of course DJ Izm) who stole the show, incorporating an on-stage marriage proposal into their set, with Max (MC Eso) popping the question to long time girlfriend Megan Gander mid set in front of a 35,000 strong crowd.

Amidst the shimmering light bulb art installations in the boiler room, South African hiphop outfit and global Internet sensations Die Antwoord took to the stage. Their legitimacy has been a bone of contention amongst critics and fans alike. Are they seriously kooky creepazoids, or just doing some mad acting? Whatever… they’re fucking entertaining. A collision of boundary pushing and brilliantly obvious innuendo, there was no shortage of novelty, from the blow up Casper the Friendly Ghost sex doll, MC Ninja’s ever changing boxer shorts (one pair complete with extended cock-mic) to Yolandi Vi$$er’s pseudo strip tease and constant booty shaking, even lessons in Afrikaans cuss words. At one point they had the unknowing crowd screaming in unison “jou ma se poes in’n fishpaste jar”. My grinning South African friend took the upmost pleasure in translating it to ‘yo mamas cunt in a fish paste jar’. Sick. But it wasn’t all fabulously frivolous filth. Die Antwoord deliver. Big time. A tight performance and phat ‘next level beats’ dished out by DJ Hi-Tek made this set my favourite of the day! A hard act to follow, but DJ darling Anna Lunoe kept the boiler room vibe strong afterwards with a high octane, electro filled set that sent many sweat-slippery feet into a dancing frenzy.

Taking a well needed break in Lilyworld, where the buddas and balloon men come to play, we attempted to chill amongst some freaky side show goings on. The vibe of the day can be encompassed in one sentence by Matt of Brooklyn duo Matt and Kim. “We already got pit stains and we haven’t even started yet.” Chilling was not on the agenda as their boutique, but raging, synth infused indie dance rock stylings rocked the Lily-folk out of their lazy funk.

Epileptics beware, Crystal Castles in da house. I mean, Boiler Room. Perhaps the disorientating light show was an attempt to disguise the fact that front woman, Alice Glass, was hindered by a broken ankle. Her painful screeches certainly sounded authentic. Oh wait, that’s just a standard CC set. Either way, it was enough to send anyone into a fit.

On a completely different note, Adelaide boys Lowrider charmed a small but enthusiastic crowd in the spacious ‘local produce’ amphitheatre. Their hybrid roots-rock-hiphop-funk fusion was the perfect remedy to the frenzy and frivolity happening across the other stages.

Over on the Blue Stage, Birds of Tokyo had limbs flailing and skin flashing all over the place while the John Butler Trio stripped it down in another sense with a crowd pleasing, strong set both fresh and favourite JBT tunes. Indigenous colours were well on display here, serving as an appropriate reminder that it was indeed a day to celebrate our diverse nation. In the years since the Cronulla Riots and flag bans, perhaps being an overly zealous ‘Aussie’ at the Jan 26th Big Day Out has become somewhat of a faux pas. Yes, there was the usual smattering of Southern Cross-shaped ink, a few Oi Oi Oi’s and star spangled capes, but the vibe was significantly less bogan-aggressive than expected.

Something completely expected on the other hand, was that by this point the die hard indie kids had converged at the Converse Stage to pay homage to their barefooted and bearded messiah. No, it’s not Jesus, Kurt Cobain or even Angus Stone, but the uber cool folk genius of Mr Edward Sharpe and his Magnetic Zeros, who’s nine members gelled smoothly and spaciously, entertaining the early evening crowd with heartfelt melodic tales of love, loss and of course… home.

Whilst the crowd were still screaming for an Edward Sharpe encore, next door on the modest sized Green stage the once mighty Wolfmother swiftly propelled into their consistently rocking set to the leftovers and half-interested stragglers. After being a festival staple over the most part of a decade and rehashing the same, albeit deservingly awesome hits, I was left to wonder if perhaps the Australian festival crowd are just over it? We didn’t stick around to find out.

Another festival veteran, Iggy Pop and his band of Stooges hit the main arena as the Hottest 100 countdown, broadcast on a screen of its own, edged nearer a final verdict. With his trademark naked torso, long locks, protruding belly and ‘I don’t give a fuck’ attitude, he dominated the stage, proving exactly why Iggy and The Stooges are Big Day Out royalty. Unfortunately, despite amazo front-man status, the general consensus was that their lust for life was, well, a little lacklustre. Can’t win em all.

The mega Rammstein pyrotechnics extravaganza was without a doubt, THE most talked about event of the night. Complete with fireworks shooting out into the crowd, flame balls and a huge foam-ejaculating penis cannon, the extravagant live props only served to bolster the strength of their winning tunes.

Back in the boiler room, LCD Soundsystem drew a smaller crowd than expected. Perhaps all their fans had dosed up enough on LCD in 2010 when they were rumoured to be doing a final tour, or dosed up on another type of acronym beginning in L and ending in D and were afraid that the hyper colour unicorns in the boiler room would eat their faces off. Perhaps they were simply more interested in Primal Scream’s recreation of cult record Screamadelica happening simultaneously over on the Green Stage. Oh well. James Murphy and friends pulled out a pleasingly electro filled, percussive heavy, witty and entertaining set. Looking every bit his age, the unlikely pop star commanded due attention but made me sadly wonder if we would indeed, be seeing them ever again.

Ratatat were a nice surprise to catch at the end of the night. Previously flying under the radar in Australia, the multitasking Brooklyn based duo impressed with hip-hop infused, electronic indie rock with minimal, if any vocals. Simple but effective video installations aesthetically heightened the rhythmic focus of each song. Changing up instruments in total sync and sporting similar long-hair skinny jean, plain Tee styles, it could have been another part of the human video art, a split screen of a one man band with phantom holographic guest members. Cool theory, alas it wasn’t true. Still, it was a strangely intriguing and original set; the music wasn’t bad either 😉

I love M.I.A. Don’t get me wrong. She’s a tour de force in music, fashion and political activism. Oh, not to mention cool as fuck. But to me, her live act tonight sounded more like a DJ set… and her expressionless male backup dancers have nothing on former vibe gal Rye Rye. Hoping I’ll make it back with more of a spring in my step tomorrow, or at least to her upcoming side show, I bail during some weird dub break after Born Free.

It is with a fuzzy head, heavy limbs and the collective sweat of strangers cooling our bodies that we leave Olympic Park, exhausted but content after a very big, hot and roaring day out.

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