Highlights & Lowlights of Splendour In The Grass 2011

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Coldplay bringing their shitty photo release with them
I’ve made my feeling about photo contracts where the act wants you to sign away the copyright to your photos before. Being the main headline act of the weekend, I was looking forward to photographing Coldplay but in the 30 minute gap between the end of Pulp’s set and the start of Coldplay’s, their well-known and onerous photo release form, in which you sign over copyright of the photos you take to the management company, was suddenly being given out by the festival’s PR staff. I didn’t sign and fired off a few shots from way out in the crowd just in case I needed to provide a photo of the band. Although it looked like it would have been good to have photographed from the pit, ultimately my life won’t have been made better by doing it and I’m not signing away copyright of my photos to anyone. That is non-negotiable. It was depressing to see the number of photographers who were either happy to sign away, who were ignorant of the contract or who felt they they forced into signing because the publications they were photographing for would be after photos of Coldplay to publish. There were only a few of us that didn’t sign and so copyright-grabbing contracts inch further towards being industry standard in the coming years.

Australian Acts
From the first announcement for Splendour, the Australian contingent of acts was less than thrilling; a mix of the same Dew Process bands (just the 11 acts from the label’s roster this year … ), the typical triple j fodder that have been playing every festival in the last year or two and the bands on the two year cycle of playing every Australian festival. I avoid Eskimo Joe and The Vines like the plague but as I’m photographing for Mess+Noise and need to photograph Australian acts I end up feeling obliged to go and see The Living End to make up my quota. For a truly terrible band I can’t stand I’m losing count of the amount of times I’ve had to suffer seeing them in some shape or form. I’m just bored of seeing the same Australian bands over and over and over. There’s no Washington this year (which makes her a definite for 2012) but Cloud Control are here, adding to the (at least) 10 festivals they played at during last year’s festival season. As I’ve written before, people are not paying $520 (in the case of this year’s Splendour) to see the likes of Cloud Control so promoters could take much bigger ‘risks’ when booking Australian acts, book some far more interesting bands and move away from high rotation on triple j being the only criteria used to book Australian bands. (Incidentally, my sister went to a festival in Cornwall last weekend and Cloud Control were on the bill. There is no escape from them wherever you are in the world.)

The Middle East splitting up
The one exception to all the shitty Australian bands on the bill are The Middle East, a band who I think have always risen above the celebrated mediocraty of triple j, and who promtly announce that this is their last ever show and they’re splitting up. Although it’s a sprawling mess and the pacing is terrible, I really like their album I Want That You Are Always Happy; the flaws in the album remind me of something like The Triffids’ Black Swan, another album I really like despite its obvious weaknesses. They are albums that have ambition, even if they don’t suceed as a perfect collection of songs. That’s just something I really like and something that makes for a much more interesting listen than a load of songs that stick to a strict template in terms of song structure and sound.

We’ll always have ‘Blood’.

And we’ll always have that night at the Old Museum in 2009.

Tiny crowds for acts not on high rotation on triple j (i.e. the good stuff)
Regular gig-goers in Australia know how it works. Triple j flog your song on high rotation and it makes a huge difference to the numbers that come to see you play. It’s for that reason that Mogwai, Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan and even Jane’s Addiction play to tiny audiences given the size of their respective stages. (Funnily, I remember seing Jane’s play at Leeds Festival in 2002 – I think – on the main stage at the same time as current buzz band The Vines played in one of the tent stages. There were so few people there for Jane’s Addiction that you could walk up to the barrier without any problems. Ah, The Vines. Whatever happened to them…) Obviously no one plays to as small an audience as Mona do on the Sunday when they’re scheduled against The Jezabels but that’s another story.

NME-hyped bands
The Vaccines play in front of a backdrop that reads “What Did You Expect?” in reference to their debut album. What did I expect? Something better than some unremarkable, unmemorable throwaway songs that sound like the singer from Interpol singing some modern-day Buzzcocks cast-offs. The less said about Glasvegas the better, it was embarrassing. Maybe smaller stages would have suited them better rather than the Amphitheatre Stage but maybe they were both just awful bands.

The photo pit on day one not being there for days 2 and 3
The photo pit on the Friday is great, the way it extendeds out into the crowd allowed for different angles that aren’t all looking up everyone’s noses and mean there is plently of room for everyone, instead of all the photographers being squeezed into a narrow corridor along with security. Come Saturday and it suddenly dawns on everyone that the extension of the pit into the crowd wasn’t for the photographers’ benefits, it was just there so Kanye West could be elevated on his hydraulic lift way above the crowd. A shame, as it made photographing on Friday a lot more enjoyable.

Post-Splendour World Of Pain
Festivals hurt. Multi-dasy festivals where you’re carring around a load of camera gear and walking miles really hurt. If Splendour is back at Woodford next year (and even if it isn’t really), I want to take a pedometer with me and see just how far I walk each day. After I get back to civilisation I use Google Maps to estimate how far I walked each day based on the distances between the camp site and the festival and the distances between each of the stages. Only including those walks and not including anything like walking to and from the media tent, toliets, water, food or extended walks around site for a look and to take photos I estimate 11km on Friday, 15km on Saturday and 12km on Sunday. Allowing for those excsuions would easily add another 2km to each day meaning that I walked about 45km over the weekend with all my camera gear. For over a week after Splendour my knees and back constantly ache. On top of all the walking, and as last year, Splendour is dusty. Even after a few hours onsite I’m coughing my lungs up and my eyes  hurt. In the end, the pain makes you think that you’re just getting far too old to do music festivals.

Nothing to do with the festival itself, just an observation and a lowlight by association. The reporting of festivals has changed down the years but ‘firsties‘ continue to disappoint and depress. Just far too may media outlets saying as little as possible as often as possible in order to maximise page hits rather than taking the time to do it justice. The current fad for ‘highlights’ of each day is sad to see; a quickly fired-off, unbalanced list from people who should be working in PR. (I know that this might not be much better but I did work like a dog, walk a million miles and photograph 45 bands over the weekend. I’m the hardest working man in music photography … ) One of the main drivers behind Collapse Board was remembering how the UK weeklies reported the likes of Glastonbury and Reading and did it over a dozen pages and more, and thinking that there were all these amazing events happening in Brisbane that just weren’t being reviewed with much effort and all in a page or two for the most part. I still think one of the best things Collapse Board has done so far was the coverage of last year’s Frankly Festival at the Powerhouse. More of that on its way, I expect, in the coming months on Collapse Board.

(continues overleaf)

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