It’s late January, Sunday, and blazing hot. JUICE has managed to drop into Australia’s Gold Coast in that slim window between the catastrophic flooding and the equally catastrophic blowing of Cyclone Yasi for the 24 hours of excitement they call Big Day Out, Australia’s top touring rock festival.
Text + images Matt Armitage, Kulturpop
We’ve got our good friends at AirAsia X to thank for all of this. They laid on the flights, the tickets and those all crucial backstage passes that say JUICE ain’t part of no herd. AirAsia X has a daily service from KL to Gold Coast, which, at around 8 hours flying time from KL is just right for noggin sloggin’ rock fans like us. Knowing that it’s a night flight and that JUICE would want to hit the ground running, they kindly gave us their Premium Economy seats, the ones that turn into a bed at the touch of a button. So, we quickly turned in, curling up with our bear as we slept above the clouds.
Next morning brings a brain curler. JUICE‘s hotel in Coolangatta, the Outrigger Twin Towns Resort is effectively in two states, Queensland and New South Wales and in two time zones. As a result the two sides of the main Coolangatta drag are in separate time zones: the beach side of the street is an hour ahead of the shops just two-car widths away.
Once we’ve got our heads around and worked out what time our pick up is we drop into Big Day Out’s massive site at the Parklands Showgrounds near Southport just after lunch. Thanks to traffic jams we arrive just in time to interview The Naked and Famous but too late to see them play. Boo! They’re happy and chatty but more interested in the fact that Deftones are sitting at the next table than intellectual JUICE questions like “Koala or Wombat?”
We also wish we were better at star-spotting. As we grab a sandwich and some water in the gourmet-quality backstage area, we can only identify members of Primal Scream (“Hey Bobbie! Hi Mani!”), Grinderman (Nick Cave, tall and gothically scary), Lupe Fiasco, CSS, Die Antwoord and possibly Plan B. The remaining 200 or so people could be anyone – literally: there are nine stages and scores of bands playing today. Not to mention that the most rock n roll looking people here are the roadies not the rather clean cut looking musos. The artists sport designer tattoos while the roadies obviously scored theirs in back alley parlours after 3-day drinking binges.
Sandwich’d up we crank up a gear and head out to mix it with the hoi polloi. First stop is Lilyland. This is the day-glo, beanbag hippy dippy bit where there’s a mixture of music and a carnival atmosphere. While we’re there a small child is singing Queen songs karaoke style while some bloke eats dog food. Australians, eh? We crash into the Boiler Room tent just as CSS start cranking out ‘Let’s Make Love’. Lovefoxx seems to be sliding out moves with her mic stand that we’ve heard are quite popular with married couples. Even though it’s still early the tent is going off and a BDO hit squad wanders through spraying water on the braying throng.
We don’t want to miss Lupe Fiasco and although BDO’s main stage is pretty much metal central it doesn’t stop around 10,000 Coasters chilling to his rocked up live set. It made our heart soar to see a huge lump of metal muthas singing along to ‘Daydreamin’, one of our ultimate lazy afternoon anthems. Then it’s a mad dash back to the Boiler Room to catch Die Antwoord. The South Africa white trash rap outfit is the top tip for this year’s Big Day Out, their hardcore rave meets Beastie Boys schtick has already turned them into YouTube heroes with a mean rep for fire-starting live shows. Co-leads Ninja and Yo-Landi are like David and Goliath. Ninja stands way over 2 metres tall and dominates the stage. Yo-Landi looks like a small child in comparison, hunched in a hoodie. But with both of them screaming “I wanna be a Ninja” (from ‘Enter the Ninja’) over a bedroom techno rhythm track it’s hard not to be impressed.
Wandering aimlessly we stumble on Plan B at the Green Stage. Not being the biggest fans of his transformation from gritty urban rapper into blue-eyed soul boy we’ve got to give him his due. He puts on a pretty good show, and his band gives a full on James Brown-style funk and soul revue with added beat boxer. With the sun cooking our brains we remember that it’s nearly time for Crystal Castles, and we’re expecting this to be the gig of the day. So, when it kind of isn’t, we’re left a bit flat. Admittedly, this is because Alice Glass broke her ankle in Tokyo a couple of days before the show, so it’s a static and subdued performance, not helped by the lack of visuals that enhanced Die Antwoord and Surecut Kids sets in the same room.
The main arena is chugging along with the tranquilized rock of Birds of Tokyo and the banjo-fuelled MOR of The John Butler Trio. Distressingly, everyone but us knows all the words. Tool must be weeping in their dressing rooms. Our faith in humanity is quickly restored by a man in a bikini and fairy wings. And a brave and mad fella wearing a watermelon as a helmet. In any case, we don’t care because we’re off to have sundown time with Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. The guitarist wears a top hat, which is a great start. And Edward Sharpe is a cross between an old time fire and brimstone southern preacher and REM’s Michael Stipe. Lots of people are enjoying themselves doing very unhip barn style cavorting, which explain why the tent smells of feet. The odour magically disappears as they play the song we’ve all been waiting for: ‘Home’. Sure, it might be over-played and over-used but it’s the feel good moment of the day. Looking around, everyone is grinning and laughing, and if he is a preacher, then Edward Sharpe has over a thousand people speaking in tongues.
Back at the main arena Iggy Pop does his stuff with the Stooges and all the hits are trotted out but for some reason the volume dial seems to have been turned down from 11 to 3 and despite Iggy’s best efforts – yes folks, he’s shirtless – it doesn’t have the Raw Power the band is famous for. What is cool is that Lupe Fiasco is hanging out by the barriers, watching Iggy and chatting to fans and having his picture taken: no security; no entourage, which earns him JUICE‘s undying respect.
Iggy is soaking up the last of the daylight as we sprint across to the Green Stage where Primal Scream has already started its set. This one is a bit special with the band playing their classic rave era album Screamadelica, something JUICE first witnessed first time around, nearly 20 years ago. That night they were crap so today is about 20 years of payback for our unstinting support. But with Rammstein firing on all cylinders at the arena and LCD Soundsystem playing their seven hundredth final show ever in the Boiler Room there’s a miserable crowd of similarly pensionable geezers hovering five rows deep to listen to the Scream. They don’t let it faze them and deliver a set worthy of a Madison Square Gardens sell-out. ‘Higher than the Sun’, ‘Loaded’ and ‘Don’t Fight It’ are trippy, and groovy and the ideal comedown for this high-octane, exhausting and thoroughly amazing Big Day Out.
Which just leaves Grinderman, the ultra successful side project of Nick Cave and his core Bad Seeds. We last saw Nick Cave doing a duet in London with Kylie Minogue, so we figure it’s time to get down and dirty with him. And bugger if it isn’t loud. He must have nicked the spare volume off Iggy Pop because it’s louder than Tool and in a much smaller space. JUICE makes it through opener ‘No Pussy Blues’ with the help of earplugs but even after retreating to the slopes outside the tent all we’re really getting is a ringing noise in the back of our skulls. And that, as they say, is a wrap. It’s only 10pm but it’s been a Big Day Out for us thanks to Air Asia X and for some 40,000 tired, merry and happy clappers it’s time to search for the man in the melon helmet.
JUICE was flown to Big Day Out Gold Coast by Air Asia X. Air Asia X flies to Gold Coast daily. Book your flights to Gold Coast or any other Air Asia X destination by clicking to www.airasia.com. Find out more about Big Day Out at www.bigdayout.com. Check out the snaps in the gallery here.