by Elisabeth Wynhausen
Fair warning: this post has enough swear words in it to make your hair curl.
I don’t look like the sort of person likely to spend New Year’s Eve having my eardrums drilled by the band Knife Party’s electronic pounding, but as that’s what I was doing, a mere twenty-four days ago, I held a notebook in front of me like a shield. It was probably unnecessary. Everyone else at Shorething, the New Year’s Eve spectacular at Bondi Beach, was dancing. They were there to have the time of their lives. I was there to report on the action.
I had waded into the seething centre of a crowd of ten thousand sweating, sculpted bodies to look around when a bare-chested boy with a beatific grin pirouetted like Rudolf Nureyev to plant a kiss on my cheek. I put it down to the eccies. I was relieved he didn’t start stroking me as if I was a puppy, which happened another time I was around people who’d been gobbling ecstasy.
That was at a time electronic dance music was fractionally more melodious than it is now. It has to be said a symphony of jack hammers would have been fractionally more melodious than Knife Party’s hit “Internet Friends”, the song being blasted over the loudspeakers at that moment.
Intent on writing down the refrain “You blocked me on Facebook and now you’re going to die” I looked up to find my improbable presence had become a diversion.
Several young men had turned their backs to the stage to dance in front of me. Others had naturally turned to watch. The dazzling laser show lit up the Bondi sky, but little of the stage could be seen from the centre of the crowd. That left people making their own fun, as we used to say in the olden days before the lyrics of songs were dubbed by DJs prancing about the stage in masks, though so few of us could see them.
It was my second New Year’s Eve in a row at Shorething, thanks to the promoter Brandon Saul, an amiable rumpled character, who also puts on Sydney’s Vivid Live festival. I had first gone to talk to him about the event at Bondi Beach the year before because there was controversy about it. Snoop Dogg was the star of that show. He has since renamed himself Snoop Lion but he was still Snoop Dogg then.
Not all the locals had welcomed Mr Dogg, as one called him. They seemed to think that an entertainer who had boasted of making a living as a pimp and gone in and out of jail presented an image that did not add shine to Bondi’s lustre. Brandon Saul told me – and anyone else who would listen – that Snoop’s gangsta rapper image was part of his act. With that in mind, I went to see the-then Mr Dogg.
I was closer to the action on stage that night, pressed against the security rail above the mosh pit, hour after flaming hour. A glinting SUV finally dropped Snoop and his entourage off on the sand behind the stage, but it took another half hour of interminable mounting excitement before he made it to the stage. He wore sunnies and black trackies with a white stripe. On the hand that kept straying towards his crotch (but never quite getting there) was a silvery rock the size of Gibraltar.
It took me a moment to realise that you couldn’t pick his voice out of the wall of sound – all you could really hear was the one word repeated over and over. Mothafucka, boom, motherfucka boom boom.
Up behind him him were video images of the sort of graffiti you saw on the New York subway before they got the anti-graffiti covering. I lived in New York in the 1980s when you also saw black kids – buskers – rapping on street corners. I guess they enunciated the word mothafucka as well. It seems old hat, I said to the young woman standing next to me at the barrier. “It is old hat,” she said firmly.
It was like seeing a facsimile of the original, blurred in some parts and heightened in others, as if the lack of authenticity had been half-concealed by making it more outrageous. The dancers, big strong girls with big strong thighs, were shaking their booty so hard you worried they would be hurt. They were earning their living by arching themselves almost double, going through the motions as the scrawny rapper sang “I want to fuck you” and the audience sang along.
It was a novel experience. I had never before heard twelve thousand people singing “I want to fuck you, fuck you”. I wasn’t shocked by the language – I throw expletives around more than most people. What shocked me was the sudden realisation that all but the rawest innocents knew the show was cynical and empty, and didn’t mind. What they were celebrating was Snoop Dogg’s celebrity, not his music. I dare say that wasn’t news to anyone but myself.
But that wasn’t all I learned the first time my senior’s card and me went to Shorething. I was in the prime position to see the stage, as I said. I hadn’t realised that unless I allowed myself to be carried out over their heads by the St John’s Ambulance people or the security guards, I was trapped until the concert ended.
I never went anywhere near the stage this time. I liked the idea I could escape, but there was no reason to. The people crowded together in their thousands to dance on the grass behind the beach were so mellow they said sorry if they bumped into you by mistake. Their good humour was astonishing. The eccies helped, of course. So did the long lines at the bars. People probably sobered up again as they made their way from one end to the other. And they seemed determined to find things to celebrate.
“You get a dollar if you’ve kept the glass when you go back to the bar, and I’ve got seven!” a young woman in shorts and high heels told me happily, counting them again to be sure, as her friends loudly counted down the last few seconds to midnight, mobile phones on the ready. Before the new year was a minute old, they were on their phones, talking about it.
- Snoop Dogg live at Bondi, courtesy of Shorething