No Through Road: Indie 500

What do thousands of screaming bogans and an indie rock band from Adelaide have in common? Not much, writes IANTO WARE from No Through Road, who performed alongside Wolfmother, Wolf & Cub and The Getaway Plan at the Clipsal 500 in Adelaide on March 22.

Clipsal 500 is a race for cars that have eight cylinder engines. It runs from about noon until 5pm over the course of four days. It attracts the kind of people you’d expect to attend a V8 car race, colloquially known as ?bogans?. The event organisers recognised, however, that there’s only so much shitty beer, overpriced junk food and poorly made merchandise you can sell between noon and five. So they concocted a scheme to keep the audiences hanging around late into the evening, namely having three or four bands of varying levels of fame play from five until about nine. That scheme not only allows them to sell more beer, junk food and merchandise but also allows them to tap into a wider market and increase both the volume and cost of their tickets.

And thus emerges the unique context that resulted in my haphazard indie rock band playing in front of several thousand screaming bogans at a car race. Being in a band playing at Clipsal 500 is like being in a band playing in hell. If there is a God of Indie Rock, Clipsal 500 is where I’m headed when I die.

Unfortunately, the rest of the band had already agreed and began to barrage me with pitiful phone calls. They tried to make it sound like there was some logical rationale behind the show – that the promoter was a big shot and we needed to suck up to him; that it was ?good? publicity; that not all bogans are fucking horrible thugs; and that the money (we got paid a whopping $350) would help us tour. That was all quiet clearly nonsense. But my band is made up of people who are mostly very old, and I suspect they were desperately trying to live out their boyhood rock’n?roll dreams of playing a stadium rock show.

Bogans aside, this was indisputably a stadium rock show – the stage was bigger than my house – so I agreed to play. It’s hard to look into the eyes of our secondary guitarist, Old Man Nic, and tell him you’re going to crush his dreams. It’s like punching a wrinkled old sausage dog right in the face.

As a petite gentlemen with a penchant for cycling, I mostly encounter the kind of people who attend Clipsal 500 when I’m riding my bike home at night and they throw the remnants of their McLard burgers at me. But as soon as we arrived, it was even worse than I thought.

Like Dante’s Inferno

We all piled into the drummer’s van because we were only allowed to take one car in. Everyone else got to sit at the front, but there was ?no room? left for me so I had to sit in the back, surrounded by precariously stacked amps. There was no ventilation and it smelt like farts. It was a long way from the entry gate to the stage and we kept getting lost because the people working there are bogans and they couldn’t give directions because they were drunk and stupid.

At one point, we had to stop because we were bogged down in the crowd. I peered out a rusted hole in the side of the van and could make out three women who looked like drag queens, all wearing skimpy shirts advertising an alcoholic beverage company, hot pants and high heels. They were surrounded by hugely obese, poorly groomed drunken louts taking photos of themselves with the drag queens, and trying out their best lines in the hope that the drag queens would be momentarily tricked into thinking they weren’t drunken louts and would inexplicably agree to have sex with them.

One of my bandmates commented that it was like making the descent into Dante’s Inferno. The descent continued, as we drove around for hours. Bogans would bump against the side of the van like sharks rubbing against the sides of a canoe. We kept asking for directions from people who were dressed in uniforms and claimed they were members of staff, but they would just sort of groan at us. Eventually I shut my eyes and counted to 1000 to take my mind off things.

When we eventually got to the backstage area, it quickly became apparent that the shitstorm had only just started. We loaded our gear out while a steady stream of security staff came over to ask us suspicious questions. We’d reply as best we could, then they’d look confused for a while and then they’d look even more suspicious.

Backstage Sans Drinks

The backstage area was mostly a mass of confused, angry security staff, huge generators and portaloos. Every 10 or 20 seconds, a racecar would roar past. We were given some little pink wrist bands and told to go into the band waiting area. Perhaps the pink wrist bands would help the guards spot the ?faggot? musicians so they could beat us up after we played? Certainly, as the night wore on they got progressively more aggressive.?

After about half-an-hour, the fear started to kick in pretty badly and I started getting pretty certain that, once the show was over, the security guards would probably beat us up, rape us, steal our stuff and throw us into the crowd. As the smallest and most effeminate member of the band, I expected to get the worst treatment. I figured they’d pick me out as a ?tight fit? and go through me like a train through a tunnel. I needed to calm down so I went to get a drink. Unfortunately, for the first time at any show I’ve ever played anywhere ever, there was no rider. Despite being sponsored by some of the largest alcohol corporations in modern Australia, Clipsal 500 had denied us a drinks rider. We didn’t even get any snacks. We had to go out into the crowd to buy a $15 curry, meaning we had to run the gauntlet of antsy security guards, who looked at me and licked their lips. It was horrible.

I got more and more nervous as we waited to start playing. There was a special non-portaloo toilet for the bands, except someone had shat on the seat. It was just a little smear but it made me even more nervous. The only other band there was Wolf & Cub, who have never struck me as seat shitters before. Later, their singer snuck us some of the beers from their rider which, in contrast to ours, was at least in existence.

A Silver Lining

Eventually it was our turn to play and we walked up the steps to the stage. It was most definitely the largest stage I’ve ever played on and to the largest crowd. I felt like I was ascending the gallows at a mass public hanging. By contrast, Old Man Nic seemed pretty chirpy.
On top of being the first show I’d ever played without a drinks rider, it was the first show I’ve ever played where we were denied, not only a sound check, but a basic line check.

We had no idea of our volume levels or the level at which the PA was set. I hastily tried to check my levels as Old Man Nic played the intro to our first song. Except as soon as I touched my bass, the E string broke.

I’ve been playing in bands for almost 15 years and I’ve owned that bass for about 12, but that was the first time I’d ever broken a bass string on stage. I looked down in horror. It was like the bass, after years of being used exclusively in the service of unpopular but subculturally pure punk and indie bands, had simply refused to be sullied by performing at Clipsal. It was like it was passing judgment on me for betraying my morals and playing in hell.

Out of this emerged the event’s only silver lining when Wolf & Cub’s roadie let me borrow one of their basses. Wolf & Cub were the only band consisting of actual human beings playing that night and thus the only people who would foreseeably have lent me a bass. If I had asked a roadie from The Getaway Plan for a bass, for example, they probably would have looked at me, standing in front of 10,000 people with a broken E string and refused to oblige (more on that later). A deep and profound appreciation for the fundamental humanity contained with the Wolf & Cub camp is the only positive I took from Clipsal.

The show itself was just another show, except there were thousands of people standing in front of us rather than half a dozen. When I turned around to look at our drummer, I saw a gigantic TV screen showing shots of the band. During a couple of particularly surreal moments I could see the actual band member as well as the gigantic image of them, projected five times larger on the screen.

The After ?Party?

After the show, we went back to our alcohol-free dressing room. There was an empty refrigerated drinks cabinet in the band courtyard area, until some fat guy in a Clipsal 500 shirt and a bunch of lanyards came in and stocked it. Then he locked it securely with a comically gigantic padlock.

Things grew progressively more miserable. The Getaway Plan played.
The last time we encountered The Getaway Plan was at the Big Day Out in Adelaide, where we played before them. While we were playing, their drum tech started tuning their drum kit behind us. To his credit, there was a thin curtain between him and us, and it’s quite easy to forget that a thin curtain doesn’t render a drum kit completely inaudible. We were maybe two songs in when the sound of him pummelling away became a little off-putting. As soon as we finished our set, another roadie ran on stage and started yelling at me to get my gear off stage.

Obviously, you can’t judge a band purely by its roadies. That said, our roadies are pretty accurate portrayals of what we’re like – confused, mildly inept, prone to being drunk at times when we should be sober, but ultimately good natured and well-intentioned.

So we didn’t watch The Getaway Plan. We went to the backstage enclosure in time to see Wolfmother wander in. I don’t know anything about Wolfmother and I didn’t talk to any of them. But just before they arrived, several of the women that looked like drag queens were led into the enclosure. They weren’t wearing the usual hot pants and T-shirts advertising drinks companies, but were dressed in matching frilly skirts and low-cut tops. The fat little man who’d brought in the beer reappeared and opened the fridge for them. Then Wolfmother arrived and the drag queens were all ushered into their dressing room for about 20 minutes. During those 20 minutes we shamelessly raided the fridge. Eventually the little fat man must have figured it out, because when we weren’t looking, he locked it again.

By the time Wolfmother played we’d lost enough sobriety to be in something resembling good spirits, so we tried to watch them from the side of the stage. It wasn’t long before another fat, angry guy in a Clipsal shirt came up and told us to get off stage. We showed him our Access All Areas passes but that only made him madder. I assume he was illiterate and he picked us as a bunch of art fags rubbing our understanding of textual symbols in his face. Our roadie went back on stage to see if they’d notice until the emcee for the evening came out and yelled at him.

The emcee was a bit of a character in the sense that his aggressive, frustrated jerk persona was so intense it was comical. He kept ?revving up the crowd? by yelling ?Aussie Aussie Aussie!? and talking about Fords and Holdens whereupon the many thousand bogans would be whipped into a frenzy. He also made reference to the drag queens in the alcohol sponsorship shirts ?wanting it louder?. There were only two of them visible at that point, both standing in the VIP box up above the stage where they grinned blankly and did a sort of worn out jiggling dance for about four hours straight.

After we got kicked off stage we figured it was safe to leave. Getting out was only mildly less confusing than getting in. We decided to go see Waterslides play at the East End Exchange, where you could buy normally priced, good quality beer (rather than $8 watered down Fosters). There were only about a dozen people there, but Waterslides were amazing and made me fall passionately in love with indie rock all over again.

The God of Indie Rock is all forgiving.