Last year’s Big Day Out was always going to be tough to top. As Australia’s answer to [a]Lollapalooza[/a] crawled its way around the country last time out, [a]Hole[/a] and [a]Marilyn Manson[/a] engaged in handbag hostilities. This year American rock still dominates the main arena but if you venture into the periphery, you won’t so much find verbal, as the sound of all-out, warfare.
Take Atari Teenage Riot. Over in the dance tent, there’s Alec Empire, switching from nihilistic stare to fevered gospel-preaching in the blink of an eye. Riot sounds don’t often produce riots in Australia, but ATR‘s brutal sonic assault soon gets the midday punters exchanging fists. And if that’s their reaction to the rush of ATR, you can imagine the response when Primal Scream arrive.
“We’re gonna tear the roof off this mutherf–er,” sneers a stick-thin Gillespie, as the grinding coils of ‘Exterminator’ begin to unravel. Primal Scream are now cutting deep into the heart of society’s problems – and they’ve got the sound to match.
Kevin Shields, replete with his own Arkestra of effects, calmly loops hurricanes around the punk-dub holocaust of ‘Shoot Speed Kill Light’. ‘Accelerator’, meanwhile, is delinquent sonic chic – a hydraulic guitar explosion that threatens to rip the roof off the tent. Gillespie stands centre, dangling off his mic stand, lost in the centre of it all. “Wouldn’t it be great to bomb the White House?” he smirks, introducing the brutalised strings of ‘Pills’. The crowd are knocked sideways and as the band finally troop off, their defiant, soulful and unrelenting take on rock’n’techno has made the prospect of the main stage acts seem like pure panto.
Which bring us to Nine Inch Nails. Starting with ‘Head Like A Hole’, they proceed to flood the stage with so much dry ice that most of the crowd immediately lose interest. Foo Fighters don’t fare much better. Their harmless, harnessed, anaesthetised take on rock’n’roll is a little straight after the chaos of the sideshows and, while there’s no denying Dave Grohl still writes a great pop song, it’s just a crying shame he hasn’t had a new idea since their self-titled debut. Still, he does enough to get a glowing smile from Melissa Auf Der Maur, who’s perched stage left throughout.
Better received are Basement Jaxx back in the dance tent. The London glimmer twins, Simon Ratcliffe and Felix Buxton, are two smokin’ barrels from the off. ‘Yo-Yo’ smashes through the speaker stacks with its perfectly dumb-ass hook, and segues straight into an awesome ‘Red Alert’. Shimmering interludes, rolling bongos and a single red rose on the projector slides lull the crowd into a semi-robotic stupor before beating them back up with the ragga master blaster ‘Jump N’ Shout’. No-one knows what MC Slarta is singing about, but his rhythmic ascendance guarantees the Jaxx a sea of bodies for the finale of ‘Rendez-Vu’.
Back in the main arena, there’s a worried-looking Anthony Kiedis. Red Hot Chili Peppers might possess the white-funk gene but tonight its effect on the crowd is to push large numbers of teenagers into the crash barriers. For 15 minutes, Kiedis paces the stage, confused as to what to say, while guitarist John Frusciante attempts to mellow the audience with numerous aborted attempts at ‘Scar Tissue’.
Finally the crowd quietens down and the band deliver an impeccable set of technically adept funk-rock. And that’s maybe part of the problem – that their performance seems designed to showcase their virtuosity at the expense of their material.
So it goes with rock music. Maybe the skirmishes were small, but today dance music won the battle, if not the war.