By January 1993 I was 17, nearly 18. Since becoming a music obsessive via David Bowie and the Pet Shop Boys at age 13, I had wandered through the early 90s in search of My Scene. I stumbled through a varied landscape including Faith No More, Seal and Jesus Jones before deciding that where I really belonged was the dreamy and swirly world of shoegazing.
Ride were my favourite band in the world, and it was still a very sore point that my gig no.1 had not been seeing them play at the Berlin Club in Perth the previous July. Unfortunately, Perth was not a friendly city for the teenaged music fan back then, especially those obsessed with British bands, as I was almost exclusively by that time. If in the rare event your favourite band actually included Australia on a world tour, and then in the even rarer event bothered to trek to Perth instead of just focussing on the more lucrative Eastern states, you would be scuppered at the final hurdle by the fact that none of the venues suitable for indie bands allowed in people under 18. Thus I spent Monday evening, the 13th of July 1992 as a very bitter and hard done by 17 year old, knowing that my favourite band in the world were just a few miles away, playing a no doubt amazing gig. I knew, instinctively, that the experience of being a music fan was not complete unless you could experience your favourite bands live. I was already formulating plans to escape to London at the nearest opportunity, which turned out to be December 1996, when my instinct was proved gloriously correct. But that’s a tale for another post.
Luckily for me, the Big Day Out festival came to Perth in January 1993, and no such age restrictions were in place. Having begun as a one day event in Sydney the previous year, conceived as Australia’s version of Lollapalooza, in 1993 it became a yearly touring festival across Australia which lasted until 2014. Though bereft of any of my absolute favourites, the line-up contained enough fave-adjacent acts to tempt me to go: Iggy Pop – one step removed from David Bowie; Sonic Youth – surely an ancestor of Ride; then-current faves of the UK music press Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine; and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, who I had almost become a proper fan of a few years earlier (I loved “The Ship Song”, and bought it on cassingle, but was too slightly terrified of “The Mercy Seat” whenever it popped up on Rage for me to fully grasp the band to my heart – at least not quite yet).
I attended this Big Day Out with my older brother who usefully was able to drive us there and back (I had not learnt to drive, having no interest in it and arguing that I wouldn’t need to once I’d moved to London – which turned out of course to be true). The first thing I noted in my diary entry for this day was feeling immediately deafened upon entering Fremantle Oval, my young ears not used to such an onslaught of decibels. The festival was set up with two adjacent main stages, so that one band could set up while another was playing, maximising the number of bands who could play over the course of the day and minimising waiting time in between.
The first band I saw were the Aussie indie faves You Am I. I was impressed by the extreme bass-heaviness of their sound, as I noted in my diary: “for not the only time that day, the bass thumped and hammered alternately in the stomach, chest and throat.” Following this I watched a bit of Australian thrash band Allegiance, who entered the stage to a soundtrack of bombs and explosions, but I soon made a hasty retreat to the third stage to see Vivid. Here, the difficulty of trying to google bands from the pre-Internet age has become apparent, because I can’t find anything out about this band, nor do I remember much. Nowadays they’d be called V1VyD or some such thing and it’d be much easier. However, I think they were an indie band of vaguely shoegazey tendancies, so they were much more up my street than the shouty Allegiance.
A few more Australian bands drifted by – VSpyVSpy (“fairly ordinary”), the Clouds (“great, although unspectacular”) and the Beasts of Bourbon (who boasted a “dark and noisy stomach-throttling set”). During this last band I made my way down to the unoccupied stage to find a good position for the next band, Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine. The first truly exciting moment of the day for this NME-obsessed girl was about to start – an actual British band! I wanted to get as close as possible – a habit that has persisted to the present day – and so I found myself just behind the “posse of mad Carter fans” down the front, who were anticipating the band with shouts of ‘You fat bastard!’.
“And in the first magnificent opening of the day, on walk Carter to the strains of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ through truckloads of enigma-enhancing smoke. And they were very wonderful, thrashing and bouncing their way around the stage, playing several surprisingly great songs, including the penultimate and godlike ‘Bloodsports for all’ and the demented singalong that is ‘After the watershed’.”
After Carter I eschewed the delights of Mudhoney and went to find my brother and eat some Red Rooster chips whilst perched on the edge of the dodgem car area. I was about six weeks into my subsequently life-long vegetarianism then, so I had been particularly pleased during Carter’s set when Jimbob had cast a critical glance over at the fast food stalls and declared “I hope they’re not killing chickens back there in Red Rooster!” And then it was time for me to rejoin the throng and witness Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds for the first time in my life, but by no means the last.
“And on walked Nick Cave, not godlike, merely a god. And so he screamed and thrashed about and basically nearly killed himself with all the wild abandon, and if at times it may have seemed like staged wild abandon, it was a brilliant show, especially when he grabbed one of the drummer’s sticks and commenced a rather violent and unprovoked attack upon the cymbals during ‘The Weeping Song’.”
During Nick’s set, I had my first glimpse into the truly life-altering emotional impact that live music can have, even if I didn’t quite have the words to describe it just yet.
“…the sound of several thousand people singing the powerful chorus of ‘The Ship Song’, and to be right in the middle of that, was to die for. Or live for, even.”
It also seems as though I had got over the terror that ‘The Mercy Seat’ had evoked in me at age 14, because I recorded here: “They also played ‘The Mercy Seat’, one of the best songs ever written in the history of humankind”. Why, then, it took me another five years to properly become a fan of Nick, I don’t know, but he will turn up quite a few more times over the course of this blog.
The next band were the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. I noted with disdain the American showbiz style announcement to “‘please welcome Pologram (or whatever) recording artists Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy’ by some guy standing on his toes to reach the microphone”, but was impressed by “little Rono” leaping on the stage and throwing beach balls into the crowd to start their set. Although not the kind of band I usually listened to back then – mainly due to being American – it seems I really enjoyed the Heroes that day, and discovered another of the joys of live music – the feeling of connection with the crowd of people around you.
“During their set the ‘Heroes managed to spread a good vibe throughout the crowd, and the screamingly positive response to their ranting against Perth’s government, the harsh penalties for juvenile offenders and homophobia in the army made me feel for once I was amongst people who agreed with me.”
However, the next act was the one I was the most excited about that day. He may have been American, but as a close colleague of David Bowie, Iggy Pop was the closest I’d ever witnessed to my ultimate idol, and I was extremely eager to see “the second god of the day”. Once again, future gig habits were born here. I got as close as I could but he still “was a bit far away really” and I bemoaned the squeeze and crush of the crowd (my future habits would see me regularly finding a spot down the front but to the far right or left at gigs – a compromise of optimal proximity and minimal crush).
“He is fascinating to watch when you can catch a glimpse of him. And of course the songs were excellent, the highlight for me was ‘I wanna be your dog’ with its riff pounding its way into your skull and messing with your mind, a glorious moment.”
Here, I think I’ll just let my 17 year old self see out the evening as she discovers the true meaning of indie gigs.
“And after Iggy Pop there was only one place to go, and that was nowhere, or close enough anyway as any attempt to get closer to the left stage to see Sonic Youth didn’t really get you very far and more often than not I found myself getting scarily intimate with several complete strangers. Still, despite my aching back and desperation for a drink of water, the cramped conditions, lack of view, and generally drowning in sweat (not all of which was one’s own), Sonic Youth are legends and godlike and probably invented a lot of my favourite bands. And accordingly, they were brilliant, even if they didn’t play ‘Youth Against Fascism’. They did however play ‘100%’ and ‘Kool thing’ and many others I didn’t know but they were LOUD and Noisy and reinvented the word ‘Feedback’ and more than any other band there they made me wish I was in a band, so I could go deaf every night of the year in a variety of countries around the world as well. Their finale was excellent as well, after arguing with the bouncers they promised they’d play just one more short song. Which ended fifteen minutes later with Kim Gordon jumping up and down on her guitar and Thurston Moore jumping up and down on the bouncers (well, almost) and screaming and it was all wonderful, glorious NOISE.”
After this, it was to walk in that post gig dream-like state to the pre-designated meeting point to wait for my brother. “Walking back down that field was like walking through a dream. I could see people all around me talking to each other a few feet away from me, but their voices were a thousand miles away. I could tell my legs were walking and I was moving with them, but I wasn’t sure if I was actually moving them or they were going for a stroll of their own accord.” My brother, having been right down the front for Sonic Youth, somehow still managed to drive us home in one piece.
Revisiting this now, I am struck by how familiar it all seems. That even in my very first (proper) gig experience, I lived it and loved it just as I would for years to come, even if none of the bands there were ones I lived and died for (yet). It would still be a few years before I’d get to experience live music as I really wanted to, but luckily, in the mean time, there was the Big Day Out, and I’d be there again the next year.