Journey to acceptance: A guide to the world’s top rock festivals

Avenged Sevenfold killing it at the 2014 Soundwave in Sydney. Photo: ©Kane Hibberd

Avenged Sevenfold killing it at the 2014 Soundwave in Sydney. Photo: ©Kane Hibberd

By RACHEL FERRETT:

The world of rock music acts as a cocoon to society’s outcasts. You embrace the songs that speak of what you feel but can never say aloud. The moment you enter a concert or a festival, you feel like you’re stepping into the world in which you belong.

From the shores of our own country to the shores of those an ocean away, the feeling is the same. Acceptance.

Music is a universal language that evokes such emotion and passion within all of us. Some of us would travel the world, following our favourite bands, just to keep that feeling of acceptance alive.

Here in Australia we’re restricted to just two music festivals of this genre, Soundwave and Big Day Out. They offer bands of the highest quality as well as a few local acts still finding their feet.

But what about overseas?

The Western world is our domain, but the East also offers rock festivals not too dissimilar to what we are used to experiencing.

Here I will share with you the beauty of some of the world’s best rock music festivals and provide an overview of the experience to give you a broader perspective of what is beyond our shores, thereby helping you decide if the dream of finding acceptance is worth the price of admittance.

Let’s start on home turf.

The Soundwave Festival tours Australia once a year from the end of February through early March.

It began in Perth in 2004 as the Gravity Soundwave. By 2008 the festival had expanded to include Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, and Adelaide. It operates on a nine stage setup that support between eighty and one hundred bands each year on average.

Soundwave prides itself on offering a range of international rock, metal, and punk bands, as well as local acts at each of the different legs of the tour. Over the years, a number of high-profiled bands have headlined the Festival. In recent years, Soundwave has boasted names like Metallica, Blink 182, Green Day, Iron Maiden, and Jane’s Addiction.

Good Charlotte, Grinspoon, and Nine Inch Nails were headliners in the early years of the Festival.

Although you attend a festival for the music, most of us would not attend if we were aware that it was an unsafe environment.

There is a mentality that all music festivals have a large drug and alcohol culture. While an unfair generalization, there is some truth to this notion.

Patrons at Soundwave often wander the open venue with a beer (or three) in hand, and you will pass the odd person who looks to have been partaking in the use of illegal substances. However, it is not to the obscene levels that some would imagine.

This year, the Sydney leg of the festival has seen a decrease in the number of arrests, down by almost fifty per cent from last year’s figures according to Sergeant Harry Stengos, of the South Metropolitan Police Planning Unit. He attributes this significant decline to the planning and implementation of strategies by the police to prevent the use of drugs and misuse of alcohol within the festival.

“The mechanisms are in place to deal with anyone that may be affected and put others at risk,” Sergeant Stengos said.

“It’s certainly, from a police perspective, the safest it could be.”

Should you decide to expand your musical horizons, quite often the first place that comes to mind is the United States. The people speak the same language, your favourite television shows are filmed there, and you will have no doubt of heard of the infamous Vans Warped Tour.

Up until 2013, it had been more than a decade since Warped Tour had hit our shores. While still a fantastic festival, if you had the opportunity to go when it travelled the country in December, there was no possible way it could have reached the level of grandeur that the U.S. variation has achieved in its twenty years.

The first Warped Tour festival occurred in 1995. Since then, it has toured the States every year between June and August, running on up to ten stages. Much like Soundwave, Warped offers a ridiculous number of bands – over 120 this year. The difference is that the line up changes from state to state, meaning that most bands won’t play the entire tour.

What you’ll experience at Warped Tour that makes it stand out from the likes of Soundwave, is it offers a varying range of genres. In a way, it’s an event that brings different kinds of people together to a place of mutual respect.

This year, Warped will see bands of the rock, metal, pop punk, acoustic, electronic, hip-hop, dance, indie, alternative, hardcore, and metalcore genres come together. Running through the list of bands on the official website blows your mind.

While the range is unbelievably broad, there is likely to be a number of bands in the line up you’ve never heard of before, and if you appreciate the talent that hits up Soundwave each year, then you’re likely to enjoy what Warped has to offer.

Bowling For Soup, Breathe Carolina, Dangerkids, Finch, Less Than Jake, Mayday Parade, Motionless In White, Real Friends and The Story So Far all performed at the 2014 Soundwave, and will be just some of the talent you’ll come across on Warped Tour this year.

Longer life, larger collection of bands, a range of genres – Warped Tour seems to have it all, and in a way it does, but this ultra cool atmosphere comes at a price…

The inability to pre-plan.

One thing that many of us crave in the lead up to a festival, is the release of the timetable. Let’s face it – most of us go to these kinds of festivals with a small group of friends. It takes a lot of coordination to create a schedule everyone is happy with. Having the timetable allows you to plan out your day a week or two in advance among the people you are attending with. The issue with Warped Tour is that you don’t know what the set times are until you’re inside the venue.

According to the official website, “The schedule of the band’s set times are not set until the morning of the show so Remember to Get to the Show Early and head to the big inflatable at the main Vans tent where the schedule will be listed.”

But, if you’re okay with getting there early,  scrambling amongst the masses to the board to check set times, and then trying to coordinate your day above all the noise, then Warped Tour should be all that you’ve ever dreamed of.

Sometimes you need to expand your taste beyond the West and into the Eastern cultures of the world.

When one envisions Japan, it’s rarely got anything to do with rock ‘n’ roll. We often pigeonhole the country into traditional stereotypes, a land of advanced technology and gadgets, or limit its music to J-pop.

There is so much more to the Japanese music scene.

J-rock, for instance, which is just as much a part of the Japanese culture as the things Westerners relate to them. It has been around since the early years of rock music in general, but it really took off in the 1960’s under the influence of the U.S. music scene. Naturally, the music festival in Japan has spawned from that.

The Summer Sonic Festival is a landmark event for the rock community in Japan.

Summer Sonic has a unique setup that differs greatly from Warped Tour and Soundwave. Instead of being a travelling tour that goes from place to place for a month, it happens over a weekend during August at two locations simultaneously.

There is a line up of approximately forty bands, with half playing in Tokyo and the other half playing in Osaka. The next day the bands swap cities and play all over again.

While Summer Sonic is predominately a showcase of Japanese rock and indie bands, the festivals draws in a number of high profile international acts.

This year the festival has attracted Richie Sambora, who also performed at Soundwave this year, Arctic Monkeys, Avenged Sevenfold, Kasabian, and the illustrious Queen, who will be joined on stage by Adam Lambert.

“We’re hugely excited to have the opportunity to return to Japan this Summer, to play concerts as Queen and Adam Lambert.  We look forward to a very special reunion with our wonderful Japanese fans and friends. It has been too long!” Brian May, guitarist and founding member of the band, said in a press release that confirmed Queen would be headlining the festival.

The line up speaks for itself in terms of why Summer Sonic is a great festival, however, coming to it with Australian eyes will always be a struggle unless you are fluent in Japanese. If you can master the language, though, or at least a site that will translate, then Summer Sonic is certainly a festival worth experiencing.

A place that you normally wouldn’t associate a rock festival with is the Philippines, but for the past fourteen years it has been the home of the Pulp Summer Slam, a one day festival held toward the end of April that runs on a single stage setup.

On average, this festival sees 30,000 patrons come through the gates each year, which is only a third less than the attendance at each leg of the Soundwave Festival.

These figures aren’t surprising, as over the last few years the Pulp Summer Slam has added international bands to their line up of local rock and metal groups. This year’s festival was headlined by Asking Alexandria and Bullet For My Valentine, both of which only had good things to say of the Philippine festival.

The problem with this festival, from an outsider’s perspective, is that it is quite strict in comparison to what we have in the West. The regulations are there to ensure safety, but some of them can be a little over the top, such as the rule against bringing food into the festival.

The Rules for Pulp Summer Slam, courtesy of the official Facebook page.

The Rules for Pulp Summer Slam, courtesy of the official Facebook page.

But the regulation doesn’t stop the quality of the festival from shining through. It’s about the music, the atmosphere, and that feeling of acceptance, just as it is in the West. Karl R. De Mesa, journalist for GMA, can vouch for this.

“If you’ve never experienced a festival atmosphere then this is the closest you’ll ever get,” he said in his review of the 2013 Pulp Summer Slam.

“Pinoys haven’t been introduced to the tent or vehicle-pitching culture of Western festivals yet, and the States may have Coachella, Sasquatch!, Burning Man and Lollapalooza, and Germany may have the holy grail of metal fests in Wacken Open Air, but we still have Summer Slam.”

After all is said and done, though, which festival is the best?

The talent they have all arranged is stellar; if you were to make a judgement based on that alone you would get nowhere. The only way to separate them is economically.

Value for money.

The table below shows you just what you’ll get out of the festival experience.

Value for money Table

The clear winner here would be the Pulp Summer Slam in the Philippines, however, this festival only runs on a single stage, so you can’t wander around to check out other acts if you’re not interested in who’s playing at the time. Therefore, Warped Tour would be a better option as the value for money is fantastic and you have a choice in who you watch.

Ultimately, though, rock music is about the experience of standing in a crowd of those just like you, getting sweaty, getting bruised, all while you’re chanting the lyrics that have shaped you.

You can travel the world, or you can stay in the one place, all that matters is that you feel, and you know that you’re not alone.

THUMBNAIL IMAGE: COURTESY OF KANE HIBBERD

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