First published on 21 Feb 2013. Updated on 21 Feb 2013.
Last time All Tomorrow's Parties tried doing an Australian event it was the brilliant but unsuccessful festival curated by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. I still hold up the Cockatoo Island event as the single finest festival I've ever attended, and so I was up for traipsing south for the Melbourne-only I'll Be Your Mirror, co-curated by the Drones and held at the Westgate Sports and Event Complex in Altona.
I'd thought little of the fact that social media was awash with Melburnians getting rid of their tickets in the weeks ahead of the festival. “I guess they're just going to go to the newly-announced sideshows” I innocently surmised, as it became increasingly clear that I would be surrounded almost exclusively by my fellow Sydneysiders and Adelaideans who had already booked their flights and accomodations. I should really have asked more questions of my M-town friends, though, including one that would have been very wise in retrospect: is this festival being held in a nightmarish hellhole in the middle of fucking nowhere?
Altona, it turns out, is an industrial wasteland far enough outside of Melbourne to be difficult to get to without being far enough away to feel like it's a little adventure, as with Meredith or Boogie. There was no way that the organisers could have known that the (indoor) festival would land on an especially hot weekend and that therefore the main stage would become a sweltering heatbox before the band had begun, nor could they have known that trackwork would make the nearest train line inoperative. However, the temperature, the volume and the ordeal of getting away from the site in the evenings all helped make the Sunday crowd a good deal smaller than that for the Saturday, who were going to see My Bloody Valentine come hell, high water or a solid, humid stage one fug.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The venue was well appointed, with bars, food and toilets outside (and shade provided in the form of mini-marquees), and inside the smaller Stage 2 was airconditioned, had a bar within and a winding stairway up to the cinema that was running all weekend. A tiki bar was set up out in the indoor cricket arena, adjacent to a bouncy castle and some charming topiary. DJs played in the rock climbing room, and there was a chap calling himself Pricasso doing portraits of people with his wang. On paper, all of this sounds fantastic – and would have been if the days were about ten degrees cooler, because the hanger-like Stage One (an indoor soccer arena most of the time) became impossibly hot, and that's where most of the name bands were playing.
Thee Oh Sees killed it and got the crowd dancing early on the first day, but no other band played to a crowd with that degree of energy or fluid retention. Then again, Swans aren't exactly a band you boogie to, and neither were Godspeed You! Black Emperor (both of whom were majestic). A quick stage 2 breather with HTRK's chilly, narcotic beats was refreshing, and then it was back to the swamp for My Bloody Valentine.
I am the first to accept that MBV couldn't possibly live up to 20 years of anticipation and that it seems churlish to complain about hearing one of my favourite bands play a bunch of songs I love perfectly well. But I wanted a transcendent experience, not to go “hmmm, 'When You Sleep' is a bit rushed.” 'Soon' was magnificent and the set closing 'You Made Me Realise' was brutal (with a 20 minute apocalypse section), but the overall effect was more “well, that's another one ticked off the list” than “my life has been transformed” - especially when hundreds of people attempted to queue for the shuttle buses back to the CBD, exhausted, drunk and emotional.
As mentioned above, the crowd was a lot thinner for the second day. Unlike day one the show hadn't sold out, and a lot of folks balanced their desire to see the Drones play a killer set or the Beasts of Bourbon reunite with the thought of spending an even hotter day in Altona. And I sympathise, although let's be clear: the Drones played the set of the festival and I could not be more excited about their imminent album (and live, 'The Minotaur' can take off a human face at 200 metres).
After the Beasts swaggered through a loose set of the early albums, the thought of the industrial assault of Einstürzende Neubauten followed by another impossible journey to the city and back out was a battle too many, especially when an empty taxi was tantalisingly idling nearby ready to to take us to an airconditioned hotel room in Footscray. I failed in my duties to both rock and journalism, but you know what? I'm OK with my decision.