HE was trying to dress his bottom half in the Byron Bay Tourist Village’s toilets at 4pm on Splendour in the Grass 2012’s official first day – Friday. While grappling with his underwear only a wall stopped this half-naked man falling on me as I emerged from a toilet with a mud covered floor. At least I hoped it was mud.
‘It’s alright,’ he said, seeming to scan the floor for a part of it that wasn’t spinning, ‘I’m just drunk.’
I stifled a smirk and said ‘That’s cool. In fact that’s the best way to be under these circumstances. I also plan on being drunk very soon.’
Only a couple of hours earlier Brisbane’s DZ Deathrays played such raucous tunes as No Sleep and, during their set, 15 minutes of rain and apparently even hail turned Splendour in the Grass into Splendour in the Mud for the duration of the weekend. I was sheltering side-stage with other curious media and people who’d paid $700 for VIP tickets at the time. The Gold Bar area through which side-stage was accessed also featured better toilets. Naturally I didn’t discover this until the festival’s last day. There’s something conflict-zone like about using a festival trough in the men’s toilets while standing in shin-deep mud. Women needed to use the men’s much less used port-a-loos in order to avoid massive, alcohol and water-fuelled lines to their own facilities. One woman screamed contemptuous abuse at a young man who’d decided to piss in the corner instead of waiting for space at a trough. ‘Ok! Ok! I’ll stop just for you,’ he said, zipped up and left the toilet area.
Wicked Campers, P-Plater cars and even mobile homes could be seen everywhere during the approach to Byron on Thursday. There was no sign of rain at this point and dry grass stretched in all directions within the festival site for those lucky or obsessive enough to have arrived early. With no music other than DJs playing this night, the grounds seemed like a drunken rock star sleeping off a hangover and poised, at any moment, to wake, eat some Coco Pops or a bacteria infested kebab and launch into a vengeful, angry performance. The Forum was playing a movie featuring folk-musicians Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros, Mumford And Sons and Old Crow Medicine Show, called the Big Easy Express. During the documentary about the three bands touring rail-side-stages on a vintage train from LA to New Orleans, one musician was heard to say he’d ‘never used my hands so much to walk’ while moving from carriage to carriage. I returned to the tourist village at 9pm to drink Southern Comfort, read and get a good night’s sleep. The central protagonist of One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jose Arcadio Buendia, died. This caused so many flowers to rain mysteriously from the sky that shovels were needed to clear a path for his funeral procession. The last few years of this town founder’s life were spent in a state of insanity, chained to a tree.
I was accused of being insane or Victorian by a couple of middle-aged women after a swim in Byron’s freezing bay. I am in fact both, but the swim was quite reasonably an excellent wake up, hangover cure and shower-substitute. A beautiful blonde babe wearing a tartan skirt, sun hat with a long blue ribbon and showing prominent cleavage wandered through the tourist village. There were tracksuits, cut-off denims, dresses, leggings, jumpers, flannelette shirts, singlets, leather jackets and vests; almost any conceivable type of fashion. A decided lack of band t-shirts though, oddly. There were also Teletubbies, Gumbys, Bio Suit Boys and people in random panda, possum and other animal suits, or onesies. One girl wandering into the village while smoking a cigarette was wearing blue jeans, which reminded me of Lana Del Rey who was set to play one of her first and probably last Australian performances at the GW McLennan tent on Saturday. And she did, while wearing a white bubble-skirted wedding dress and loitering in front of the stage barrier to greet fans who gazed so intently and numerically toward her it would not have been surprising if she had spontaneously combusted. Gumboots were everywhere around the pairs of Vans and Converse I almost destroyed with mud, even before the almost Biblical though brief downpour. A pair of women – one gumbooted, the other not – co-operated upon entering the festival over a drain. ‘Let me use my gumboots,’ the first said, while insisting on carrying the second on her back in an entertaining display of same-sex chivalry.
Thank God for the Gold Bar. While the Supertop main stage’s Saloon Bar was 100 or more alcohol hungry punters-deep it was possible to pick up a couple of drinks from the VIP section with only minimal pushing and shoving with other media, minor celebrities and musicians. It was enjoyable to stand there and listen to Spiderbait perform Buy Me A Pony (don’t you wanna be, a personality) while standing in the bar’s mud, which was just as deep as everywhere else, smoking, drinking and thinking ‘Yes, it’s damn good to be able to separate oneself from, if not necessarily far above, the masses’. Gypsy And The Cat arguably deserve a mention as one of the best acts of the night. I couldn’t help standing at the back of the tent, in order to easily flee back to the VIP area, with a stupid smile on my face as the crowd sang virtually the entirety of Jona Vark while the band needed only really to play their instruments. An awful night’s sleep and alcohol abuse started to take their toll by this point, and both Kimbra and Jack White were regrettably not witnessed. ‘Acid freaks beware,’ I thought, while staring at the 10m long and not quite as high literally-burning words: ‘Let’s Get Metaphysical.’ Apparently the work by Nicole Breedon of splendid.org.au was ‘part beacon, part Australian music reference, part proposition; an invitation to transcend the more visceral suggestions of its reference – to revel through the night as part of a unified collective unconscious some 30,000 punters strong’. Whatever that means. Considering the confusing and potentially maddening things beginning to unfold within, the skinny bloke in his late-teens being bailed up by a drug-sniffing dog outside may never know how lucky he was to perhaps not have made it inside in a chemically altered state.
More smiles on Saturday to overhear this lecture from a girl to her boyfriend: ‘You said you weren’t going to do any drugs – now you’re off your head.’ Apparently a record couple of thousand punters were caught with drugs during Splendour 2012. He could have argued he was among a misunderstood minority, if he’d not indeed been off his head. Nicotine was a problem, too. One disgruntled Gold Bar patron complained to me on Friday that he was forced to stand in the rain and smoke. And a can of Johnnie Walker and Coke I was drinking barely survived when a drunken female reveller fell on me. Her boyfriend seemed either scared I was angry or was himself angry I and my drink had gotten in her way. Stimulants really are risky. Natural substances were the way to go, in the form of Splendour’s increasingly foot-traffic-whipped mud. One man in a wetsuit was prepared. Others didn’t seem to mind what they were wearing before taking the plunge. I and a mate became bored during Ben Harper’s Splendour performance of yesteryear and covered ourselves from head-to-toe with dark matter to the delight of those with cameras who egged us on. After which my comrade reportedly noticed a bloke urinating not far from where we’d gone for a mud-swim. Watching people trying to walk through it gave one the impression that the festival was taking place on a moist, high-gravity planet.
This article is becoming too long. So, some lessons learned:
The (short bloke dressed as a) squirrel would ‘dance for us if we form a circle’, she said. He did anyway, even though a semi-circle was the best we could achieve. Gold Coast hip-hop, jazz, reggae, rock band Tijuana Cartel sent out a heart warming greeting to what they called the ‘fascist presence’. ‘This is for the police out there,’ they said, before playing their song Rise Up. I gave him a cigarette and he told me he loved me. I didn’t return the emotion. Not sure if he felt rejected. The Wine Bar’s house shiraz was not as good as the pinot noir but either way it was the only place as warm as the Gold Bar due to heaters scattered within. A man was drawing glorious patterns in a football-field sized part of Byron’s beach, another man walked his alpaca named Pedro through the streets and the second-hand bookshop opposite the Dendy Cinemas had mysteriously disappeared. You can’t use the Virgin Fast Lane to access the Saloon Bar even when it’s deserted. It will lead to an argument with staff who’ll quote ‘rules and regulations’, before you laugh and approach the bar anyway. There’s to be no dancing in the side-stage area and joking with security that you want to dance will go over their heads. Birds within your campsite will squeak and squawk all night instead of just at first light, possibly due to the amount of exhaled alcohol saturated carbon dioxide in the air. You will feel smug when your VIP ticket means you don’t have to wait in line for as long as other people. Police quoted in local media as saying Splendour should have a 1am lockout may have overlooked the fact that would mean it’s more likely festival goers will end up alcohol, drug and music crazed in the town’s clubs and pubs before their lockouts. Govindas vegetarian food is the best and most competitively priced you’ll find in any festival. I wouldn’t want to be ‘Rachel’: the girl who Bleeding Knees Club spent an entire song referring to as a slut. You will meet people who stay in beach-side mansions during their Splendour experience but not envy them one little bit. Blue King Brown’s singer spent five or 10 entire minutes railing against the injustice and shameless concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the world’s few, and said there’s a movement growing to change things. And she was right.