Soundwaving Goodbye

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Photo: Yael Stempler

It’s official, it’s over, and I’m sad. No, I’m not talking about Jose Mourinho’s tenure as Chelsea manager – I think that’s hilarious – I’m talking about the other significant termination that’s happened in the last 24 hours; Soundwave.

While people continue to die or get hospitalised at rave-dance-festivals like Stereosonic and Defqon, the headline casualty of Australia’s last big alternative festival, Soundwave, is the event itself, cancelled due to poor ticket sales. I’ve seen some people revelling in the news, calling the organiser AJ Maddah a host of names and criticising his personality while seemingly disregarding the fact that this bloke did everything he could to deliver world-class line-ups that this country wouldn’t otherwise get.

I’d imagine it’s comparatively easy to bring tens of thousands of munted deadshits to watch some DJ’s perform at festivals like Stereosonic; the equipment and production costs are insurmountably smaller, there aren’t full bands, tonnes of equipment and crews that need to be hauled from state to state, and let’s face it – every one of those artists gets mainstream exposure, from Top 40 radio shows to ads for cars that you’ll never drive, which increases advertising opportunities and helps ticket sales. These factors ensure that the aforementioned festivals will stay around for a while and be replaced by carbon copies under a different name no matter how many people overdose.

Soundwave now goes to the festival graveyard with the likes of Big Day Out, Livid, Harvest and more, festivals that were committed to bringing out actual bands – which has always been no mean feat for a country as expansive and isolated as our own.

So while the haters revel in the fact that we lose another reason to go out and catch some awesome bands this summer, I’m choosing to remember the festival fondly, and the whole host of bands I might never have had the opportunity to see live (because I don’t like going to gigs on week nights anymore) had it not been for Soundwave and AJ Maddah.

I remember bearing witness to tech-metal gods Messhugah in broad daylight for the first time. Some might say I was denied a visual experience but if anything it just made the brutality of their music even clearer. Listening to those guys is one thing, but watching them on stage is a truly sonic experience, they don’t need to rely on any of the other senses.

I remember other bands that probably weren’t used to playing in the daylight hours, like black metal legends Dimmu Borgir. The sunlight made them less ominous than they no doubt aim to be, but there was something just as terrifying about watching their caked-on make-up melt in the near 40-degree heat. Despite the underwhelming sound they were another band I got to cross off the list and it was a set I’ll never forget. I got to cross Marilyn Manson off the same list thanks to Soundwave as well, although watching him melt on stage was far less entertaining. Even people I know who are big Manson fans and have seen him before said he was in shocking form that year. He looked gross and wasted, he sounded gross and wasted, but all of that helped make it a memorable experience, even if it was one that he’ll want to forget.

Just as memorable was waiting for Slayer to come out and play on the same stage for a good half hour after their scheduled start time, only to have Triple J’s Andrew Haug have to come out to thousands of hot, sweaty metalheads and tell them that Tom Araya had been hospitalised and the band would not be playing. He was naturally greeted by a plethora of projectiles but you had to admire his courage, even if it was only because he drew the short straw. Thankfully they returned to the festival a few years later and I got to cross them off the aforementioned list.

Iron Maiden were another metal institution I’d never had the chance to see before Soundwave, and a two hour set meant that even after missing the first hour I still got to enjoy Hallowed Be Thy Name, The Number of the Beast, Run to the Hills, Iron Maiden and more. Unforgettable.

For completely different reasons Steel Panther fall into the same category – at a different stage of their career but looking just as old as Maiden, these guys were one of the first bands on in 2012 and they warmed the crowd up with aplomb. The subject matter of the songs is (as we all know now) hilarious, but they’re a polished act in so many other ways. The banter was fantastic, the on-stage personas and moves were refined to a tee and perhaps most impressively they were TIGHT AS FUCK. I’ve been a fan ever since.

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Photo: BJWOK.com

A band I’d been a fan of even longer was Primus. Back in 2011 they were announced on the Soundwave line-up for what would be their first Australian tour since 1994, and they didn’t disappoint. Sure, Les Claypool had been out the year before, but being able to see the band that brought his amazing bass style to prominence in the flesh was another thing entirely. I saw them three times on that tour, and I have Maddah to thank. I’ve also seen them since, but that also might not have been possible without the success of that first tour.

A Perfect Circle afforded everyone the chance to see Maynard out from behind that stupid fucking curtain and to hear a set laden with high school memories, and despite seeing them mainly because I was in the arena for Kyuss, Tomohawk put on one of the best sounding, most entertaining sets I’ve ever seen that same year. We all know Mike Patton is a consummate showman but I was still blown away – and that’s part of the magic of festivals like these as well, they can make you a new fan of a band that’s been around for ages on the back of one strong performance. Like the Devin Townsend Project. Holy shit. I remember seeing him (them) play in one of the tiny shed-style side stages in Homebush, and the room could seriously not hold the volume of his sound. It was that huge that you didn’t just hear it, you felt it, but instead of being a muddy mess it was spectacular. It was then that I also learned the sheer charisma of the man and how it transcends recording.

Then there was also Canada’s finest Ska ensemble The Mad Caddies who I’d also listened to since high school but never had the chance to see (normally because they typically came out here in a support capacity). I don’t think I’ve ever danced so much during a festival set – and I’ve seen The Presets and PNAU off my face. I’m sure there are plenty of acts I’m forgetting, as well as a host of bands I’d already seen but still enjoyed, like the magnificence of Metallica.

All in all you might think that none of this is overly special, that all of these experiences with all of these bands could have been had at any time, but that’s missing the point. For this humble individual each of these experiences and introductions came because of Soundwave. Becoming a new dad might have meant I wasn’t going in 2016 regardless, but it also reminds me that in another 15 years my son might not be able to have the awesome festival experiences I’ve accumulated over the years. That makes me sad.

Say what you will about the festival and the man behind it all, but from this live-music loving individual and festival veteran I’d personally just like to say thank you, for the memories and all your hard work. For every cynical douchebag out there, there’s also someone like me, for whom this tragic news will give pause and a reason to reflect and realise the tragedy that is the decline of Australian music festivals.

RIP SOUNDWAVE.

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