Shall age weary dance music’s live legends?

In 2004, inthemix asked Maxi Jazz what he made of the rumours that Faithless were about to call it a day. “I think we are,” he said. “You know, the touring is so devastating to your life; you’ve got nothing else to do except be on a bus, in a hotel room, in an airport, or on-stage.”

As it turns out, it took another seven years, two albums and countless airport lounges for Faithless to truly feel its work was done. By midway through 2011, the group’s “joyful, exhilarating and empowering” run will be over.

While Faithless was a relatively rare visitor to Australia (the band’s 2002 visit was cancelled after Maxi Jazz was injured in a car accident), they belonged to an elite club of iconic live dance acts. In the decade that inthemix has existed, six blockbuster headliners have loomed large on festival line-ups here. Leaving aside the unattainable Daft Punk, the ‘big six’ would arguably be Faithless, the Chemical Brothers, Underworld, Groove Armada, Basement Jaxx and The Prodigy.

From the Boiler Room at Big Day Out to Two Tribes to Summadayze to Future Music Festival, these live shows have been the benchmark. In ten years, Basement Jaxx have headlined six Australian festivals, Groove Armada five, the Chemical Brothers four, and The Prodigy and Underworld three a-piece – with standalone tours and DJ jaunts scattered between.

With Faithless announcing its retirement and Groove Armada returning to their DJ roots, the big six is now down to four. So, 11 years after the Chemical Brothers and Basement Jaxx blew the roof off the Boiler Room, is dance music’s major league shifting?

“We’re getting to the stage where headline acts are running out,” mused Future Entertainment’s Mark James when inthemix quizzed him on the topic last year. “You’ve got your Chemical Brothers, Prodigy, Groove Armada, Basement Jaxx…you sort of run out after that in our genres. There are a lot of indie-electro live acts coming up, but a guy on a computer waving a balloon around isn’t really enough.”

It’s no mystery why these live legends have endured. The likes of Underworld and The Prodigy first visited Australia as heroes of the jilted generation, propelled by now-classic albums. None of these acts have escaped criticism – or worse, indifference – to some of their more recent work. However, it’s the combination of legacy, time-honoured tunes and a well-oiled live show that keeps us coming back. With those credentials, there’s also a budget to back it.

“As much as there’s a resurgence of bands like Orbital and Leftfield, in our world there aren’t that many other artists who have the ability to build live shows like that,” reasons Future’s Brett Robinson. “You’ve got to have a massive audience before you can start to spend money on shows like that.”

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