The 2015 Soundwave Music Festival in Sydney

The Soundwave Festival is the biggest rock music festival in the Southern Hemisphere. Held annually in late Summer, Soundwave 2015 was for the first time held over two days, a regime that allowed for a greater number of bands on the bill whilst minimising clashes and sheer number of stages. Though I love live music, I generally hate festivals- too many people, too much noise, too tiring. But the Soundwave festival has such an impressive array of incredible punk and metal bands on the bill that clearly, an exception must be made. I went along this year for both days to see what was up.

Day 1 (watch highlights)

I’m running terribly late for the midday start of Melbourne hardcore rockers King Parrot. They’re only playing for half an hour, and I’m cursing the train as it slowly pulls into Olympic Park station. Once off I run through the melee of police sniffer dogs and negotiate the entrance to the festival, though despite checking the map on the train I’m immediately hopelessly lost once inside. Mercifully, the festival site is not as vast as previous years, and I reach Stage 4 (the Metal Stage) in only a few minutes of running. The two day format is already paying dividends for me.

King Parrot playing at Sydney Soundwave 2015
King Parrot

King Parrot are well into the swing of things by the time I arrive. “Are you feeling sun smart?” screams the bassist Slats in a bogan Melbourne accent. “Cos I’m feeling pretty fucking sun dumb.” He’s not the only one. Though I’ve smothered myself in suncream it is blisteringly hot out here at Olympic Park and I question my sanity in being here at midday. The shirtless, fat and sweaty King Parrot do not disappoint however, burning through a quick assortment of songs with insane intensity. The moshpit is going berserk to instant classics “Bozo” and “Shit on the Liver”, which I’m stoked to discover I haven’t missed. Singer Matt Young dives into the crowd and is carried around on a sea of hands whilst still screaming into the mic. When the set finishes suddenly at the half hour mark, the crowd dissipates stunned, one onlooker summing up the mood of everyone when he says “Damn it, I’m spent after the very first band!”

It’s a full hour before my next must-see act, progressive black-metallers Ne Oblivscaris, also from Melbourne. So I decide to have a look around. I’m stoked to discover the entrance to the main arena is only a few hundred metres away, with everything from free water refills, shady trees, water sprayers, beer and toilets in between. Things seem really well organised and I’m excited about the day ahead.

In the main stadium, classic Aussie ska act Area 7 are up and rocking. I’m always up for some ska so I take a seat in the stands to get out of the sun and watch from a distance. The main stages look great, but the ground is covered in white plastic matting which in the midday sun is almost blindingly reflective. I take it easy for a while in the shade then go back out to the metal stage to check out Ne Oblivscaris.

Ne Oblivscaris playing at Sydney Soundwave 2015
Ne Oblivscaris

I’ve seen their breed of jazz/classical/black metal fusion once before at the Annandale Hotel in Sydney and was impressed, and they don’t disappoint this time either. Being devotees of the epic opus, their 40 minute set is crammed with only 3.5 songs including “Pyrrhic” from the new album and “And Plague Flowers the Kaleidoscope” from the first one. Their sound is intricate to say the least but comes across clear even in the open air. Violinist Tim Charles draws cheers from the crowd when he says it’s a dream to be playing at Soundwave, but it’s clear that this is a band destined for big things.

It’s 2:20 and I’m well overdue for lunch, so I grab some Subway in the main arena and am pleasantly surprised by One Ok Rock from Japan. I’ve never heard of them but they have a youthful enthusiasm and melody that’s contagious, and they become a surprise highlight for me. At the end of their set and my footlong (sub that is) I head to the punk stages for a look around; I catch part of the sets of Fireworks and Crown the Empire before returning to the main arena for the very naughty glam-rockers Steel Panther.

Man, these guys are entertaining as hell. Their banter is off the offensively off the wall, and you’re not quite sure whether its all glam-rock irony or if they’ve performed the same joke so many times that they’ve become it, but they have girls in the crowd flashing their tits on the big screens and dancing on stage and everyone is in stitches or suitably disgusted by the end of their set. Luckily, it also happens that they rock. In between the banter they rip through crowd pleasers like “Pussywhipped” and “17 Girls in a Row”, all blistering solos, leopard-skin pants and blonde hairspray.

Steel Panther Playing at Soundwave 2015 Sydney
Steel Panther playing in the main arena

I’m having such a good time at Steel Panther that I forget to leave early to catch the start of Fear Factory‘s set on the metal stage. Their industrial rock with machine-gun double-kick was some of my favourite music back in the 90’s, I’d had no idea that they were even still making music. But I’ve never once seen ’em live and they put on a good show. Things are a bit on the noisy side though, and I begin to wish they’d mix the drums down a little, since with all the double-kick it becomes difficult to make out the rest of the sound. The older classics I’m ok with however, and they play enough classics from the old days such as “Edgecrusher” and “Demanufacture” to keep the fans happy.

Even though I’ve seen them the previous night at their Enmore Theatre sideshow gig with Incubus, I make a quick trip inside the main arena to see Antemasque. Consisting mostly of ex-members of one of my favourite prog-rock bands Mars Volta, Omar, Cedric and Dave (and Omar’s brother on the bass) are rocking out on a huge stage with a smallish crowd, which allows easy access to all the action, but there’s not as much post-punk intensity as they had the previous night at the Enmore. I also manage to arrive right as they launch into “Providence”, which degenerates into a 20 minute stream-of-consciousness jam session. Now I know these guys have been given an hour slot with only one 35-minute album of material to their credit, but extended jams are tedious at the best of times. Personally, at both gigs I’d much prefer to have heard a couple of killer Mars Volta or At the Drive In tracks thrown into the mix. But they recover momentum with a suitably rocking performance of “People Forget” before walking offstage looking oddly relieved to be done.

Antemasque Playing at Soundwave 2015 Sydney
Antemasque rocking out
Ministry Playing at Soundwave 2015 Sydney

Back over at the metal stage, I am super excited to see pioneering industrial metal act Ministry. Al Jourgensen struts onstage to the programmed beat of “Hail to His Majesty”. A huge video display behind the band plays Ministry’s left-wing brand of angry imagery, flashes of TV footage and ridicule Fox News. The band are absolutely rocking and to my delight they include my absolute favourite “NWO” and “Just One Fix” from Psalm 69 and finish with “Thieves” from The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste. The pit is absolutely pumping. I’d have loved to have seen “Psalm 69” or “Jesus Built My Hotrod”, and again I’d love for the bass drum to be just that bit quieter but nobody could complain about the sheer quality of Ministry’s set.

Next up are Dragonforce. I’ve never bought any of their albums, but I’ve always been in awe at their mind-popping sound, which sounds somewhere between Iron Maiden and a light-speed synthesized video game soundtrack. I’m curious about whether they can pull it off live and they do, it’s amazing. The double solos and incredible guitar work is all there, the keyboardist breaks from his setup at the rear of the stage to jam a warp-speed keytar solo in time with a guitar solo, the singer barely hits a bum note and they’re all high pitched ones too. Refreshingly in a day of screamo and hardcore everything is light and clear and good fun from these guys.

Dragonforce Playing at Soundwave 2015 Sydney
Dragonforce in full flight
Dragonforce Playing at Soundwave 2015 Sydney
The mighty Faith No More

But it’s Day 1 headliner Faith No More who’ve got my attention now. Back in the 90s when I played guitar in a band at school, we were so devoted to FnM that at school assembly we didn’t play anything else. Their stage is adorned strikingly with flowers and shimmering curtains and they walk onstage in white robes to unfortunately launch into the dog-eared new single, “Motherfucker”. Thankfully, that out of the way early, the remainder of the set is all-time, a mix of old-school favourites like “Epic”, “Zombie Eaters” and “Midlife Crisis”. The setlist draws surprisingly strongly from the King for a Day album, I count seven (!) tracks from that album, and I am transported back in time to the Alternative Nation festival in 1995, teenaged, covered in mud and freezing cold, which Faith No More headlined on their original tour for that album. The sound is great; the sound guy hasn’t mixed the volume too loud. The crowd sings along to “Evidence”, “The Gentle Art of Making Enemies”, “King for a Day” and The Commodores classic “Easy” before they close with awesome new track “Superhero”. They then return for a killer encore, performing Bee Gees cover “I Started A Joke”, “Digging the Grave” and “We Care a Lot”. I can’t fault the performance and wish only they could keep going so we could hear a few more from Angel Dust and Album of the Year. And maybe a couple more from The Real Thing. Yeah- I’m never satisfied right?

Day 2 (watch highlights)

Gosh- woke up with my legs and feet absolutely killing me from yesterday, and we’re only half way! Yikes. After a good stretch and a breakfast and a lather of suncream I’m onto the train, much earlier this time, but it doesn’t matter because the connecting train is delayed. And so I enter the festival once again in a sprint- this time for the main arena where Apocalyptica is playing at 1 PM.

Apocalyptica Playing at Soundwave 2015 Sydney
Apocalyptica: who says cellos can’t rock?

I first saw Apocalyptica, a 4-piece metal cello act, in Portland USA of all places, back when I used to live there. I was so impressed that I bought their album on the way out of the show, and jammed to it as a bit of a soundtrack to my US adventure. Today, the sun is absolutely belting down- it’s 37°C (99°F) and the band (from icy Finland) is shirtless, while the crowd is absolutely baking on the white plastic pitch. The sweat is pouring off me and I’m not even sure any of the suncream I applied is still intact. But it’s impossible to look away, because Apocalyptica are unbelieveable onstage, rocking old metal standards and pulling off cello versions of light-speed guitar solos, despite the mix again being way too high on the drums (although the drummer himself is also excellent). Standing right in front of the sound desk, every kick drum feels like a punch in the chest, and the cellos are impossible to make out. I scramble to the front of the stage to enjoy the rest of the show away from the mix speakers and thankfully there everything sounds good, especially my favourite song “I Don’t Care”.

Luckily the next band I want to see, Fucked Up, are in one of the indoor stages, but by god is it hot in there as well. Never mind, cos these punk rockers seem to be feeding off it, and make a lot of noise, some of it pretty good and all of it pretty entertaining.

Killer Be Killed Playing at Soundwave 2015 Sydney
Killer Be Killed on the metal stage

Back over at the metal stage, metal supergroup Killer Be Killed is getting started, and I’m surprised to see the sun already making way for storm clouds. It’s still blazing hot though, and I’m excited to hear this mix of musicians from different bands. Troy Sanders from Mastodon is doing his usual class act on bass and vocals, while ex-Sepultura frontman Max Cavalera sounds much as you’d expect on guitars and vocals, which is to say good and growly. There’s also Greg Puciato from The Dillinger Escape Plan on lead vocals, while regular ex-Mars Volta drummer Dave Elitch is playing Soundwave with Antemasque, and has been replaced by Converge drummer Ben Koller. No complaints on the lineup then, but how is the music? Well, I like about half of it and the other half I’m not yet sure about yet. It’s a bit on the chugging noisy side so I’ll have to have a proper listen to their album. Having said that, the crowd is absolutely wild and loving it, and I’m prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt.

I go and check out Japanese act Crossfaith, another band I haven’t seen before. They play a brutal show, with screaming hardcore interspersed with electronic house sounds. It’s an interesting mix. The singer is enticing the crowd into all sorts of craziness, huge death circles and two walls of death. In one wall of death I notice a guy dressed as a woman that I’ve seen over at the metal stage; he stands in the middle of the void between the two walls with his fingers in the air and gets absolutely pole-axed as the walls meet. I see kids get dragged out with bloodied noses, broken bones, shoes missing. Definitely not a show for the faint hearted.

Raining at Soundwave Festival Sydney 2015
Ma! The rains are comin’!
Crossdressing Metalheads, Soundwave Sydney 2015
Metalheads. An interesting bunch.

I duck out and back to the metal stage for Godsmack, but apocalyptic lightning bolts are shooting across the sky and the thunder is almost as loud as the band. Pretty soon it starts to rain and I take cover at a Nandos chicken burger van. The rain turns into a veritable monsoon, everything is flooded and drenched but still somehow, the band play on, and they are sounding good. Crisp and clear deep grooves. The guitarist complains that “I was going to come out and do something awesome in that last song but I just couldn’t cos of the rain”- I’m amazed they’re even still playing without regard to safety or equipment, and playing so well at that. They turn into another surprise highlight of the day for me.

Next up are thrash legends Exodus. They sound pretty spot on also, and vocalist Steve Souza’s hitting all the high shrieks. He’s also doing his best to whip the crowd into a frenzy, and calls out a huge wall of death. Obviously the old bastards still like their carnage. The weather has cleared and guitarists Gary Holt and Lee Altus are accurate as ever with their riffing and soloing. Its so good to hear some classic thrash.

Judas Priest Playing at Soundwave Sydney 2015
Judas Priest proved they still rock as hard as ever

While I’m waiting the half-hour for Judas Priest to set up, I duck over to the nearby main arena to catch some of Marilyn Manson, whom I’ve never seen before. The grooves are pretty enjoyable, and Manson looks the part in blue and red makeup, stumbling around stage like a zombie for various costume changes, even if his attempts at singing aren’t quite all there. But I draw the line when he smashes a beer bottle onstage and proceeds to cut his arm with it, to the protest of what looks like his management. That’s just downright bloody creepy. Luckily, Judas Priest is getting started back on the metal stage, so I don’t have watch that shit.

I’ve never seen Priest before, but their album Painkiller was one of the first I bought as a pre-teen metalhead back in the 90s. Even then Priest were a classic pioneering bunch of oldies- they’ve been around since the early 70s for godsakes! I’m curious whether they’ll even be able to get around the stage without zimmer frames, but I soon realise what I’ve been missing out on, because Judas Priest friggin’ rock! Their sound is clear and true- the metal stage has sounded awesome today- I can hear every solo and every drum fill. A full stage video screen covers the band in suitably fiery graphics and album themed motifs and the guys look the part, all studs and leather. Rob Halford even rides a freaking Harley Davidson onstage during the set. With 90 minutes with which to play, the band gets through a sizeable collection of back catalogue favourites including “Breaking the Law”, “Beyond the Realms of Death”, and “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming”, as well as killer new tracks like “Halls of Valhalla” and “Redeemer of Souls”. But I’m absolutely stoked when they come back on for encore 2 and I hear the drum solo intro of “Painkiller”. I’d like to have heard some other songs off of that album, but hey- I’m nitpicking.

Slash Playing at Soundwave Sydney 2015
Slash playing the outro of “Paradise City”.

There’s another half hour for Smashing Pumpkins to set up, so I go and check out Slash in the main arena. Despite being one of my favourite bands growing up, I was a bit too young to catch Guns n’ Roses live in their heyday, so it’s fun to see Slash play with his new band, Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators. I get there at the right time, just as they launch into Gunners classic “Sweet Child O’ Mine”. Not long after that, they close with “Paradise City”, Slash pulling an extended version of that outro solo, as ticker-tape rains from above. It’s a glorious moment.

Slipknot then open their set on the other stage. It’s quite a sight, with incredible lighting and pyrotechnics and stage design, a huge demonic creature hovering over the band and they launch into the crazy percussive wall of sound they are known for. Back when Slipknot released their first album I thought it was pretty groundbreaking, and I went to see them live a couple of times but since then there’s been a bit too much noise and not enough actual good music I reckon.

Smashing Pumpkins Marilyn Manson Playing at Soundwave Sydney 2015
Smashing Pumpkins and Marylin Manson

So I slip off in time back to the outdoor metal stage where what’s left of Smashing Pumpkins, basically Billy Corgan with a few other random dudes playing along. I’m pretty stoked when they open with “Cherub Rock”, a classic from Siamese Dream, and they’ve got the old familiar Big Muff guitar sound going on. In contrast to the main arena where Slipknot is playing, and the prior Judas Priest set, there are very few bells and whistles in this performance, with only a black backdrop and a few lights to augment Billy’s showmanship. The stripped down asthetic becomes more apparent in the next two songs, Tonight Tonight and 1979, which are missing their key synth layers. Tonight Tonight sounds downright odd without the soaring string section in my opinion, but the singalong reaction from the crowd is well deserved as these are also classic songs. After this, Billy segues into newer stuff that is not as interesting to me, and feeling bored I head back over to see what Slipknot are doing.

Slipknot Playing at Soundwave Sydney 2015
Slipknot take to the main arena

Predictably, they’re making a lot of noise banging on beer kegs with sticks, but the horrorshow appeal of their performance is as present as ever, so I decide to watch for a while. But just at that moment the barrier in front of the crowd collapses and the show is halted. Ten minutes later and with no resolution, I’m getting bored again, so I buy a cookie at Subway and head back over to watch Billy and Co.

I get back right in the middle of “United States”, which is a newer track I really like, and they perform it with intensity. Following this they launch into crowd favourite “Bullet With Butterfly Wings”- it’s clear I’ve come back at the right time. It’s not long though before Billy brings a high looking Marilyn Manson onstage to sing “Ava Adore”, which he proceeds to maim terribly. Unfortunately, it appears that that was the last song. There’s still another 15 minutes to run, so the crowd scream and cheer for an encore. Some minutes later, it appears that’s not going to happen. The disappointment is palpable, and even the technicians seem confused with the house music and lights not coming on for several minutes.

Main Arena, Soundwave Sydney 2015
Soundwave… over for another year

The night is saved however, by Slipknot, who I pass by in the hope they’ll close with something off the first album. In reward, I get “Surfacing”. This is a fitting finale as the stage lights up with an impressive array of fire and explosions.

It’s not quite the triumphant end to proceedings that Faith No More’s set was last night, but we can hardly complain with such a well organised festival and such an incredible array of bands throughout both days. Besides, by this point, I’m I’m in too much pain and too exhausted to care much. Rock!

Do you also endeavour to ROCK? What was your favourite festival?


Cover Art: Fragments of the Earth

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Matt Edwards

Australian solar power scientist travels the world for 15 years, takes photos, writes stuff, has toothpaste confiscated. I like adventures that involve art, history, science, music, technology and partying. Sometimes all at once...


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