You might remember the year 2001; the new millennium was still young, hopes were high, and the opening months were about to give birth to one of the most infamous festival sets of all time – right here in Australia.
Having released their third record Relationship Of Command just three months earlier, Americans At The Drive-In were in the country to play the Big Day Out festival alongside other musical luminaries such as Placebo, Rammstein, and Limp Bizkit, but their Sydney set took an infamous turn only a few songs in. With a long-awaited new album on the way and available to pre-order now, and single Governed By Contagions’ doing the rounds, we thought it was time to look back on what would become one of the most controversial festival sets on Australian soil.
Things started off well for the band, who were gracing the covers of Aussie music mags at the time, and the crowd were hugely excited to see them – a little too excited. During the group’s third song of the set, ‘Cosmonaut’, frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala noticed that fans were getting rowdier than usual, and the dancing was getting to unsafe levels. After stopping the performance, leaving only the sound of guitar feedback in the air, Bixler-Zavala started talking to the crowd – and he managed to get them even more worked up.
“I think its a very, very sad day when the only way you can express yourself is through slam-dancing,” he began. “Are you all typically white people? Y’all look like it to me. Look at that, you learned that from the TV, you didn’t learn that from your best friend.
“You’re a robot, you’re a sheep,” he continued, before bleating like a sheep into the microphone, bringing to a close one of the most memorable onstage rants we’ve ever witnessed. The group left the stage soon after, having only performed three songs in a heavily anticipated set.
Sadly, Bixler-Zavala’s concerns were timely as, hours later, the Big Day Out festival would see its first death by way of 16 year old Jessica Michalik, who was crushed by the crowd during Limp Bizkit’s performance. The band’s decision to speak out against and subsequently walk away from their fans, while at first criticised by more than a few people both in the crowd and backstage, ended up being sadly prophetic, and became one of the defining moments in the festival’s storied history.
16 years later, the performance remains one of the most talked about sets to take place on Australian soil, with many fans still talking in tones of reverence about being there that day and seeing the group seemingly implode onstage, only months before their eventual split.
Thankfully though, At The Drive-In reformed last year for a second time, and are set to deliver an incredibly-anticipated new record in just a few weeks. Titled in•ter a•li•a, the album is the follow-up to 2000’s Relationship Of Command, and sees the group return in fine form, a decade and a half down the line.
Fans can pre-order the album here, and check out the record’s first single, ‘Governed By Contagions’, below.