Following Big Day Out’s big announcement last week, everyone’s been getting excited about the return of one of Australia’s most iconic music festivals. Everyone that is except for the Perth town of Claremont.

Though Big Day Out has announced plans to use Claremont Showgrounds as the venue for next year’s appearance, WAToday reported that representatives from the town say that there’s no chance they want the event to go ahead there. It’s a familiar outcry, given that last year Claremont Mayor Jock Barker, already told Big Day Out organisers they were  “not welcome’ by a number of local councillors for the event’s proposed site in Claremont.

“I don’t want to see it back [here],” said Mayor Barker at the time, “I was happy to see the back of it. It does nothing useful for the town.” His gripes eventually forced a down-sized line-up to play at nearby McCallum Park, a site located along the Victoria Park foreshore.

This year, Barker and his constituents have threatened the iconic music festival, as well as Soundwave, once again opposing their plans to use Claremont Showgrounds as a site for their events. Barker argued that Big Day Out and Soundwave promoters had yet to make an application to the council to hold the live event there, but that when it does, he will oppose it – vehemently.

“We don’t want the Big Day Out or Soundwave back in Claremont at all,” says Barker, “they contribute nothing, we have plenty of concerts that adhere to noise levels but these particular promoters couldn’t care less.” Barker notes that external consultants were hired to measure previous festival events’ sound levels, indicating that they breached the 72 decibel cap.

“Soundwave and Big Day Out promoters have no respect for the residents, nor for council approvals and sound levels, so naturally the council takes a dim view of them,” Barker told The West Australian. “It’s too loud and we get complaints from nearby residents.”

At the exact same site however, Barker allowed Stereosonic, one of Australia’s biggest electronic music festivals, to go ahead unabated. Not a whisper about the event’s similar plans to host their 2012 Perth leg at the Claremont showgrounds.

The closest Barker has come to a response is in claiming: “We’re not anti-concert, I’ve got children and grandchildren and friends who go to concerts but we are opposed to the noise and the antisocial behaviour specifically related to those two events.”

Far be it to attack particular concert-goers for being worse than others, but surely Barker and the Town of Claremont can see similar parallels between a rock festival like Big Day Out and the drug-taking, pill-popping culture of a dance festival? And yet no such complaints of rowdy festival-goers. There’s definitely more to this than a simple genre preference for likes of Tiesto over the Red Hot Chili Peppers?

Assuming that Baker’s threats to knock back any applications made by Big Day Out come to fruition, the final decision would fall to the Department of Environment and Conservation, and Barker believes the DEC would side with the Town of Claremont in the refusal of the site being used as a concert venue.

If Big Day Out and Soundwave are to be muscled out of the Claremont Showgrounds by grumpy residents and the council, where could they conceivably go?

A quick run-down of similarly-scaled music events provides limited options. The Perth equivalent of the New Year’s Falls Festival – Southbound – is a three-day camping festival located in Busselton – too far from the city centres that usually entice the likes of Big Day Out and Soundwave. While one-day events like Summadayze have found agreeable hosts in South Perth, specifically Sir James Mitchell Park; while Future Music Festival is situated at Joondalup Arena.

Even brand-new music festival, This Is Nowhere – a self-described ’boutique’ festival of local and international underground acts – is using The University of Western Australia in Crawley as its stomping grounds. If other councils can find the positives in hosting music events, why can’t Claremont?

Meanwhile, Big Day Out organisers have found support from the owners of the Claremont Showgrounds, the Royal Agricultural Society. Their chief executive, Martin Molony, sees the benefits in the festival. Saying that the ongoing struggle between the Showgrounds and Claremont council has been an embarrassment, “we’ve got well-known, international acts and they should be supported from the highest levels of government,” says Molony.

As for Barker’s claims that the festival noise had ‘vastly breached’ local sound limits? “For 20 or 30 seconds, by one or two decibels,” says Mr Molony, “If we want these big name acts like the Red Hot Chili Peppers to come here, we need to give a little bit of leeway.”

“The biggest sufferers are going to be the patrons who love going to the Big Day Out.” A nice vote of support, but they’re not the only ones who’ll suffer. If worst comes to worst, Big Day Out and Soundwave may simply stop bothering to visit Perth altogether, the fall-out effect is vast.

Perth has a long history of producing unique Australian talent, many who are chronicled in the 2008 documentary, Something In The Water, which tracks the rise and fall of many of Western Australia – and in turn Perth’s most successful acts and some of Australia’s most iconic bands. The film’s tagline asks ‘what drought?’, a question that only has a pertinent effect if the local music scene doesn’t dry up.

For instance, consider the swathe of popular bands that have come from Perth in recent years. Karnivool – and by association Birds of Tokyo, Tame Impala, The Drones, Sleepy Jackson, Eskimo Joe, The Panics, Jebediah, Little Birdy, Snowman,  and many more are all acts that have gained national (and international) recognition who began their careers in the western sun.

All once young musicians who were inspired by the music scene and culture around them, and that certainly includes visits from bigger acts that tour with large scale music festivals.

On a cultural level, if the big name acts and tours stop visiting, where do aspiring musicians go for inspiration? Will the garages and studios of the city fall silent? It’s a bleak thought, but not one that’s inconceivable if you consider the long-term effects if visits of events like Big Day Out dry up. To chase out music events is a great disservice to the state of Western Australia in every sense of the word.

If Big Day Out don’t show up in Perth, that’s a lot of missed opportunities that really hurt Perth’s music scene, all because some council cronies don’t want some rockers partying on their lawn.

It seems that the singular, biggest complaint that the Town of Claremont has, is with the noise. An issue that is really their responsibility to begin with. Soundwave and Big Day Out promoter Chris Knight has indicated that it was the council’s job to notify promoters of noise breaches and had failed to indicated that sound restrictions were mush stricter in WA than in other states.

Doubly, that it was the Town Of Claremont’s responsibility to notify its council and townsfolk of the possibility of sever noise, some notice that essentially says ‘there’s going to be a rock festival on today, please buy some earplugs if you don’t dig The Killers.’

Given the hypocrisy that the likes of Stereosonic have been allowed to operate without inteference, along with the Showground owners’ support of music events like Big Day Out and Soundwave, the continued campaign by the council is looking more and more like a witch hunt.

Mayor Barker and his council should consider that their actions could cause great damage to the music culture in Western Australia, far greater than the inconvenience of a few minutes of noise above acceptable levels.

Get unlimited access to the coverage that shapes our culture.
to Rolling Stone magazine
to Rolling Stone magazine