Hard News by Russell Brown

We're the music, they're just the bands

There is an implicit contract in the purchase of a ticket to the Big Day Out: that from the moment you hand it over and walk in the gate, you become part of everybody else's entertainment. We're there every year not just to see the bands, but to see how the rest of us are living.

Not that I actually paid for a ticket: Vodafone, in their infinite grooviness, stumped up for an extra corporate box, on top of their regular box and the one that a lucky bunch of bFM listeners won as a b-Card prize. They wanted to fill it with star DJs and "edgy media" apparently. Madam, for a comfy seat, clean toilets and a thoughtfully-stocked fridge, I'll be as edgy as you like …

And so my 100 per cent BDO attendance record is safe for another year. It's better these days; safer, anyway. No one actually believes all those "the Big Day Out is the wrong place to take drugs" messages - not the promoters, not the police and certainly not the punters. A great many people appeared to have taken ecstasy, or at least some of the legal "dance pills" on sale outside the gates. Oldies included: social sanctions against the occasional use of E appear to have considerably eroded. (I talked to someone who worked on a major law firm's Christmas party in December: pretty much everyone was trollied, he said.)

Alcohol, on the other hand, is fenced off more than ever. Some people choose to bake in an uncovered stand for the privilege of drinking buckets of flat DB Export, but most don't. This is good. I suppose there must have been a fight somewhere, but I didn't see anything that even looked like one. They're aren't many all-day events hosting 30,000 people where you can say that.

The bogans who, back in the early 90s, might have been getting drunk and nasty by 8pm are now mostly wandering round, goggle-eyed and daft with their friends. One of my favourite images of the day was two police officers, standing in the midst of the human traffic, just laughing to each other. (The other was three young Goths: white face, lank hair and full-length black robes in the blazing afternoon sun. Such dedication!)

My first encounter of the afternoon was a bit daunting: I was trying to get down the steps to the corporate box as the Blindspott audience was coming up the steps en masse. I was enveloped in a damp, smelly, red-faced adolescent tide and it was pretty gross, frankly. But you get that.

The music? The D4 were pretty good. Concord Dawn, playing the tent in the heat of the day (warm drizzle was drifting down from the ceiling) were a revelation - they've developed a somewhat limited D&B palette into a full-on rave show. The kids love them, and rightly so. Otherwise, it was mostly the stuff outside the mainstream that appealed: PJ Harvey showing the really-quite-dull Queens of the Stone Age how to rock, Wilco laying back in the sun while everyone else busted a gut, and Underworld giving it large at the end of the evening.

And, most of all, Kraftwerk. It seemed a rare and slightly odd privilege to be able to take in something so arty and oblique amid all the literal-minded tub-thumping of modern industry rock. Those angry-bands are so mechanical; Kraftwerk's machine schtick seems positively warm and cuddly. Their traverse though the hits served to emphasise their prodigious influence: a little electro hip-hop here, some acid house there. And, at one point, a big, fat, funky house bassline - just to show they could, presumably.

Kids who had probably barely even heard of Kraftwerk before the day stuck around and cheered wildly between songs. Does that happen everywhere? Maybe in Australia they're more interested in those ghastly hard-house DJs who always seem to get stuck high up on the bill in Auckland, even though they don't really work with a New Zealand crowd. How much cooler would it have been if Soane had followed Kraftwerk? Lots cooler.

Meanwhile, Jane's Addiction were on in the stadium and people who were there said they were the best band in the world. I guess so. Rather them than the tragically humdrum Foo Fighters, anyway.

The Datsuns suffered, like almost everyone else on the alternative stages, from crappy sound. The production has always been a little on the cheap side at the BDO, but it seemed worse than ever this year. Wish for next year: better PAs and more shade.

Will I be there anyway? It seems highly likely. It is, after all, a shared reality; a mission to be debriefed some time later; a bunch of tales to tell - on which counts Mikey Havoc's Trailer With a Cage show on Saturday morning was pretty much perfect..

When there's nothing much on and Mikey falls to arguing with his callers, his show can be hard to listen to. But as Big Morning-After radio it was great. And I'm damn sure I couldn't be that lucid and witty if I'd been awake for three days. Actually, I've never been awake for three days. I mean, what do you do with all that time? Catch up on your email?

Note: Some readers have noted that the conclusion of the summer travelogue has yet to appear here. The return to paid work was a little traumatic last week, but I'll post some notes from the road soon.