THIS COMMONWEALTH OF OURSThe 57’s cluttered with a crowd of rowdy bogan offspring, alternating their Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! chanting with hails of casual racism. I’m behind the clock. One interview already missed, and if I don’t get off this tram soon, I’ll be two thirds of the way to a trend. I spring off the tram and down the pavement of the Epsom Road entry, stuffing two flasks down the front and back of my shorts as I go, so clumsy it looks like I’m doing some kinda wank-walk into the festival. I’ve got five minutes to meet local indie-poppers Toucan at the media tent and the VIP lane which should speed my ingress is swamped by the same kids and their allied clans I’d just escaped. “You’re just gonna have to push through, mate,” a clueless security guard tells me. “Media tent? No idea, mate. Didn’t even know we had one.” I’ll deal with it later. For now, armed with the sanction of on-site security, my own bravery, and a packet of Shapes with which to barter should things go even further south than the inevitably ubiquitous Southern Cross tattoos would indicate, I face the mob. “Really cunt?” one of them shouts as I shove past. “Yes, really!” I shout back. I’m unapologetic. Time’s running out and I begin to contemplate getting hostile. Fuck outta my way, you scum. The music critic’s here. This overwhelming sense of entitlement may seem shocking, but you find yourself with enough different-coloured wristbands and eventually you become accustomed to a certain style of living. This might be as close to flying first class as a poor man’s ever gonna get. Might as well revel.I hustle up to the “Like A Boss” lane for VIPs. “Nah, sorry mate, you’ve gotta go back and get your media pass from the entry and then come back.” This is the condensed version; what really happened was a good 10 minutes of the staff at the gate trying to figure out what to do with me. I’m sympathetic. We’re all just trying to do our jobs here and besides, they’re sympathetic too. As always, it’s the fault of bureaucratic mismanagement, not the folks on the ground. I push back through the none too friendly crowd to the entry where I find what I’d missed the first time: the office, tucked behind a looming stone wall, where I was supposed to get my pass. A friend later tells me he met this exact same predicament later on, though we might consider ourselves lucky; the media who turned up at the start of the festival had to wait a matter of hours just to get in because the truck with their passes hadn’t even turned up. Fuck it, gimme the pass. A girl I swear I recognise smiles at me. No time to chat. I’ll probably never see her again anyway.Through the crowd and a generously cursory examination of my bag later, I’m wandering the fields, going from festival staffer to festival staffer and none of them know of the existence of this mythical tent. By chance I run into infamous photographer Carbie Warbie. He points the way. Throughout this admittedly mild hassle – though which at the time feels apocalyptic – I’m texting our Local Talks Manager, Sam Randell, also here with me and already at the tent. I’m 10 minutes late. “They haven’t arrived yet, it’s okay,” she tells me, but when I get to the tent, Sam and Toucan are already in conversation. Fuck. Guess I’ll have a beer then.By the time the interviews are all over, I’ve squeezed Indepdence Day politics out of Gary Clark Jr, drug talk out of Hunting Grounds, and watched everyone fawn over Donald Glover’s weirdly stoic appearance. Seriously, that dude looked beyond nervous until someone turned a camera on him. It must be time to, like, see a band.THE BEST FRIEND I EVER HADThe Smith Street Band make a compelling argument for crowd participation as Wil Wagner’s blokey shoulder-hug I-got-first-round pub-punk rock invites all with whoa-ohs and that booming fucking voice of his. Somehow they pioneered the niche between kisschasy and football anthems. No really, I know kisschasy is an uncool comparison and all, but listen to “Do Do’s and Whoa-oh’s” and imagine a bunch of boozed-up footy fans, pints in hand, arms around each other, standing in a proper pub singing it. That’s the fucking Smith Street Band.But I see a lot more in The Smith Street Band and Wil Wagner’s lyricism than that implies. On the phone the other week I told him it made me think of The Hold Steady, which is absolutely true. Stories of suburban maladroits set in heavily referenced, very specific places. Inviting as it is depressing, i.e. empathetic. That’s the fucking Smith Street Band too. Plus they’re part of this surge of Aussie bands being really unapologetically Aussie, singing about Australian places, tacitly examining what it is to be “Australian”. I mean, I went through a phase where all I listened to for a couple months was Skyhooks and Paul Kelly because I wanted to hear about how other people got fucked up 20 years ago in the places I’m getting fucked up in now, if that gives you any indication of why The Smith Street Band are essential. A friend of mine, a vocal coach, was telling me the reason why singers are taught to sing like Americans. There’s all this theory for why it’s technically “correct” and all that. Well, fuck that. If your MO for listening to music is the desperate search for someone else to relate to, you probably understand this as well as I do: I wanna listen to someone who sounds like me as much as they might plausibly feel like me. It’s lonely out there. Talk like an Australian.On stage, Wagner evokes some of the style I saw Craig Finn display when I saw him a few years ago, although Wagner’s a hell of a lot more kinetic. Finn’s getting on in years so I can forgive him, but Wagner will finish a verse and peel away from the microphone, spinning around, slashing his guitar and somehow making it back in time to shout the next line. He also has a tendency to thrust his arms back and to the sides and tilt his head up like Christ on the cross shouting at the Heavens. Like a true Top Bloke he pauses the set for a minute to give us a new drinking game. “Anybody got a shoe?” Chucks fly at the stage like bras at an N.E.R.D. show. Wagner picks up an especially filthy grey one and introduces us to The Shoey. Step one, crack a tinnie. Step two, pour it in the shoe. Step three, drink. The foam spills out of his cheeks as the sweat, dirt and grime from several hours of dancing in the blistering summer sun mix with the cheap beer and slide down that enormous gullet. What. A. Fucking. Legend. Drinking a beer and smoking gaping holes in my lungs between the rolling anthems, I never felt so true.GONE TO SEEDThe first time I heard of Chicks On Speed was on the debut cover of Plan B Magazine, an incredible music rag which ran for 46 issues in the mid-aughts and then closed in the same way most of them do. The profile within was totally unreal. It showed a band who were very deliberate about their art and the way it could provoke thoughtful commentary about society but also embraced populism. It was never really pop art but it kinda looked like it. They had a killer electroclash hit called “We Don’t Play Guitars”, skewering the whole male-centric rock-phallus ‘real instruments’ paradigm. Peaches was in the video. Plus, one of ’em was Australian. The profile also revealed this undertone of frustration and betrayal Chicks On Speed felt when their album wasn’t a mainstream success. The way they came off, it seemed like they were really kind of dumb and greedy, and looked foolish for selling out to make a pop album ostensibly for the purpose of infiltrating the market and then having it flop. It’s hard enough being obscure in the first place, but it’s downright heartbreaking when you change yourself for someone and then they reject you anyway.Given that context it was especially funny, in a mean way, that the sign at the Lilypad stage said “Faded hacks trying to remain relevant!” Obviously it’s a winking joke, but it’s also pretty much true. Despite that, here was the respite I needed from the wider arena. Really though, it felt completely separate. The dancers they brought with them looked like they were auditioning to be extras in a Jane Fonda video, all colourful tights and shit like that. Or if you’ve ever seen the brilliant British sitcom The Mighty Boosh, any scene in which they’re having a party, or which features Robots In Disguise. I mean I guess I could’ve said “an Eric Prydz video” but this is not the pornographic dance routine of two normatively beautiful people, although there are breasts hanging out. I can’t tell if they’re male or female but what the fuck is up with gender binaries anyway? This is the queerest set of the festival. It’s funny how transgressive something as simple as a DJ set can feel when it’s cast against a crowd of meatheads. Naturally the crowd at Chicks On Speed was very cool. The couple of giggling morons who showed up quickly lost interest when none of them could work up the gall to properly antagonise anyone. I don’t really like the dichotomy I’m drawing here between the crowd, the spiteful, obvious meatheads vs hipsters thing, because even though I never want to deal with one of those fuckheads again – Big Day Out is the annual exception I make – we’re all just trying to find unself-conscious bliss in our own ways. For me, it’s this trashy (literally; the Chicks are wearing garbage bags over their lycra, underneath their jewellery) avant-pop hippie dance freakshow. For them, it’s Generik playing bangers amid iconic anthems like Midnight Oil’s “Beds Are Burning” (if I were the stereotypin’ kind I’d venture the dudes in buzzcuts and beaters pumping their fists to this didn’t really get the irony re: all the Invasion Day stuff). We don’t have to party together but if we could just resent each other a little less, this already violently divided country might become a little more harmonious. In the words of Melissa Logan during one of the Chicks’ transitions: “Jump off the ivory tower… AND FLY!”INFINITY GUITARSSleigh Bells’ appearance is pre-empted by the arrival of two towering stacks of Marshall amplifiers, rolled out onto stage as the backdrop for the set. The open secret in rock history is that these amp stacks are fake, a little stage illusion bands have been deploying since the dawn of the spectacle. It’s also a neat metaphor for Sleigh Bells themselves: a fairly vacuous, largely image-based band who idolise loudness and revere rock’n’roll tradition. They made a career out of taking rock tropes to a logical conclusion. I’m sickened as much as I’m impressed. For a while it seemed contrived, a guileless pastiche of what the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were already doing, and it’s not so much that it was anymore contrived than any other band’s image or performance, it’s just they weren’t remotely convincing. Naturally, all doubts are blown to shreds tonight, atomized by the nuclear bomb blast of Derek Edward Miller’s opening chords. A string of high-impact hits open the set, hammering the point that despite only having two albums, they’re tightly littered with epic, unforgettable tracks. Treats much more than Reign of Terror, of course. Man that second album was nothing if not largely forgettable, and this is where they start to lose me. The momentum dips slightly as they go into “Born To Lose”, and they kick it up again with “Comeback Kid”, but then a run of ponderous deep cuts eviscerates the vibe. On record these slower songs give the albums some sense of dynamic rather than just pounding the listener over the ears repeatedly for 45 minutes, but when it’s the live show, that’s exactly what we want. You’d think a band as attuned to the rock’n’roll ideal as Sleigh Bells would know better – I mean this is a band whose second album opened with and continued to sound as close to a stadium rock show as a studio album can get – but then the only sin of which you can honestly accuse them is that of being human beings who want to play the songs they like. Still, we’re here to be entertained, so we give up the chance to see “Infinity Guitars” to see Animal Collective instead.PSYCHEDELIC VIBESAnCo never did shit for me compared to what they apparently did to the rest of the hip twentysomething crowd. Nothing in the proximity of psych-rock ever has. Until now, we’ve been fine with just completely passing each other by. Live though? Holy shit. We run over to the Green Stage and immediately I’m struck by how fucking weird the stage is. Psychedelic projections bathe the band in a shifting, incomprehensible mess of colours and shapes. There’s this video on YouTube of Jefferson Airplane on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and they’re playing “White Rabbit” in front of a green screen so it looks like they’re floating in this pearlescent, intangible expanse, like you’re watching them play in space or something. This is what I think of when I see Animal Collective up on that stage. The whole thing is framed by a gigantic set of teeth in all kinds of colours, evoking the Centipede Hz album art, the band dancing on its acid-trip tongue.Later I’m on gchat telling my friend Michelle about the show and she hits me with “did anco do the tease routine?” The what? “where they noodle around and play snippets of new songs and improvise and then out of nowhere play ‘a hit’.” Yeah! It sets up the most ecstatic moment of the set. They’re up there, jamming to their weird shit. Despite my indifference to the band previously, I’m vibin’. Just enjoying being in the moment. Everyone around me is dancing. I’m dancing too. Then that familiar synth line starts in, that needling melody, and then “There isn’t muuuch / That I feel I neeed…” I start jumping up and down, I can’t help myself, I’m already radiant. Something about this song triggers a subconscious part of my brain and the cumulative goodwill built up for the song floods my nerves. I mean, this song is undeniably important, like capital-I Important. It’s epochal. 2009 was a horrendous year for myself and almost everybody I know but there was also this liberating vibe in the fact that we were weathering it, getting fucked up all the time and embracing a lot of new things, a lot of new people. What constituted the definition of ‘indie’ was evolving and the loosely defined hipster subculture, which I still regard with maximum fondness, was exploding globally. That Hipster Runoff piece defined a moment and became a temporal landmark for a certain segment of the post-Gawker Millennial indie music blog game. I don’t want to be too general because if you weren’t part of this very small scene, “My Girls” was probably just a nice song you dug in the summer of 2009 and maybe Merriweather Post Pavilion even became an album of immense personal significance but for a completely different reason. For me, though, it almost feels like this song marked the start of my adult life. JUST GO HOMEThe rest of the night is a hideous blur. A good buzz turns into a disorienting stupor. This after party is entirely free. The last thing I recall is holding a rum dry in one hand, a gin and tonic in the other, smoking in the kitchen of The Toff with three or four strangers and thinking, “Maybe I should see about that Night Rider.” By the time I get to my bed it’s around 7. I pick up a cigarette and my iPod and walk out onto the deck. Through the trees the sun rises, looking just like the cover of Sunshine & Jake Cleland

January 30th 2013
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