Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Live Review - Splendour 2012

To be published in Tsunami Magazine.

Splendour In The Grass 2012
Belongil Fields, Byron Bay

I am a few months shy of turning 32 and I am old, basically ancient, on unfamiliar ground as I wallow with the rest of them, wondering what happened to rock ‘n’ roll – both the music and the ideals behind it – stuck in some sort of ‘other’ dimension from which I can see no exit, no way out, no way to turn, no way to assimilate or survive. 

Pounded from above by hail and rain, assaulted from below, torrents of thick, stinking mud and shit from leaking toilets, buffeted by the ill winds of change and turn – “Hey, Jack White,” someone yells at me before realising their mistake and slogging onward towards the next in a long, long line of bands and music and artists from which there is little respite. 

Gaggles of tiny whores abound, their own bared flesh their watchword; gangs of thuggish males, dorks hanging low to the ground, follow, snuffling the scent like the dogs they are and yet we’re all one, whether we care to admit as much or not, here for likeminded reasons and to hell with the consequences, the dignity, the mundane realities of life outside these chain-link fences, the rows of security and police, the dogs and the confiscated drugs, which we needed in abundance but left at the gate in the care of The Man.

SJF looking slightly perturbed...
Pond – the Beatles gang-raped by Iggy Pop and The Stems, with the Rolling Stones coming in for sloppy thirds.  DZ Deathrays – noise for the pure sake of it and then some more on top, buzz and grind, sheltered from the raging storm outside by the sonic storm inside.  Hypnotic Brass Ensemble – horn-laden grooves in spades, gangsta rap shoved rudely in between, lubed up sweat and slime set to a primal beat.

One needs, in order to survive, to adjust and make the best of a bad situation, and to be honest, the situation was hardly bad per se, more alien and surreal.  A Splendour crowd isn’t, at first glance, a friendly and caring crowd, it’s a selfish crowd hell-bent on its own demise where music, or the love of, is a coincidental occurrence and cool is the currency of the day and people acquire more based on what they wear and who they see.  As the weekend rolls on though, people mellow and more easily fit into the fact they’re one of many, not just one, and so an odd sort of camaraderie settles over the site and a calm, of sorts, inadvertently rules.

I drink a lot on the first day, mid-strength beer from the myriad bars scattered around the site, full-strength beer from the teeming ‘VIP’ bar where people pay almost a grand to mingle with, “artists, media and industry insiders”, the former of which wouldn’t be seen dead in there, the second of which only access for the toilets and strong drink, the latter of which thrive in this particular environment, a strange mix of cashed up and wanting to be seen, being seen.  Indeed.  At some point I end up in the Jager Bar, the Hunting Lodge, which plays bad beats and serves watered-down Jager in paper cups for six bucks a pop but has a beergarden where you can sit and smoke in relative comfort.  I keep drinking, and all seems well for a while.

Post-hailstorm, outside, at some point...
Mudhoney – reviving the ‘90s with scruffy aplomb, squalls of feedback and rumbling, jangling guitars fighting with each other for the limelight, the thunder of rock ‘n’ roll apparent in every note, every bar, every song, a veritable clusterfuck of dirt and angst set amongst three days of pop and pish-posh, a diamond in the rough and the standout thus far.

Tame Impala – big, building sound-scapes blunted by poor sound outside the tent (certainly no way to get inside), epic potential but not really fulfilling what I was hoping they were capable of, but a decent set none the less, indeed.

I enter a time portal where it all stands still for an hour and so I go to get pizza and am accosted by Zander who has seats and coffee and cigarettes and conversation which serves to drag me from said portal and some woman asks if they can go into the Berocca tent, which is closed, and Zander says there’s an orgy in there – “You most likely don’t wanna go in,” I say – and she says she definitely does, whilst her partner looks on with alarm and amusement, behind slightly glazed eyes, ruffled hair and dirty hands.

I am a wild-eyed fiend.  My beard is long and rangy, my hair hangs from under my hat and my jacket is specked with mud.  My black boots are now brown and there are many unused drink tickets in my pocket which I will swap for weak beer before the night is through, for the night is not yet over, not by a long shot, for it is around now that I find the Gold, that on the inside I dance like a drug-addled shaman, the likes of which the western world has yet to discover, living deep within an impenetrable forest of inhibitions and the like, for it is now that I realise what a fucker Warren Ellis is, what a teeming pot of brilliantly psychotic sonic stew this man is capable of cooking up and I will never be the same again.

Mudhoney.  Possibly...
Dirty Three – I wasn’t punched in the face by a punter, nor a policeman or security guard, but I was punched in the face by three unlikely looking fellows whose job it is, it seems, to meld together sounds that are more akin to a rollercoaster ride through the lower caverns of hell than they are to something as mundane as a stage at a festival in a town by a beach.  Shrieks and wails, thumps and bangs, the energy that leaps from the four strings on Ellis’ violin is stronger than everything else I’ve heard thus far, put together and multiplied by a number these kids cannot comprehend.  And this is just what they do on a regular basis, and so we looked on with unrestrained, slack-jawed awe, and were satisfied, really, for the first time, and I felt things weren’t too bad.  Not that they really were to begin with.

I bounce from one band to the next – Father John Misty (acoustic guitar, first of the weekend), Ball Park Music (uplifting pop-tinged rock for the masses), San Cisco (who should be made to sit, eyes forced open a la A Clockwork Orange, listening to The Dirty Three, just to see how it’s supposed to be done, despite the fact they’re not alike at all) – and finally crash and burn on the Sunday afternoon, a stained rag on a sticky barroom floor, bundled up and driven home to recover and remember (or not) and wonder if I’ve lost touch with rock ‘n’ roll, or if it’s more alive now than ever before, just set to a different beat with a different set of ideals, still the Kids vs The Man, the sweat and energy still there in heaps and piles, indeed – it was solid, and we were there, and that’s really all that matters, that’s just how it is.

Samuel J. Fell

1 comment: