A review of the Sydney Big Day Out 2006, orignally on http://www.inthemix.com.au

We were somewhere in the middle of Olympic Park station when we spotted the dogs. Damn dogs, damn radio stations and newspapers scaring the crap out of people. Damn beefcake arms of the state standing round with otherwise safe-as-houses Labradors, nabbing liveforthemoment kids wanting nothing more than a laugh. But a laugh aint what she got, more a face white like a sheet, when pooch’s game got a little more fun on finding his treat, and her Big Day Out got a little less fun in just as little a moment. But we soldiers breached the first level of the gauntlet, no sweat bro, only to find security guards stocking up supplies for their big night out later on. Said dudes were also no match, and we was inside. Now stadia might not be the best place for music, but that’s where you fit thousands of punters, and Olympic Park shed it’s ghost town image for a day of music, debauchery, rampant over charging, sun, showers, unbridled patriotic fervour, and a few laughs too.

 

The line up for the 2006 Big Day Out was by no means the greatest ever. Classic headline Iggy Pop was there, while big namers like the ever-trendy Franz Ferdinand and the White Stripes stood out for many, but not all. For fans of electronica, at least of the live sort, (perhaps ironically better served in previous years), you may have been pretty well served if breaks was your interest, but other genres were left wanting. But hey, it was Australia Day, and what’s more Australian than fuck off loud guitar riffs? Hip hop, meanwhile, was not too badly attended to at all. One of the highlights had to be The Herd, coming on to one of the smaller stages with cheers of respect for the country’s indigenous inhabitants, with cheers from some, and repressed facial expressions of contempt from other tools draped in the ‘nation’s’ flag. The Herd, for the record, were as tight as they usually were, but the sound ate arse. Figuratively speaking, sure, but a big hairy one. But hey, stadia. They bigged up the Hilltop Hoods who had surprisingly been billed on the main stage, not long after so-called Erskineville kings Wolfmother had got down and dirty to the first monster crowd of the day, 55,000 according to some (arguably highly dubious) reports. They might sound a bit been-there-done-that for puritanical types, and the SMS message reading ‘ACDC played a good set’ on the giant screen was worth a laugh, but man, they rocked. Predictably; Great vocals and big balled Aussie rock, and the kids was moshing down at the front. The famed ‘D’ safety mechanism was also in effect, installed to prevent another death marring the event as in years gone by. But the funniest thing this drunken reveler notice from the windows of the atmosphere-free VIP area was this system breaking right down. Noise makers Mudvayne were just coming on as a black T shirt clad mob pushed ever harder to get past the gate, and the crush hadn’t been prevented, only moved. Eventually it burst, the guards were forced to open the gate, and kids flooded in, while others ran round the side and jumped the fence, the several employees on hand standing by. But what could they do? Sweet F.A., it would appear. One guard attempted to confront a fence-jumper, but fisticups briefly and amusingly ensued.

 

But I was outta there man, me mate wanted to catch Go Team, who were alright, y’know, but not as funny as Henry Rollins on right after. He acknowledged that when he gets up there with his hellfire brand of left wing quasi-comedy rants, he gets a few blank faces, but we almost proper shat our little selves when some shaved ape took offence to his jibes at not only the concept of a national day, but also Howard’s lapdog antics. Another plonker caped in the bloody flag screamed ‘fuck off’, I returned the favour, becoming a little too close to being over-embroiled, and he left. Rollins got a few good laughs from the crowd, but for the most part, it was preaching to the converted, and we scooted off. Fuck knows what the hell happened after that, but there was one dirty great highlight left, maybe a little later on, perhaps, but you know how it is.

 

And that highlight was Mars Volta. I had not tickets for the Friday gig at the Enmore, and if I was catching one band, ‘twas them. It was a pity they clashed with Common, sure, and the White Stripes too (is there any harm on putting some big names on earlier?), but I could live without Iggy Pop, despite my mate’s proposal of tackling him, licking his forearm, and getting high, which he did, allegedley. And ‘femcee’ Jean Grae had pulled out weeks before, so we were set. And, hey,  they made some nice fucking noise. Soaring vocals intermittently interrupted a great big wall of sound, a veritable one and a half hour jam session, with the two dudes back up by hella percussion, sax, flute, and Vishnu knows what else. Psychedelic rock lives on, and a couple of us stood there entranced for ninety Minutes. Well, my mate happened to be lying on his back surrounded by big-arse tree people when I checked, but I digress. And then, if I’m not mistaken, we took a quick sprint to see Jack White and some chick on drums, but they were done. Next thing I know we’re in the stands with some friends considerably more shitfaced than the last time I checked in, and all the lights were on. Dirty! ‘To the pub!’, we cried, and continued where we left off, the concept of a four day weekend gaining popularity as the chicken coup train ride ferried all and sundry back to town. There may well have been another flag based altercation, or a couple, but shit’s gotta be said. Australia Day is a day off work, hence the name of the festival. Stick yer nationalism up yer arse, let the music do the talking.

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SPANKROCK

November 7, 2006

Originally published in the Brag magazine (www.myspace.com/thebrag)

‘He’s off doing the rock and roll thing’, laughs the Big Dada employee. ‘He’s disappeared with some girl’. Considering that ancient adage of ‘keeping it real’, it’s actually a relief to know that MC Naeem does indeed talk the talk. Because for all the hype of the post-revolutionary sound the tech-ridden beats of Spankrock’s new album YoYoYoYoYoYo are drenched in, Naeem’s rhymes are that tried and tested old skool formula – one part sex with two parts filth. If the man’s saying ‘put, put, put, put that pussy on me’, then chasing skirt is, I concede, a more than satisfactory reason for him not to be anywhere within earshot of the phone for the scheduled time of our interview. But life on tour is to be soaked up, and for these three Baltimore dudes, the temptations of a European road trip are taking their toll, as producer XXXchange and the amiable and talkative DJ Chris Rockwell explain. ‘Yeah man, we got big hangovers, we got up to some bullshit last night’ says XXXchange when I enquire as to Naeem’s whereabouts. ‘We just did an interview with radio, but Naeem needs like a LoJack, you know, one of them fuckin’ things you put on turtles, like a GPS.’ It’s sure different to Maryland, admits Chris, where the bars stop serving drinks at 1.30 and hurl the patrons out at 2. By all accounts they’d ‘been hanging for along time’ for this tour, and so they’re making the most of it.

‘Alex (XXXchange) was into jazz and drums, and was getting into down tempo and trip hop and post-punk stuff’, explains Chris when I enquire as to how it all got started. After XXXchange hooked up with budding Baltimore MC Naeem Juwan, who’d previously been rubbing shoulders with Shaun J Period and Rawkus Records artists, the formerly seminal indie hip hop label from NYC, they teamed up with Rockwell to giver their live performances that extra edge. ‘Basically’, sums up Chris, ‘We were all just wanting to go out and have a good time’- and fuck, it comes through in the music. For these US b-boys being in Europe makes a lot more sense than it might. Signed to Ninja Tune offshoot Big Dada, they possess a sound more at home in that continent’s more diverse modern musical landscape than their native US. ‘Yeah I listen to a lot of European music’ says XXXchange when prompted. Although the early nineties sounds of US booty-bass and ghetto-tech styles are more than evident in the tracks that have journalists from the Guardian to NME, and from the SMH to respected rap-rag Hip Hop Connection jizzing their loads with joy, XXXchange cites producers from a wide range of spectrums as influential to his wigged out soundscapes. ‘Yeah, you got some people in the states doing stuff like that, but I listen to a lot of stuff by the guys from Modeselektor (techno), Maurice Fulton (electro) and different sorts of European stuff.’ But when I ask if its exciting to be on Big Dada, home of Roots Manuva and New Flesh amongst others, he laughs that he’s far more excited by UK garage rude-bwoys and So-Solid aficionados Roll Deep than his dubbed out label-mates.

The unwillingness to fit into a box, or rather the subconscious desire not to, have had varying effects on hip hop crowds worldwide. ‘For our first show in New York’ Chris laughs, ‘we had all of our drummers and dancers on stage, we we’re like rocking out in the booth, with Naeem jumping all over the tables, and then people were like asking Alex (XXXchange) to move because they wanted to drink!’ Certainly not what you want when performing, but New York is New York, and Amsterdam proved a different experience- ‘We opened up for KRS One (the ‘Blayst-Master’ he chortles in an amusingly mocking Dutch accent) and people definitely didn’t know what to expect, but after a bout five songs they started to kick it off.’

When we chat they’re in the London offices of Big Dada, only a few hours off from playing ‘super-club’ Fabric, where they’re to hit the stage following the UK DMC finals, but what with the previous night’s hangover still weighing heavy they’re perhaps understandably less than hyped. Whatever the receptions they’ve had, reputation should mean there is ample enthusiasm to welcome them to an open-minded Sydney for their Basement gig, accompanied by Spaserock, on June 18. Rocking out with Chris on the decks and a sampler, with another effects box and Logic running on a laptop to the side, Spankrock live sounds like an impressive far from sit-down affair. ‘Yeah we heard a lot about Sydney, some good friends of mine just moved from there to New York. They’re a punk band called Deathset. We’d really like to tour with them’. How that might turn out is anyone’s guess. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any messier.

It just so happens I’m drenched to the bone as I sit down with a relaxed Josh Davis in the club lounge of the Intercontinental Hotel. Our gazes wonder away from the well-dressed breakfasters, across the spectacular harbour, through the rain towards the Tasman Sea. I’m here with a man who has probably done as much for popular music as anyone else in the last ten years, a producer who, on the previous night, played to a packed Hordern Pavilion with an audiovisual display that left most of the crowd astounded. Nine mega-screens broadcast a plethora of eye-candy to thousands of eager fans, from hip hop heads to goths, many of whom spoke of this master of sample-driven atmospheric music in an almost god-like manner. Funny; I’d planned to ask him if he felt he was perhaps overrated. If, despite the status of the universally-acclaimed Endtroducing (‘First album to make the Guinness Book of Records for containing nothing but samples’ etc), the hype placed on ‘DJs’ in our day and age, himself included, is somewhat unwarranted. Yet after seeing an intrinsically detailed, impeccably well planned, and downright fucking fantastic show the night before, I decided, probably rightly so, that it might appear churlish.

‘The thing that’s hard is that I’ve done quite a few tours, and particularly as I’m working with songs from Endtroducing right now it’s hard to come up with better ways than you’ve done before’, he explains as a bowl of bran flakes is swiftly ushered towards the table. ‘So in the case of some parts of the set like what I did with ‘Organ Donor’, I was like “fuck it, I’m just gonna do what I did last time, ‘cos there’s nothing that could work as good as that” – that’s always the highlight. I try my best- the encore took like a week and a half to put together, just trying to figure out good ways of doing it’. And a great encore it was, like much of the show, welding together huge chunks of music from Endtroducing, The Private Press, music from Shadow’s Unkle projects with James Lavelle, and tantalisingly, sneak previews of his latest work The Outsider.

For despite having Mos Def in the support slot, you could be forgiven for letting it slip your mind that DJ Shadow is in fact a hip hop artist, so thorough is his genre-transcending. It was Shadow, along with buddies Latyrx and Blackalicious’s Gift of Gab, that set up Solesides, now Quannum Projects, the constantly expanding Bay Area label. And the Outsider, unlike earlier albums, has rappers on it. Crazy. ‘I just didn’t want to soften it this time, and wasn’t worried about people not being able to follow the thread.’, he explains. It almost seems as if Shadow may in some way be burning some bridges, so likely is the alienation of large swathes of his fan base. But power to the man – he’s just not that bothered. He denies, however, that it’s more of a straight hip-hop record. ‘No, it’s just very diverse’ he answers. ‘There’s rap, all different types, with Phonte from Little Brother, Q-Tip, E-40, David Banner, all kinds of different artists. Then there’s also rock music and folk music, and very ‘Shadowey’ sounding music’

Indeed, as amusing as it is to hear this modest man describe his own music as ‘Shadowey’, you know exactly what he means, in the same way ‘Pharelley’ or ‘Aphex Twinney’ could be applied to the music of those artists. Following the ominous introduction, the first of these ‘Shadowey’ tunes, This Time, provides a warning of sorts for what’s to follow. ‘This time, I’m gonna do it my way’, the sampled crooner explains. Once this short track hits its end, the barrage of hardcore Bay Area ‘hypie’ rap that takes up almost half the album starts in earnest. Not only is it unlike earlier DJ Shadow material, it’s miles removed from other Quannum artists, as well as other so-called ‘underground’ hip hop often placed on a pedestal. When you realise the first US-wide hypie hit was produced by crunk big-timer Lil’ John, with Bay Area veteran E-40 on vocals, along with young buck Keak da Sneak, both of whom also feature on The Outsider, you get a better idea as to how different this album is to either Endtroducing or The Private Press.

‘The type of rap I’ve been listening to for the last five to seven years is not the Jurassic 5/Quannum rap, it’s the hardcore gangsta stuff’, he clarifies when I look surprised. ‘That’s the music that’s been influencing me lately, and I wanted to make sure it was represented on the record.’ And to dispute the likely claims there was a commercial aspect to the decision, that of including radio-friendlier hip hop (he himself admits that ‘for the first time in my life I’m getting radio play’), one needs only to look at the rappers used to ‘slap’ the beats, as he puts it. With the exception of E-40, Q-Tip and Quannum’s Lateef, most are relative unknowns. ‘I was making beats which I put tried and tested MCs on who I’ve known for years, and it just didn’t sound right. It was only when I reached out to the kind of people I was listening to on the radio that it all kind of started to make sense.’ Funnily enough, despite Shadow’s global reach, the rappers contacted turned out not to be too familiar with his work. ‘Everyone in rap knows my name and knows who I am’, he puts it matter-of-factly, ‘But when you talk about people like Keak Da Sneak and Turf Talk, who are ten years younger than me, they know the name but don’t know my music. They don’t remember Endtroducing, they were too young, and everything I’ve done since then hasn’t been in a rap vein. Even stuff like Quannum – hardcore gangsta-rap dudes in the Bay maybe don’t even know who we are…Keak Da Sneak is huge in the Bay Area, he can’t walk down the street – he’s like the Pied Piper.’

Halfway through the album, The Outsider starts to move away from the hypie sound, with acoustic rock-inspired instrumentation resulting in music that Unkle fans might be pleased with, in the form of collaborations with UK vocalist Chris James. Yet work with Unkle-partner James Lavelle, perhaps disappointingly, appears unlikely. ‘What happened in 1998 when Mo’ Wax sorta got pulled out from underneath him, he sort of lost everything in a sense, and I think he became quite disillusioned with the way he had been treated by the majors, and unfortunately to some degree he has a hard time relating to all his old artists. I think he feels in a way that we all abandoned him or something. …He’s a passionate guy – I still consider him a friend but we don’t see each other that much.’ The same sort of label-mess that resulted when ‘a Liquor company bought a cigarette company or something’ in 1998 means Shadow now appears courtesy of Universal Records, and not Universal Music. After a long-winded explanation he describes the situation as ‘complicated and convoluted’, but is, essentially, satisfied as to how it turned out. ‘What happened recently is I ended up on Geffen’s doorstep, and I didn’t really want to be there. I was tired of being dumped off on people, and I feel it’s much better if somebody has to fight for me to be there, because then there is a vested interest in America for me to be a success – so I put my foot down and said no. So Universal Records, a part of Universal Music, said ‘Ok, we want him’.

And now that they have him, it remains all about the music for DJ Shadow. Fans will be aware of the obsessive record collecting, the work of a man in love with sounds. For him, the fame people perceive he experiences means even less than it used to, especially in light of the traumatic time he and his wife went through with the complications involved in the birth of their twins. ‘I’m not the type of person who walks down the street and gets recognised’, he explains, ‘I like the anonymity, I don’t wanna make millions of dollars, just enough to continue to do what I do. You always hear people like Woody Allen or Spike Lee say that they only wanna make enough in the movies to make the next one. I feel the same. I want to be in a position to make records and get them to as many people as possible.’ It’s the kind of laissez –faire, modest, confident and satisfied response he provides to all my queries. Apart from the shame he expresses at the actions of President Bush and Governor Schwarzenegger, and the annoyance he says he feels when predictable questions from uninterested journalists are fired his way (‘Does Hip Hop Still suck in ’06?’), he’s a relaxed and amiable dude. ‘I’m not gonna pretend that I don’t wanna be here,’ he says almost coyly, as two suits march past the table, gazes peering down their noses at the bloke in scruffy wet jeans, across the table from the slight American in tilted cap and baggie-pants. ‘Actually, he’s probably one of the most important recording artists of or our age, you nob.’ At least that’s what I thought of saying, but only afterwards when I’m making the thirty-floor descent in the lift.