Thursday, 12 September 2013

Return To Big Sound


There are many reasons I love attending gigs and festivals, but positioned firmly at the top of that list is the whole "discovery" aspect of it all. Very few things get me wetter than randomly stumbling across a band I had no idea existed, only to be transformed into a salivating, borderline-psychotic fan over the course of their set.
I often repeat to friends, ad nauseam, the story of how I once came across a tent located on the outer edges of some now long-forgotten music festival. Stopping in for what I only planned to be a brief gander, I was met with the sight of three noisy unknowns putting on a show so intense it almost made everyone else playing that day seem unquestionably lame in comparison. I was won over immediately, and in the weeks and months to follow I made every effort to keep track of these inspiring young fellows, utterly convinced that they somehow were going to be the next big thing.

The band I saw that fateful day was a pre-lightshow, pre-theatrical, pre-crap version of Muse. And while I could give two shits about the Muse of today, the feeling I had upon first seeing them all those many moons ago is the very feeling I continue to chase at any festival I am lucky enough to attend. And this, in essence, goes a long way in explaining the over-the-top feelings of pure, undiluted love I have for Big Sound, the annual festival/showcase that plays out very much like a little brother version of Austin’s  SXSW Festival - that awesome sense of discovery.
Last year, I attended Big Sound for the very first time... hey, better late than never, right? There were countless glowing reports from many of my like-minded, live-music-loving friends and acquaintances over the years, but somehow the stories were still not enough to push me into actually showing up. Well, at least until 2012. After many failed attempts and empty promises, I finally got around to making my way into the belly of the dirty two-day musical beast, located right in the heart of the always welcoming, family-friendly Fortitude Valley.
What transpired was a fun, lively and inspiring experience.... though it could hardly be called perfect.  It is never advisable to attend two nights at Big Sound - or any festival, for that matter - without first getting time off work, which is already painful enough without the addition of a relentless hangover.

So, with that in mind, I decided early on that this year I would not be rushing home midway through the last set of the night, or worse, passing up the after parties in a misguided attempt to make the last train home. This time, I would be attending Big Sound as it was meant to be attended  - with a complete disregard for time, day or personal health and safety. If I want to be drunk and deranged at Alhambra Lounge at three o'clock on a Thursday morning, then so fucking be it!

When the first day of this years event finally rolled around, I stumbled out of the office with an unfamiliar sense of optimism. For the first time since, well, the last Big Sound, I was actually looking forward to the rest of the week, for once not feeling paralysed by the horrific thought of having to survive two more days in my air-conditioned nightmare. My working week was over.

Over a few post-work,  pre-Big Sound drinks, I began to look over this year's program, making attempts to recall the bands I had seen the previous year. I reached for my iPhone, vaguely remembering taking notes during the previous year's shenanigans for inclusion in a blog post that never came to be.

Oddly, the drunken notes I soon found listing the venues visited on each of the two days, but absolutely nothing about the actual bands I saw. If I could give you any kind of explanation as to why I did this, then believe me, I would...

I promised myself that this year would be different: I would take actual, detailed notes relating to the bands I saw, regardless of how many beers I ended up consuming. In a move very out of character for me, I actually ended up sticking to my promise. Listed below are the resulting entries from night one of Big Sound. Some of it actually makes sense. And the rest? Eh...
Night One

Fabian, Kelly and myself,  probably the most pathetically indecisive group in existence, take a little over half an hour to decide where we are going to start. After an extended period of procrastination, we collectively decide  to move over and catch Billy Bragg at Baker Lane.

Upon arriving, we are met with the line up from hell and a fifteen minute wait to get in. Eventually, we are let into the venue, where we quickly endeavour to move ourselves into a position where we are lucky enough to get a great view... of Billy's arm, and occasionally the top of his head.

It matters not, though, because the songs are loud and clear, and they're amazing. One of the great things about events like Big Sound is that the crowd is actually here to watch the music. The Billy Bragg crowd hang off every line, every note. But really, how could you not? Every person in attendance is completely transfixed... even those of us who can only see his goddamn arm.

09:20 pm
Post-Bragg, we head down the road a little to Electric Playground in order to catch the rest of the Dune Rats set.
Because I have seen Dune Rats multiple times before, it doesn't really bother me that the place packed to the gills, and that any chance of seeing anything at all is an impossible dream.

Defeated, I grab a beer and settle for simply listening to what sounds like another great set. Sometimes being a little vertically challenged can be a real fucking bummer.

Yes, queue the violins...

10:00 pm
Somewhat reluctantly, we head over to Rics to catch Bad//Dreems. I say "reluctantly" not because of the venue or the band, but rather due to how insanely crowded the front bar/stage area can get during Big Sound sets.
Luckily, we time our arrival perfectly. For one, the front bar is empty, which allows us to grab some awesomely positioned seats to the left of the stage. Of course, when the band get going, the last thing I want to do is sit... 
The area in front of the stage predictably grows more and more crowded, so much so that being inappropriately rubbed up against by one hundred sweaty strangers simply becomes unavoidable. While I wouldn't go as far a comparing it to catching public transport at peak hour, it's still pretty fucking crammed.

I emerge from the crowd around half an hour later, drenched in sweat and booze and God knows what else. I would have been disappointed if my first time seeing Bad//Dreems ended any other way.

10:50 pm
We decide to head back to Electric Playground to catch Bleeding Knees Club. This plays out very much the same way as the Dune Rats experience from earlier in the evening (in other words, I see nothing). Frustrated, I head off for  a long overdue toilet break.

While standing at the urinals, I somehow find myself in a random conversation with a complete stranger about, among other things, our shared artistic aspirations, being at the age we are without having achieved our goals (I don't mention the fact that I'm likely ten years older and thus, twice as fucking bummed out about my lack of advancement in the area) and last but not least, death. Yes - all very uplifting stuff.

Ten minutes and another Canadian Club later, I grow impatient with the crowds and choose to make a break for it, taking off in the direction of Alhambra Lounge for the I Oh You after party.

11:50 pm

In my Canadian Club-induced haze, I mistakenly turn up waaay too early for the after party.

This turns out to be for the best, though, because Gay Paris are on, and they're the very definition of fun. They put on such an great show, in fact, that I forget for a brief moment that I'm here for the after party at all.

The time for the after party finally arrives, with Philadelphia Grand Jury  kicking it all off with a set that I am only able to see snippets of in the brief moments I am not either a) lined up for the bar or b) struggling through the intimidatingly attractive crowd in a desperate dash for the bathroom.

Midway through the PGD set, my body starts to ache, telling me in a not-so-subtle way that it might be time to call it a night. My response - more Canadian Club! (Thursday will not be pretty).

I manage to soldier on until around 2:30 am, when I finally decide to chuck it in for the evening/morning. There is, after all, a whole other night to go, and I highly it's possible to consume any more booze than I already have.

With that, I head on home for some much needed shut-eye, already preparing myself for round two in around about twelve hours from now...*

* So, the original plan was to have a "to be continued..." at this point, with a follow-up post focusing on the Thursday night to come soon after. However, my memories of night #2 are vague at best, and any report on the events of that evening would only be pieced together, with minimal accuracy, from photos, (more) unintelligible notes on my phone, and equally foggy recollections from friends I was in attendance with. Given that, I have decided to skip that entry all together and simply say with the utmost confidence that it was a great end to a great festival. Or so the photos on my phone tell me...

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