Dead Air: Sleep Vs. Sound
December 17th 2010
Nick La Rosa
It wasn’t all that long ago that Australia was crying out for a punk/metal festival, or at least for a greater quantity of internationally touring acts from the genre. Those calls were answered with AJ Maddah’s Soundwave in 2007, which brought out Deftones and post Blink-182 side project +44 as headliners, and that festival has grown exponentially since its inaugural year – Faith No More, Nine Inch Nails and Alice In Chains have all played while Iron Maiden, Slayer, Queens Of The Stone Age and Slash are on this year’s bill. Given the size it’s become, it’s not immediately apparent where they’ll grow it to next or if they even can.
Soundwave’s had a monopoly on the hugely-supported market through these years, no other event dedicates itself to punk and metal, and so even though each year has had its complaints post-event, they’ve been big money makers (they had better have been considering what this year’s headliners demand as mere deposits, rumoured to be in the seven-figures in some cases). In Sydney especially, Soundwave have suffered from venue problems. Entry into St Peters’ Sydney Park was a nightmare while their move to Eastern Creek in Sydney’s west has been fraught with transport troubles and a lack of shade. That said, being burnt to a crisp last year was worth seeing Sunny Day Real Estate, Baroness and Anthrax, even without the headliners. But it means that while Soundwave holds the market share thanks to a three year headstart, they haven’t quite closed it off.
That’s where the No Sleep Til festival hopes to pick up its clientele from – the fans who feel aggrieved by the quality of the Soundwave experience. Much smaller in its scope, the line-up only feels dwarfed because of the inevitable comparisons to the Soundwave behemoth. They’ve managed to coax legendary punk band The Descendents to Australia for the first time, while Megadeth are undoubtedly one of the world’s biggest and most influential metal acts. The question is, have they reached to far in trying to offer a Soundwave alternative, instead of trying to find their own niche?
Realistically, in their first year they were never going to compete. While they can match the prestige of a headliner, they can’t match the quantity – a problem that plagues their whole line-up. (The fact they’re well and truly surpassed in emerging and second-string acts is countered slightly by their Australian content, which is usually equal to and in more than the odd occasion better than their international counterparts.) Soundwave will have around 70 acts while No Sleep has just over 20. The key then – and what they’ve aimed at even if it hasn’t been too well marketed – is the quality of the day’s experience. With three stages there’s not too many clashes (Parkway and NOFX doesn’t seem like the smartest overlap) and we punters are led to believe that we’ll be treated well when it comes to amenities and services. But time will tell.
One can’t help but think that this is all becoming reminiscent of the ill-fated Australian leg of the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in 2009. Curated by Nick Cave, the event sold poorly but the space, quality of acts and general lack of dickheads meant it’s gone down in recent festival history as one of the best, even if it never returned. Postponed for the second year, organisers said it would become a bi-annual event. The general public forgetting about it two years down the track has ensured that its absence in 2011 has gone scarcely noted. So unfortunately, while I’m tipping No Sleep Til to be one of the best – if not the best – festival experiences of the summer period, I’m less than confident in tipping that it will be a commercial succe