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2011's Big Day Out

01 Feb 2011 // A review by sidvicious

The line-up for Big Day Out 2011 was completely polarising for most fans of New Zealand’s most beloved festival. While it was obvious the festival was trying to reconnect with its original roots by bringing back acts like Tool, Iggy and the Stooges and Rammstein, a lot of the newer generation fans I spoke to were disgusted by the heavy-rock centric line-up. This year, there is not one single pop act in the line-up, the international hip hop acts are limited to Lupe Fiasco, Plan B, Ratatat and anti-heroes Die Antwoord and even the indie-rock acts are few and far between. I know a huge number of people who simply decided to pass on the festival this year due to lack of enthusiasm with the line-up, missing out on it for the first time in six or seven years. So in one sense, I applaud the promoters for trying to cater to some of their first generation festival goers, but in another sense, there seems very little point in trying to cater to that group when most of them are all grown up, working in insurance with 2.5 kids and a Mitsubishi Delica. 

Personally however, this is one of the most exciting line-ups I’ve seen at a Big Day Out in recent years. Of course, having musical legends like Iggy Pop, Nick Cave and Maynard Keenan in one venue is impressive even to people like me who aren’t necessarily fans of theirs. But there were a long list of relatively smaller acts I was desperately looking forward to this year.

First on my timetable were Brazilian electroclash collective CSS aka Cansei de Ser Sexy (translation: got tired of being sexy). Anticipation about the state of the infamous Boiler Room was high after the Super Top had been sold off last year. However, they managed to almost exactly replicate a safer, cleaner and breathable version of the tent this year, so that was the first piece of good news. I actually saw CSS last time they played in Auckland, at the Kings Arms Tavern in 2008, so I was very curious to see how they would measure up in such a different environment. Of course, it’s almost impossible to retain the intimacy their Kings Arms gig had, but even playing to an audience at least four times the size, they were very impressive. CSS have amazing stage presence. They just exude energy and clearly love being on stage as much as the fans love seeing them up there. Lovefoxx in particular has a power within her which is so contagious. Forty-five minutes is not a long set, but CSS managed to do a lot with their time. The first few beats of their hit Music is My Hot Hot Sex had the crowd in hysterics. I was personally excited that they stuck to playing a lot of music from their first album. Older hits like Let’s Make Love and Listen to Death from Above and Alala were performed with such enthusiasm that even audience members who weren’t familiar with the tunes were rocking out to them with gusto.

Surprisingly, one of the most anticipated acts of the day was South African viral superfreaks Die Antwoord. They come from humble beginnings. Growing up in Cape Town’s underground hip hop scene, front-man Watkin Jones, more commonly known as simply Ninja, pulled together two of his childhood friends, Yo-Landi Vi$$er and DJ Hi-Tek, to create a group celebrated more for their off-the-wall antics than any musical talent. That’s not to say that they don’t have musical talent of course. Opening their Big Day Out debut with their cult hit Enter the Ninja, it was clear that not only are Die Antwoord insane performers, but also competent artists. Yo-Landi’s eerie wailing of “ai-e-ai-e-ai” as the spectacle kicked off set the atmosphere for the entire performance. Ninja is a hostile and vulgar character who performs with such aggression and passion that it’s hard to accept that it is just an elaborate act. Spitting, swearing and screaming made up most of the Die Antwoord experience, and I say that with love. While it can be risky opening a set with your most well-known song, Die Antwoord definitely made it work. The on-stage chemistry between Yo-Landi, a freak in her own right, and Ninja is a huge part of what makes the trio so powerful, and the contrast between her bone-rattling voice and his vicious verses had the ability to give me goosebumps.

It almost felt as if I stayed in the Boiler Room the entirety of the day, with Canada’s Crystal Castles up next. While I’m a big Crystal Castles fan, I’ll be the first to admit that they’re definitely not for everyone. Their music has been described as a “shriekfest” that can be “fear enducing and panic attack-y” but I think that is one of their biggest appeals. I love the nervous beats, the panicked shrieking, the desperation and terror that is so barely contained amongst all of the digital brilliance. My only fear was that the beauty of what Crystal Castles can do could never fully be captured in a live performance. I need not have worried. Alice Glass’ heart breaking voice was impressive from the opening howl. The performance was just as chaotic and reeling as promised, even more impressive when I later found out that Glass was sporting a broken ankle. The force of the music blew me away. Alice Practice was always going to be one of the highlights of their performance and Glass did not fail to deliver. The crowd was absolutely insane, as if hypnotized by these digital demons. Crimewave, one of their more well-known and perhaps mellow singles (although the term mellow is a bit of a reach) was surprisingly one of my highlights of the set. Despite my suspicions that they had a few audio problems, Crystal Castles were completely and utterly overwhelming.

I went across to the Green Stage just as the rain started coming down for Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. After the intense line-up of performances so far, I was more than happy to go and experience a more chilled act. While the rain never had a chance of actually ruining the day, I wasn’t exactly happy about it. But the rain only seemed to enhance the experience of seeing this eclectic troupe. The heavens opening up wide as front-man Alex Ebert, a messianic-looking guy, took to the cramped stage. There are no less than ten members of the Magnetic Zeros so the visual appeal of such a huge group of singing, dancing, bearded and dreadlock folk alone was pleasurable enough. The assembly at the Green Stage was a completely different group from the Boiler Room crowd but they were just as excited. Ebert had a surprising amount of energy for someone who looks like he lives solely on LSD and chick peas. The highlight of the set of course had to be the performance of their single Home. Some of the most unexpected audience members pelted out every single word which proved to me just how far free love and peace can be and should be spread.

In a world where indielectronic is slowly but surely emerging as one of the prominent genres of the 2010’s, The Naked and Famous are debatably the only New Zealand group making that music that can legitimately compete internationally. Their timeslot of 7.10pm definitely reflected that. I’d seen The Naked and Famous a few times when they were just beginning, and their development as a cohesive live act really impressed me. I once read that their album Passive Me, Aggressive You was inspired by the British cult show Skins, and I’m reminded of that every time I hear them. Their music is fun and exciting with a hint of surrealism, and their live performance reflected that vibe to a tee. They must have been proud to see so many of their fellow countrymen finally singing along to some of their hits like Serenade and Young Blood after all the hard work they’ve put into their music over the years.

After catching a few minutes here and there of local acts Mt Eden Dubstep, Home Brew and The Phoenix Foundation, BDO old-timers Rammstein and electronic sensation LCD Soundsystem, I returned back to the Boiler Room for the final act on my list: M.I.A. Sadly, she was the only act of the day who didn’t live up to expectations for me. It felt like she didn’t at all attempt to connect with the fans, despite her desperate attempt to do just that to invite half the crowd onto the stage. Paper Planes was the only song I felt actually got people excited. For someone who is so well-known for her outrageous character, I was bitterly disappointed at how bored she seemed. There seemed to be no enthusiasm there; she gave off the impression of someone just going through the motions. The Boiler Room was as packed as it always is during the final act, but the vibe just wasn’t there for me. M.I.A was simply lackluster and at the end of such an amazing day, it was somewhat upsetting.

All in all though, another year brought another amazing Big Day Out. The rain was a bit of a nuisance, but after so many continuous years of hot, sunny days, I guess we were due for one. Almost all of the acts I managed to see blew me away and the thrill of the day was as ever-present as it always is. I think New Zealanders appreciate Big Day Out more than most other cities ever could because it is the only annual festival of its caliber we get here, so spirits are always supercharged. And that excited energy coupled with the amazing music all over the stadium is what ensures I will go back year and year again.

Words by Kate McCarten


Other Reviews By sidvicious

Shapeshifter - Live at the Forum, Melbourne - 29/10/2011
01 Nov 2011 // by sidvicious
Shapeshifter represents New Zealand to me – festivals, trips to the Coromandel with friends, New Years, Big Day Out, beaches and beer. Hearing Bring Change can, in an instant, remind me of everything I love and miss about New Zealand; they’ve been the soundtrack to years and years worth of summers.
Concord Dawn - The Race to Zero EP Review
28 Jul 2011 // by sidvicious
The Race to Zero EP is only the second release since Concord Dawn’s two became one in 2008. But within the first few seconds of the opening track 1925, it’s pretty apparent that The Enemy Within was no fluke.
F In Math - Couch EP Review
30 Jun 2011 // by sidvicious
Funk isn’t a term one would typically associated with music born of drum machines and synthesizers. But that’s the first word that came to mind after the opening minute of the opening track of F in Math’s first recorded album, Couch EP.
Mali Mali - Brotherly EP Review
31 May 2011 // by sidvicious
Mali Mali is a relatively new Auckland-based three-piece headed by self-described singer/songwriter Ben Tolich. After parting with his band early last year, Tolich decided to focus on music with a rawer, more authentic sound.
Michelle Nadia - 'Firefly' Album Review
17 May 2011 // by sidvicious
Michelle Nadia is a singer/songwriter who has been writing and performing music both in New Zealand and overseas for many years. Accompanying her extensive nationwide tour is her long-awaited debut album Firefly.
Computers Want Me Dead EP Review
08 Apr 2011 // by sidvicious
Electro-synth pop is one of my favourite genres of music and it’s refreshing to see kiwi kids experimenting with it. Computers Want Me Dead, like Kids of 88 and The Naked and Famous, are part of that group of young New Zealanders who are proving that we can make synthpop just as catchy and fun as our British and Germanic counterparts.
Shapeshifter - System Remix Album Review
08 Apr 2011 // by sidvicious
There’s no debating that Shapeshifter are one of New Zealand’s most successful musical exports, and it’s not hard to see why. Shapeshifter are quite simply phenomenal and because they’ve proven it to me so many times before, I’m always expecting amazing things with the release of any new singles, albums or live tours.
State Of Mind - Nil By Ear Album Review
07 Apr 2011 // by sidvicious
I’m not nearly any sort of ‘bass-head’ by any stretch of the imagination, but State of Mind have proven to me once again why I rate them as one of my favourite New Zealand groups. Their new album Nil By Ear is up there with one of the best drum and bass albums to come out of New Zealand, and when you’re among such talent as Shapeshifter and Six60, that’s a pretty impressive accomplishment.
View All Articles By sidvicious

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