The all-encompassing aroma of marijuana and cigarettes wafted over the stadium gates and in to my nose like a heat seeking missile, or a pie cooling on Marge Simpson’s windowsill. Dave and I both made bug-eyed expressions of “We know what that smell is!”, subtly enough as to not get ‘caught’ and thus thrown out of our first festival – not taking in to account that you’re actually allowed to comment on drugs without being implicated in their smuggling. I readied my ticket to be scanned. The entrance was like a portal in to some kind of alternate reality where circus sideshows are 50,000 strong and they happen on the hottest day of the year. Foot-high mohawks adorned the leather-clad punks’ heads, and girls had piercings in places I didn’t even realise could be pierced. This was what I had come for, this was the Big Day Out; it was midday and Rage Against The Machine were due on at 9pm. As I wandered around the site in awe of my first ever festival experience, my pupils widened and my jaw unhinged itself and began swaying like an open door in the wind. It was hard for my newly 15 year old brain to deny a blonde in shorts so tight they seemed painted on willing to cut me a ‘deal’ on these little party pills that were supposedly soon being made illegal. Can’t go wrong, I thought.
Looking over the two main stages at one end of the field I felt like a dictator, all the little freaks bobbing in unison before me to their favourite bands confirmed a love affair with live music that has continued through the present. It was easily the largest, most powerful mass of people I’d ever witnessed in my life. Before that day the only gigs I had been to were Tenacious D at the Logan Campbell Centre, and Guns n Roses about 6 months before at Vector Arena. Both venues paled in comparison to the expanse that was Mt Smart Stadium. I had never before witnessed such a palpable feeling of togetherness; the electricity being stored by the crowd and then being released in seemingly random and sporadic successions of bouncing and cheers made me doublethink my ‘dictatorship’ and planted the first seeds of understanding when it comes to famous musicians and their infamous egos. By mid-afternoon the stadium was full – every space had been occupied like a fitted sheet and it became clear to me and everybody else there that this was to be something different. Nearly 50,000 ticket holders, over 100 acts, but it seemed that everyone was there for Rage. As Shihad were in the midst of belting out ‘Home Again’, (that song sounds cool, I thought to myself, have to look that one up.), I figured that would’ve been the last opportunity I’d have to get even remotely close to the band once they took the stage.
Readied in my proudly scummy uniform of a Sex Pistols shirt and frankensteined denim shorts, it became apparent that security had begun blocking off the entrances to the D barrier which leads to the pit – and if you can make it – right up front. The mood took an almost sinister undertone as everyone realised what was happening. A dreaded figure appeared from the mass of bodies, perhaps sprouting from an armpit, and asked me just how badly I wanted to be up front. In typical 15 year old manner I replied in a way that made me seem more keen than I probably was. We got to the front for Tenacious D, thanks to the kind crowd noticing I was with my little brother – amid cries of “Let the little dude through!”, could be heard me: “I have to go with him, he’s my brother”, and the seas parted. At Guns N Roses I had seated tickets (not by choice) and looked down enviously upon the crowd being welcomed to the jungle. So, a mosh pit of this magnitude was more or less going to be a brand new experience for me.
The hairy maniac beat me to the punch, I looked over barely having got my reply out and see him prying barricades from the security’s hands like a crazed prisoner. We had literally only met each other 10 seconds earlier and already a majority of the barricades security was attempting in vain to put up were successfully crowd-surfing further and further behind me while the rest of the crowd rushed through the gate despite the three guards’ feeble attempts to regain control of the situation. According to footage on the news later that night, a similar situation had eventuated just after Rage started their set, during ‘Bulls on Parade’. What made it seem so easy, and everybody so confident, was the fact that at that point a few thousand people became one mass all with a common goal – which was achieved. It gets to a point where no matter what these people had all drunk, or taken, throughout the day, it’s all less effective at a certain point than the natural adrenaline that flows just when you need it. Almost on cue with the lights going down a giant red star illuminates the backdrop like the sun, its power similar as the crowd response suggested – it was unparalleled total ecstasy, you could feel this unconditional love for the band rising in you as the roars from the crowd grow in strength like a snowball. A militant silhouette sporting an afro strides on to the stage like a school principal, ready to scold the students for their behaviour on last week’s field trip. He casually walked up to the microphone.
I’m sure he said more, but the crowd made sure to drown out whatever that was. From those first words the entire field was in his grasps, spinning and bouncing like his own boiling cauldron, adding ingredients like fists in the air, “get the fuck ups”, whenever necessary in order for this rap-wizard to concoct his perfect gig. Judging by the faces of the band members when the house lights came on at the end illuminating us all, the ceremony had been a success and the audience successfully intoxicated and possessed by their chants and war-songs. Waiting on the corner of Beasley Ave for my ride home I heard two ladies probably in their 30s, veterans perhaps of past events featuring Nine Inch Nailses, Courtney Loves, and Marilyn Mansons, walking together on the footpath and one said to the other in perfect elementary simplicity “Well, that was a bundle of fun.” I laughed out loud, and again at home in bed ears ringing, feet thumping as I slowly regained feeling. Forgetting all the political agendas, tidal mosh pits, blood, and spilt beer, regardless of whether you’re 15 in a Sex Pistols shirt, or you’re 30 with a floppy hat and a nice Pinot, the Big Day Out is always a great, big, bundle of fun.