As the Big Day Out, now 21 years young, happens to fall on Australia Day, there are some confronting sights to behold: inflatable Australian-flag paraphernalia, VB stubbies worn as wristbands – you know the drill. Thankfully, thee lineup is less sneer inducing, with a wide selection of international bands and local talent.
Quaint ol’ Vampire Weekend serenade an upbeat mid-afternoon crowd with renditions of ‘Oxford Comma’, and, ‘A-Punk’, going down particularly well. The band reproduce their signature sound – somewhat like a dreamy picnic in Jamaica – with true-to-recording perfection. Foals please with their pleasant brand of unmemorable rock; while the crowd doesn’t seem to enjoy Animal Collective’s experimental, avant-pop – it attracts a measly audience of about 40.
After seeing the Crystal Castles in 2007 and being bitterly disappointed by frontwoman Alice Glass’s feeble voice and the band’s failure to do any of their tracks justice, I have very low expectations of their BDO set. However, the duo’s performance today is ridiculously good – a progression from the detached, minimalist sound of earlier albums to the ravey sound-explosion of their latest, Ill. Glass’s vocals reach satisfyingly shrill, sharp heights and she performs most of the show whilst crowd-surfing on her knees – no mean feat!
The Killers have a weary look in their eyes as they get through classic hits like, ‘Mr Brightside’, but seem determined to please the crowd. Their drummer donned an Australian-flag singlet and the band even pull out a rendition of ‘Waltzing Matilda’ – at which point I decide it’s time to move along.
One way to get out of the bedlam of Big Day Ou-Straya Day is to go check out Chow Town: a row of food stalls from culinary hotspots in town. Golden Fields, Cookie and Anada are represented, but I decide to try my first ever Huxtaburger. Another good spot to avoid the onslaught of national pride is the Lilypad stage. This offbeat little area is worth a visit if only to catch a man in a mushroom costume shooting prizes into the crowd with a fake rocket launcher.
Other highlights on the Lilypad stage include Chicks on Speed’s DJ set accompanied by the Lemon Drops – a 12-piece dance troupe of fluoro-clad sirens and Miss Tallulah, who twirls a ridiculous number of hula hoops with a ridiculous amount of sultriness to some funky Cuban beats. Then there’s Zanzibar Chanel – a burly MC and a skinny DJ – who together make blissfully smooth vintage house generally entertain with jibes at the crowed. Watching Zanzibar Chanel for the first time feels like one of those rare, beautiful moments when you catch something that is truly fresh and new.
Some of the bands I expect to be impressed by seemed to have lost more than a little of their spark and are outshined by lesser-known performers. The carnivalesque painted back wall of Lilypad reads, “faded hacks struggling to remain relevant”; however, this assessment seems better suited to mainstream acts like the Chilli Peppers – whose lackluster closing set on the main stage seems to stun the crowd into a stupor – rather than the progressive, homegrown talent I saw improvising dance moves, MC-ing and hula-hooping on the Lilypad stage.