Exactly one year after my first gig came my second. And it was exactly the same thing – the Big Day Out Festival at the Fremantle Oval. Just nowhere near as good.
1993 had been a slightly odd year in my life. Having finished high school in 1992, it was time to start uni, and my first choice had been to do a BA at the University of Western Australia. However, parental pressure won, and not long after 1993’s Big Day Out I was commencing a Certificate of Music at Perth’s Conservatorium. On the surface of it, it should have been perfect – I loved music after all, so what could be better than studying it? But by this time, I was thoroughly done with the endless tedium of piano practice, the soul-destroying daily ritual of scales and arpeggios, when all I wanted to do when I sat down at the piano was write my own songs. Therefore, I didn’t practice. I failed my practical exam halfway through the year, and dropped out of uni.
So the second half of 1993 was essentially my life as an unemployed teenager. I was far too excruciatingly shy to try to go out and find a job, so apart from doing a bit of gardening for my parents, I had acres of time on my hands. Into this vast chasm of nothing crash-landed the Manic Street Preachers. The favourite band to end all favourite bands became seared onto my soul from October 1993, and no band or artist apart from David Bowie has ever had as much impact on my life. However, that’s a story to tell in gigs to come.
As with the previous year, I attended 1994’s Big Day Out with my older brother. His life had also been eventful in 1993 as he had gotten married, so his wife and a friend of hers also trekked along with us to the Oval. It seems I was feeling a little jaded with the whole gigging life that day, as my first comments are not exactly filled with frothing excitement:
“Really there’s not as much to write about this year as there was last year but I’ll try. The first notable aspect of the thing was the fact that it was a hell of a lot more crowded that last year and indeed the newspaper today tells us there were 15,000 people compared to last years 8,000. And it was bloody hot. During the day the people with hoses spraying water over the melting masses or tossing them coveted bottles of H2O got as many cheers as most of the bands.”
Indeed, so nonplussed was I at the impending day of live music that the first thing I did was go on one of the fairground rides with my sister-in-law, which was “profoundly dizzying”. The first band I saw were Def FX, a popular Aussie technorock group who were fronted, YouTube tells me, by “famous witch Fiona Horne”. I remained unmoved by the day’s festivities so far. “Def FX were fine. At least they know the meaning of the word techno, but really, they could have been better.” Then it was time for Tumbleweed, who were, it seems, as exciting as their name suggests, and “just existed, really”. Oh dear.
However, my salvation was soon to come and of course, it arrived in the shape of a British band. Teenage Fanclub were a band I’d heard a lot on the radio, and while not evoking any great fannish feeling in me, I was fond of their tunes, and any band from the UK was like a little gateway into the life I yearned for.
“They were the archetypal crowd-friendly band, playing all the songs we know including the wondrous “Escher” which humourously took them three goes as the drummer messed up during the introduction on their first attempt, then the singer forgot the words on the second try. But it didn’t bother them, they just joked Scottishly in the intervals and shook hands. And! They played “The Concept”, “Starsign”, “What You Do To Me”, “Mr Tambourine Man” and we all sang along. In our heads.”
The Breeders were on next, and it seems my little troupe mostly ignored them as we went to replenish our water supply and soak ourselves under the hoses before positioning ourselves in front of the stage they weren’t on to wait for the Smashing Pumpkins (as with the previous year, two adjacent stages allowed one band to play while the next set up).
“The Breeders were fine. “Cannonball” as great as ever. However, after they’d finished there was such a massive crush of people surging their way through the crowd trampling everything in sight that I was beginning to lose patience with the whole thing. And the Smashing Pumpkins weren’t even that thrilling. I’ve gone through periods of liking this band, then not liking them, and on Sunday I was feeling pretty ambivalent, but I don’t recall enjoying their set very much. “
Things didn’t get much better after this, as I had a half hour long queue at Red Rooster to get some chips, and the next band was the Cruel Sea: “I absolutely hate them”. My brother and his wife had gone home to change clothes as my sister-in-law had lost a shoe in the post-Breeders crush. So I was left sitting with my sister-in law’s friend, who I barely knew, and a bunch of her friends, who I didn’t know at all, plus “the interestingly inebriated Norm who took it upon himself to join us. I think he was just looking for cigarettes. He seemed to have trouble recalling exactly where he was and what was going down around him anyway. ” It was not exactly a world of fun for this people-shirking introvert.
However, the best was yet to come! Thank god for that. When my brother and sister-in-law returned, it was time for strategic gig positioning, an art it seems I had an early knack for. “I dragged everyone down to the front of the stage that the Ramones weren’t belching from at that moment. There was already a small crowd there but we had a good view anyway.” There was pretty much only one artist I had really wanted to see at that day’s fest, and finally, here she was: Björk.
I had fallen in love with Björk’s pop whimsy and eccentric tunage over the course of 1993, and had received her debut “Debut” as a Christmas present the previous month. So this was a momentous moment: the first time I got to see an artist that I truly considered one of my favourites live. And it was glorious, and made up for the frustrating averageness of the rest of the day.
“Björk! whose band took the stage at 8pm and began playing “Human Behaviour” to massive cheers. Then Björk scrambled from one side of the stage to the other as even massiver cheers erupted. The she scrambled back and everyone would have fainted with delight if they weren’t so busy cheering. Finally she makes it to the microphone and starts singing the song. It’s beautiful and I can’t stop smiling.”
Alas, this demon-plagued day had not finished vexing me, and about a minute and a half into the song, Björk’s mic stopped worked. The music halted and though I had a little pop thrill at being close enough to be able to hear Björk’s plaintive shout of “sorry!”, watching her and the band leave the stage to get it fixed was a disappointing start to the moment I’d been looking forward to all day. However, the disappointment was short-lived, as “they soon reappeared and played “One Day” and “Venus as a Boy” and it was great again, particularly during “Aeroplane” when the speaker closest to us made its return to sound (massive cheers).”
And yet the gig-disrupting imps were not finished, for the sound was now so bass-heavy that almost everything else was drowned out.
“The only song this sounded good on was “Crying”, as it took over the funky riff and turned the song into a major bounce experience. But I’m not complaining. Well not too much, for Björk was brilliant and made the general dullness of the rest of the day fade into insignificance. She sang “Play Dead” and brand new solar systems sprang into existence. She sand “Violently Happy” and everyone was suddenly covered in fluorescent stars (true!) She was wonderful, basically.”
All too soon, it was over, and we left to contemplate the “spectacularly uninteresting” Soundgarden from a safe distance, ie, the other end of the Oval. “When we thought they’d finished we went to have a look at Severed Heads, the only time we’d ventured to the third stage that day. Unfortunately Soundgarden came back for an encore, and so we were treated to the techno version of “Jesus Christ Pose”. We watched the rest of the Severed Heads’ “quite good techno”, and went home.
So, while 1993’s Big Day Out had been my introduction into the joys of gigging, this day had been my intro into the fact that some gigs just aren’t that great. One thing that strikes me as I revisit this now is that it seems I spent the whole festival in the company of my brother and co. I wonder if this was a factor in it being less fun than the previous year, when I’d mostly been able to wander freely on my own from band to band. Future experience would confirm that I definitely am someone who prefers gigging alone.
Despite having a slightly rubbish day, I concluded my diary entry somewhat optimistically: “I’m looking forward to next year’s already…” But I didn’t go the following year, or ever again. However, something far more exciting was to come my way before the year was over.