No Dickheads, Please
The Australian Phenomenon of the Bogan, the Mogan, the Flogan, and the Possible Elitism of the Festival After Woodstock
I’m at Boar Gully, an hour outside Melbourne, trying to score a good camping spot at a three-day music festival called Golden Plains. I moved to Melbourne in 2008 within two weeks of a tight group of Brisvegans, pronounced “vayguns, ” from Brisvegas, an affectionate term for Brisbane. In the three years since moving here, my friends and I have felt something like proud when we’ve finally met someone from Melbourne, only to learn usually that they’re from Perth. But on the eve of Golden Plains, we’ve been persuaded by a group of confirmed Melbournians to stay the night at nearby Boar Gully.
It’s lightless when we set up tents between deep streams of rainwater. We the Brisvegans pack our wet selves into, and so wreck, a lone Winnebago; the Melbournians seem fine in ponchos, smoking spliffs. At two a.m. the rain clears and they draw us through a fence, and we tramp through bush that is the densest with koalas of anywhere on the continent. Soon, the bush breaks over a vast, ghostly, treeless valley. It’s lovely here, and Sean, a Melbournian, starts to politely vomit where he stands.
I am speaking with James, another Melbournian, about his work in IT, when he excuses himself in the middle of his sentence. He begins to run around Sean and is joined by several others. I don’t know who is the first to shout, “Chuck!”
My Brisbane friends and I watch the proceedings uncertainly. Is this a healing ritual? Is it an accusation?
The shouting “Chuck! Chuck! Chuck!” syncs as the circle shrinks. When the circle is as fast and tight as it can be, a Melbournian, Dylan, punches Sean in the stomach and shouts, “Chunderstruck!”
Sean holds his knees and moans, “Oh, oh.”
He asks, when he’s recaptured his diaphragm: “Can I wipe my mouth on you?”
Dylan touches him.
“What are ponchos for?” he says.
Due partly to a recent confluence of the U.S. and Australian dollars, our country is undergoing a mixed renaissance of festivals. It’s so cheap to slap some bands together that it seems anyone can do it, whether they’re Richard Branson, with his V Festival, or the curators, ages twenty and twenty-three, of the Blueprint Festival, which failed so dramatically these curators went into hiding from creditors “somewhere in regional Victoria.” Blueprint was poorly managed, a downside of how easy it’s been to throw on a festival and say your event has a “boutique feel.” But like all of Branson’s enterprises, V Festival was managed well; most people assume it failed due to a festival fatigue.
This March’s Golden Plains, though, was the fifth instance of that festival, and last year’s Meredith Music Festival, its big sister, was the twentieth. Both are deliberately small, with Meredith capped at 11, 500 people and Golden Plains 2, 600 fewer. Both are camping festivals, with lineages traceable directly to Woodstock. Like the Meredith festivals, Woodstock was held on a dairy farm, and like Woodstock, whose stage was built in a bowl that led to a lake, the stage at Meredith is built in what the organizers call a “Supernatural Amphitheatre.” Like Woodstock, the camping aspect forces you to interact with fellow music enthusiasts on matters such as sleeping, eating, pissing. Unlike guests of Woodstock, though, these colleagues are not necessarily like-minded.
In part, this is because today’s alternative-music fandom is broad and demographically imprecise. The Big Day Out, a national institution that occurs every January, began in Sydney in 1992, where it had the luck to have booked Nirvana shortly before Nevermind combusted. (Today, the Big Day Out extends to Adelaide, Auckland, the Gold Coast, Melbourne, Perth, and, although a single Sydney Big Day Out hosts 55, 000 people, a second instance in that city is regularly needed.) Last year’s Big Day Out lineup included Muse, Lily Allen, Groove Armada, Magic Dirt, Mastodon, Peaches, the Decemberists, Girl Talk, and Dizzee Rascal, with bands like Muse being the most capital-A Alternative, and the others constellating outward. Point being, an act like Lily Allen could belong to the Big Day Out or a pop festival, depending on the stickinesses of the acts surrounding, many of which would not themselves be able to cross festivals. Part of the Big Day Out’s success is that it touches every possible quadrant of alternative-music fandom: it doesn’t have to be in any way specific.
But the result of this success is, of course, cultural collision: it’s the equivalent of a Woodstock attended by hippies and The Man. In specifically Australian terms, however, what the festival’s reach means is that you’re going to run into some bogans.
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