It is January 2007.
I was surrounded by this carnival of noise and euphoria. A mixed cacophony of several different musical styles is pounding in the distance but I don’t care, I am too busy drinking in the spectacle of a giant mechanical hand that is spewing fire. A massive moat of people are swarming around one of the two main stages watching Muse do their space-pop thing while the Melbourne sun sets. I am haggard, more than a little bit pink from the summer sun, and loving every minute of it. Tool were due to begin in less than half an hour and I was high on anticipation. Taking time to absorb the crowd I felt like I was part of a bigger movement, like I was united in sound with my fellow countrymen.
This was my first experience with the Big Day Out music festival.
Having had a little taste of live music I went to over fifteen individual shows and concerts over the next year. The rationale was: if it was a band I liked and I had the money I had no excuse. I was addicted to the sounds of loud guitars, thundering drums, and soaring or guttural vocals, my ears quickly adjusted to the sound and those tones that were too intense for my young ears were soon lost in a shrill screech. I didn’t care. Being a part of something larger than myself, united in sound with tens of thousands of others, was worth the discomfort.
The next year’s Big Day Out was even more epic. I was more prepared for the sheer spectacle of the thing and could focus on the bands. Rage Against the Machine had reformed for a scant few months and provided me with an experience that has never been topped. I remember being on the outer edge of a vast mosh pit. Every so often someone would rush the security barriers into the inner “D” ring (not a penis reference) and be tackled hard. As soon as security was distracted about seven or eight others would run through the barrier.
I looked around at my fellow concertgoers: some were in trees, some were on the scaffolds surrounding the stage, and some were even on the roofs of the marquees creating their own mosh pits. Above it all Zach de la Rocha was screaming “Fuck You I Won’t Do What Ya Tell Me”. The combined moshing of thousands of people made the ground pulse like an earthquake. Dust clouds obscured the stage and after the song finished the band quickly retreated off-stage. One of the concert organisers then came on stage and told the crowd to chill out, get out of the trees, get off the scaffolds and marquees, or the band wouldn’t finish their set. The crowd turned swiftly against them jeering and booing the radical elements. From somewhere a vivid orange flare strafed into the crowd eliciting gasps from the attendees. The band continued to play and blew all 50-odd-thousand of us away. I remember the ground where the mosh had been being soft and dusty. A moat of discarded and ruined shoes ringed the stage and for the entire train trip home I was checking the feet of everyone, trying to see who was walking home barefoot.
The last Big Day Out I attended was in 2009 after that I just didn’t care who was performing. The talent organised for the subsequent years just wasn’t interesting or exciting. Sure they were great bands but I wasn’t prepared to fork out the money they were asking for. If I wanted to see those bands I payed less and saw the inevitable sideshows. At the same time the Soundwave Festival, who’s bill of alternative, punk, and metal was far more exciting, drew my attention. It also helped that the first Soundwave I went to in 2009 had two of my favourite bands: Nine Inch Nails and Lamb of God.
Even when I didn’t attend Big Day Out was always THE summer music festival. It was an institution and it represented the strength of the Australian music scene by highlighting our best and brightest, as well as being a much-needed touring platform for international acts that otherwise would avoid the country for years due to distance and cost.
It makes me sad to see the festival in the dire straits it’s in now. Rumours of rising costs and superstar bands making diva-like requests have haunted the festival for years, and now the entire venture is foreign-owned. This is unacceptable and while it may still keep the festival alive it takes away the authenticity. How can the Big Day Out continue to promote and represent Australian artists if it is owned by Americans? It is a sad state of affairs regardless of the owner’s intentions. Fortunately we still have Soundwave going from strength-to-strength, but the seemingly inevitable death of the BDO will be mourned by me and thousands of others.
We are all responsible though. We should have paid it more interest and been more vocal with the fading pulling power of the line-ups. If the Big Day Out does return after it’s 2015 absence then we need to give it the respect it deserves and show it’s owners it is a viable and profitable concern, but if they have created a shell for the purpose of fleecing punters out of their hard-earned money then we should kill the thing and replace it with something better.
Whatever that might be.