Big Day Out: The best of the rest

By Hayden Donnell

Ghost perform live.
Ghost perform live.

Everyone knows the big names at the top of the Big Day Out bill. Pearl Jam, Blur, Snoop, Arcade Fire; all sure to draw big crowds after evening falls at Western Springs. But often the bands that make a Big Day Out great aren't the ones high up on the poster. We name a few under-the-radar bands worth checking out at the 2014 festival.

1. Ghost

The lead singer is a satanic Catholic cardinal named Papa Emeritus. His backing band are 'Nameless Ghouls' whose identities are obscured by black full length robes and face masks. Even if you don't like heavy metal 'pop hymns', Ghost are going to put on a show.

The Swedish six-piece band have put out two albums since forming in 2006. Infestissumam - their latest - was released in April. But their theatrical live performances are the main talking point for casual fans.

Take the 'special' show they held in their hometown of Linköping last year. After tearing through Genesis, the band's original white-clad Papa Emeritus paused. The arena went dark. When the lights rose again, Papa Emeritus handed the mic over to the band's new black-clad, skull-masked lead singer Papa Emeritus II, who sang their just-released single Secular Haze. Papa Emeritus II has performed with the band ever since. It is believed he is the same person as the first Emeritus.

2. DIIV

At first glance, DIIV are just another addition to the tide of jangling indie pop bands coming out of New York. What sets them apart is what they're missing. DIIV's lone album Oshin is notable for how little emphasis it places on vocals. Melodies are subsumed by guitar-led instrumentals. Voice and electric guitar blur together until they're almost indistinguishable.

Pitchfork says the album offers more than a beautiful, melodic dreamscape. It is an "interesting experiment in whether a band based on voice/guitar/bass/drums can rely on the guitar to carry the song's meaning."

3. Randa

In her Bandcamp bio, Randa muses on whether she is inspired most by Eminem, David Faustino or Carlton Banks: "We may never know, probably all of the above."

Throwback pop culture references are a running theme in the Auckland rapper/beatmaker's work. Her video for Frankenstein is set in a twisted version of a classic US sitcom. Orange Juice harks back to when "P-Diddy was still real comfy being called Puffy". At other times, she flips in self-effacing nods to her childhood growing up in the suburbs of the North Shore.

It's smart and self-aware stuff from someone who's really just starting out . Randa says she was born in the year of Wrestlemania IX. That would be 1993. At just 20, she's a promising talent.

4. The 1975

The 1975 tried to pull a Lorde and release their first single Sex under a veil of anonymity. They quickly changed tack after realising their stadium-ready anthems would benefit from a traditional marketing campaign.

The hype surrounding the Manchester four-piece has only grown since then. They released the Facedown EP in 2012, the Music For Cars EP in March and are right now preparing to reveal out their self-titled debut album to a growing fanbase.

Their Big Day Out show promises to be a lot of fun. Songs like Sex are full of melodic hooks and catchy choruses that will embed themselves in your head for hours. Singer Matthew Healy's lovelorn lyrics and strongly accented delivery can make the band come off as a more upbeat, dance-ready version of Frightened Rabbit. That's a good thing.

5. Mac Miller

A few years ago, Mac Miller was a struggling teenage rapper trying to get heard outside of Pittsburgh. Now he's hanging out with Kendrick Lamar and Odd Future. His single Donald Trump has been viewed 83.5 million times on YouTube. He became the first indpendent rapper in 20 years to top the Billboard charts with his 2011 debut album Blue Slide Park.

Despite making it sound like it's been easy taking over the world while he's on his "Donald Trump s***", it has been a tough road to the top. Miller is a self-taught musician who mastered guitar, piano, bass and drums and tried to be a singer-songwriter before blowing up in rap. His chart success came amid a battle with drug and alcohol addiction. A friend said quitting drinking was "one of the most impressive" things the star had done.

Those experiences were channeled into his sophomore album Watching Movies with the Sound Off, which critics have heralded as a big step up from Blue Slide. Miller's live show will bring some swagger and snarl to the Big Day Out.

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