Auckland, New Zealand
Summer. Music festivals. What have you got New Zealand? The answer, for Auckland in January, was ‘The Big Day Out’, just get here by the 16th. So I did.
There were free buses from the city centre, but I sat the previous night, working out where they ran from and whether I could walk there and spotted it was the same distance to just walk to the venue. 4km at most – Google routinely overestimates. It took under 40 minutes, though the paths in the Arch Hill Scenic Reserve seemed needlessly roller-coaster like till I spotted the mountain bike trail running around. It’s a small park clinging to the side of a hill, and once through it I could hear the music.
I was in early, and the grin barely left my face for the next couple of hours. Free programme! Free wifi! Line up released way in advance, and in a format you could easily screenshot or copy – not like the UK, where it’s treated like a trade secret in order to sell programmes. The number of stages – 6 – looks big until you spot that one is a hut, one smaller (Lakeside) and the others in groups of two. The latter, though, means that putting bands on alternate stages makes for near-instant changeovers, so reducing the waves of people heading for a loo or drinks break in the 15 minute gap while the stage is reassembled in the UK, plus no one is guaranteed a spot at the front once a new act starts, because they’ll be 30m from where the front just was.
Less good were the separate food and drink sections – no wandering to the band with your pint in hand. I wasn’t sure whether the wrist band for ‘drinking age verified’ was necessary for entrance and wasn’t going to drink in any case, but liked the idea that my qualification might be in any way in doubt so much that I got one anyway. The drinking areas are positioned so you can see and hear the stage, but it still seems weirdly over protective-particularly with a separate no-man’s land around it, patrolled by security.
The only thing that took the smile off my face was trying to get back to the Lakeside in mid afternoon. Stalemate, no one in or out. I went back later and they’d fixed it, though, with railings separating entrance and exit. Nice responsive work from the organisers.
I saw a couple of songs by Villainy, which got me in the mood, and old NZ rockers Beastwars. There’s a definite focus on NZ bands, which is nice, but with groups from Brazil, UK, Germany, Canada, Sweden, USA and maybe others interspersed. I didn’t spot any from Australia.
Over at the Lakeside, a stage for electronic and dance music, were dprtr clb djs, who were good but under supported – live music more popular, and it was early. Pleaseplease came on next, happy just to be alive, but not distracting me from a band who had a quote from their lead singer: why see them? “Because we’re the best new band in the world”. Fair enough, and boy they were good.
Not quite performance slick in between tunes, but otherwise great. They were the band I’d come through immigration with the day before which would have been cool, if I’d had any idea who they were. The 1975, it turned out, two or three killer tunes. My highlight were up next, and everything I’d hoped they’d be – Grouplove played everything I already loved and a few others I might grow to. Plus they exploded onto the stage, making me wonder if the no-gap between bands set format made groups conscious that a big start would grab the audience from the previous act. All energy, and they weren’t alone in bouncing around.
Late at night I escaped into the tiny Metro cube and Bat Country were doing the same, the stage barely big enough to contain the energy their lead singer put out. A nice escape from Deftones, who I didn’t like. I’m going to say it: too loud.
In between I flitted, catching bits of Toro Y Moi and Primus before sitting back to watch The Hives. Their reputation is good, but I’ve never taken to their music. My only mistake was not taking a chance on that reputation and getting closer – they rock, and the lead singer played the crowd like an instrument. Fantastic, and funny, which was a bit of a theme. I particularly liked DJ Dillon Francis making a big noise for his finish, then claiming to have one more song and starting up ‘The Vengabus’. I’m sure there were some confused glances from people, though most went with it. For the 30 seconds that was all he dared give us before he flicked the switch and walked off – gutsy to finish with a joke.
Having had luck with the programme writeup of The 1975, I did the same with Beady Eye, “basically oasis without a Noel, plus a Kaiser chiefs guitarist, and there are bound to be some Oasis numbers in there”. Might be a good blast. It took 5 minutes to realise that, for me at least, that Manchester whine is over, and I escaped, flitting for the rest, seeing good chunks of CSS, The Lumineers – lovely folky rock – Arcade Fire-big, but still weirdly easy listening for a band that looks like they’re rocking. They needed Deftones’ ear-splitting volume, though I think the problem is their tunes build to near a crescendo and either don’t get there or do nothing with it. Ghost looked nuts, lead singer in death mask and priest’s outfit. “German rockers!” said the bloke next to me. Snoop Dogg was clashing with Pearl Jam, but given the latter were doing 2.5 hours, they were bound to clash with someone. Waking to the venue, a limo had rolled through the lights, wondering whether it could turn down the closed road to the stadium. Everyone assumed it was the Dogg, and they might have been right. Seemed fitting that they jumped the red-slowly-once they realised they couldn’t get in that way. The set was electric, if you like that sort of thing. I didn’t, much, but enjoyed the atmosphere for 20 minutes before doing much the same to Pearl Jam and escaping to the Lakeside stage for DJ goodness.
Fantastic, and an easy walk home – apart from roller coaster park in the dark – only cemented total satisfaction.
The Hives “Blue t-shirt and iPhone, fuck your camera angle and sit down”,