Big Day Out - Sydney, Australia
From Craig Mathieson's Hi Fi Days: The Future of Australian Rock:
Jean-Paul Sartre was right. Hell is other people. Specifically the ten thousand trying to cram into a space made for less than half that number around the small stage silverchair were about to step onto at the 1995 Sydney Big Day Out.
The band's wish to keep a low-key profile and not play either of the main stages in the Showgrounds main arena meant they'd fetched up on a side stage closer to the entrance, nestled between concession stands and various display halls. Benches and tables near the stage were obscured by a sea of fans as more and more tried to find a spot to see the band from as their late afternoon slot grew imminent. The alleys that fed into the forecourt were human bottlenecks as fans tried to surge forward but found there was nowhere to go. It was too much for some, who grew more panicked each time they tried to move against the tide that was coming in but were forced back.
I was on an extreme angle to the left of the stage, my arms virtually straightjacketed to my side as people pressed around me. Just in front of me a teenage girl with dark hair and a t-shirt that read "Nine out of ten kids prefer crayons to guns" uncapped a full bottle of water and simply poured it over her head, turning her face up toward the sky in a moment of relief. Australia Day was getting very hot, very cramped and very expectant.
When Daniel, Chris and Ben wandered on stage, dressed in shorts and t-shirts like their constituency in front of them, a wild-eyed cheer started from in front of the stage and worked its way back as people realised the waiting was over. As if by an unsighted cue, dozens of girls rose six feet into the air on their boyfriends' shoulders. The cheering spurred on those who hadn't made it into the forecourt, and the crowd constricted again as the pushing got more frenzied. An air of panic was spreading. No one, it appeared, was willing to miss silverchair at the Big Day Out. It was their largest audience to date, but already they were too big for it.
From the first note of Daniel's guitar the moshpit up front heaved with exertion. The crowd rose and fell in time with the booming backbeat. Crowd surfers risked extensive bodily harm, concrete awaiting those who fell. The fans were so tightly packed that the natural rules of the pit -- don't let people fall and if they do help them up immediately -- weren't guaranteed to kick in.
It was, I hazily remember, around Acid Rain, as sweat ran down my face and back and a girl who looked no more than twelve stood just in front of me and creamed "Daniel" with hysterical fervour every five seconds between songs, that the crowd got creative. If you couldn't fit horizontally, why not vertically?
At first the onlookers cheered as an inventive fan scaled a drainpipe on the side of a squat building bordering the forecourt. Having escaped the crowd to find the best view and even a cooling breeze, the temptation was immediate. Another guy followed him up. And another. A girl followed them, with those on the roof offering their hands to each person that came to join them. But the cheap shackles tying the pipe to the side of the building were giving way from the top down, and slowly the pipe was pulling away from the building. It looked like it was happening in slow motion, a gag from an old Buster Keaton movie just waiting to happen.
What could security do? Even with their bulk and swaggering authority, they could not get into the crowd to stop people climbing the pipe. silverchair themselves said nothing, but they were obviously impressed at the lengths fans would go. The pipe initiative set others thinking. Soon a more foolish fan was trying to climb a light pole in the forecourt, even though there wasn't anything but a tenuous grip awating him at the top.
Tomorrow only made it worse. The first notes brought forth a ragged, defiant roar from the crowd. This, they were saying, was their song. Another male fan, maybe eighteen or so, went for the pipe. His girlfriend was right behind him. It was too much. As Daniel slammed down on his fuzz pedal and turned Tomorrow from a quiet song meditation into a raging attack, the pipe shuddered and slipped further away from the wall. They'd only got a metre or two off the ground, but still they both fell backwards. An involuntary shiver ran through the crowd.
Spectacle had given way to danger. Less than a year before silverchair had been playing to a handful of people -- and that was counting their ever-supportive parents -- in a Newcastle pub, now mass bedlam surrounded them.