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Pandemonium Rocks 2024 Review

Pandemonium Rocks; the “hottest new rock festivalannounced and advertised with grandiose visions of announcing itself as a new presence in the festival scene with two stages, and an epic lineup of over a dozen legendary acts in the rock and roll industry. Promising unforgettable memories and hours of magnificent music, Pandemonium lived up to its name very quickly. Comparisons have been made across social media to the infamous Fyre Festival fiasco, and while I think that’s a little bit of an exaggeration, there’s no denying that the wheels fell off spectacularly.

To put it bluntly, the fact that this festival happened at all is almost miraculous. Considering all of the different things that went wrong in the lead-up to Pandemonium, there is a large part of me that’s shocked I’m writing this review in the first place. Two weeks ago I was convinced the festival was going to be axed after several different scandals plagued the promoters. Make no mistake, I was thrilled when the show was first announced back in January! I have been a huge fan of Alice Cooper for years; a bonafide Sick Thing, and the opportunity to see some rock and roll icons on the one day was very appealing.

The original Pandemonium poster with the complete lineup.

It’s no secret that Australian music festivals are in a bit of a crisis at the moment. Two of the biggest festivals in the country, Splendour in the Grass and Groovin’ the Moo, both fell victim to the economic squeeze in 2024, with the future of both looking uncertain. Bearing this in mind, I was ecstatic at a festival being able to attract such big names, and hopeful that this could help spark a resurgence in the festival industry. Sadly, it wasn’t long before the cracks began to show in Pandemonium’s glass.

Pandemonium’s first problem arose from scheduling, with the Sydney leg of the festival landing on ANZAC Day. Originally located at The Domain, Sydney’s premier location for outdoor events, several prominent politicians and community figures expressed outrage at the idea of a music festival so close to the city on one of the country’s most poignant and commemorative public days. Putting aside the interesting and not-so-subtly-hypocritical lack of outcry for other events like the annual ANZAC Day rugby league match held at Moore Park (smack bang in the Eastern Suburbs), Apex Entertainment bowed to government pressure and the event was shifted to the smaller and less conveniently located Cathy Freeman Park, out at the Olympic Park precinct. In truth, if the promoters could have limited Pandemonium’s issues to this one little blip, they would have been ecstatic had they known what was to come.

There were background concerns and rumblings about the festival’s ability to sell tickets from the outset. Originally priced at an eye-watering $275 for general admission, patrons also had the option of buying a VIP package for the frankly astounding figure of $830 (approximately; venue-dependent). For that staggering amount, I’d expect a meet-and-greet with some of the artists, but all that the price of a Jetstar holiday to New Zealand bought you was the standard VIP festival fare – exclusive toilets, food outlets, viewing platforms, etc.

Pandemonium’s lofty price figure was more than a little eyebrow raising.

In the midst of a cost of living crisis, asking for nearly $300 for general admission to a one-day festival was always going to be a tall order. This figure, coupled with the festival’s constant “2 for 1” promotions only served to grow concerns about the festival’s viability, along with understandable annoyance from patrons who’d bought multiple tickets at full price when they originally went on sale. 

As April drew nearer, keen-eyed fans along with music journalists (special shoutout to Rolling Stone Australia’s Joel King who has been diligently covering the pandemonium surrounding this festival from the beginning) began to notice bands advertised for Pandemonium had removed the tour dates from their websites. Rumours began flying every which way as to whether the festival would go ahead and which of the advertised bands would actually be there until 9News finally reported that Pandemonium had been cancelled. Just three months after being announced and barely a month before the first show was scheduled, it looked like Pandemonium was joining a very crowded cemetery of Australian music festivals.

Rather than confirm the cancellation and announce refunds however, Pandemonium posted to their social media that the festival would indeed be going ahead and then proceeded to turn off comments on their posts, citing negativity and unfounded gossip. A strange decision, only exacerbated by very sporadic updates in the following days. Was the festival going ahead? Who was coming? For a while, we didn’t know. Another post wouldn’t come for four days (March 26) stating that the show would go on with “alterations”. Two days after that (March 28), we were informed that the festival would decrease to one stage and the lineup would be revised. That revised lineup wouldn’t be known until the 8th of April – less than a fortnight until the festival’s first show.

The revised lineup announced on April 8.

You aren’t reading that poster wrong; a whopping SIX of the thirteen original artists withdrew from the festival and three shows were moved to smaller venues. To date, no official reason has been given for each of these bands dropping out, leaving fans to speculate. Tragically, there was one more withdrawal to come, and to be fair this one was completely out of the control of Apex Entertainment.

Less than a week before Pandemonium began, Palaye Royale announced that the mother of three of their members had passed away from cancer. Entirely understandably, Palaye Royale withdrew, and TuneFM would like to extend our condolences to the band during this horrible time. To their genuine credit, Apex Entertainment swiftly organised a replacement act; a local band for each of the four shows.

That credit is short-lived, however, when you consider the response to fans upset about the drastically altered lineup. The cost of tickets was reduced by $70, and Pandemonium announced that fans who had already bought tickets would have the choice of three options:

  1. One complimentary general admission ticket for each full price ticket purchased.
  2. A partial refund of $70.
  3. An exclusive Pandemonium themed hoodie.

You may notice there is one conspicuous absence from these options – a full refund for those who bought tickets to see bands that wouldn’t be coming at all. To date, this has still not been offered, despite the ACCC stating that customers “may have the right to a full refund if an event is significantly changed, including change to a headline act“. Pandemonium’s lack of refunds immediately drew backlash and condemnation, and only further exacerbated the negative publicity surrounding the festival. One disgruntled customer even started a petition demanding refunds and compensation. In case it’s not crystal clear where I stand, I find the lack of refunds offered to patrons after A MAJORITY of bands pulled out to be completely disgusting and contemptible.

As if any further setbacks were needed, there was still one more massive blunder to come in the form of a massive data breach. Attendees who selected the partial refund of $70 to make up the difference in their ticket price were sent a link to fill out their banking details to be refunded. The admin settings on this form were left on, and the financial data of over 400 people was exposed. When this became public knowledge, the festival issued a public statement that left a lot to be desired and didn’t address how anybody understandably hesitant about filling our their form could access a (partial) refund.

Considering the background and the… troubled few weeks Pandemonium had experienced, I was half-expecting Blondie and Alice Cooper to be playing to an empty park. Thankfully this didn’t prove to be the case, with Cathy Freeman Park appearing to be at nearly full capacity by the end of the night. Would this have been the case if patrons had the option of obtaining a refund they were likely entitled to? We’ll never know.

Unfortunately, due to a train mixup, I arrived at the festival just too late to catch opening act Jet Fyrebird but made it through the gates in time to see punk rock group Cosmic Psychos who brought their typical irreverence. While enthusiastic and well-received by most of the crowd, their lyrics weren’t quite my cup of tea; and the festival itself seemed to agree; the sound equipment emitting a noticeable amount of static during the first few songs of their performance.

Quintessential Aussie pub rock!

As if the controversies faced by Pandemonium preceding the festival weren’t bad enough, further outrage was sparked when it became apparent that the accessibility viewing platform was nothing more than a fenced off section of grass to one side of the park. Festival accessibility platforms are generally raised so as to allow people using wheelchairs and mobility aids to be able to see over the standing patrons and enjoy a decent view of the stage. To describe Pandemonium’s accessibility area as lazy would be something of an understatement:

Poor form – Pandemonium Sydney’s accessibility viewing area. Photo by Joel King / Facebook

Up next on the lineup was Australia’s own and much loved Wolfmother who were a standout highlight of the day. They may have only been given 40 minutes but they made the most of it, busting out a ripper of a set full of fan favourites; the majority of which came from their hugely successful debut album. Frontman Andrew Stockdale was visibly enjoying himself and riding the crowd’s energy through their set, and even threw in an unplanned song – playing a snippet of “White Unicorn” at a fan’s request who was wearing an inflatable unicorn costume. The only complaint possible for Wolfmother’s appearance was that it didn’t go longer – they really were tremendous!

Andrew Stockdale telling us a story about a Joker and the Thief!

On paper, following Wolfmother with Wheatus on the bill might seem a strange choice, but it worked remarkably well. Wheatus seem to have accepted their status as a one-hit wonder with a healthy dose of self-awareness, and appear willing to embrace it. Brendan Brown continuously referred to their singular success throughout their set and heaped praise and gratitude on Australia for being the first country to embrace it. Still, we were treated to a decent appetiser before the main course; eight other songs from their catalogue ranging from the reflective “Temporary Song” to the rather immature breakup song “Lemonade”.

They even threw in a cover of one of AC/DC’s most criminally underrated songs. If you want to ingratiate yourself to an Australian crowd (and a certain TuneFM reviewer who calls the song his AC/DC favourite), that’s a pretty good way to do it! Finally, they indulged us; busting out “Teenage Dirtbag” to the delight of the 3000-or-so strong crowd.

Brendan B. Brown expressing his love for Australia.

Up next were the English new wave/post-punk group The Psychedelic Furs who brought a nice alternative and synth-y flavour to a very rock dominated afternoon. A quintessential product of their time in New Wave Britain, the Furs had a very distinct sound that was both unique and very reminiscent of the Thompson Twins. Perhaps best known for their hit “Pretty in Pink” that inspired the famous John Hughes film, they were content to take us through some career highlights spanning all the way back to their second album in 1981. While very much a nostalgia act, they also played some recent material from their 2020 album Made of Rain that was reasonably well received by a crowd beginning to tire out. Stacking the end of their set with protest song “President Gas” before finishing with “Heartbreak Beat” and “Heaven” and leaving after 45 minutes, The Psychedelic Furs managed to deliver a very enjoyable set without outstaying their welcome.

Brotherly love with the Furs’ Richard and Tim Butler.

Finally, after five and a half hours since the gates opened, Sydney was treated to its first headliner and frankly it did NOT disappoint. Blondie hit the stage at approximately 7:30 and within two songs had the crowd eating out of the palm of their hands. Frontwoman Debbie Harry is nothing short of a musical legend and her voice was as strong as ever, albeit not quite as sharp as it used to be. Playing their big hits and live staples along with some select covers and an Australian-exclusive “In the Flesh”, it would be hard to imagine any fan of Blondie leaving disappointed.

Forced to welcome a new guitarist following founding member Chris Stein’s health-motivated decision to retire from touring, you wouldn’t know it from the performance; the whole band working in tandem and appearing as if they’d been playing together from the very beginning. A small crowd by Blondie’s standards; Debbie Harry was more than happy to engage with us regardless, joking that she was happy to make it back to Australia before she died, blowing kisses to a lucky few in the front few rows (including yours truly), and thanking Molly Meldrum for their first big break back in 1977.

In her element. Debbie Harry, rock pioneer.

The crowd was absolutely buzzing after Blondie bowed out and the rush of excitement was palpable in the air… only to be completely extinguished as they were forced to wait another 40 minutes or so for the final performance of the night so the stage could be reset and arranged accordingly. This was an ever-present problem over the course of the day – at least a quarter of the festival was spent staring at an empty stage; a shorter festival with two stages and continuous music would have been far, far better. I can only imagine how electric the show would have been if we had gone straight from Blondie to the last artist. Nevertheless, with the atmosphere dulled due to the agonising delay, it would take a pretty monumental effort to bring the crowd back to the levels Blondie elevated us to.

Enter Alice Cooper.

All in a day’s work for the Godfather of shock rock.

I won’t mince my words – Alice was absolutely flawless. He stormed the stage with a flourish, a sword, a cane, and one of the best backing bands in the world. The moment he emerged from behind the curtain, the crowd exploded and all the energy lost during the stage delay was effortlessly replenished. Bringing over his full production for the show, it is such a shame his Australian appearance was limited to a festival tour at only 70 minutes per night. Alice has a tendency to stick with a handful of must-plays during his concerts but each tour will see different, lesser known gems cycled through the setlist. I bring this up because one of these particular songs featured a prop that surprised even me – a live python/boa draped around his shoulders during “Snakebite”. How it was able to withstand the vibrations and noise of a rock concert I don’t know, but it was well trained and seemed to know exactly when to flick its tongue to the beat of the song.

He’s Alice Cooper, of course he has a snake on stage!

The festival could have been the worst show in the world and it still would have been worth sitting through just for this – a headlining performance for the ages by one of the best showmen in rock and roll history. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention his live band – a true well-oiled machine. The current lineup have been together for the best part of the last decade, and it showed. There was a real chemistry amongst everyone, with all of them getting a chance to show off for the crowd. Particularly mind-blowing was the Hurricane herself; Nita Strauss. Successful as both a supporting guitarist and a solo artist, she is absolutely brilliant, and she knows it – playfully smiling out at the crowd while effortlessly smashing riff after riff.

Hurricane Nita Strauss, blowing Pandemonium away!

As far as the rest of the show, Alice played what you would expect. Pandemonium promised us the songs we knew and loved, and Alice delivered. “Feed My Frankenstein”, “No More Mr. Nice Guy”, and “Poison” were delivered to the frenzied crowd who lapped every second up. One execution scene later, a parodic party political announcement in the form of “Elected”, and a rousing recital of “School’s Out” that acted as an encore (complete with confetti filled balloons that Alice took immense glee in popping with his sword), and it was over. With a big thank you and a nice message of remembrance in the form of “lest we forget” for ANZAC Day, Alice and co disappeared into the wings and Pandemonium was over.

School’s out, Sydney!

So where exactly does this leave me as far as a review goes? There’s no question that the lead-up to the festival was a poorly-handled schemozzle, but each act was thoroughly enjoyable and I left Cathy Freeman Park with a huge smile on my face. Does that mean I would call Pandemonium a success? To a limited extent; yes, I would. I can’t condone, endorse, or support some of the actions that the organisers of Pandemonium took – refusing to offer full refunds to those who wanted them after half the lineup vanished is quite unforgivable, and the data breach and subsequent attitude towards customers was beyond amateurish. The food options were highly overpriced and the accessibility viewing area bordered on insulting and condescending.

Don’t take my enjoyment of the show to mean I’m glossing over everything that came before – the majority of the lead up to the festival has left a really bad taste in my mouth, and I shudder to imagine what Pandemonium has done for Australia’s reputation when other festivals try and attract big international artists down under.

And yet… the festival still went ahead. The show still went on, and it was (long stage delays aside) thoroughly enjoyable. In a year where festivals are dropping like flies, Pandemonium still, somewhat, rocked. For a couple of hours, we could forget about the world and rock out to some amazing music that we grew up with. For all its faults, and don’t get me wrong, those faults were severe; Pandemonium managed to achieve something that Splendour in the Grass, Groovin’ the Moo, and so many other festivals couldn’t do this year – it managed to materialise. Honestly, I’ve gotta give it some credit for that. I just don’t think I can give it too much, considering it deserves nearly zero for the month that preceded it.

Pandemonium – the festival that lived up to its name!

Ben Lewis was granted media accreditation to produce a review of the Sydney leg of Pandemonium.