Soundwave. A big fat dripping hamburger of heavy. Lashings of punk, pop punk, hardcore, metalcore, rock, alternative and just about every genre of metal you could spend hours debating the existence of, all smashed together and stuffed between two thick toasty slices of weekend. And we, the fans, are the Homer Simpsons who can’t believe we ate the whole thing.
But are all heavy music fans created equal? In 2015, Soundwave has dished up five stages across two separate days to cater for a wide variety of tastes.
If we could dispense with the food metaphor for just one second (is anyone else feeling hungry now?), there’s always been this weird kind of line drawn in the sand between the metal camp and the punk camp since the festival’s inception. And internet forums are crusty with debate about whether Soundwave is indeed primarily a punk festival, or a metal festival.
Well, it’s a pretty fucking stupid debate. But it did get me thinking about what punks and metalloids value most in the bands that they see live. As an unapologetic fence-straddler, I didn’t exactly know the answer. So this year I wanted to experience it through different eyes.
This Soundwave review will come to you in two parts: Day 1 from a punk perspective, and Day 2 from a metal perspective.
And now that Day 1 is done and dusted, strap on a pair of Connies, turn your skater cap 180 degrees and let’s get some punk up our proverbials!
Soundwave 2015, Sydney – Day 1: Journey To The Centre Of Punk
“A guy walks up to me and asks, ‘What’s punk?’
So I kick over a garbage can and say, ‘That’s punk!’
So he kicks over the garbage can and says ,’That’s punk?’ and I say, ‘No, that’s trendy!'”
That quote is widely attributed to one Billie Joe Armstrong, and even if he didn’t coin it, it certainly rings true.
According to the top-voted definitions from the most trusted source on the internet, Urban Dictionary, punk rock’s core values are pretty much nailed down to individuality, experimentation and the act of standing up for something you believe in.
Furthermore: “No-one is more punk than anyone else, if you turn it into a punkness competition then you aren’t punk, plain and fucking simple, you’re just a dicktard.”
So with that in mind, I rocked up to Sydney Olympic Park at midday on Saturday, just in time to catch Melbourne lads, King Parrot’s set. Full disclosure, I’ve never been able to call myself a fan of their music. To me, it’s kind of like Mike Tyson. Lots of people seem to like it, and while I do see the appeal, I don’t want to let it anywhere near my ears.
But Soundwave forever changed that.
Those King Parrot degenerates set the bar so high it could have been rectally probing Zeus. The extreme metal fivesome stuffed more into a half-hour set than any band I think I’ve ever seen. From the day’s first wall of death, to frontman Matthew Young stage-diving crotch-first into the pit, to a surprise cameo from Tourettes’ legendary frontwoman Michele Madden for a rendition of fan favourite Shit On The Liver.
Watch: King Parrot with Michele Madden (Tourettes) – Shit on the Liver Soundwave, Sydney 2015
A very special shout-out must also go to bass player Wayne Slattery, who had the day’s top bit of bantz. “Are you all being sun smart?” he asked the crowd sweltering in the midday sun. “‘Cause I’m feeling pretty sun… dumb.”
With their crack-neck pace, primitive energy and the kind of humour that infused their set with multiple arse-cracks, c-bombs and corny one-liners, King Parrot are about as punk as metal can get.
Fellow Melbourne boys, The Bennies, brought something a bit different to the table. Over on Stage 3, the self-proclaimed purveyors of ‘psychedelic reggae ska doom metal punk rock from hell’ drew an impressive crowd for their early arvo set, which they later confirmed was their biggest ever.
It played out like a rousing pep talk for the festival ahead. Frontman Anty amped up the excitement level as he vaulted across the stage like a Mexican jumping bean in marijuana-patterned spandex tights. A crowd participation chant battle during Knights Forever ignited everyone’s competitive side. And the alcohol-themed lyrics of My Bike seemed to put enthusiastic drinkers in the mood for further lubrication.
Light-hearted, larrikin and bursting with energy, The Bennies were punk in its most pure, positive form.
Soundwave 2015 Sydney, Day 1 – The Best Of You / Photos by Liam Cameron
Similar can be said of American post-hardcore act The Color Morale. The Illinois-bred fivesome oozed positivity throughout their 40-minute set on Stage 5 and, with a name like that, you’d be sun dumb to expect anything less.
Though a little rough around the edges, the band’s obvious and overwhelming joy and appreciation at being on the opposite side of the globe in the company of their adulating Aussie fans was enough to overlook any minor musical blotches. Punk wasn’t meant to be perfect, anyway.
Now. Everyone’s favourite venereal disease-touting spandex wearers, Steel Panther, are not a punk band. But although their music may be unashamedly thrusting on hair metal, beneath their regularly waxed chests beat the hearts of punk-rock brats.
Tunes such as Pussywhipped, Asian Hooker and Gloryhole dominated their Soundwave setlist, which shockingly didn’t contain fan fave, The Shocker. The Panther, true to form, showcased virtuosic musicianship while filling their set with toilet humour, self-depreciating banter and, of course, bewbs.
At least these dudes know what they stand for. Which is punk as fuck.
Watch: Steel Panther – Asian Hooker (Live at Soundwave 2015, Sydney)
There wasn’t a huge crowd for Antemasque, but the band — featuring ex-Mars Volta members Omar Rodríguez-López, Cedric Bixler-Zavala and David Elitch still turned in a strong performance on the festival’s main stage. Their Sidewave partnership with Incubus was apt, as both bands seem to possess an intensity that doesn’t really equate to ‘energy’.
At an intimate concert setting, this may have worked in their favour; but at Australia’s biggest punk and metal festival, it fell a wee bit flat.
Both Antemasque’s and Incubus’s sets blew out with down-tempo numbers and overlong jam sections that left the crowd wondering what to do with their hands and feet. Although, in Incubus’s case, this was rectified with a few choice crowd pleasers which got the punters cheering again, such as Nice To Know You, Wish You Were Here and Megalomaniac.
Antemasque, on the other hand, haven’t been around long enough to have notched up a crowd pleaser. Their set’s saving grace came courtesy of its mesmerising musicianship. Rodríguez-López, as usual, performed with straightjacket intensity. Elitch drummed with such ferocity I was surprised to learn that the smoke billowing around him was coming from a machine attached to his riser and not from the kit itself.
Ex-My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way also performed on the main stage, but no MCR numbers made the cut for the set. A legion of pink-haired teens in the pit cheered rapturously throughout his entire performance, with an extra-loud squeal reserved for a point when Way hitched up a trouser leg, quipping “My socks are kind of a big deal”.
Way’s punk credentials have been well-documented, and his music clearly touches on a number of important social issues. He even dedicated a tune to all of his ‘non-binary’ and transgender fans in the Soundwave crowd, highlighting the struggles that such individuals face in every day life. Unfortunately, it seems like you needed to be familiar with the source material to enjoy this set.
Though the stage-front throng appeared rapt throughout, clapping, jazz hands-ing and even swaying in cigarette-lighter unison during a rendition of Drugstore Perfume, to those outside the bubble the frontman’s onslaught of mid-tempo emo numbers bled together into 60 minutes of meh.
The complete opposite was true of The Aquabats, who stormed Stage 3 at sundown. It was literally impossible to be unhappy watching this crew of blue spandex-clad superhero goofballs sing rousing and highly chantable punk anthems about drinking Pepsi and fighting sharks.
The Aquabats are like a saxophone-playing, adult version of The Wiggles. Which made it all a bit awkies when a thoroughly plonked cougar decided to flash her boobs at them. There’s a time and a place ladies, and it’s called Steel Panther.
The Aquabats were followed by Stage 5 headliners and pop punk darlings, New Found Glory, who got the massive crowd jumping straight away with Selfless. Stand-in drummer Mike Ambrose (Set Your Goals) beat a flawless path through their hour-long set, as the permanent members spent half their time airborne, leap-frogging across the stage.
With seemingly limitless stores of energy and note-perfect delivery, New Found Glory proved why they are one of the reigning kings of modern pop punk.
It still wasn’t enough to keep me away from festival headliners, Faith No More. Mike Patton and co were commanding the main stage, and proving to thousands of people why they were the perfect choice to headline the festival. FNM have never been ones to lock themselves down to genre, with Saturday’s renditions of rap-rock classic Epic, piano ballad Easy, metal stormer Ashes To Ashes and the brand new doom-laden, politically-charged intro song, Motherfucker providing exhibits A through to D.
The band also launched into a spectacular mashup of their ’90s smash hit Midlife Crisis with a jaunty 60’s classic tune popularised by the world’s first domestic partnership between a meerkat and a warthog, The Lion Sleeps Tonight, which showcased yet another impressive dimension to Patton’s chameleonic voice.
Faith No More owned the night, and their obvious individuality and sometimes controversial, anti-establishment ideals truly embody the spirit of punk.
But no more than anyone else did. Because we don’t wanna be dicktards.