Report: Soundwave, Melbourne 2013

Report: Soundwave, Melbourne 2013

Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne
Friday 1st March, 2013 


By Tom Valcanis

(Photos: Leah Robertson)

In hip Gen Y heartland Flemington (well, maybe in the bowels of one's heartland) the transition of metal and punk cornered into tearing up dingy graffiti-trashed clubs to the mainstream is complete. The working-class rebellion is over.

The two-pronged attack from political correctness and economic rationalism starved the subculture of oxygen, corralling it into libidinous day-long expressions instead of steadfast lifestyle commitments -- 'til death or follicular necrosis. Mohawked metalheads sip lattes in cramped wood-panelled cafes incongruously named "Pepper" and "Monkey Tricycle" alongside urban professionals and retired graphic designers. Smartphones replace zippo lighters as rock show accoutrement du jour. The Big Day Out, as Andrew noted in his Brisbane review is no longer the heavy fans' festival.

Soundwave has washed that festival's decaying crown away on a tsunami of capillary tearing sonic torment. If BDO had a torch to pass over, the anthropomorphic grabbing hands of Soundwave would set BDO alight with it before kicking it into a boiling vat of acid. SW's social experiment to collapse the social hierarchy was no longer hypothetical, it's now standard operating procedure. The music festival in the 21st Century lends established acts currency by washing them in the rivers of the new; if you get it right, it proves massively successful.

Soundwave Festival gets it right.

In a cab on the way to the event (one of many methods I took to that day, as roads and public transport were choked, cracking Melbourne's wafer-thin breaking point) "Do you like metal?" I inquired of the cabbie. "Yeah," he wryly replied. I pushed him to name one of his favourite bands. "All of them, of course," glancing over and smiling.  Walking towards Bag Checkpoint Alpha, I asked a kid who hadn't spent a cent on band merch who he was here to see. "Metallica," he replied nervously. "Some of my mates know some bands, I'll probably follow them around." Others literally wore their answer on their backs.

American Big 4 thrashers Anthrax drew a sizeable mosh. Leather raggedy doll Joey Belladonna impressed suspicious minds as his voice climbed the mountainous altitude of notes requisite to breathe life into their New Yawwk aggro jams. Curiously Dragonforce, who admittedly have been operating far beyond their scheduled lifespan, attracted a greater slice of the Soundwave peeper pie. You can speed up Thin Lizzy as much as you like, but when Scott Ian announces a cover of 'TNT', Belladonna powerfully channelling Brian Johnston better than Johnson does himself of late, fans will and did wordlessly abandon our International guitar heroism strike team to see it. Belladonna cupped his ear as his other hand held half-mast mic stand aloft. He heard love.

Marching over to Stage 5, found behind some Yum Cha and gourmet burger trucks at the north end, a gathering of fans patiently waited for Orange Goblin. The first genuine flagbearers for European Evil (just don't tell UKIP) and only melodic death metal act on for the entire day, instead Sylosis emerged in a last-minute substitution. Confusion grew amid punters, glancing back and forth at the stage and running sheets. "Who is this?" fans thought. "Why would the paper lie to me? The law of the paper is divine. All hail this glossy, double-sided oracle!"

Further afield was one of the demilitarized zones separating drinkers from those who weren't or couldn't, locking them up before they'd inevitably help themselves to some fun. Cracker box palace guards grimly paced up and down seemingly infinite lengths of aluminium wire fences, drawing our fear to the surface to vigilantly wrench probability's arrow back to 0, thus preventing Schrodinger's lawsuit.

If you were hungry for an Anarchy Burgers, old hand punk rockers The Vandals played dressed in goofy dime-store outfits, introduced by a wholly unironic tape playing "Isn't it Great To Be An Aussie." Opening with 'It's A Fact', tracksuit aficionado Dave Quackenbush announced guitarist Warren's imminent guitar solo. Well done, Dave. Hawaiian shirt bedecked Warren proudly stepped up on stage monitor, launching himself to hop about on one leg, noodling his guitar all the while. Instant laughs. Unlike Blink-182, The Vandals' perpetual adolescence advanced beyond an obsessive anal stage; as if life was one big Caddyshack to Blink-182's guileless Jackass and poop worship. Their odd older uncle vibe felt refreshing, none more so when they punked Waltzing Matilda up a notch, guffaws as eyes met Joe Escalante's Pope John Paul II pickguard.

Crossing back towards the thankfully pavillionized Stage 4 I stumbled across some punks bemoaning the choice of headline act, blankly referencing a cross-purposes discussion earlier in the day. "There's so many people who take Metallica so seriously," he flippantly whined. "They're just a band, who gives a shit?" Shuffling past the Metalli-can't coterie, I pressed on to The Wonder Years. A tepid, bleeding-heart pop-punk hodgepodge. A great man once said you can't hang shit on teenagers for getting excited over sex for the first time. Let them have their god damn fun. Even if it's derivative, borderline soporific fun hung up by college debt laden twentysomethings vocalising lyrics that end in long vowels. Specifically Gawwwn. Or Whoa-onnnn. Our babyfaced boppers played about a riff and a half worth of material, the ultimate romantic gesture to their reblog-crazy social media fandom. When will the 90s pop-punk hangover recede into memory?

I stuck around out of sheer curiosity. Vocalist Dan Campbell addressed his jejune faithful. "I met Chris Jericho," he beamed, holding up his smartphone as proof. "It was awesome. This next song is about a hometown diner and a waitress that works there. It's called 'Coffee Eyes.'" TWY work their crowd well; Dan's radiant warmth connotes a counterfeit feeling they're just a bunch of gawky boys caught up in a whirlwind of small-town-band-makes-good serendipity, carefully obscuring the corrupting influence of tense negotiations, thousand dollar flights and ludicrous rider demands. Not quite as wholesome as joyful Super 8 home movies and Joe Cocker covering "With A Little Help From My Friends." But close enough.

Orange Goblin—when they did appear—on the other hand cast no illusions as they pimped out the dirtiest blues in existence, driven far beyond metal. Chewy and meaty riffs burst from dark cabinets matching the length of stertorously voiced front man Ben Ward. Ward and co. churned forward as if a mesmeric sensory overload would trigger dormant magic resin trickling through their veins, completing the trip into Dimension Altamont. Boozy and supermassive 'The Fog' crushed all under tremulous stomp, forcefully assisted by the hoarse Birmingham accent of Ward, reaching deep to haul out his inner Ozzy.

Holed up in Stage 6 was the only hardcore band that you could guarantee had hearts made of granite, Gallows. Viciously tearing open fresh packets of rage, Legs Barnard's lead breaks rang out atop a forest of upstretched hands toward which Wade MacNeil barked madly. Some kids, realizing it wasn't their sawn-off designer flannelette and snapback wearing hardcore band timidly slunk off, hand-clutched ears bookending puzzled expressions.

Kyuss Lives! mawkishly appeared on the main stages, vocalist Josh Garcia wearing black shirt, jeans, glasses and hangover mood to match. Their mescaline metal lent itself plenty of time to warm up, belt-fed through the trip-o-vision jumbotrons flanking them either side. Hendrix style bawling and blustery desert rockers swept through clouds of ganja smoke, older rockers swaying to its sun-kissed charm.

Everyone seemed to have money. Merch stands had queues of shoppers five deep up until the beginning of the evening. Cliques of girls wearing the same Blink-182 official Impact font "offending moms since 1992" T-shirt would stride in unison, $120 worth of cloth and iron-on transfer with it.