Saturday, 5 March 2011

Splendour In The Grass, 2010

Commissioned but not published in VICE Magazine

Splendour In The Grass, 2010
Woodfordia, Woodford, QLD

It’s at this point, as dusk descends, that I realise I don’t have a story.  It’s late in the piece – Sunday evening – and what’s come before melds into one picture, one which doesn’t tell a thousand words and one that doesn’t have a caption.  I’ve come to the conclusion that I no longer recognise what passes for rock n’ roll.  I no longer, it seems, have a connection with the anti-establishmentarianism that epitomises such an art form, it seems I’m no longer in the loop, in any way involved with what is, and has been for the past three days, been happening around me.

Since we arrived early on Friday morning, I’ve felt strangely detached like I’m part of a silent movie that no one else knows about but me.  There has been a sound track, quite obviously, but what does it mean and where is it taking me?  I watch a clutch of freaks gyrating in front of the Miami Horror DJs and don’t feel like I think I should.  I immerse myself within the sweaty throng that gathers to watch Delphic  and I can’t comprehend what’s going on.  I try to get my head around the fact that guitars are no longer the cool instrument and yet I don’t care.  Because it’s a scene, and despite the fact it’s not mine, it throbs with a strange kind of energy that at least rings a bell within some dark recess of my mind.

With that energy though, there’s something else, something more sinister.  There’s a pack instinct very prevalent here – roaming gangs of thuggish males, dorks hanging low to the ground, snuffling their way through crowds of likeminded souls.  Gaggles of tiny whores whose watchword is their own bared flesh and nothing is too open or shut, this is just how it works.  And they seep into one another like wet paint hung up to dry, packs of them bumping and snarling and writhing in the dust yet none of them to a man knowing why they’re doing it.

Saturday morning and faces are swollen with drink, eyes drooping languidly, the excesses of the previous evening written on faces with permanent pen.  We get stoned and sit on the hill and listen to Midlake who evoke images of Neil Young and Crazy Horse, guitars building and building and building before it all comes crashing down in glorious waves of something that rings more true than anything else I’ve seen, or may have seen, so far.  The mud dries in the heat and is trampled under foot, dust floats in the air and we all breath it in, whether we mean to share or not.

Midlake.  Pic by Christian Lesske

Around thirty-two thousand people are gathered here this weekend, almost twice as many as last year, on a site built to accommodate perhaps two thirds of what we’ve got, and it shows – bottlenecks are a regular occurrence where three thousand become one, crammed into a tiny gap on their way to see whichever Triple J band is banging around in their mind at any particular time – crammed and squashed, cast adrift in a sea of sweaty flesh from which the only salvation is to breath in the dust, to hang on and hope for the best.

We don’t get in to see the Strokes – the amphitheatre is full and has been closed off but no one has been told and so thousands are rushing to the access track, the crowd building up, the fences buckling.  Bar service is suspended around the entire site and panic almost ensues, security guards rushing frantically from everywhere to stem the tide.  We leave the scene before it turns ugly and catch Paul Kelly who soothes our savage breast and calm is restored, at least where we are.

Paul Kelly.  Pic by Paul Rovere
Later on, after the Strokes have played (repeatedly telling the crowd to give each other room), a gas bottle explodes just over from our tent, it’s hose flailing wildly, flaming all the while, setting tarps and tents alight, cars backing out in a hurry – there’s a strange vibe over the site tonight, and no one is really sure what’s going on.  Something could snap at any moment, and almost does, but somehow the energy that’s been clogging the air for the past day or so manages to bind it all together for long enough so’s people can move out to their campsites where there’s calm and beer and no one pushes or shoves.  And everyone sleeps.

Sunday is spent in a lethargic fug, wandering from one site to the next, tent to tent, finding used drink tickets in pockets and swapping them for cold cans of mid-strength beer which tastes like water and does nothing to ease the feeling I’ve had all along – that this isn’t what it’s supposed to be.  But therein lies the kicker, because perhaps this whole scene is exactly what it’s supposed to be.  It’s thick and rude, it’s packed and hot, it’s rock n’ roll set to a frantic beat, one wrought from machines rather than kits and this is why I feel lost and detached because I’m living in the past, man, and I’ve not kept up and I don’t know which way to turn.

But in amongst the apathy and the strange, there is that aforementioned scene, that vibe that’s still there, despite all that’s passed me by.  For this is a gathering and whether you want to dive in head first or merely wade around the edges, it’s ultimately all for the same reason, all for one and one for all, play the music loud and pour the beer over my bare chest, which I’ll beat with my fists and holler at the fat, yellow moon.  This is not my scene but I’m a part of it and so we’re one, whether either of us like it or not.  As we make a slightly premature getaway then, late on Sunday evening, it’s knowing we were there and so were the others and we got stoned and gorged ourselves on something different and alien and yet tried and true. 

So perhaps there’s a story after all, within the hopelessness of not having a story, of flicking through the notebook and finding only gibberish, fit for no man to read.  Either way, despite the fact it’s wearing a different jacket and it’s iPod is jacked into something more frantic (but no less primal), rock n’ roll was alive that weekend.  It bucked and kicked and writhed and fought, and now it’s done.  And my life remains the same.

Samuel J. Fell

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