When I first shared a link to a story after the first announcement of Daft Punk’s global album launch for Random Access Memories at the 79th Annual Wee Waa Agricultural Show, more than one person asked if it was an April Fools’ Day prank, and I couldn’t entirely convince myself or anyone else that it wasn’t.
The campaign to hype the new album, Daft Punk’s first dedicated studio album for 8 years, and their first work since the 2010 Tron: Legacy soundtrack, reached hitherto unscaled heights of absurdity.
It took 13 minutes for the 2000 tickets to the show to sell out, despite repeated announcements from Sony and the two robots themselves that they would not be appearing. The crowd was smaller than the ticket sales suggested, no doubt due to the mid-week iTunes album streaming ahead of the 7 hour drive from the nearest capital city. Perhaps motivated by a fear of the album leaking, an otherwise flawless marketing campaign was undone by the early and free release. Mediocre inbuilt speakers or inferior headphones attached to a laptop playing a compressed file is no way to introduce an album as layered as this, and initial impressions were mixed at best, and in retrospect, mistaken.
Daft Punk’s ode to the disco era is bizarre, confusing, conceited and almost perfect in places, just as the whole undertaking for the global ‘launch’ party turned out to be.
In the days following the procurement of tickets, various Twitter threads led to a chat with the delightful Alex Watts, who generously offered accommodation with his family, who’ve been Wee Waa residents for decades. Twitter really can still be lovely, h8rz.
The name ‘Wee Waa’ is derived from the Kamilaroi peoples’ word for a cooking fire, and is where the Australian commercial cotton industry was born, but prior to the Daft invasion Wee Waa attained a degree of national notoriety from hosting, as part of a police investigation in 2000, the first mass DNA screening in the country.
It’s an all-day drive from Canberra, so Glen and I packed the car early Friday morning and headed north. It’s not as though there was anything more ridiculous in the offing for Friday night, and besides, could we really – really – risk missing out if they did decide to show up…? Stranger things have happened. Stranger things were happening right then.
We arrived only a few minutes too late for the dog high jump, but we were just in time to see the motorcycle stunt man David Russell break his arm while attempting to circumnavigate a field atop a ladder attached to his Suzuki. That abrupt end meant there was ample opportunity for people watching as the sun set. Young men either attempting provocative androgyny or freely expressing themselves were given the benefit of any doubt by bemused locals. Young women wearing way too little for an inland autumn evening were kindly told to rug up as darkness fell.
A walk around the show yielded the standard regional show fair; fundraisers featuring simple and fantastic food, showcases of local industry and craft, engaging smiles and warm exchanges. But there were also the floodlights visible from 10 kilometres away. There was an enormous mirror ball suspended from massive scaffolds that accommodated towers of loudspeakers that would not be out of place at a music festival three times the size. Then there was the helipad where Thomas and Guy-Man were going to land… Well, no, but one little tweet and it is gospel truth by the time you get to the toilet queue.
There was no stage. There was no sneaky appearance. It really was a guy pressing play on a CD that could’ve been purchased 7 hours and 700 kilometres before. (Actually the CD that was available at the show was the Wee Waa ‘special edition’, which merely has a sleeve over the top of the regular case. There are only 1000 of them though, and they were changing hands for $100 on eBay before we’d even left town.)
But when the fireworks ended and Give Life Back to Music exploded out of the speakers with perfect clarity but terrifying volume, it all made an absurd kind of sense. Those that were there were those for whom the whole bizarre expedition itself was the reward.
Giorgio by Moroder, the third song on the album, was where it all felt a bit surreal. Some in the crowd were engaging in a call and response interaction with the 2012 voice-over recording of a 70s Italian disco maestro, in the middle of an LED dance floor in regional New South Wales.
Things kicked up a gear as many lost themselves to dance, but the euphoric outburst as Get Lucky began seemed like the highlight for most. Album closer Contact was mine though, of both the album and the night. It’ll be a potent opener for many a dance set, and I can reliably report it serves as an excellent alarm clock song. Listen to it, LOUD.
The album as a whole will also be, as the Tron: Legacy soundtrack proved to be, a remixer’s delight.
After a brief pause, a DJ attempted to keep the party going with a shambolic simulacrum of Alive 2007, and the party did for a while, but the exodus from the dance floor steadily increased as the quality of the mix deteriorated and the Daft Punk gave way to other sounds.
From space robots to sideshow alley, a couple of brave souls bought a dagwood dog and we then shuffled off into the night. A warm fire and a lively conversation with Alex’s parents awaited us, completing the perfect country hospitality immersion, and never was the contrast more obvious or more delightful.
After a superb cooked breakfast we headed back to the showgrounds. Judging for the best bull in the show was underway, and the intricacies of the cotton industry were patiently explained to us by some CSIRO scientists. Alex took us on an excursion to Yarrie Lake and the Australia Telescope Compact Array outside Narrabri, where Glen and I bode farewell to our companions and set off for the long drive home. We survived a few close calls with wildlife, and the greater risk of road trip fast food.
I still don’t know what happened, really. Was it, along with the record, all a massive gag, or some kind of social experiment? An attempt to see just how far a mystique can be pushed? Regardless, it made for a never to be repeated adventure, and when each and every interaction you have with another person is entertaining and enjoyable, it’s a delightful weekend by any measure.