Hard News by Russell Brown


You've got to listen to the music

The schedule for the Big Day Out 2010 is here, as a jpeg or a PDF. And on reading it, I'm a bit … ambivalent. In one sense, that's silly: a festival featuring Groove Armada, Lilly Allen, Dizzee Rascal, Peaches, The Veils, Dimmer, The Decemberists, The Horrors, Kora, Ladyhawke, Simian Mobile Disco and others playing in a single day ought to be much to my taste.

But there's sense of this year's lineup being slightly out of whack; or at least out of step with the rhythm the promoters have established in recent years. There's no feelgood experience to close the alternative stages; no Flaming Lips, Joe Strummer or Headless Chickens. The last two acts are a warmed-up Head Like a Hole and the frankly irksome Fear Factory.

In the day's most jarring handover, Gin Wigmore gives way to Dead Prez at 9pm, while down in the stadium, the headliners are those mild monsters of rock, Muse. I have seen, en passant, Muse play twice at the Big Day Out, and I have looked at some of their live videos on YouTube. It would be fair to say I don't get what the fuss is about. This Radiohead-meets-Queen thing was never my music. Just me? Fine.

Meanwhile, DJ Sasha starts just before Muse, up in the Boiler Room. Perhaps he'll be good value – he's certainly been doing it for long enough – but I suspect it will be a little trancey for my taste. Well, a lot trancey. So what do I do? Dead Prez? Have a lie-down? Take in some Muse after all?

But then it's Groove Armada, who I think will be the first real house party act to close the Boiler Room since Basement Jaxx. Their DJ sets at festivals in 2009 look to have been great fun and, judging by what they've released in advance of the new Black Light album, I can't see their live incarnation being any different. So for those who can navigate a slightly lumpy day's schedule to get there, there'll be a party at the end. (Assuming they can be heard over the bass bins from the tent, Opensouls are on at the same time on the Local Produce stage. It might have been nice to hear them on the Green Stage. Just sayin'.)

Earlier in the day, there are the inevitable unfortunate clashes. Seeing Kora – playing in the Shihad slot and well-poised to make the most of that – means missing Ladyhawke on the top field. Then The Veils and Peaches play at the same time on different stages. I suspect some folk will be distressed to find Kasabian and The Horrors clashing.

But you get that. The oddest – or most intriguing – point on the schedule is Dimmer playing in the tent at 1.30pm, between Dick Johnson and Concord Dawn. I'll try and be there for that; can't promise to stay if it seems too weird. The Turnaround crew will bring their crowd to Lilyworld at 3.30pm, and that'll be nice.

Overall? Nothing I'd sell my granny to see, but it's okay. As the list shows, some years are better than others, and this isn't the worst.

I do think the local promoters need to freshen up the event. It's a shame there isn't anything that really passes for a chillout area on the current site: there's nowhere that's not loud.

But even though Rhythm and Vines looked this bloody gorgeous (from Thomas Scovell's useful review here) the prospects for a change to a new and prettier venue for the Big Day Out are negligible. The event works on a technical level, everyone involved knows how it works, and that's why it works.

The biggest change for the festival – by far – has been the rise of illegal party drugs, and the music associated with them. A stadium full of people on E will produce its complications, but it's way, way, way better than tens of thousands of drunk people.

Which isn't to say that the event hasn't evolved locally too. Stages have moved, the stadium has become bigger and better, and access and egress for the major zones are far better than they used to be. Now, in Auckland, the Big Day Out is beginning to face what it's faced for some years in Australia – the rise of well-managed, more targeted summer festivals. These not only claim punters, but acts – had Shapeshifter not headlined Coromandel Gold, you'd think they'd have been due a good slot at the BDO.

And had I been in a position to be there, Rhythm & Vines' accommodation/VIP packages would have been within my means, and to my liking. But part of the BDO brand has long been to discourage the growth of "special" areas or experiences, because, like, we're all in this together. There's something in that. (Ironically, this year I was, for the first time, in a position to buy some lounge tickets for myself.)

The founders of the Big Day Out, Ken Lees and Vivian West, are proper rock 'n' roll people. They, via Doug Hood, brought some of us John Cale, Nico, the Birthday Party (as a disastrous financial loss) and the Violent Femmes in the 1980s. They've treated the event with some care over the years. But, every year, their key decisions are made for Australian audiences. Who aren't quite us.

On the other hand, we're not missing out on any major acts the the Aussie shows are getting this year. And in surveying the subtle differences – in Perth, Powderfinger are second headliners on the main stage, and Peaches closes the alternative stages; in Sydney it's Powderfinger then Grinspoon – I prefer ours.


I can't really get my head around Laneway until I see a schedule, but I'll go to that too. And I'm keenly anticipating the return of the 3Ds, whose reuniting members seem to be in pretty good form.

What there won't be, unfortunately, is any 3Ds recordings in the shops that week. Like most of the Flying Nun catalogue under Warners, the 3Ds are out of print, and the Laneway show has come just a little too quickly for Flying Nun's new (old) owner, Roger Shepherd, to fix that.

I had a chat to Roger last weekend, and I can see he's trying to do this properly. The re-releases of catalogue will take place under new agreements with each band or artist. We're hoping to get Roger on one of this month's Media7 summer series programmes to discuss his plans for the label he founded in more depth.


Epsilon Blue is making good use of Bandcamp, with several name-your-price offerings, including The Art of Recycling Vol 1, which contains a variety of remixes and alternative versions of some of Leyton's best tracks. I like the deep-house take on 'The Sweetest Sound' with Sandy Mill, and the two versions of 'U Are a Star' are both luscious. Downloads are available in FLAC format and high-bitrate MP3 and AAC.

Leyton would also like you to think about visiting the Save Copenhagen website.


95bFM's 40th anniversary oral history series, the bFM Historical Society, wound up with pretty much the perfect number 40: former station manager Debbi Gibbs. As much as anyone else, Debbi forged what we now know as bFM, by getting the station to the FM band, and away from short-term broadcast licences and on to a permanent footing – and she did most of it when she was 18 or 19.

Intriguingly, she suspects the AUSA executive appointed her in the hope of moving the station away from what some members saw as middle-class white male fixation on music. She later essentially faced down the exec by drawing a big crowd to a special meeting to vote down a proposal to rein in the station and make it more subject to political direction.

The other Historical Society interviews are here.


Hype Machine has done a lot with its annual Music Blog Zeitgeist this year. The Zeitgeist lists are automatically generated from music blogs tracked by Hype Machine.

There's a radio show made from the Top 50 songs.

A list of the most-mentioned albums, fully playable, with links to buy to Amazon MP3. (Whuch is presumably cutting Hypem a sweeter affiliate deal than iTunes was prepared to, but it ain't much good in New Zealand.) The album covers are accompanied by Creative Commons-licensed photos from Flickr.

The Top 50 artists for 2009 are represented by works from 50 individual visual artists. Nice idea.

One day, before too long hopefully, this kind of rich fandom and sheer usability will deliver more revenue in more ways. For now, I can only advise that you use these services for what they do so well – but keep buying music.

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