SARADHA KOIRALA shares her experiences of Auckland’s sweltering Big Day Out, 2008.

WHEN FINDING one’s way to the Big Day Out it pays to follow clusters of young people wearing hats, jandals and backpacks. Such a cluster leads us to a packed bus and gets us in the mood for crowded excitement.

On arrival, my fears that this is an event for the younger generation are quickly quashed, and with acts like Billy Bragg, Bjork, Supergroove, Missing Teeth and Kate Nash on the agenda the crowd is naturally comprised of several demographics.

It’s 2pm and shade has become a commodity. I would gladly buy a hot dog and a pottle of chips for anyone willing to relinquish a spot under a tree, but there is no such willing person. DJ Mu in Lilyworld provides a laid back beat and barefoot vibe with plenty of room for dancing or sprawling by the beer tent. I take this opportunity to check out the timetable and anticipate some highlights.

The first of these is Billy Bragg. As things are heating up around us he stands solo on stage and draws us in with songs of protest and politics, as well as sweet musings on love, as in Shirley and Woody Guthrie’s Ingrid Bergman. Bragg yarns away and treats us like his drinking buddies. He tells us he reads the newspaper a lot and he’s obviously been reading it here, Oh Freedom What Liberties are Taken in Thy Name is a reaction to terrorism and governmental force in which a character’s home is raided one morning and he’s arrested without knowing why.

Power in a Union gets a following and rises above a British working class anthem due to Bragg’s universal awareness. Fists are raised in solitude to the end of the song and then we’ve all got our arms in the air: Bragg sings “One love, one heart, let’s drop the debt and we’ll be alright” as we become impassioned with the message and emphatic with the accompanying actions.

At 4.45 a timetable discrepancy means we’re waiting for Battles when Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine appears on stage. His solo incarnation, The Nightwatchman, is an attempt at activism that comes across as farcical after Billy Bragg’s sincerity. He’s riled by all the right things – war crimes, government secrecy, inequality – but it somehow just sounds forced and angry.

So the next highlight comes at six with high-energy ten-piece, Arcade Fire. The Canadians skip on to the stage and burst straight into Wake Up with a chorus of voices over keys, violins, guitar and a guy with a drum strapped to him giving it his all.

The energy is contagious and the crowds sing along, sway, cheer and bounce as the band moves smoothly from piece to piece using glockenspiel, a brass section, four kinds of organ (including a suspended pipe organ), a hurdy-gurdy, accordion and several kinds of percussion instruments. Not only do they have a great sound and work tightly together, they give the impression that they are having enormous amounts of fun and would probably be belting it out with all that vigour whether there were 45,000 people listening or not.

The rest of the evening gives us compulsory Shihad (BDO veterans) followed by Icelandic Princess, Bjork, who floats on to the main stage behind a marching band. It’s a strange slot for this artist’s uneasy conceptual harmonies; placed between kiwi bogans and nu-metal pioneers, Rage. Large areas of the crowd give a strong impression that this is not what they came for, but she entertains with spectacles of light, fire and costume as well as old favourites Army of Me and State of Emergency.

By this time, the setting sun has provided relief from the day’s heat and cues my exit. I leave the next wave of Rage fans to take it to the end of their Big Day Out.