Pyramid Rock @ Phillip Island (29/12/11-1/01/12)

In 2011, Pyramid Rock Festival turned out for its (hard to believe already) eighth instalment. These eight years have seen it evolve from Falls Festival’s dowdy younger sister to a fully established festival mainstay. For those unfamiliar with Pyramid Rock’s setting, it’s one of its great attractions; nestled on the Philip Island coast, the site boasts ocean front views, including the spectacular Pyramid Rock itself.

As always, the early birds roll in on the 29th to grab pole position for the festival’s camping grounds – knowing full well that this usually means being the last to leave in the New Years Day log jam. Punters are initiated into the festival with a travelling version of RockWiz, hosted by the evergreen Julia Zemiro. Whilst the quality of the audience-pooled participants is perhaps sub standard, the special guests are not. Eagle and the Worm front man Jarrad Brown, Lanie Lane, You Am I’s Tim Rogers, Jess Cornelius and Henry Wagons are amongst the revolving team guests, which features a performance of David Bowie’s Golden Years by Tim Rogers. Perhaps the biggest applause of the night is reserved for an unlikely hero in Daddy Cool’s Ross Wilson, performing their classic Eagle Rock with the famed RockWiz Orchestra. Such ear-piercing squeals were once reserved for that 4 piece from Liverpool in the 60’s.

The morning breaks to the sound of two-night pass-holders, arriving and jostling for position. Flags and other landmarks are raised to assist with the inevitable stagger home in the wee hours of the morning. Over at the food stalls, choices are made between the trusty burger, the festival favourite corn on the cob, or the bypass of solid matter in favour of the amber liquid. With a perfect festival day brewing with mid 20’s temperatures, things are looking up. WA’s San Cisco are the first glimpse of music for the day, and despite the fledgling crowd numbers that accompany such early starts, their set is full of energy and spark. Ball Park Music follows shortly after, showcasing their brand of pop rock in their forty minute allotment. The six piece from Brisbane certainly enjoy themselves on stage, as do the growing number of patrons in the main stage area. Dum Dum Girls take the stage, and whilst their energy is somewhat contagious, their sound is largely brash and annoying. Enjoyment of their show is further limited by the appearance of the mythical “festival bogan”, baying for the exposure of their lady bits.

Later the afternoon sun shines brightly on the throngs waiting for Kram and Co to grace the main stage. Spiderbait hit the ground running, tearing through a best-of setlist covering their whole career. The sight of Kram hitting the skins with the ocean breeze blowing his lion-like hair wildly across his face typifies the Spiderbait spirit, and highlights the differing experiences offered by club shows and festival shows. Being exposed to the elements can often lead to a greater visual spectacle, but the quality of the sound often suffers as a result. Luckily, Spiderbait don’t suffer as much as others, with their 1996 Hottest 100 No. 1 hit Buy Me A Pony standing out in a strong set.

While The Herd performed on the main stage, Melbourne natives The Vasco Era performed to an appreciative crowd over at the Pharaoh’s Annex, who were no doubt familiar with their raucous live shows. Their most recent self-titled album got a thorough running through, with vocalist and lead guitarist Sid O’Neil preferring to perform minus the standard guitar picks, and instead using his fingers to strum his bluesy rock riffs. Appropriately performing at sunset back at the main stage, Gotye performed a hauntingly beautiful set, mostly from behind his beloved drum kit. The shy yet charismatic Wally De Backer shone under the setting sun, the crowd seemingly mesmerised by the polished performance. It’s not hard to understand why his 2011 album Making Mirrors is seen by many as 2011’s album of the year. Hottest 100 favourite Somebody That I Used To Know and 2006’s Heart’s a Mess got the greatest crowd response and audience participation in a thoroughly enjoyable set.

Back at the Pharaoh’s Annex, Grandmaster Flash tore the tent a new backside, getting the party well and truly started with his amped up hip-hop mixes. The major clash of the day came with two hometown heroes – The Living End at the main stage, and Yacht Club DJs at the Pharaoh’s Annex – vying for attention. Melbourne’s answer to mix master Girl Talk, Yacht Club DJs never shy away from a party, and tonight was no exception. With their ability to incorporate audience participation in a DJ set like no other (and with stage dancers dressed up as Robots, amongst other things), Yacht Club DJs have the ability to turn a humble 80s pop tune into a dance-floor banger. Whilst fun was certainly being had, main stage headliners The Living End deserved a viewing, as they gave the audience a barrage of hits from Prisoner of Society all the way to The Ending Is Just the Beginning Repeating, giving the festival the spark that it needed. Back at the Pharaoh’s Annex, The Aston Shuffle showed why they have been voted the best DJs Australia has to offer getting the dance-floor/paddock pumping like a disused warehouse, before French producer extraordinaire Yuksek pumped out his collection of electro favourites into the early hours of the morning. The aptly titled Tonight resonated most with the bulging crowd under the tent.

Day three saw weary eyed punters waking to scorching morning heat, reminiscent of the heatwave experienced at the 2007 festival, where temperatures over both days were well into the mid 40s. After the debacle of 2007, festival organisers had promised more shaded areas, however it was apparent that these promises went largely unfulfilled. A smothering of sunscreen prepared most for a day out in the sun, where Calling All Cars packed a punch on the main stage early in the afternoon, while Illy performed to a sweltering but still energised crowd soon after. Sydney multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Boulet performed his catchy pop tunes to a reduced crowd. Those who stayed, though, were reminded of Boulet’s natural melodic gifts with songs like A Community Service Announcement and 321 Ready Or Not.

The reformed Getaway Plan attracted the audience back to the main stage, as they rewarded their long-waiting audience with gifts from their albums Other Voices, Other Rooms and Requiem, with Where The City Meets The Sea receiving the largest adulation, judging by the piercing screams from the teenage girls who formed the bulk of their audience. Drapht followed up with his set of festival favourites in the sweltering temperatures, however the audience seemed to thrive, with many a shirtless man amongst the sweaty throng that was packing the main stage. Rapunzel and Bali Party were amongst the crowd favourites. As the countdown to midnight crept closer, Bluejuice pumped out their party rock tunes that are almost made for festivals. Vocalist Jake Stone had the crowd in his hands as they blasted through a set including Ain’t Telling The Truth, Vitriol, Broken Leg and latest single Act Yr Age, with Broken Leg sending the crowd into raptures. Their enthusiasm was infectious.

The Scissor Sisters were entrusted with the task of bringing in the new year with a touch of glamour and dazzle, and early indications were that it would be a fine introduction into 2012. However, despite polished performances of Laura, I Don’t Feel Like Dancing and Take Your Mama, the “festival bogan” struck once again, this time in numbers. Bottles were continually hurled at front man Jack Shears by the homophobic squadron in the audience. Despite the abuse, Shears and Co bravely battled on, and by the end of their set, the crowd was well and truly amped for the one-man disco in Muscles. If you like your DJs yelling “Woo!” to the audience then you would have had a great time, however Purple Sneakers DJs and Nick Thayer provided more bangers than a London tavern up in the Pharaoh’s Annex, and as the crowd from Muscles looked for something to do after his set, the Pharaoh’s Annex quickly turned into a heaving party until dawn.

Overall, not surprisingly, crowd numbers were down compared to previous years due to a) the overload of festivals and b) the current economic climate. Whether the festival adapts to maintain audience numbers, or whether it comes good on promises made to improve the site remains to be seen. Despite the Scissor Sisters incident, a largely incident-free welcome to the new year was had by all – despite the inevitable, but nonetheless infuriating, logjam upon exiting the site.