Future Music Festival
3 Mar 2009: Royal Randwick Racecourse Sydney, Australia
The smell of horseshit violently assailed my nostrils as we walked through the long, ominous tunnel. If I’d only known then that this was to be a portent of how the day would unfold, I would have turned around and gone straight back home. I wish there was some way I could put it nicely, but there are no ifs or buts about it. This festival truly sucked.
The Australian police had threatened to crack down on music festivals this summer, and true to their word we were greeted by a horde of officers, a couple of sniffer dogs, and some hapless festival-goers looking sorry for themselves as they were arrested, most likely for possession of small amounts of drugs. Which is a crying shame, because the only thing that could have improved the day for me would have been a large handful of drugs. Police can be so very inconsiderate.
We emerged on to a racecourse covered in a fine mist. “Alright,” I thought, “the smoke machine’s are already cranked to eleven, and its only three in the afternoon!” But the deeper I inhaled the more I began to choke, quickly realizing that the ‘mist’ was actually a thick layer of dust. Throughout the day this dust collected on our clothes, in our lungs, and up our noses, resulting in a grimy, skanky feeling that didn’t leave until a long and scalding hot shower after escaping the festival grounds.
Already dubious about the whole affair, we trudged over to catch Grandmaster Flash still doing his thing some thirty years after it all began. Expecting a set of classic hip-hop, I was surprised when we were served break after break wrenched out of modern tracks. The White Stripes and David Bowie competed with a mostly pointless MC for the crowd’s affection, and there was plenty of your standard “I say ‘hey’, you say ‘ho’” shenanigans to keep the hip-hop party people happy.
Then it was back to the dust bowl to catch N.E.R.D., and it was here that things truly began to unravel as getting within viewing range of the stage was completely impossible. Instead, we were forced to stand behind a giant screen that, instead of assisting by relaying the events on stage to the masses who couldn’t see, played inane logos and flashed the band’s name every few seconds. I’m sure this was great for anyone who had had one too many and was wondering why they were standing in the middle of a dusty field, but completely useless for anyone who had come to actually see some music.
Making things worse was the sound system, which made it sound like there were several bands on stage at any one time, all trying and failing to play the same song in time. Every now and then, as if to rub it in that the vast majority of people couldn’t see a thing, the infuriating screen would suddenly cut to the band, but only for milliseconds before resuming its stated task of advertising to the masses exactly where they were. Which, as I am sure you can appreciate, got tired extremely quickly. So we decided not to bother, and went for a sausage sandwich which we munched in time to the beat of Sander Kleinenberg warming up the “The Likes of You” tent. Don’t ask: I have no idea what it means either. It’s futuristic.
What exactly is futuristic, though, about a music festival featuring several acts that were stalwarts of the ‘90s? As if to compound this point, out trotted Macy Gray to perform some career CPR. Which may or may not have succeeded, depending on whether or not you could make out a single discernible note. I couldn’t.
Not that I’m knocking ‘90s retro. It was exactly 10 years ago that I saw Paul Oakenfold blitz the floor of the then hottest club in Sydney, and I was looking forward to a bit of late-‘90s nostalgia when he hit the stage. I got exactly what I had hoped for, because it was as if the last decade never happened to Paul Oakenfold. He was spinning what sounded alarmingly like the exact same records I had heard him play in ’99. Not that they were terribly audible through the shoddy sound system, and as we were once again unable to see anything we headed back over to the Grand Stand to catch CSS.
The Grand Stand was definitely the pick of the arenas, and the two acts we saw there proved to be the most enjoyable by far, if only because we were able to see and hear them. Mr. Oizo was concluding his set with a funky disco track as we arrived, and it wasn’t long before Lovefoxxx hit the stage dressed like she was on her way to Carnivàle. CSS sure know how to rock a party, even bringing their own balloons, which they tied to their amps, and the crowd were certainly up for it.
Over at the “Old-Skool” stage, fifteen or so people were unable to let rave die with dignity. Emerging from this to Joachim Garraud made me wonder exactly what had changed between then and now anyway, so much were the similarities. And in a desperate effort to compete with Daft Punk’s giant pyramid Etienne De Crecy had brought with him a giant… cube?
All that remained was to see the quirkiness of Basement Jaxx reproduced with a live band and performers. So who was this diva, and why was she singing “Romeo” like she was on American Idol? Is that… that can’t have been “Where’s Your Head At?” What have they done with Basement Jaxx?
We didn’t even stay until the end. By the time we got to the end of that long, ominous tunnel we were almost running. Our throats were hurting, and we were hocking up black muck. If this is the future of music, then you can have it. I’ll remain contented with my memories of the past.
// Notes from the Road
"Rhiannon Giddens, formerly of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, brought her Freedom Highway tour to New York for a powerful show. The tour resumes next week and hits Newport Folk later this summer.READ the article