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  • The Vine live review: Big Day Out Gold Coast, January 2014

    A festival review for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    Big Day Out 2014
    Metricon Stadium & Carrara Parklands, Gold Coast
    Sunday 19 January 2014 

    The Vine live review: Big Day Out Gold Coast, January 2014, by Andrew McMillen. Photo credit: Justin Edwards

    I love music.

    That’s about the most banal opening sentence to a live music review that you’ve ever read, but it’s worth dwelling upon a little here at the outset.

    Music has been a huge part of my life and identity for as long as I can remember. I am obsessed. If I’m not listening to music on speakers or headphones I’m thinking about it, humming or singing a melody, or learning how to play songs on guitar. It occupies my every waking moment. I love music and the Big Day Out has been a consistent, reliable lightning rod for that cause since I first attended in 2005. I’ve only missed one year (2010) since. As long as they keep booking excellent lineups, I’ll keep walking through these gates on a Sunday in January.

    Today heralds a shift in venue for the Gold Coast event, from the usual Parklands to a football stadium and its surrounds. It works well. The arena and its grandstands are where the main stages are housed; elsewhere, three big tents for the smaller acts. There are no problems getting around. Full credit to the organisers here, because to let loose tens of thousands of people in a new environment and to keep it all running smoothly is a remarkable feat indeed. We festival-goers are a fickle lot, generally quick to criticise an event’s logistical shortcomings, but today there’s literally nothing to bitch about. Amazing.

    When reviewing shows I tend to keep an air of bookish distance from the source material. In the past I’ve been the guy near the sound desk with his arms crossed, nodding his head and occasionally tapping a foot; always an observer, rarely a participant. As of today I’ve thrown all that shit out the window in favour of embracing the obvious: dancing. Clearly my past self is an idiot because this is a total revelation: I haven’t ever had this much fun at a festival.

    The first act to loosen my limbs is Toro Y Moi, about whom I knew nothing prior to wandering in under the Red Stage tent and finding myself in the funky soundtrack to a spy film. I especially enjoy the contrast between the studious-looking guitarist, with sensible haircut and collared shirt, against the rock-dog bassist with shaggy long hair, shades and singlet. Earlier, Bluejuice brightened my day with sunny pop songs, shiny gold Freddie Mercury outfits and good humour. And I’m the kind of arsehole who thinks that The Drones soundchecking sounds better than most rock bands in the world, so it’s no surprise that I award their set today full marks. I’m up against the barrier for the first time at a Drones show and it’s a nice change to see how the songs work up close.

    Guitarist Dan Luscombe thanks us for opting to see them over Tame Impala at the main stage, joking that at least a few people think The Drones are the better option. One band writes pop songs about elephants, among other topics; the other opens with a depressing eight-minute narrative about climate change and how fucked humans are as a species. (Not too many teenage girls seeing The Drones, I note.) I love both bands and I’m glad that I catch Impala’s tailing pair of ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’ and ‘Apocalypse Dreams’, the latter being an incredible wash of sound that proves that Kevin Parker wasn’t fucking with TheVine when he told us that the band recently found a new way to finish their set.

    For the full review and photos, visit The Vine. Above photo credit: Justin Edwards.

  • Brisbane Times story: ‘From dreadlocks to shaved for World’s Greatest Shave’, March 2012

    A story for Brisbane Times which was also filmed and edited into a two-minute video. Click the below image to view the video, and read the article text underneath.

    From dreadlocks to shaved

    Andrew McMillen has his dreadlocks shaved off for the Leukaemia Foundation's World's Greatest Shave
    Click to play video

    According to Scottish comedian Billy Connolly, “a primary-coloured beard is a perfect arsehole-detector”. I’ve long felt the same way about my dreadlocks, which I’ve had in place since September 2004.

    Connolly referred to the tendency of dreary folk – or “beige people”, as he would call them – to reveal themselves in the presence of someone whose unusual appearance upsets them. So too with my hairstyle, which elicits a range of responses – verbal or otherwise – when I meet people for the first time.

    At music festivals, I’m frequently assumed to be holding pot or other treats by both punters and police. When shopping, staff tend to drop their manner a few notches and engage with me in terms of “dude” and “man” far more often than “sir”. At election time, LNP and ALP hawkers don’t bother pressing fliers into my hands – it’s assumed that the Greens are the political party for me. In the street, charity peddlers smile and see me as an easy mark; someone naturally sympathetic to whichever planet-saving scheme they’re pushing.

    It’s endlessly fascinating to me how much people can read into a hairstyle. I’ve gotten far more enjoyment from observing how people react to me than from the dreadlocks themselves, which I chose purely for vanity: I liked how they looked on some of my favourite musicians, most notably the singer from Gold Coast hard rock act Sunk Loto, so I decided to try it on for myself.

    I’ve never regretted the decision, though seven and a half years of growth – coupled with the gradual thinning and breaking of the locks on top of my head – meant that it was always going to be a finite style.

    For years, my plan had been to support the Leukaemia Foundation and their World’s Greatest Shave initiative by turning a fairly drastic measure into a public spectacle. Handily, one that would encourage those around me to donate money and support a worthy cause.

    Since 1998, the annual shave has been undertaken by over one million Australians, who’ve raised over $120 million for the Foundation. Donations support families when they need it most, by providing leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma patients – there are over 11,500 new cases across the country each year – with a free home-away-from-home near hospital during their treatment.

    The Foundation also funnels millions into blood cancer research. Although survival rates are improving, blood cancers remain the second biggest cause of cancer death in Australia.

    In light of these life-and-death scenarios that occur with troubling frequency – today, 31 Australians will be given the devastating news that they have one of the above three blood disorders – shaving my head to raise awareness and money for the cause always seemed a very pedestrian decision.

    I’m cancer-free and perfectly healthy – touch wood, I’ll remain that way forevermore – yet the concept of losing my ridiculous hair suddenly became an asset for leukaemia sufferers and their families to benefit from. Most of the people in my life at the moment have only ever known me with dreadlocks: I moved to Brisbane to study in 2006, after graduating from Bundaberg State High School the year before.

    I knew that going from full-head-of-hair to bare would spur the people around me to donate. I set my fundraising goal at $1,000. This seemed a reasonable amount. Thanks to the generosity of my friends and family, I reached this goal three weeks after starting the campaign. At the time of writing, the total climbs toward $1,500, which is astonishing to me.

    The shave itself took place earlier this week at a Price Attack salon in Indooroopilly. Leukaemia Foundation’s Beverley Mirolo was there to make the first cut, followed by a few of my friends. My girlfriend was particularly happy to shave off my sideburns, which had grown unruly after months of neglect. I watched in the mirror as a new me emerged. Suddenly, I looked vastly younger than my 24 years. Vastly different, too, though not as alien-like as I’d expected.

    I love how hair can become a social object; a topic of conversation, a reason to interact with another human. Those with dreadlocks know this better than most. It’d surprise you just how many people are curious enough to stop us in the street and ask to touch our hair. (Just as common: “is that your real hair?”)

    This is what I’ll miss most about my dreadlocks: looking slightly different from other folks, and watching them adjust their interactions to suit their idea of what my hairstyle represents. But for now, I’m embracing the baldness: tomorrow, I’m taking it a few millimetres further and getting my first ever ‘open blade’ shave, which will reduce my head hair down to nothingness. Wish me luck.

    Andrew McMillen is a Brisbane-based freelance journalist. You can follow him on Twitter at @NiteShok. You can donate to his World’s Greatest Shave fundraising here.

    Above photos taken by Scott Beveridge. More photos from the shave can be found by viewing the story on Brisbane Times here.

    My friend Mark Lobo took some before-and-after photos, too.

  • The Vine festival review: ‘Future Music Festival Brisbane’, March 2012

    A festival review for The Vine, co-reviewed with my editor Marcus Teague. Excerpt below.

    Future Music Festival
    Doomben Racecourse, Brisbane
    Saturday 3 March 2012

    By Marcus Teague and Andrew McMillen

    MT: Being based in Melbourne, I hadn’t been to a festival in Brisbane before today. I have sat outside Ric’s Cafe in the human drain Valley at 5am many times however, marvelling at the annihilated car-wash-of-the-mind humans of all stripes can put themselves through. “A dance festival in Brisbane’s different mate,” said a friend. “You’ll see.”

    I did. The first hint comes when I’m in a cab on the way to the grounds at 12:30pm, and witness a couple of clearly munted guys hanging off each other while stumbling down the footpath; one of whom is covered in grass as if having earlier fallen over in the light drizzle. “Must be coming home from the night before,” I thought. Twenty metres on there’s a girl passed out in the gutter, head on her hands, pool of vomit between her feet. A friend is pushing a water bottle to her lips while a flock of five stand nearby on their phones. The scene continues, as if I’m being towed past some complex diorama of dilapidated 21st Century Youth Culture: masses of screeching girls with (what seemsurely like) fake boobs; everyone with tatts akimbo; all swinging empty bottles of booze and energy drinks. The deeply oxymoronic scene of hugely-buff, chest-waxed angry bros—wearing nothing but tiny shorts—yelling out “FAGGOT” at kids running past is mind-bending. Closer to the gate, a range of people pose outside stretch hummers. It’s completely awesome — “awe” having once been common shorthand for “an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear, etc., produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful.” 

    AM: What does the name of this festival mean? The other major Australian festivals are easy enough to grasp: Big Day Out is true-to-name, Laneway originally took place in a series of side-alleys, Splendour In The Grass is named after a film and er, largely takes place on grass (?). Soundwave, admittedly, is a strange one. But this? If the line-up comprised entirely of acts from the future, people wouldn’t be paying $170 at the gate for the pleasure of witnessing acts they’d never heard before. ($210 each for VIP.) Considering one of the headliners is a band formed in 1980, an argument could be made for Past Music Festival. Anyway, nitpicking. A disclaimer worth noting at the outset: this review was written by two sober guys. So why am I here? To see a handful of live performances and otherwise amuse myself among the teeming hordes.

    The first thing I notice upon arriving is that complete lack of sniffer dogs. I accidentally walk past the VIP entry down toward the general admission gates and don’t see any there, either. Perhaps they’re just inside the festival: if so, smart call. But considering that this has the reputation of being the druggiest festival on the annual calendar, I expected a strong presence from our canine friends. This is the first time I’ve been to Future. As I walk inside, I’m reminded that every other day of the year this ground hosts horses and gamblers, not tens of thousands of dance fans and half a dozen stages wielding enormous speaker stacks. Organisers have constructed bridges across the horse-racing track so that the turf remains unabused by human feet. Nice touch.

    MT: I arrive just inside the festival grounds as rain begins sweeping across the land in great bursts. It’s not cold: I’m in a tee shirt and—unlike 99% of punters—jeans; a dress code that’s akin to walking around as Santa Claus in a nudist colony. But it’s still wet enough to stay seated in the great grandstand, comfortably undercover. From there I watch the lower concourse, seeing five muscly guys rip each other’s singlets off, people dancing in the rain while others run for ponchos, and a girl trying to artfully paste her wet hair across the sides of her exposed boobs. A sign in the distance reads “brisbane – australia’s new world city” — the lack of capitals as deeply unnerving as its implication. The EARSTORM stage is quiet. A bird flies past and it’s momentarily stirring to think of nature.

    AM: Future has an interesting stage configuration, in that the four main stages are arranged almost in staggered rows—like consecutive aeroplane seats, say—spread across a couple of hundred metres. None of the stages face each other, though, so there is no sound bleed (but for one memorable occurrence late in the day). Dubbed the Flamingo and Las Venus, both main stages have adjacent VIP areas, meaning I’m up in the bleachers for Gym Class Heroes, who exist somewhere between hip-hop and pop — they boast a capable MC in Travie McCoy and a load of pop-hook choruses. Their on-stage banner shows four guys, yet there’s six here today, including one guy with blue hair who sometimes does back-up vocals but mostly waves a GCH flag, shakes a tambourine, and jumps into the crowd. McCoy pauses for a moment to encourage the huge crowd to hug the stranger to their right, then to their left. Not something you’d see at most hip-hop shows. The crowd particularly enjoys ‘Cupid’s Chokehold’ and ‘Billionaire’. A strange band, but thanks to their confident genre-hopping, easy to see their appeal. They end the set by encouraging the crowd to hold ‘love hearts’ in the air. Most do.

    Immediately afterwards, there’s a mass exodus toward the Las Venus stage. I had planned to stick around here for The Naked & Famous but since they’re running 10 minutes late—allowing for a 15 minute changeover between bands was never, ever going to work—I abandon the unmoving crowd stuck before DJ Ruby Rose and head to Las Venus for Skrillex.

    For the full review and many more photos, visit The Vine. Above photo credits: Justin Edwards.

  • The Vine festival review: ‘Soundwave Festival Brisbane’, March 2012

    A festival review for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    Soundwave Festival
    RNA Showgrounds, Brisbane
    Saturday 25 February 2012

    After taking in last year’s festival, I wrote “The only question for Soundwave is: where to from here? Where do you go once you’ve booked [headliner] Iron Maiden? Metallica? AC/DC?”

    Their answer was evidently ‘none of the above’. But the headliner is many hours away as we file into the Showgrounds just before the clocks strike 11am. The days preceding have seen heavy rain pelt Brisbane for extended periods, so it’s admirable that organisers have managed to greet us upon arrival with what appears to be a smoothly running festival. Ground staff are relying heavily on plastic matting to cover up the muddiest spots, and for the time being, the entire venue is easy to navigate with regular footwear while staying dry.

    The sun shines overhead as I take up position before the metal stages, 4a and 4b, in anticipation of Finnish metal act Turisas. It seems they’re late; stagehands continue soundchecking, until twenty past, when they instead hoist the next band’s banner, The Black Dahlia Murder. Hundreds of disappointed people file out; nothing has been communicated to the audience as far as I can tell. (I later learn from a friend that they were moved to a midday slot at another stage.) A rare organisational hiccup, and not a good start to the day.

    The sky breaks for the first time at 11.48am. I’m standing under a tree watching Chimaira, who sound OK. A little keyboard-heavy, which is odd for a metal band. Lots of blast beats and breakdown. There’s a heart-warming singalong to ‘Pure Hatred’ – namely, the chorus of “I hate everyone!” – while I apply my poncho for the first of many times today. The tent before stage 3 sees a sharp increase in visitors seeking shelter. Zebrahead are playing. Eh, pop-punk. The merch tent between the stages features the most impressive wall of shirts I’ve ever seen.

    Out in the main arena, Stage 1 bears a banner that reads Pinkerton. Underneath, a band is playing Weezer’s ‘El Scorcho’. Turns out it’s Saves The Day halfway through playing that album in full. It’s weird, but their version is competent enough and I guess it’s much cheaper than booking Weezer. At stage 6a, CKY draw a couple thousand people before the rain returns at 12.50pm, scattering the casual observers and encouraging the dedicated throng up front to thrash harder. From a distance, it looks and sounds like they’ve got a different singer – his voice seems way off Deron Miller’s on-record delivery – but research afterwards suggests that Miller’s still in place. Just having a bad day, then. Their set is enjoyable enough, but most (all?) of these songs are 10+ years old. I referred to them as “a band seemingly near the end of their tether” in a review of their August 2010 tour, and I feel the same way today. Telling that the quartet don’t even bother with more recent or unreleased material; just the hits, thanks.

    “So many good bands today, oh my god. Cannot believe that!” says the singer of French metal band Gojira from stage 4b. He’s right. It helps that his band kick arse. They’re one of the heaviest acts on the line-up, and one of the most anticipated by the metalheads: this is their first-ever Australian show, and they’ve drawn a big crowd to take in their seriously impressive and brutal sound. Sample song intro: “This song is about whales that fly… into outer space!” *crowd roars, horns raised* Apparently they only play for 20 minutes – four songs’ worth – which is disappointing, but in that short time they stand out as one of the day’s best acts. Friends have been recommending them to me for years, but today is my first exposure to Gojira. I’ll definitely be returning.

    For the full review and many more photos, visit The Vine. Slipknot photo credit above: Justin Edwards. iPhone photo credit: Andrew McMillen.

  • The Vine festival review: ‘Big Day Out Gold Coast’, January 2012

    A festival review for The Vine. The full review appears below.

    Big Day Out 2012
    Gold Coast Parklands
    Sunday 22 January 2012

    Twenty years into this festival’s existence and strangely, the Big Day Out has less cultural relevancy than ever before. Or so you might believe if you paid attention to the Australian music media in the months leading up to the 2012 event. Or the BDO Facebook page. There irate fans compiled a list: the line-up’s shit, all the acts are tired and stale, they booked The Living End for the 18th year in a row, they’ve been beaten to the punch by specialist festivals booking bigger and better acts, Kanye West isn’t a proper headliner – ad nauseum. No wonder festival co-founder Ken West got vocal with frustrations at such concerns.

    So travelling to the Parklands today, I’m half expecting to spend the festival in a relatively empty venue. It’s a pleasant surprise to be completely wrong. This show isn’t sold out – none of the 2012 shows reached capacity, for the first time in a long time – yet it’s hard to discern much of a drop in attendance. Despite the vocal online haters, a summer in Australia without a Big Day Out to look forward to seems a sad prospect. This year’s tour needs to be excellent if the event is to survive, and it needs to start here on the Gold Coast.

    Up first on the Orange Stage is Abbe May and her three offsiders, who play compact, elegant rock songs led by May’s strong voice and commanding stage presence. The Perth-based singer evokes memories of Magic Dirt’s Adalita Srsen in full-flight; boot resting on the foldback, guitar held aloft. There’s a lot to like here for rock fans, and she seems to impress a lot of newcomers today as her crowd slowly swells past triple figures. Next on the Green Stage are Stonefield, who’re running 15 minutes late due to transport issues. The four Findlay sisters are forced to swallow the embarrassment of soundchecking their own instruments before a nearly full tent. Once they start playing, though, they’re thoroughly impressive. This tour could mark the beginning of their transition into a band who deserve to be taken seriously: strong musicianship, quality songwriting and a formidable frontwoman in drummer Amy Findlay. They cover Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and it slays: the day’s first goosebump-provoking moment. Funnily, Holly – the band’s bassist, and youngest member at 13 – starts windmilling her hair during the drum solo, apropos of nothing. It’s awesome. The crowd goes wild.

    On the Blue Stage, Parkway Drive outline the crossover appeal of their distinctive style of metalcore. By now, they’re essentially a mainstream act, so well-known is their image and presence. In ten years’ time, will we look back on these five Byron boys’ output as one of the defining Australian sounds? I hope so. These songs are etched onto the DNA of a generation of young hardcore fans, and they run through a solid set before a big crowd today. They’re a fine example of a band who clearly enjoy the hell out of their success; there’s nothing but smiles on show today. Singer Winston McCall struggles with the heat but keeps up with his incandescent bandmates; he even manages to catch two airborne water bottles during a single song, ‘Anasasis’. Five huge Parkway Drive-branded beach balls bounce around the D section for the duration of their set, which thoroughly satisfies.

    The same can’t be said for OFWGKTA, the Los Angeles hip-hop collective. Today is the day that the Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All bubble bursts. They sound like shit live. I wrote otherwise when they visited Australia for the first time last June, but today’s performance is truly horrendous. It’s not a matter of how the show’s mixed, either: the problem can be isolated to five dudes holding microphones and using them incessantly, rather than sparingly. Each line is barked by the rappers, not rapped. As a result, the sonic nuance that the group exhibit on record is non-existent today; instead, a hodge-podge of disparate, aggressive voices over a backbeat. The crowd at the Boiler Room is huge, and they explode with joy once the five rappers and one DJ – singer Frank Ocean nowhere to be seen, apparently – show their faces. After 15 minutes of watching and attempting to listen to their set, it becomes funny to think about how bad they sound. On record, impressive. Here? Appalling. At times it sounds like they’re just rapping over an mp3; during the Tyler, The Creator track ‘Transylvania’, the group’s original lines can be clearly heard underneath their live raps. 35 minutes in, ‘Yonkers’ could be the set’s only saviour, yet it too disappoints. Tyler barely raps a word; the crowd does it for him. When he does use the mic, he’s drowned out by his bandmates barking his best lines. In a short, it’s a bomb. Which ruins the last chance that this set had of redeeming itself. The crowd leaves en masse at song’s end and I wonder why I’m still standing here.

    Before the Orange Stage, Australian hip-hop heroes Hilltop Hoods are welcomed by a huge crowd. Featuring live keyboards and drums (the latter via Plutonic Lab, half of the duo Muph & Plutonic), DJ Debris and the two MCs stoke excitement in the crowd. I take it in while standing nearby the free Slurpee tent and admiring the extraordinary amount of waste caused by thousands of straws, cups and straw wrappers. The Hoods’ new stuff is not particularly remarkable – one chorus consists of “I’m no good” over and over – and when they threaten to play more, I shoot through. It’s been a disappointing couple of hours. I need to see something inspiring.

    Norwegian electronic act Royksopp fills that gap perfectly. Their hour-long set at the Boiler Room is commanding: it’s their first time in the country, and they’ve evidently brought a trunk full of props to mark the occasion. Flanked by a guitarist and bassist clad in capes and face-masks, the core duo of Svein Berge and Torbjørn Brundtland adorn themselves with a range of costumes and enormous light-emitting helmets (a la Deadmaus, Daft Punk) as they work through tracks from their four albums. From the opener, ‘Alpha Male’, the quartet is outstanding: the sound booms loud and clear, and they’re met with a tent full of dancing bodies. After ‘Happy Up Here’, ‘Eple’ and ‘Remind Me’, an unintroduced blonde female singer emerges and faithfully reprises Robyn’s vocal part during ‘Girl And The Robot’, while acting alongside one of the duo (wearing a huge robot helmet with red and green lights, natch). She reappears for a slowed-down version of ‘What Else Is There?’, an achingly beautiful track from 2005’s The Understanding that was originally sung by The Knife’s Karin Dreijer Andersson. Incredibly, the singer captures Karin’s idiosyncratic vocal style in whole, while wearing a Knife-inspired bird mask. They air ‘Poor Leno’ then discover that they’ve got time for one more, so the girl reappears to again reprise the role of Karin for ‘This Must Be It’. It’s hard to imagine walking away disappointed from the Boiler Room after Royksopp: intense, compelling and not boring for even a second, it’s the best set I’ll witness today.

    It begins to rain during Battles’ set under the tent at the Essential Stage. The New York City-based quartet became a trio last year; having them seen them dominate with four members, I’m interested to see whether the same is still true with one fewer musician. The answer is ‘mostly yes’. There’s an incredible amount of tension during the first few minutes of ‘Africastle’, before John Stanier starts drumming. Ian Williams and Dave Konopka wind their way through snaking guitar lines and teasing keyboard phrases that build up to Stanier’s first drumbeats. His kit has been mic’d incredibly well: the snare is so punchy that it sounds like a whipcrack each time he smacks it. Stanier is a demon behind the kit, and he pulls focus throughout their 50 minute set. To compensate for the lack of vocalists, they’ve wedged two LCD screens on either side of the kit, which display HD footage of Kazu Makino (‘Sweetie & Shag’), Matias Aguayo (‘Ice Cream’) and Gary Numan (‘My Machines’) singing along to the songs. (A huge, high definition Gary Numan glaring at you for a few minutes is quite an imposing sight.) The trio have worked out how to do tracks from their debut album, Mirrored, without singer/guitarist Tyondai Braxton; they play a sample of a children’s choir singing the nonsensical lyrical hooks of ‘Atlas’, and it works well despite a couple of miscues from Williams. That track is excellent today; so too ‘Tonto’ from the same album, though it’s a curtailed version. Things fall apart during ‘Wall Street’ midway through the set, though: one of Williams’ keyboards fails, and Stainer and Konopka spend a few minutes in a holding pattern, playing the same short phrase, before eventually ending the track. Frustration abounds on stage; such is the lot of a band so reliant on technology and carefully daisy-chained connections to make their music. They never quite regain their momentum after this technical problem, so it remains a good set, but not a great one.

    The rain has ruined the potential to witness Tony Hawk skateboarding on the vert ramp near the main stages. Despite the efforts of a crew who optimistically mop up the wet while the legend walks around the halfpipe, posing for photos, his intended 6.30pm start has been thrown way out. Still, a crowd of hundreds hang around, hoping to witness the man in full flight; the sport’s only true ‘rock star’. A drunk guy near me yells, “Skate or die, Tony!”. Hours later, while standing inside the D barrier, I look over my shoulder and see dozens of skaters lining the top of the ramp while a single figure cuts a path inside. Perhaps the Birdman finally flew, some two hours after his scheduled time. On the Blue Stage, British act Kasabian are performing, but not inspiring. They’re being watched by a few thousand people but they’re decidedly vanilla. It’s only for the closing pair, ‘Vlad The Impaler’ and ‘Fire’ – the latter custom-made for licensing to late night sports shows, it seems – that they raise the bar slightly.

    Two acts to go. On the Orange Stage, Seattle grunge act Soundgarden sound really fucking good, and all four of them are all the way into it. This isn’t a half-arsed reformation. The worst thing that a reformed band can do is either perform without heart (The Pixies, I’m looking at you) or fail to match their on-record sound. Soundgarden pass both of these tests, and ensure that no-one’s fond memories are tarnished tonight. The opening trio (‘Searching With My Good Eye Closed’, ‘Spoonman’ and ‘Let Me Drown’) is impressive, and from here the band only get better. Rain begins bucketing down, and sticks around for a few songs. ‘Jesus Christ Pose’, ‘Loud Love’ and ‘My Wave’ are highlights, so too singer Chris Cornell’s stage banter. “Steal all the records!” he says after telling us about the band’s intention to release a new album this year. “You might as well, otherwise you’ll have to hear them on a CD, which sounds like shit anyway.” While they play, a dude is bucketing water off the top of the side-of-stage sound tent, directly down onto the stage area between Orange and Blue. It doesn’t seem like a particularly smart or safe decision. Cornell makes a weird announcement toward the end of their 75 minute set: “This is the last Big Day Out ever. I mean, right now. Get out!” he yells. Nobody knows how to react. “Not really,” he clarifies soon afterwards. “Maybe they’ll do it again next year. I don’t know.”

    During Soundgarden’s set, the Blue Stage has become an all-white affair for the headliner. Several stagehands are prowling the stage, very carefully observing the speakers at the front of stage. The same men are still doing this ten minutes after Kanye West was due on stage. Like there aren’t tens of thousands of people watching and waiting. A pretty funny situation, at first. 16 minutes late. and the men are pointing at a spot near the front of stage. (I bet they wish they brought a big black curtain with them, like Rammstein did last year, so we couldn’t see what they were doing.) This is excruciating and embarrassing. And nobody’s talking to the audience, telling us why we’re waiting. The Chemical Brothers’ 1997 album Dig Your Own Hole is playing over the PA. The stage manager keeps testing the wireless mic across the length of the stage, before the foldback speakers. He doesn’t look pleased. Backstage, the entire crew must be tearing their hair out. The headliner is 20 minutes late.

    At this point the D barrier opens up again – presumably due to punters attempting to find musical entertainment elsewhere – so I venture back inside. Stagehands are scuttling across the front of stage, running cords, replacing and reconnecting foldback speakers at the insistence of the stage manager. I keep thinking to myself: Kanye’s going to cancel, and shit is going to hit the fan. 9pm comes around; the headliner is half an hour late, and still nobody is communicating anything to the audience. Dig Your Own Hole plays on (good album, that). Bottles are being thrown. Stagehands dart out to retrieve the missiles. The stage manager looks ready to strangle someone. What a fucking nightmare. Someone is losing their job over this shit. Many people, perhaps.

    After 35 minutes, the crowd starts a “bullshit” chant which is quickly adopted by thousands. Sensing a near-riot on his hands, one of the stagehands grabs a microphone and belatedly explains, “The rain fucked with a lot of things. One minute wait for Kanye,” he promises, holding up his index finger. The crowd begins counting down from 60. It seems like a very Australian thing to do. I smile at this, and at the stupidity of the sound guy for promising something that clearly won’t be fulfilled. Around 30 seconds after that minute has passed, Kanye arrives! Clad in a white suit! Except it’s not him, it’s his DJ. Who stands behind his decks and laptop for a while, studying his fingernails, saying nothing. A few minutes later he steps down from his podium and retreats backstage again. It’s been 41 minutes since the headliner was due. Again, no communication. Lots of boos; people leaving; more missiles.

    After 43 minutes, a crew of people is led through the photo pit in front of the Orange Stage, including what appears to be a couple of members of Odd Future. Right on 9.15pm – 45 minutes late – the show starts. Operatic vocals are broadcast through the PA at enormous volume. Dozens of skinny female ballet dancers flood onto the red-lit stage. The music is from ‘H.A.M.’, a track from Kanye and Jay-Z’s Watch The Throne. Then the vocal sample from the beginning of ‘Dark Fantasy’ is broadcast. The rapper isn’t on stage. People begin to look over their shoulders, searching for the man. A scissor lift clothed in black fabric has been erected directly in line with the stage that Soundgarden began performing on two hours ago. A spotlight is flicked onto the top of the lift, where Kanye stands, mic in hand, telling us to get our hands in the air. The beat drops. The crowd goes bananas. In an instant, we’re all transformed from pissed and impatient to ebullient. It’s a showman’s entrance, and it totally rules. Kanye, how can we stay mad at you?

    I’m in line with the scissor lift and I study the dozen security guards stationed at its base, and the two enormous black men who are evidently the rapper’s bodyguards. As ‘Dark Fantasy’ winds down, it becomes apparent that he’s going to have to walk through the Orange Stage side of the D barrier to rejoin the Blue Stage. The crowd realises, a few beats too late, that they have a chance of mobbing their hero. As the scissor lift descends, a few dozen fans tentatively move toward the star. The security bristles, forming a guard of honour as moments later, hundreds of fans – mostly young girls – flood toward the star, who steps onto the grass and begins dodging trash in his probably-expensive shoes. Kanye does not run, of course. He strides confidently, face impassive, flanked by strong men; he rounds the corner of the photo pit and deals out the occasional high-five to fans crowding the front barrier. Kanye, you glorious bastard! Even having seen a much more impressive version of this entrance at Splendour In The Grass 2011 – the star atop a ten-metre high, smoke-clad tower – it’s still an incredible sight; suspense, misdirection, surprise and joy, all within a couple of minutes, while ‘Dark Fantasy’ plays in the background. Given the ridiculous 45 minute wait and how quickly the crowd’s emotions were turned, I’m convinced that this is one of the funniest, most brilliant things I’ve ever seen. (I also love the idea of a random tradesman using that same scissor lift for a routine job tomorrow, completely unaware that it was used to hoist one of the world’s biggest rappers over the heads of tens of thousands of fans the night before.)

    From here, the set treads a well-worn path: it’s much the same one that he’s been doing since Coachella last year, and the very same set that 30,000 people saw at Splendour 2011. But it makes sense that he’s touring it again on the Big Day Out, to ensure it’s seen by a wide Australian audience before he retires it and starts afresh for the next album cycle. Six songs in, after a curtailed version of ‘Monster’, the rapper apologises for his late start. The crowd cheers. He explains: “Water got in the [front of house sound] boards, and fucked up the whole system. I don’t have in-ears [monitors], so I can’t even hear myself. But I’m sure the newspapers won’t run that tomorrow, because they always find other shit to write about me.” (He was right, of course).

    Note: Here’s the shit thing about the entire situation: it wasn’t Kanye’s fault that he was late on stage, but the entire crowd probably assumed it was. Yet nobody from the stage crew – or even his manager, or DJ – addressed the crowd at any point to inform us of the real reason: technical failure caused by the rain. (Which raises many, many more questions of the organisers. Here’s a few to begin: why was this allowed to happen? Why weren’t the foldback speakers covered at the first sight of rain? Why did they allow tens of thousands of dollars of equipment to be (likely) destroyed by water? Haven’t they been doing festivals at this same venue since 1994? Why did it take 35 minutes for someone to accept responsibility for communicating to the crowd?) And so his reputation will suffer in Australia, and none of it will have been his fault.

    Once the set’s underway, very little goes wrong for the headliner. The ballet dancers are particularly impressive during ‘Love Lockdown’; that aside, the 808s and Heartbreak bracket is still a yawn-fest, and the crowd leaves in droves. He messes up the lyrics in ‘All Falls Down’, despite earlier saying that it’s one of his “absolute favourites”, and immediately has his DJ start it again. He does a cool little a cappella verse and chorus during ‘Touch The Sky’. He restarts ‘All Of The Lights’ because we don’t respond to his line “MJ gone” with the required “Our nigga dead!” at an appropriate volume. “I want you to remember this moment for the rest of your lives!” he commands as the track starts up again. Indeed.

    His take on ‘Runaway’ near set’s end is excruciatingly long. During an extended outro, the rapper ruminates on his heartbreak, his regrets, how “assholes deserve to be lonely” and how if we love somebody tonight, we should hold them tight. This goes on for what seems like ten minutes, while a sole dancer runs through an improvised routine at his feet, twirling and stretching while he drags the song out way longer than expected. The set ends with ‘Hey Mama’ at 11.08pm, nearly two hours after he began. In an apparent effort to redeem himself for the late start, he’s far surpassed his allotted 90 minutes. Kanye, his band, and his dancers take a group bow and leave the stage. While it hasn’t been the best ever Big Day Out, it’s certainly among the most memorable. Til next year. Hopefully.

    For the archived version of the review and many more photos, visit The Vine. Above photo credit: Justin Edwards.

  • “In Search Of Ukrainian Summer Romance: Inside Anastasia’s Odessa Odyssey”, January 2012

    In July 2011, my girlfriend and I travelled to Ukraine as guests of a dating website named Anastasia to report on one of their so-called romance tours. It was one of the strangest and coolest experiences of our lives.

    What appears below is a longer version of a story that was published in the December 2011 issue of Maxim Australia. That story, entitled “European Union: Riding shotgun on a Ukrainian summer romance tour“, can be read here.

    All words below were written by myself, Andrew McMillen. All photos below were taken by Rachael Hall; you can click any of them to view a larger version, which will open in a new window.

    If you would like to republish this story or these photos, please contact me via email or Twitter.

    ++

    In Search of Ukrainian Summer Romance: Inside Anastasia’s Odessa Odyssey
    by Andrew McMillen

    “This is a situation that very few men in the world have ever been in, to walk into a place where there’s no pretence about what everybody is there for.”

    We’re in a seaside city called Odessa, in south Ukraine. More accurately, we’re in a stuffy basement conference room at the Continental Hotel in the city’s centre. We’re being addressed by Larry Cervantes, public relations manager of a website named Anastasia, which claims to be “the world’s leading international dating and romance tour company”. My girlfriend Rachael and I are here as guests of Anastasia to report on their Ukrainian ‘summer romance tour’.

    “Beautiful women grow in certain parts of the world more than others,” Larry continues, “and you’re in one of them. Maybe six or seven thousand guys in the world have experienced what you’re going to experience: being put into a situation where you have so much choice that it’ll be mind-boggling. So be prepared, gas up, and I guarantee you’re going to have a wonderful time.”

    One seasoned summer romance tourist adds, “Plan to do this a lot in the future!”, and two dozen men join him in laughter.

    Larry is impressively tanned, speaks in a deep, low Californian drawl, and offered us a forceful handshake at Odessa Airport yesterday afternoon. Odessa is a strange, beautiful city; in the midst of summer, the air crackles with a dry, insistent heat that’s a pleasant change from the humidity of Brisbane. It’s home to one of the largest ports in the Black Sea basin, yet as our taxi driver threads his way through traffic sans seatbelt while yelling into his mobile phone we get the distinct impression that most buildings outside of the tourist-friendly city centre are slowly falling apart from decades of neglect.

    Larry tells us that 45 men have signed on for this tour; a statement which seems strange, as over the next seven days we follow the tour, we never see more than 30 at any one time. One can only assume that their reasons for attending lie somewhere on the spectrum between searching for casual sex and lifelong commitment. Whatever the case, they’re each prepared to spend US$5,000 – including return airfares from New York’s JFK airport and local accommodation – to be here. The median age of the mostly-American tour group sits between 40 and 45. There’s one Australian: Owen, a West Australian miner in his early 40s. Most of the men are educated professionals. Many of them have at least one divorce under their belt.

    The walls of the basement conference room feature tasteful oil paintings of the London Bridge and World Trade Centre. Four Anastasia reps are seated at the front of the room: Larry, William Tate – an affable American tour representative who served in the United States Marines – and two Ukrainian representatives named Olga and Anna. Before they address us, the mood is somewhat standoffish. Some of the 24 men chat quietly amongst themselves; most sit alone, eyes to the front, wondering silently what they’ve gotten themselves into. None of them give off the impression of being pick-up artists, or Neil Strauss acolytes. Just like in any high school classroom, the back row is full, but the first couple are sparse.

    Eight media types line the aisle, ourselves included. Two comically large TV cameras – one from Australian 60 Minutes, the other from Sky News – scan the room. Their footage will undoubtedly be edited down to include only the most forlorn facial expressions. Over the next hour, the four Anastasia reps give their charges a rough ‘n’ ready guide to the Wild West that is Ukrainian dating. Most of the men have some familiarity with local members of Anastasia, having thoroughly combed the ladies’ profiles in search of their ideal match. Some have already set up dates through the website while they’re in town.

    The company reps explore the concept of scamming – or, as euphemistically dubbed by William, “getting sushi’d” – at length. This is an apparently common situation during these kinds of tours, where a foreign man may unwittingly find himself footing the bill for an entire table’s drinks, entrees, steak, sushi; in the parlance of the overwhelmingly American entourage, ’the whole nine yards’. Local custom deigns that men invariably take care of most monetary concerns, and some of the women they’ll meet in the next week will try to exploit this to their advantage. ”You don’t want to appear cheap, or miserly,” explains Larry, “but you don’t want to appear to be foolish with money.”

    Based on the witty quips a couple of the men toss in throughout the hour, it’s apparent that they’re return visitors to this region. Their knowledge sets them apart as the group’s worldly alpha males, and they seem only too happy to inhabit this role. A pair sat toward the back snigger conspiratorially over a laptop. The younger, shaggy-haired surfer-type, Derek, shows his white-haired pal Roger a photograph of a European-looking lady lying on what appears to be a hotel bed, dressed only in lingerie.

    ++

    The next day, on the bus ride to the first social, I meet a portly, genial German in his early 30s named Edward. He’s a return visitor to Anastasia’s Ukraine tours, but claims to be here more out of boredom – he had a week off from his job in Frankfurt – than any real desire to meet local women. It sounds like he’s hedging his bets in anticipation of failure. He tells me that most of these guys won’t get laid on this trip, let alone find long-term partners. “If you’re looking for a fuck trip, you should go to Germany,” he advises me via a thick accent. He politely declines my offer of a more formal interview later in the week.

    We arrive at The Park Residence [pictured above], a luxury country club-style venue built featuring a central swimming pool and adjacent tennis courts. Anastasia’s photographer and videographer circle the group, madly recording away as the men stroll through a car park. It’s hot; many of the guys are dressed to impress in dark suits, which must be uncomfortable. They all head for the poolside bar, while a house music soundtrack – managed by a bored-looking dude in his 20s – washes over a crowd of women. The vast majority of them are young and stunning. So begins the group’s first six hours of socialising, Odessa-style.

    The men here aren’t only outnumbered by women – perhaps four-to-one at the party’s peak – but female interpreters, too: 45 of them have been commissioned for this event alone, which means that there’s always a few extras lounging around in the shade and picking at fruit platters. Some of the tourists appear to use the trip as an excuse to become new men; performers whose egos float far, far higher than their everyday persona. Others remain trapped by their insecurities and self-esteem issues. They may be in a different country, but it’s hard to forget everything they’ve learned in their life when it comes to women, and the attraction thereof.

    Though initially the mood at The Park is more high-school disco than adult social, owing to the awkwardness and segregation between the sexes, most of the guys are mingling within the hour. Larry’s initial prediction about the nature of this event rings true on two counts: the women are improbably attractive, though to be fair, they’re all members of local agencies whose clients consist entirely of beautiful women. And secondly: they all know that they’re here for the sole purpose of meeting men. Given the median age of the tour group, it’s likely that these guys won’t have been in this kind of environment – as artificial as it may be – since college keggers. Which is ironic, as many of these girls would appear to be college freshmen at best. There’s eye candy on display, sure, but when it comes to the likelihood of a middle-aged man finding both physical and intellectual stimulation in a barely-adult woman, it’s easy to slip into scepticism.

    In the late afternoon, tour host Olga MCs a poolside dance-off that’s narrated entirely in Ukrainian, for the benefit of the local women. Derek is paired with a lustrous blonde, who he later tells us is a stripper. Tour guide William Owen – the West Australian miner, who is being closely filmed by 60 Minutes – and an American attorney named James battle it out over a few rounds. James is incredible shape for a 53 year-old: he pops, locks and swings his partner around like a hula hoop. He’s also a spitting image of a younger Sean Connery. Derek’s shirt is soon removed and he engages in some crude arse-grabbing and breast-motorboating with his partner [pictured below]. As far as gentlemanly conduct is concerned, he and James are oceans apart, yet together they’re the tour’s most extroverted characters. So ends the first of three socials, yet several of the men keep the party going elsewhere by arranging impromptu dates immediately afterwards. Others collect phone numbers with a view to set up dates in a few days’ time.

    ++

    Saturday’s event – in neighbouring city Kherson – is a four-hour bus ride away. The roads in south Ukraine seem to be populated with vehicles driven by sociopaths. The asphalt is falling apart; indicators are rarely used; seatbelts are never used; and no-one is willing to show the slightest compassion for their fellow drivers. It’s vehicular madness, and it’s utterly fascinating. Tour rep William notices our interest and tells us that, for Ukrainian drivers, road signs and speed limits are considered “suggestive”, not prescriptive. He’s lived here on-and-off for six years, and believes that if you have “$100 and a face”, you’ll be given a driver’s license. He replaces the brakes and tyres on his BMW yearly due to the wear and tear caused by the poor road surface. “You’ve never experienced tailgating until you’ve driven here,” he tells us. “If you can fit a credit card between your car and theirs, that’s plenty of room.”

    Luckily we brought three buses on the trip to Kherson, as one breaks down halfway there; its passengers join ours. At the back of the bus, Derek reveals to the group that he met his “smoking hot” Russian ex-wife of five years on a flight from Vienna to New York immediately after an Anastasia tour, not on the tour itself. She recently left him, soon after he’d put her through medical school. Curious. Group morale is high as we pass through the city of Kherson and arrive at a club named Amigo [pictured below]. Its location is anything but central; housing commission-style flats and a couple of convenience stores are Amigo’s only neighbours.

    Walking off a bus at 1pm and upstairs into a dark, hot, smoky club feels as dirty as it sounds. We’re late – the bus driver took a few wrong turns – so most of the club’s seats are already occupied by women, who sip drinks and judge every man in eyeshot. If The Park’s circumstance felt questionably artificial, this feels outright plastic. To make matters worse for the guys, the ratio today is more like 2:1. Which still betters most real-world nightclub situations, but it’s a disappointment after the quantity of women in attendance yesterday. To be fair, Kherson is home to only a third of Odessa’s million-strong population.

    Spending six hours breathing in Amigo’s poisonous atmosphere is a tall ask for non-smokers like us – though, incidentally, the tour’s smokers are thrilled to discover that 12-packs here cost the equivalent of AUD$1. The strangest thing about this club is that it’s attached to a bowling alley. Apparently Ukrainians are crazy about tenpin bowling, and not in an ironic manner. To break up the monotony of watching men dance awkwardly with women half their age, Rachael and I hire a lane for an hour and throw down.

    Halfway through our second round, Olga announces another dance-off. Predictably, Derek and James reappear; the former loses his shirt again, while today James is paired with a chesty 20 year-old in a green dress who appears to be having the time of her life. Alarmingly, one of the tour’s oldest – and heaviest – men is relieved of his shirt and tie by a cunning local. A topless, sweating fat man is not something I thought I’d ever witness on a Saturday afternoon in south Ukraine. 7pm rolls around, mercifully, and then it’s adios, Amigo.

    There’s a striking contrast between the tour’s mood upon arrival and departure. Under the blazing sun it was all laughs and optimism; as night descends on the ride home, it’s more funereal, with a dash of crushed expectations. No-one really knows what to say. Many of the tourists opt to stare out the window, lost in thought. To complicate matters and unintentionally rub salt in the group’s wounds, one Canadian guy has picked up a woman and is bringing her back to Odessa. Other than Rachael, she’s the only female on board. James is practically beside himself with incredulity. “How did this happen?” he asks the smug dude and his date, who both appear to be in their mid-30s. “You only met today, and you’re bringing her home?”

    Moments before we left the venue, Derek gave a silver dress to a woman he’d met here years ago, yet within minutes of the gift-giving she left him drunk, shirtless and dejected. As our bus begins the long trek back to Odessa, Roger won’t stop giving him shit about it. “What happened with your gal? She didn’t like the dress?” Derek says she fed him a story about having to leave due to a sick mother – which makes sense, he says, as last time they met, she bailed on him to take care of her sick father. Roger laughs like a hyena. Derek, nonplussed, passes out flat on his back, blocking the aisle with his feet. His accomplice, too, has been drinking, and he deems now an appropriate time to share his perspective on these tours.

    Roger – a personal trainer from St Louis, Missouri in his early 40s – has toured Odessa with Anastasia four times. He’s the relatively introverted yin to Derek’s relentlessly provocative yang. “I come for the party; for the kick of it,” he says. This’ll probably be his last trip. “The only reason I did it this time was because whine-bag back there” – he points his thumb at his recently-divorced friend Derek – “begged me to.” In his mind, he can either spend “$5,000 to go to Florida and lay on a beach for 10 days”, or the same amount of money to do the same thing here. He’s sceptical about the long-term prospects of any relationships formed here. ”I’m not saying that guys don’t find girls, because I’ve brought two back to the States.” Neither worked out for him; one was an interpreter who was simultaneously courting both him and another guy in Texas, unbeknownst to either of them. She used Roger for the airfare to St Louis, then fled south. It was a crushing disappointment at the time, but an experience he can laugh about now.

    He believes that every man on this trip will return home alone. “You ain’t gonna meet somebody and fall in love in five days.” Roger says hasn’t used the website in 11 years, but still gets weekly email notifications from the site that Ukrainian women are allegedly “trying to connect with him” – which he deletes, unread. His take on Anastasia is that it’s simply “bringing a bunch of old men a little bit of happiness. It’s money for [Anastasia], but it’s also happiness for the old guy on the computer thinking he’s writing a cute girl.” Which is not always the case: often, the girls’ interpreters answer their mail on their behalf, he says. These tours are rarely a try-before-you-buy scenario for guys seeking potential brides; Roger says he “guarantees that 95 or 96% of the guys never sleep with the girls.” He laughs and tells me that “all men are lonely old fools. You’ll get there one day.”

    We pull into a petrol station for a break, which rouses Derek from his slumber. He hasn’t eaten all day, yet he selects a Stella Artois for sustenance, returns to the bus, and starts drunk-dialling every woman in his phone. Which is amusing for a while, until I realise I’m speeding through the dark Ukrainian countryside, listening to a grown man acting like a desperate and dateless teenager. It’s a dark thought, and I try to shake it immediately, but it’s stuck. If the tour’s most experienced and extroverted guy is striking out, what chance do the rest of these dudes have? My mind is filled with despair for the plight of the summer romance tour. It’s nearly midnight when we return to Odessa. The Kherson trip has been a failure, and everyone knows it – except for the Canadian guy and his date, perhaps.

    The tour’s third and final social takes place on Sunday evening, and it’s going to have to be something special to recoup the team morale lost in Kherson. It’s also the guys’ last realistic opportunity to meet local women and set up dates for the remaining five days. After this, they’re essentially on their own, which is a tough place to be in an unfamiliar country. Stakes are high.

    ++

    On Sunday afternoon, we’re ushered into the same room used for orientation on Friday morning. Again the mood of the room tilts toward tension, as an overweight, greying Anastasia media rep named Walter Bodkin treats the 24 guys in attendance like naughty schoolchildren by, essentially, warning them to behave themselves tonight as there’ll be “loads of media there”. Upon our arrival in Ukraine, Larry spoke in awed tones of Walter’s presence on this trip: his 35 years of experience at US television network CBS lends heft to his professional capabilities. On Friday, Rachael and I spent nearly an hour listening to his tales and theories regarding international dating. Walter has been married twice; his most recent divorce cost him over $1 million – which he didn’t tell us, but I later discovered online.

    Ostensibly, a lot is riding on this final social for Anastasia in PR terms, and they don’t want the guys to mess it up. Tonight’s centrepiece is the Miss Bikini 2011 contest, which, frankly, the Anastasia staff seem more excited about than the tourists. Walter takes an ominous tone when advising the group that “once the local guys hear that there’s a bikini show on, they’re gonna want to get inside”, and that security will be tight. Yet, walking down Odessa’s main shopping strip a few days ago, we came across several large billboards advertising all three Anastasia socials in Ukrainian. To publicly advertise what’s being portrayed – by Walter, to the tourists – as a secret event seems deceptive. Olga presents each man with an Anastasia-branded gift bag containing a white sailor cap, which the guys are asked to wear before disembarking from the bus and strolling down the main strip of the popular Arcadia Beach. It’s corny as hell, but most of them comply.

    The footpath to the social venue – a beachside club named Itaka – is congested with human traffic heading in the opposite direction to our group. Someone comments on this, and Walter laughs as he tells us that “they” – Anastasia, presumably – have cleared the beach ahead of our arrival. Which sounds like it’d take considerable cash and muscle to pull off, as there are hundreds of shirtless, suntanned locals streaming past us and throwing dirty looks. It’s impressive, to some extent, that they’d do that just for a couple of dozen guys, but also questionable considering that all these people were, until a few moments ago, doing their best to snatch some sunny Sunday joy amid a challenging day-to-day life. As in any other tourism-reliant city around the world, cash is king.

    The group pauses for a brief photo opportunity outside the club [above], and then we venture into the belly of the beast. We’re led down three flights of stairs and through a busy bar to the bottom level, where 22 bikini-clad models are fanning themselves and posing for photos. Like Friday’s social, it’s centred around a swimming pool; like on Friday, security are actively discouraging patrons from diving in. Opposite the impromptu stage is the ocean, which shimmers as the sun starts to dip. The cordoned-off section of water at the foot of Itaka’s real estate is eerily sparse for such an idyllic location, until I remember the fleeing crowds. Now, dozens of empty plastic sun lounges face the Black Sea [pictured below]. A stray cat paws at the sand in search of salty snacks. House music – a fixture in this part of the world, it seems – thumps soullessly from the speakers as final preparations are made for Miss Bikini 2011.

    The tour group has been led into this surreal scene and left to fend for themselves. There’s a lot of standing around and gawking at the bikini girls. The wiser members of the tour fan out and begin introducing themselves to women seated poolside, interpreters in tow. The smartest guys ignore the bikini contest altogether and relocate to a second, smaller pool area to court women away from the glare and noise. The West Australian miner Owen – who, incidentally, is attending this tour for free as a guest of Anastasia – is judging the contest; so too is Walter, a British journalist from Loaded magazine, and a woman named Dasha Astafieva, who was Playboy’s 55th anniversary Playmate in January 2009.

    Larry MCs the event in English; a female offsider does the same in Ukrainian. He introduces Dasha with an air of reverence, as if she discovered penicillin. Interestingly, scores of local women queue for photos with the porn star between breaks in her judging duties. Here, she has far more female fans than males, but that could also be because there are far more women in attendance. I’m watching the fawning group from behind [pictured below], when an overzealous admirer suddenly clutches her too hard and Dasha’s left breast momentarily slips out of her strapless dress. The crowd of surrounding women gasp in amazement as she quickly fixes herself, embarrassed. I’m convinced that I’m the only male in attendance who saw this happen.

    We meet another Australian named Chris. He is dressed in a blue singlet, jeans, work boots, trucker cap and sunglasses, and sports ponytailed grey hair and a foot-long grey beard. He wields an explosive laugh and speaks in the broadest Australian accent imaginable. Within our first five minutes of conversation, he reveals himself to be a xenophobe and a climate change sceptic. It’s fascinating to meet an archetypal bogan in a place like this. Naturally, 60 Minutes sink their claws into him immediately, and he’s plainly thrilled by the idea of appearing on national television while holidaying in Ukraine. This is his first trip outside of Australia. He’s only paid to attend this one social; the rest of his trip was self-arranged, including his apartment on the outskirts of Odessa. I’m impressed, because organising something of this scale seems far beyond his abilities. [Pictured below, left to right: 60 Minutes reporter Michael Usher, Chris, and myself.]

    The bikini contest is won by a petite blonde from neighbouring city Nikolaev named Natalia, who earns a Yamaha jetski for her trouble. Dasha then leads a performance by her pop group, Nikita [pictured below], which features another female vocalist, backup dancers, and a shirtless male DJ who does little more than press ‘play’ and show off choreographed dance moves. There’s around 50 girls in the audience. I can only see five guys from the tour in the throng. After their eight-song set – performed alternately in English and Ukrainian – the stage is broken down and a dance floor opens up in front of the bar.

    By this point, Itaka could be any club anywhere in the world. Some guys pick up; some don’t. Chris hits the beer pretty hard; he’s tanked before midnight, and asks an Anastasia rep to arrange a taxi home, alone. Looking across the crowds dancing poolside or conversing with the opposite sex, it does seem quite a stretch that this is all worth it, romantically speaking. In terms of meeting new people and having new experiences – sure. Just by signing up to this thing, it’s impossible for the guys not to tick both boxes. But finding a long-term partner – let alone a casual sex partner – in Odessa seems no more likely for these men than in their hometowns, were they actively pursuing either outcome.

    ++

    With the three socials over, the rest of the week is left fairly open. Daily sightseeing tours run to nearby venues like a winery and the Odessa catacombs. They’re sparsely-attended, but interesting and worthwhile for Rachael and I; less so for the single tourists, it seems, though a couple of guys bring dates and interpreters. From an Irish bar on the main strip on Tuesday night, we spy three of the tour guys walking alongside a tall, leggy blonde. ”So many hoops to jump through to probably not get laid,” remarks the American journalist we’re drinking with.

    We get to talking with a couple of the other guys about their impressions of this trip. Lee [pictured in foreground, above], 43, owns a small trucking company in western Pennsylvania. “I’ve been married three times before,” he says. “No regrets. I never wanted to be divorced once; never thought it would happen three times.” He’s been a member of Anastasia since January 2011. This is his first trip outside of the US. He’s been on several dates and is particularly keen on two women: one in Odessa, who we’ve seen him with on several occasions and seems lovely, and another in Nikolaev who has been having problems finding a babysitter for her young child in order to meet Lee again. He doesn’t think dating here is any easier than back home. “If everything was easy, why would I need to come to Odessa? If it was easy I could walk down to the local pub, and – there she is.” He advises those intending to join a tour like this to “not set your expectations so high that they’re unattainable, because then you’re going to be disappointed”, and “just be yourself. I’ve been myself since the day I landed.” It seems to be working well for him.

    Like Lee, James – the 53 year-old attorney, stunning dancer, and Sean Connery lookalike – wears his heart on his sleeve. They’re both totally sincere, and make no bones about their intentions here: to find their respective soulmates. “Most of these men are here for that reason,” James believes. “We’re not looking for a good time for a week. We’ve had that back home. We’re looking for somebody we can share our life with, but we have to be attracted to them as well, on every level. Do you really think we’d come all this way if we could find it at home? We can’t!” He first visited Odessa in May 2011, and says he did everything he was told not to do – “except wander off by myself. I didn’t do that. But – did I take them shopping? Yes. Did I fail to attend the socials in full? Yes. Women took me elsewhere; they took me out of the competition. I bought girls a pair of shoes, a purse, a cell phone, a laptop… it was about a $2,000 lesson, in total. Painful, but necessary.” He wasn’t self-aware last time, but believes he is now. He’s been on several dates, and he’d been corresponding with almost all of them through Anastasia beforehand. “I genuinely want to find the person who can love me the way I want to love them,” he says. “That’s what my parents had for 59 years. I’ve seen it. It exists.”

    Word spreads among the group that Roger got sushi’d big-time earlier that night; his date and interpreter took him to the tune of US$900. We also hear that the oldest guy on the tour, Richie, yesterday proposed to a local girl. We catch up with him on our final night in Odessa, and he lays it all out on the table during a two-hour conversation. Like many elderly people, he goes to great pains to describe the smallest, most insignificant details of his stories, as if to justify his continuing existence. He tells us of his three failed marriages; his six children; his careers in construction, firefighting and police investigation, and everything in between. He tells us of meeting his new fiancée, Tanya, through Anastasia in March, after dreaming of a woman who looked exactly like her and combing the website for nearly a year.

    “I flew 7,000 miles – a third of the way around the world – to meet the most gorgeous woman I’ve ever met in my life,” Richie says. “She’s beautiful inside and out. Every word she said on the computer, she’s proven beyond any reasonable doubt that she is the person that she claimed to be. I love her dearly. We’re hoping that we can get her visa and passport through as quickly as possible. We’re both very excited. We both want it to happen,” he says of his intention to take her back to his home in the United States. “I’m ecstatic. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I love her. Our biggest argument is who loves whom more. If our whole life goes that way, it’ll be the best argument the world has ever seen!”

    At 29, Tanya is 39 years Richie’s junior. She doesn’t speak English; he doesn’t speak Ukrainian. I suspect deep down he knows the odds are against him. But what is love if not an insane leap at happiness? As we shake hands and say goodbye, I wish Richie all the best, and mean it more than I have in my whole life.

    Andrew McMillen (@Andrew_McMillen) is an Australian freelance journalist.

  • The Vine story: The Flaming Lips ‘Zaireeka’ iPhone experiment at 4ZZZ Brisbane, November 2011

    A live review-of-sorts for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    The Flaming Lips – Zaireeka iPhone Experiment
    4ZZZ Studios, Brisbane
    Sunday November 20 2011

    “There’s a lot of things where, when you think about them, you think they could work. But it’s different when you do them.” Wayne Coyne, singer and songwriter of The Flaming Lips, is sitting before a microphone at Brisbane community radio station 4ZZZ. It’s 12.50am. Four hours earlier, Coyne and his band headlined the Windmill Stage at Harvest Festival. Now, at Triple Zed, he’s here to lead something that’s never been done before: an attempt to simultaneously play all four albums of the Lips’ 1997 album, Zaireeka, live on the radio, in sync, via 160 iPhones split into four groups of 40 fans.

    “It’s tough to get this many people together, and to be doing it live on the air, and not knowing whether it’s going to work,” Coyne says. “But you seem to be open to the idea of experimentation, and I think your audience will be forgiving enough if it’s not perfect. Everybody out here is having a good time, so that seems to count for something.” He’s right. The station’s three floors and car park are buzzing with the excitement of iPhone-wielding fans, harried-looking Zed staff, and plenty of hangers-on who’ve snuck in via the back entrance just to be a part of it all. Judging by the sunburns, most spent their day at Harvest. Many are in altered states.

    The singer is being interviewed on air by Zed presenter Brad Armstrong, who began petitioning his ‘Bring The Lips to Zed’ campaign in late August. Armstrong eventually got through to Coyne’s camp, and the two have been in touch for weeks leading up to his arrival tonight. “In the end, you and me were texting back and forth,” Coyne says to the 23 year-old presenter. “There was a couple of times you were calling, and we were just getting ready to walk on stage. I was like, ‘Hey Brad, I can’t talk to you…’” The pair laugh. Armstrong is nervous; his mind repeatedly blanks during the interview. “But persistence is a good quality, for sure,” the singer smiles. “You seemed like you were interesting to work with. Now I’m at the mercy of your organisational skills.”

    Though Armstrong is clearly enjoying himself in the booth, he’s shot himself in the foot somewhat. He’s the default mastermind of this whole operation. While he eats up airtime, a handful of Zed staff flit between the groups, trying to make sense of it all. Guest ‘conductors’ include Richard Pike from PVT, a dude from The Holidays, and local punk duo DZ Deathrays. None of them have any idea what they’re doing. Someone forgot the seemingly obvious step of supplying radios for the four groups; these are eventually put in place, while Armstrong attempts to lead a test run. In the preceding week, the 160 iPhone holders were instructed to download the Atomic Clock app and transfer one of Zaireeka’s four discs to their phone, plus a test track. Eventually Armstrong communicates that everyone should set the test track as an alarm for 1.32am, and then hold up their phones so that microphones can pick up the sound. Zed staff then run throughout the building, yelling out the same message. Watching all of this unfold is exhausting.

    For the full story, visit The Vine, where you’ll also find a gallery of photos taken by Justin Edwards, including the image used above.

  • The Vine festival review: Harvest Brisbane, November 2011

    A festival review for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    Harvest Festival
    Riverstage and Botanical Gardens, Brisbane
    Saturday 19 November 2011

    Harvest Festival is not above flattery. “Congratulations on your good taste and adventurous spirit,” reads the first line of the 36 page colour program I’m handed upon entry. This psychological ploy makes me smile. Which music fan, anywhere in the world, does not believe that they have the finest music taste? To argue otherwise suggests a lack of self-belief, or false modesty. And the rest of us? Our taste is fantastic. The best. Thanks for asking, Harvest. For AJ Maddah to align his festival with that sort of stroked-ego sycophancy exemplifies tact, and more than a little self-belief of his own. After all, he booked the bands.

    “You are about to witness an amazing collection of great artists and memorable performances.” No minced words there. He then bangs on for a few short paragraphs about a vaudeville tent named Le Boudoir, a Secret Garden full of “world renowned DJs” and “specially designed seating”, and the festival’s Australian art installations and “troupe performances popping up from nowhere”. (Maddah’s emphasis on the nationality of the art is interesting, given that of the five Australian acts on the main stages, just one (Gung Ho) is not from Sydney and all are confined to the smallest one – The Big Red Tractor Stage. His other festival, Soundwave, traditionally has but a couple of Australian artists each year.) AJ’s program spiel ends with the line, “We know that you have come for the bands but hope you will return year after year for the experience!”

    In the lead-up to the event, an emphasis was placed on how Harvest is “a feeling, not just a festival”. That’s a fairly airy-fairy thing to say while attempting to make a mark in an already crowded festival market; let alone in the notoriously cutthroat live music industry. What could this statement mean, exactly? Clearly, Harvest is pitched slightly left-of-centre. It is, apparently, for the more discerning punter. More mature, perhaps; not just in age, but probably in terms of “good taste”, too. I think about this statement all day. Though it’s probably marketing-speak not worth the scrap of paper it was scrawled on, perhaps there is some truth to AJ’s spin.

    Those words flit across my mind while I watch Portishead. What feeling might they embody, then? I think ‘isolation’, then ‘boredom’. Cruel, perhaps. After an hour drinking in their enormous sound, though, I settle upon ‘empathy’. You’d have to be a hard bastard to not believe that Beth Gibbons was in a dark place, hurting, when she wrote these songs all those years ago. Even if she’s putting on a mask, 17 years later – who could sustain real sadness and hurt for so long, and still function as a performer at this level? – it’s a very convincing act. I fall for it, time and again. Right up until she thanks the crowd, and then lets out a nervous little laugh, just before the encore break. The spell is broken then and there, but I like her – and her band – a lot more after that tiny reveal of real human emotion. Earlier, I was put in mind of Interpol’s headline performance on this same stage in January. That, like this, was technically brilliant but delivered from a position of icy disaffection. The overwhelming enormity of a song like ‘Glory Box’ reduces these kinds of complaints to cinders, though, thanks particularly to its cutting, perfect guitar solo. During the encore break, two of the band members return to stage to thank AJ by name. “It’s tough doing festivals at the moment,” one says, “but I think this has got a really good vibe.”

    For the full review, visit The Vine, where you’ll also find a gallery of photos by the always excellent Justin Edwards. He took the photo used above, too.

  • Mess+Noise live review: Splendour In The Grass, August 2011

    A three-part live review of the music festival Splendour In The Grass 2011 for Mess+Noise. Excerpts from each day are included below. The photos used in this blog post were taken by Justin Edwards, who shot the event on behalf of M+N. His photo galleries are linked from my reviews.

    Report: Splendour 2011 Day 1

    Woodfordia is a really good venue, Gotye will top the Hottest 100, showers are best taken in the day and Kanye West apparently likes fish sticks – things learned on day one of Splendour In The Grass 2011 by ANDREW MCMILLEN.

    In the lead-up to Splendour In The Grass 2011, it felt like the first year where the honeymoon could be over for Australia’s largest music festival. Most notably, this is the first Splendour in recent memory that failed to sell out. Days away from gates opening, promoters even decided to offer tickets to each of the three days at a heavily discounted price. Compare this to last year’s event – the first time the festival had been staged at Woodford in Queensland, and also the first time it stretched across three days – which sold out in around five hours. Evidently, an $80 price hike while offering what’s arguably an inferior line-up appeared like a mistake, but once on site, all the bad press in the lead-up to the festival all but slips away.

    Organisers even seem to have sorted out a better entrance process this year. Rather than hours spent sitting in slow-moving traffic kilometres away from the gates, those who arrive after midday on Thursday are impressed by how smoothly it all runs. Perhaps the speedy entrance can be attributed to the lax security when it comes to searching vehicles for alcohol. The tray of the M+N ute could’ve been filled with bottles of spirits – and we’d have gotten away with it. Maybe they were relying on last year’s scare tactics to discourage BYO booze? It didn’t seem to work. On a cold Thursday night, a man next to me at the urinal exclaims, “There’s fucking steam coming off my fucking piss!”

    Day One: July 29

    We learned last year that Woodfordia is a very good venue for accommodating 30,000 music fans for a weekend. This rings true today. Very little has been changed as far as the layout is concerned. The majority of the musical action occurs at three stages. Mix Up and the G.W. McLennan are housed under tents in the centre of the festival grounds, while the Amphitheatre – the main stage – is located at the far end. It’s a huge bowl that’s entered by taking either the high road – which is quite a steep climb – or the lower path, which funnels into the “D” section in front of stage. The first Amphitheatre performance of the festival is scheduled to start at 11am, yet the gates remain closed until 11.10am for no apparent reason.

    Once inside, Brisbane act Millions are playing to a crowd that seems to consist largely of triple j staff, including music director Richard Kingsmill. The quartet won an Unearthed competition to play today. They play catchy indie pop built around confident songwriting and a laidback delivery. This slot may well give their profile a nice boost. The band who played at this time last year, Jinja Safari, take the same stage at 1pm today to what I assume is a far bigger crowd than their first time around.

    For the full report on day one, visit Mess+Noise.

    Report: Splendour 2011 Day 2

    Perfect 10 performances from Gareth Liddiard and The Grates, strange timetabling decisions and disappointing sets from Mona and The Mars Volta – ANDREW MCMILLEN reports on a musically inconsistent day two of Splendour In The Grass in Woodfordia, Queensland. But, hey, at least the weather was good.

    All weekend, the weather is a dream. It couldn’t be better. It’s so good that you tend not to notice the clear skies, and instead take it for granted. There isn’t a moment of rain, which makes for happy camping.

    First on the Mix Up stage are Ghoul, who admit to not having played a show in six months but prove to be captivating. Evidently I’m not the only one who’s fond of Ivan Vizintin’s distinctive voice. By the end of their 45 minutes there’s a few hundred heads facing the stage. At the Amphitheatre, it’s a tough day to be a Cut Off Your Hands fan. Their set is bland and uninspiring, but this could well be the Kiwi quartet playing at their best. It’s indie pop that you can dance to, but the absence of hooks leaves the crowd cold. They lean heavily on material from new release Hollow. Fifty minutes of Nick Johnston’s voice becomes grating. They save their best for last, when Johnston ditches his guitar and wails along to early singles ‘Still Fond’ and ‘Expectations’.

    “If I was booking a festival, the first thing I’d do is not book me,” says a typically self-deprecating Gareth Liddiard. He attracts a few hundred punters to the McLennan tent at 1.30pm just to hear his voice, acoustic guitar and between-song gags. He tells us about the inspiration for writing ‘Highplains Mailman’ and ‘Strange Tourist’. He refuses ‘Khe Sahn’ requests as he says he’s got his own; in ‘Shark Fin Blues’, presumably, which he plays without fuss. He mocks the techno bumping from Mix Up, and reflects on how people tend to romanticise the decade in which they were raised. He bemoans the current fascination with the ’80s. “Joy Division and The Birthday Party aside – what the fuck?” A stagehand gestures at him. He replies, “Is that 10 minutes left? Or 10 out of 10, Gareth?”, before finishing with ‘Jezebel’. The latter, Gareth.

    Looking down on the Amphitheatre at 2.20pm from the top of the hill is hilarious. “We’re Mona from Nashville, Tennessee,” one of the tiny figures on stage says into a microphone. “Let’s bump up the party!” There are perhaps three dozen people in the D-section at this point. The entire crowd here wouldn’t fill The Tote. It’s mind-boggling to look down at the mostly empty hill and recall that last night, every square inch was packed during Kanye West. “Never trust anything that blows up,” the figure says after a few songs. “All great things start small.” Right. Their music is embarrassing. It sounds like a cross between Jet and modern Kings Of Leon.

    For the full report on day two, visit Mess+Noise.

    Report: Splendour 2011 Day 3

    A fatigued ANDREW MCMILLEN powers through the final day of Splendour In The Grass 2011, taking in performances by Pulp, The Panics, Coldplay, The Vines and the last ever show by Townsville’s The Middle East.

    By now, fatigue has set in. I’ve spent Splendour sober – I’m in the midst of a three-month break from drinking – and I’m still ruined from the walking, the dust, and the volume of food and soft drink consumed thus far. Time for one last push. At the Amphitheatre, Melbourne’s Alpine are winning fans under a cloudy 11am sky that threatens to break. They tell us that it’s their first festival, yet the six-piece handle their set like true pros. “I can’t stop smiling, even though some of the songs are sad!” one of the singers enthuses between tracks. They end on ‘Villages’, a fantastic indie pop song that hints at their potential for greatness. The prospect of relocating to another stage is too much to handle, so I sit in the shade and wait for Grouplove, a band about whom I’m blissfully ignorant.

    As it turns out, they play a set consisting entirely of Arcade Fire covers. I kid. these guys are from Los Angeles, not Quebec, so there’s at least one point of difference. Their showing at midday is powerful and evocative. It’s all blustery, feel-good indie rock, which fits the zeitgeist like a glove. They pull a big crowd. It feels as though a lot of those here are discovering a new favourite band. They thank Splendour co-founder Paul Piticco for inviting them here, and dedicate ‘Naked Kids’ to him. They’re a very easy band to like.

    On the same stage at 1.10pm – like I said, fatigue has set in – Hungry Kids Of Hungary prove their sound works well in an arena context. With no one else really playing at the time, they’re handed the perfect opportunity to impress a good chunk of Splendour-goers. They don’t miss the mark. They play most of debut album Escapades and kick beachballs into the crowd (as you do). With a new record reportedly underway, they’re well on track to continue ascending the Australian pop ladder.

    Under the McLennan tent, Leader Cheetah sound great but are otherwise dull. They show strong songwriting, but give us nothing else to latch onto. We might as well be listening to the album. I arrive in time for ‘Bloodlines’ and a wave of material from the newly-released Lotus Skies. I stand at the back of the tent and look out across the pond of filthy water upon which the nearby “pontoon bar” is housed. There’s a momentary break in the timetable, so I scamper for an early afternoon shower and return to catch the final 30 seconds of Liam Finn’s set – which is a shame, as it looked like a good time. A decade into their career, The Herd are a classic festival draw by now. They play a set of crowd-pleasers intermixed with material from forthcoming fifth album Future Shade, which are well received. I prefer them over most Australian hip-hop acts because they treat melody with as much respect as their rhymes. Watching thousands of people sing along to their hooks, it’s easy to see why they’ve established themselves near the peak of the genre. While they mightn’t have the hardcore fanbase of acts like Hilltop Hoods or Bliss N Eso, they’ve certainly carved out their own niche.

    For the full report on day three, visit Mess+Noise.

  • Junior ‘issues’ story: ‘Music Photography: First Three Songs, No Flash – And No Copyright’, July 2011

    A feature story for the ‘issues’ section of monthly street press Junior, July 2011. It’s an updated version of a feature that originally appeared on TheVine.com.au.

    Click the below image for a closer look, or read the article text underneath.

    Music photography: First three songs, no flash – and no copyright

    Earlier this year, Iron Maiden – the most recent headliners of the national Soundwave Festival – brought more than just a custom-built stage, hundreds of guitar solos and an enormous British flag. As Junior photographer Cameron Edney discovered on the day, they were also the only Soundwave performing artist to present a customised photography contract.

    “It was pretty tight,” Edney says. “Their contract stated that they wanted shooters [photographers] to send the best shots via mail to London for approval. Once the band’s management had looked over the shots put forward, they would contact us to let us know what shots we could use. They also wanted a minimum of 30 days to do this.”

    Such rights-grabbing statements are nothing new in the live entertainment business, where artists’ images and ‘trade secrets’ have always been fiercely protected. Eddie Van Halen was known to turn his back to the audience when performing innovative electric guitar solos before Van Halen were signed, so as to prevent both his newly-discovered techniques from being viewed by rival guitarists – as well as being captured by keen-eyed music photographers.

    Recent Australian tours by popular rock acts like The Smashing Pumpkins and Muse have demanded that photographers shoot only from the sound desk. Muse, too, issued a contract which states that photographers “hereby assign full title guarantee the entire worldwide right, title and interest in and to the Photographs, including the copyright therein”.

    Which means that if Muse – or, more likely, their management and/or lawyers – happen to be browsing your live photo portfolio and they’re particularly taken by a picture of bassist Christopher Wolstenholme in his fetching red suit, they can request the high resolution image file (or negative), and you have no power to negotiate because you’re bound by a contract.

    Why, then, in an age where the vast majority of gig-goers carry web-ready media devices in their pockets, are bands still so insistent on attempting to shield themselves from the close scrutiny of cameras? Recent news reports even suggest that Apple is developing software capable of disabling the iPhone camera whenever a punter tries to film a gig, via clever infrared sensors installed at venues. Though live footage and still images may fall under different arms of copyright law, one wonders: are such heavy-handed measures really necessary?

    British-born, Australia-based Tony Mott has been photographing musicians across the world for over 30 years. He’s been the Big Day Out’s official photographer since the festival’s 1992 inception; his work has appeared on the cover of just about every music and news-related publication imaginable. When it comes to photo contracts, though, his approach is blunt: “I don’t read them, and I never do.”

    Mott says he’s never had any legal trouble as a result of signing contracts in this effectively sight-unseen manner. “Not one single person has come back to me and told me that I’ve been doing the wrong thing. I sell [photos] to music magazines. That’s it. That’s all anyone’s doing with them. I mean, if you started making posters and merchandise [with your photos of the artist], I think you would get into trouble.”

    According to Matt Palmer, a Brisbane-based photographer, “You get treated like a bit of a bastard with these contracts. The reality is, you’re there as a fan, and as a photographer, you’re trying to take the best photos you can of a band. So it’s a bit weak to be presented with these contracts when you’re actually trying to help them out.”

    Sydney-based photographer Daniel Boud notes that two bands that don’t treat photographers like bastards, however, are also two of the biggest in the world: AC/DC and U2. Both acts toured Australia last year.

    “It says a lot that, for two of the bands whose fans are so rabid that you might actually be able to sell the photos for commercial gain, neither act even bothers with having photos contracts,” says Boud. “They’re also two artists that, when you shoot them, their tour managers and publicists are incredibly nice and welcoming to photographers. They thanked us for coming. Whereas a lot of the time, concert promoters make you feel like you’re a pain in the arse to them.”

    It’s a tough line to tread, between respecting the rights of the artist and satisfying both professional photographers and the average punter holding their iPhone aloft. Though their hardware varies, they both want to capture the moment for posterity.

    Junior’s Cameron Edney admits that such contracts “can be a joke; the demands can be laughable, but for the most part, it’s expected. It’s part of the job, and if you get into this side of the business and want to shoot live music, you have to be prepared to sign release forms. If you don’t, you may lose out on shooting bands you really want to cover. Just like any job, music photography has its own disadvantages.”

    Andrew McMillen (andrewmcmillen.com/) is a Brisbane-based freelance journalist and Junior writer. This piece originally appeared on TheVine.com.au; we asked him to update it for Junior. This is his second story for our ‘issues’ series; his first was on ticket scalping. Read the whole series at junioronline.com.au