“This year will be New Zealand’s last Big Day Out. Come party with us this Friday. It’s been an amazing 18 years here in Auckland.”
This statement, issued from Big Day Out organizer and founder Ken West’s Twitter page, set the tone for BDO 2012 on Friday, January 20th. At first it was assumed that this was simply a media ploy; an effort to increase ticket sales and add to the hype of what was proving to be one of the more disappointing lineups in Big Day Out history. But West made it clear that this was no joke.
In its 18 year history as New Zealand’s biggest music event, Big Day Out has brought some of the hottest international acts to our shores, while at the same time, introduced punters to fresh, new talent. The deft balance of established names, and up-and-comers, is something that Big Day Out has excelled at. And 2012 was no different.
While it is pointless to dwell on what ‘could have been’ – Kanye West headlining, with Odd Future ripping up the Boiler Room – it needs to be mentioned that concertgoers were all aware of the lineup changes. A number of people wore “I’m here for Kanye” shirts, while others chose the subtler “Big Gay Out” – in honor of Odd Future’s dismissal from the event due to alleged ‘homophobic’ lyrics.
However, second-tier act turned headliners, Soundgarden, were an extremely appropriate way to round off New Zealand’s final Big Day Out. For it was the Seattle grunge-rockers that headlined the first Big Day Out in Auckland, back in 1994. In a way, the 2012 Big Day Out was a return to roots for the music festival – stripping back the number of stages, adding the infamous ‘Big Skate Tour’ and including other multimedia attractions (foam dance party, hot rod display and live art exhibition). Other main acts including My Chemical Romance, Kasabian and The Living End have all performed at Big Day Out before. So it almost felt like a big reunion tour – an anniversary event that paid tribute to the past near two decades of musical prestige.
Despite a ‘tired’ lineup, Big Day Out 2012 was one of the most enjoyable to attend. And this was due to the simple fact that Mt Smart Stadium was barely half full throughout the day. An estimated 20,000 attended this year’s Big Day Out, compared with almost 50,000 in years passed. But while this must have been extremely frustrating for organizers, for the audience it was a blessing. It meant no lines at the toilets, no rushing for seats, and no mosh pit casualties. It seemed that only true BDO fans were in attendance; it was an intimate affair.
The day started on a heavy note, with Australian screamers Parkway Drive opening the Big Day Out main stage. Their audience was a frenetic bunch, who gladly moshed and fought under the hot sun. By midday the heat was almost unbearable, but Cage the Elephant still put on quite a show. Frontman Matthew Shultz launched himself across the stage, doing his best Jim Morrison impression. He stage-dived, scissor-kicked and swooned through a set of solid rock ‘n’ roll. “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked” was a particular crowd favorite, and led to a mass sing-along.
I then made my way to the ‘Boiler Room,’ which this year was really just an uncovered stage (the shade was definitely missed), to catch local hip-hop star David Dallas. The laidback rapper delivered a spotless set of hits from his excellent album The Rose Tint. He drew quite a crowd considering the time of day, and the relentless heat, and proved furthermore that NZ produces some of the finest hip-hop acts around.
London-based indie rockers The Vaccines sauntered onto the ‘Converse Green Sage’ in front of a surprisingly large audience. After bursting into the public consciousness with the release of “If You Wanna,” The Vaccines placed third on BBC’s ‘Sound of 2011′ poll. One week later they appeared on the cover of NME Magazine; all this without the release of an album. Heralded as the return of good old fashioned pop music, The Vaccines signal a new era of guitar-based pop. No band since The Strokes have garnered such acclaim. Listening to The Vaccines is like taking a trip back, to a time when music was innocent and unabashedly fun. This is sound that demands to be heard live: jangly guitars and sing-along melodies – the crowd partied like it was 1955.
Back to the Boiler Room for multi-cultural MC’s Das Racist. The three Indian-American rappers strutted around the stage in overalls, basketball shirts and leather jackets (apparently immune to the heat?), and delivered their rhymes in their signature lethargic drawl. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one that was disappointed by the fact that Das Racist played neither “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell” nor “hahahaha jk?” Though “Michael Jackson” provided a comical call and response moment: “Michael Jackson / One million dollars / You feel me? / Holler!”
By now it was nearing 4pm, but the crowds had yet to appear. It seemed that this indeed would be the least-attended Big Day Out, which was a truly sad way to end this musical tradition. The rain had more or less held off, with the odd shower greatly welcomed by the hot crowds.
Ex-Mint Chick Ruban Nielson’s latest project, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, played their psychedelic jams to a sprawled out group of punters; this was definitely BDO 2012’s Woodstock performance (every year there is one). And Nielson indeed channeled Hendrix during a number of inspired guitar solos.
At the opposite side of the fairgrounds, Brazilian metalers Cavalera Conspiracy belted out some frighteningly vicious heavy metal. It was hard to tell whether guitarist and singer Massimiliano Antonio Cavalera was singing in English of Portuguese, but you had to admire his intensity.
The next few hours went by in a blur, and while I cannot be sure, I believe the term ‘heat stroke’ could appropriately describe my condition. In a hallucinogenic montage, I recall swaying along to Best Coast‘s charming pixie-pop, dancing along to Six60‘s unique reggae-inspired drum ‘n’ bass, and singing along to Gin Wigmore‘s haunting rendition of “The House of the Rising Sun”
Tony Hawk, legendary skateboarder and father of four, drew one of the biggest crowds of the day. His “Vert Jam” featured a number of internationally recognized skaters dropping in on a 14ft high x 40ft wide ramp. Despite his age (he turns 44 this year), Hawk defied gravity with 720s, Airwalks, Gymnast Plants and an amazing array of skateboard maneuvering. He garnered some of the loudest applause of the day, and when you actually think about it, was probably the most famous person at Mt Smart. Next door, on the ‘Skate Stage,’ Midnight Youth rocked though a selection of old and new songs and provided a perfect soundtrack to the skating legends. And of course there was the ‘Nek Minnit’ guy who MC’d the skate-off. Only at Big Day Out…
My Chemical Romance took the main stage at 5:30 sharp, and looked much less emo than their 2007 BDO performance. Though it seems their audience hasn’t changed that much. The stage was swamped by black-clad teens, wearing way too much eyeliner, who put their fists in the air and pumped along to the anthemistic songs. “Teenagers” got the whole crowd singing along, and frontman Gerard Way tunelessly made his way through a selection of aural teenage angst.
The next two and a half hours saw Girl Talk party hard alongside a confetti cannon, toilet-paper gun and dozens of scantily-clad dancers; Kasabian predictably powering through their signature Brit-Pop; and Foster the People putting on what I thought was easily the best show of the night. They were tight, solid and despite their relative lack of experience, looked completely comfortable on stage. “Pumped Up Kicks” has the entire crowd belting out the radio hit. The show definitely proved that Mark Foster and his People are headed for stardom…
For most of the 20,000 punters, Soundgarden was who they had come to see. Though the stadium was hardly teeming – frontman Christ Cornell even remarked that the emptiness of the venue looked post-apocalyptic. It could have been 1994 the way Soundgarden blasted through their greatest hits; they have aged gracefully and are still full of energy. Cornell dedicated “Blow Up the Outside World” to Christchurch Earthquake victims, and had the entire arena singing along. While Soundgarden may have only been the ‘understudy’ headliner, they certainly stepped up to the task and provided some much needed closure to the Big Day Out establishment. In fact so poignant was the set that I chose to leave after they finished – not wanting to corrupt the moment with Noel Gallagher‘s post-Oasis incarnation, or Nero‘s dub-step machine.
And so Auckland’s Big Day Out ended the same way it began: in a feverishly grungy mass of feedback.
It’s truly a terrible loss for New Zealand to have Big Day Out leave our shores, and I know that it will be missed by us all.
-words: Lukas Clark-Memler
-photos: The Edge NZ