The Saturday prior to this year’s Soundwave, Sydneysiders despaired – a weather system hanging off a tropical cyclone doused the city all day, leaving the roads between the Brisbane event and Sydney quite literally impassable in parts. Luckily, however, the sun decided to break through and though soggy, the big day began.
Celebrating ten years of an alternative music festival was likely to be a lively event no matter how you looked at it. Big names were announced months ago, huge headliners including timeless rockers Metallica, bad boys of punk, Blink 182, on a reunion tour and hip hop legends Cypress Hill made for a formidable line up.
It was probably inevitable that once the tour arrived in Sydney, traditionally the largest crowd of the festival, it was going to be a challenge to keep things on track.
Promoter and vocal Twitter enthusiast, AJ Maddah, said that this year, being the tenth, was a one-off in terms of the calibre of artists.
“Being our 10th festival, with the line-up that it is, it’s definitely a one-off. Everything is a lot bigger and brighter,” he said on the eve of Brisbane, the first stop on the round the country tour.
Unfortunately, the bigger the bands, the bigger the expectations and the more room for things to go wrong. And this year was undeniably huge.
First up, Australian Hardcore boys, Northlane: a fresh band with a new take on hardcore, and perpetual crowd favourites, they were a wise choice. If you missed Northlane, you should only have otherwise been at Memphis May Fire, American southern-state talent who bring a blistering blend of blues and hardcore in just the right amounts, and a band who cemented themselves with the Australian crowd during their set.
We followed up MMF with a healthy dose of This is Hell – spectacular thrash-metal with several genius albums under their collective belts. Their pace was blistering, energy was high, and if you weren’t excited about the day after their set, you were probably one of the few unfortunates already passed out on the lawns.
We decided to keep up theme of big bass lines and ripping vocals with a trip to the Gallows set. I’m going to be honest, it was never going to be Gallows without original front man Frank Carter, but I was willing to give them a shot. Unfortunately, I was incredibly underwhelmed. A combination of poor mixing and the loss of their guitarist Stephen Carter just before this tour meant the set was lackluster – a very poor homage to the better days of Gallows. RIP.
Determined to keep things going, we stopped by fellow Brits Deaf Havana, and were promptly blown away. We were treated to a relatively tight set for a band that claims to rarely rehearse. But I’m pretty sure having your lead guitarist come out smoking a cigarette is a good way to get me to like your band. It worked. Their set was a collection of old and new, including an impromptu one-man acoustic version of crowd favourite “The Past Six Years”, which absolutely sold them to me. A very pleasant surprise.
Following this, we decided to brave the shit storm of over-trained security guards and head into the main arena for Canadian favourites, Billy Talent. It’s hard to believe a country that gave us Justin Bieber and Celine Dion could come up with such an individual take on classic punk rock. Their sound is iconic and their set delivered – spectacularly. It both surprises and thrills me when a band I’ve loved for a long time performs a set that does their fans proud, and this was definitely one of those moments.
Following such a high, it seemed only fitting to level ourselves out, so we went to stop in on the man everybody loves to hate, Michael Crafter, as he fronted Confession. They came forth with material off their latest album and as regular crowd pullers, kept the energy high as the sun took more than a few casualties in the heat of the day.
We headed back to the main arena for Sum 41: it felt like they were there to appease children of the late nineties and early naughties and their set was lackluster at best. Frontman Deryck Whibley looked like a sports star gone to seed and his attempt to get the crowd inspired was on par, reminding us that their material was pretty average even when it was first released.
We left, caught 10 minutes of unoriginal dick jokes from All Time Low and decided we’d had enough when, three sugar-coated songs in, the pop punk stars started encouraging their underage fans to take their tops off. Their fourth Soundwave in a row and I felt they really could have done without recycling material from their first three visits.
We caught a few brutal minutes of Slayer to balance it all out, and took five before catching a good chunk of Killswitch Engage – eternally impressive performers and all-round favourites. Following this, we caught most of the Cancer Bats set, a personal highlight for me. “Hail Destroyer” absolutely blew me away, as did “Lucifer’s Rocking Chair” in what was a fantastic set. They were everything I look for in festival sets – energetic, brutal and true to the roots of the band.
We caught a brief bit of the Cypress Hill set for some classic ‘90s hip hop – another crowd favourite and fans were not disappointed – before we headed over to British big name, Bring Me The Horizon. Opening with a track from their upcoming album, Sempiternal, they were fast-paced, energetic and played all the big songs the crowd expected including “Diamonds Aren’t Forever”, “Suicide Season” and “Chelsea Smile”. The much-reported lighting of flares during this set added a certain showmanship, but was somewhat disheartening when the stage caught alight.
According to official Soundwave sources, fans injured from the flare were released within the hour and despite the dramatics, the set delivered another trademark festival performance – they were true to their British metal core roots, with a healthy dash of synth and keyboards, and eternally entertaining frontman and professional potty mouth, Oli Sykes.
On the back of the pyrotechnic spectacular, we headed to the main arena for ‘90s bad boys and the band all mothers love to hate, Blink 182. Due to road closures from the weather the night before, crowd favourites Garbage, were unable to perform because their gear never made it. Blink 182 provided a fantastic distraction for fans – the reunion tour of a band pretty much every Soundwave fan grew up with didn’t disappoint. Despite missing crowd favourite and drummer, Travis Barker, the aged rockers pulled out all the stops and played all the favourites we expected: “Dammit”, “What’s My Age Again?”, “I Miss You” and “Josie” – and the crowd responded with the expected enthusiasm. While not my favourite band of the day, it was a huge set, proving that Blink are still a force to be reckoned with, and it was a piece of Soundwave history I’m glad I didn’t miss.
We did miss Linkin Park, something of a travesty to fans of the band, but reports from friends inside the packed-out arena hinted at a classic performance from the band, and vocalist Chester Bennington’s performance was said to have been absolutely spectacular.
Energy dwindling after a day of ciders and sunshine, we were glad of the respite when the sun set. We headed over to Metallica and took a seat in the crowded arena to watch the rock gods pull out all the stops. Again, another huge band, and another set that gave fans exactly what they expected: “Enter Sandman”, “Ride the Lightning” and “Sanitarium” were expertly delivered anthems.
An absolute mega-band who pulled out all the stops, proving that they are unlikely to become ‘has beens’ any time soon, with legions of fans that couldn’t possibly forget such a spectacular performance.
We ended the day with a seat in one of the main arenas to watch pop-punk heavyweights Paramore close the day with the kind of aplomb rarely seen from young performers these days. Now a three piece, fronted by flame-haired Hayley Williams, they kept the hits coming. Even for those not in the front row of the frantic crowd, there was a fantastic energy despite the exhaustion that inevitably pervades the last set of the day. A trip through their biggest hits cemented them as one of the best acts of the day for me, and despite the delay in their set due to logistical issues, they were a great way to round out the day.
Despite the setbacks, mostly involving drummers and the weather – a music festival inevitability – Sydney Soundwave was probably the best in the last three years for me. The calibre of bands was definitely high in the headliners but I’d love to see a greater platform for local acts, given the performance strength of local heroes Northlane and Confession on the day.
Regardless, faithful Soundwave fans know it was something special and Maddah definitely has his work cut out managing expectations, and delivering on them, next year.