Friday 2 Sep 2016

This may not be a real story, but it’s a conversation starter in the Eurovision Press Centre. It’s claimed that the Eurovision Broadcasting Union (EBU) has a department that spends a week every year, locked in a room, brainstorming the next big staging idea. That’s a lot of free notepads and breath mints. It is unsure if the really big ideas come out of cabin fever or inhaling the whiteboard markers. The result is worthy of 12 points every time. Without fail the EBU creates some of the slickest television production of modern times. The stage is the centrepiece that holds it all together. Vienna will not disappoint the audience. This is a 12 month masterpiece in the making.

The venue is the Wiener Stadthalle, a 15,000 seat Entertainment Centre that is in desperate need of a renovation TV show. Nothing some cheap faux-crystal chandeliers and an ottoman couldn’t fix, right? When you enter the stage overwhelms you. It practically envelopes an entire side. The inspiration this year is in the theme, Building Bridges. And although it looks more like an eye, or even a sideways Q, or just an OH&S nightmare, the brainstorm nailed its mission statement: bridge the left stage with the right stage. Jokes aside, here are some hard core facts surrounding the 2015 stage:

 

  • It is nearly as high as a 6 storey building, nearly as wide as the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and is deep enough to park 2 semi-trailers.
  • It is surrounded by more than 1000 LED poles that if laid end to end, would become an aircraft hazard.
  • 10,000 will be inside watching the spectacle. 26 cameras will send the pictures out live to the world.
  • Between each song is just over a minute of changeover time. That is when the 20 stagehands kick into gear.
  • And the piece de resistance? The 650 motorised balls which hang from the roof create 3D effects known as a Kinetic Sculpture.

 

You don’t have to like the songs. You don’t even have to like the kitsch and the props. But if you’re looking to break the world record in Eurovision Cliché Bingo, put the card down and just enjoy the show this year. Trust me, it’s breathtaking. If only there were some mints left from the brainstorm.

The Eurovision Song Contest is an economic boost of Olympic proportions to the host city. With the people comes the parties, and in Vienna there’s no less than five a night! From the unofficial fan sites to the official party venues, there are still some rules that apply. In a foreign city full of foreign people, you want to feel like one of the crowd. Here are some ‘types’ to look out for that could make or break your party nights at Eurovision:

 

The Insta-Fan

The person who looks normal and talks normally, and then suddenly pulls out the phone for a photo with every person they meet. Mate, I came here to talk, not to snapchat. #saveme

The Dresser-uperer

This is a rooky error as most of the time it reveals the try-hard, not the die-hard Eurovisionista. For some, the costume pays homage to past Eurovision stars. This year, men (at least I think they are men) are sporting Conchita-esque beards. Some bring an alter-ego in a wacky blue velvet suit with novelty glasses and a wig. It’s your choice. Choose wisely.

The Euro-Compare-Compère (ECC)

One of the most annoying species in Vienna. The conversation will go like this:

Me: “Who do you think will win this year?”

ECC: “Oh look, it’s not as easy as it was in Moscow. The songs do change, like it did for San Marino in 2013 in Malmo. But the catering here is better than Copenhagen last year so I think you have a chance, just like Brotherhood of Man in ‘76 in The Hague.”

Sir Lanyard of Lanyardly

My favourite thing I’ve heard in the Eurovillage has been this: “Hey, guys, are you getting lanyard rash? It’s not even the end of week one”.

Oh come on. Seriously? Lanyards attract douche-bags the same way cafes attract cyclists. We get it, you’re doing something for someone at this event somewhere and everyone should think you’re important. And then the super-douche will decorate it with badges and pins. And the uber-douche will carry all the previous year’s accreditation passes attached to a mega-lanyard. The best piece of advice is “make sure you’ve got it, then put it away”.

The Expert

The expert is the person every media group wants to talk to. As they know they're worth in the market they become cocky. However, you tire of them as their attitude is “I’ll talk to you, young minion, if ye ask me not the same boring questions.” I’ve got one! Who do you think will win? Maybe it’s time to appreciate A-Listers a bit more.

The Eurovision Song Contest is an economic boost of Olympic proportions to the host city. With the people comes the parties, and in Vienna there’s no less than five a night! From the unofficial fan sites to the official party venues, there are still some rules that apply. In a foreign city full of foreign people, you want to feel like one of the crowd. Here are some ‘types’ to look out for that could make or break your party nights at Eurovision:

 

The Insta-Fan

The person who looks normal and talks normally, and then suddenly pulls out the phone for a photo with every person they meet. Mate, I came here to talk, not to snapchat. #saveme

 

 

The Dresser-uperer

This is a rooky error as most of the time it reveals the try-hard, not the die-hard Eurovisionista. For some, the costume pays homage to past Eurovision stars. This year, men (at least I think they are men) are sporting Conchita-esque beards. Some bring an alter-ego in a wacky blue velvet suit with novelty glasses and a wig. It’s your choice. Choose wisely.

The Euro-Compare-Compère (ECC)

One of the most annoying species in Vienna. The conversation will go like this:

Me: “Who do you think will win this year?”

ECC: “Oh look, it’s not as easy as it was in Moscow. The songs do change, like it did for San Marino in 2013 in Malmo. But the catering here is better than Copenhagen last year so I think you have a chance, just like Brotherhood of Man in ‘76 in The Hague.”

Sir Lanyard of Lanyardly

My favourite thing I’ve heard in the Eurovillage has been this: “Hey, guys, are you getting lanyard rash? It’s not even the end of week one”.

Oh come on. Seriously? Lanyards attract douche-bags the same way cafes attract cyclists. We get it, you’re doing something for someone at this event somewhere and everyone should think you’re important. And then the super-douche will decorate it with badges and pins. And the uber-douche will carry all the previous year’s accreditation passes attached to a mega-lanyard. The best piece of advice is “make sure you’ve got it, then put it away”.

The Expert

The expert is the person every media group wants to talk to. As they know they're worth in the market they become cocky. However, you tire of them as their attitude is “I’ll talk to you, young minion, if ye ask me not the same boring questions.” I’ve got one! Who do you think will win? Maybe it’s time to appreciate A-Listers a bit more.

The best thing about a Eurovision Semi Final is that it sorts the wheat from the chaff. And more often than not you get to see all the kitschy embarrassing overproduced numbers that make Eurovision famous. The Second Semi Final at Vienna is no different, and here’s your survival guide:

 

Lithuania

 

He used to sing on cruise ships, she wanted to be a dancer. They meet here in Vienna and sing a song about love. It’s ‘Grease’ meets ‘Islands In The Stream’ for a new generation. It’s the one that I want… a ha.

Ireland

Molly Stirling has the hopes and dreams of a nation riding on her shoulders. I refer to this as the Seasick Song. It’s up and down and up and... *wretch*... sorry... I just need to concentrate on the horizon for a bit.

San Marino

Finally, for the first time in the competition there’s a key change! The press bio tells me that Anita and Michele share a passion for ballet, and both of them are classically trained and very good at it. There’s a moral here kids: follow your passion.

Montenegro

If any country is the interpretive dance king, it’s Montenegro. Spearheaded by a man who is known around the traps as the Baltic Bert Newton, it’s going to struggle to find a wig in the Grand Final. Spot, I mean, spot.

Malta

The fact singer Amber is dressed like she’s off to a funeral is probably an omen of what will happen here. Wind machines and flames don’t help either, at least it distracts you from the song.

Norway

If you ever wondered what happened to Merida from Brave, she met a lovely boy and moved to Oslo seeking a music career. I love this song. I love this song. Actually I love the film clip best. Watch the film clip. I love this song.

Portugal

The song struggles to provide anything interesting really. Probably because the key change takes it to the key it probably should have been performed in. The latex pants on the other hand, they make this the best 3 minutes of the night.

Czech Republic

If I tell you he sings the word “future” like it has a “p” and not an “f” it will only heighten the experience. Look out for the exceptional shoe-throwing choreography that rivals any drunk argument outside a racecourse.

Israel

FINALLY a song that’s above 40 beats per minute! This guy can sing and the song will be a massive hit because it stands out against the ballads. The Greeks called him Hermes, the Romans called him Mercury. Eurovision calls him Golden Boy.

Latvia

The song is called Love Injected. Clearly a printing error because it doesn’t say what with. A tranquilizer I suspect. It’s your toilet break

Azerbaijan

If you’ve just started mixing your core strength training with S&M, then this is your song. It ticks all the boxes - smoke machine, key change, falsetto. This is my dark horse in the competition.

Iceland

Maria Olafs has one of the best voices in the competition. A power ballad of Viking proportions, it’s a pity it looks like a 12 year old girl auditioning to play Glinda the Good Witch. Of the North, at least.

Sweden

This is one of the favourites in the competition. We learn two things from the song. Firstly, it sounds just like David Guetta’s “Lovers on the Sun”. And secondly, Fido Dido hasn’t been lost to the 90s. 

Switzerland

Did you know the Swiss make amazing potato rösti and chocolate? It’s true.

Cyprus

There are SO MANY ballads in the competition. This is the best. If all else fails for John Karayiannis, he’ll have a sell-out career doing Michael Buble impersonations at Carols by Candlelight.

Slovenia

Maraaya has a unique tone of voice, just like that of a grown up smurf. Now, apparently Slovenia have a “deal” with a major manufacturer to wear a particular brand of headphones. OK, whatever works for you #franksandbeans

Poland

Last year they delivered handmaidens washing clothes and churning butter. This year the colours have been put in with the whites, and the milk has curdled.

 

So there is Semi Final 2. It’s ballad central but it gets there. And it provides three songs with key changes, if that’s what you hang your hat by. As it stands, and I’m hesitant to give a couple of these backing, Lithuania, Norway, Czech Republic, Israel, Azerbaijan, Iceland, Sweden, Cyprus, Switzerland, and Slovenia will be in the Grand Final Green Room on Saturday. It’ll make for great viewing.

 

 

Semi-Final 1 Friday 22 May | Semi-Final 2 Saturday 23 May | Grand Final Sunday 24 May 

 

Working at Eurovision has its advantages. Other than the fact you get to work in Europe for two weeks a year, here are four ways the Eurovision bosses look after the peeps.

 

The fans and press

The EBU love the fans equally as much as they love the press. That’s because they understand their target market. Let’s not get too boring, but as an educated observation, Australian corporations (read: Sport) focus too much on the ‘media’ and not the ‘fans’. “Hang on?” I hear you say, “There are fan areas at the footy?!”. Yeah, there are. But do those footy fan areas offer free entry to events, unprecedented access to players, press conferences, one-on-one interviews with stars, free food, drink and wi-fi? No? Well there’s your answer. When you work in media you expect those perks, and a few more, mind you. I’ll be honest I can’t remember the last time I bought CDs, clothes or DVDs. Even my ‘selfie stick’ was a freebie. The media are like seagulls. We appear when there are hot chips, we hang around on the smell of vinegar. Then we leave our mess and go somewhere else. The EBU made a very smart business decision: Give the media what they want, and give the fans the experience of a lifetime.

The facilities

I’m always amazed at how world-class the facilities are at this event. To give you an idea, the experience starts at the 'Press Entrance', where you are scanned and X-rayed with more intensity than at an airport. Most things are confiscated at the gate. Except nail clippers, they’re okay.

 

The free stuff 

Other than the CDs, merch and tours, there’s food! This year, the catering has outdone itself. I say that because compared to last year, there’s actual catering in the venue. The restaurant area provides three hearty value priced meals a day. But in the working areas there is a buffet of free snacks and treats. According to Ali Alidarsh, the Venue Service Manager, the nearly 2,000 officially accredited delegation, staff and press will consume:

  • 130,000 packets each of Cripies (they’re like Maltesers) and Kornsplitz
  • 250,000 packets of otato chips
  • 2 tonnes of vine-grown cherry tomatoes
  • 4.5 tonnes of fresh Austrian apples
  • 500,000 packets of Manna (local Viennese wafer biscuit)

Ali Alidarsh, the Venue Service Manager at Eurovision 2015, Vienna

The artist green rooms

Imagine if mega-stars like U2, The Foo Fighters, ACDC or Craig McLachlan turned up to a gig without a rider? Water? Sandwiches? Organically induced drip-filtered hot chocolate from the thighs of a thawed out Viking? No surprises there. At Eurovision, the artists are stars in every sense of the word. Some are big, some are new. Whatever the case, they’re the reason we are here.

But backstage, what kind of demands are placed on the organisers?

Well, actually, not a lot. There’s no massive smorgasbord of food, no eternity pool of alcohol, there’s not even one of those over-priced fat boxes you find in the office kitchen that extort $6 out of you for a Kit Kat. Some of the countries that come to Eurovision can’t afford to be here. Whether it’s lack of support and funding, or the power of their currency. So the EBU negotiate some other excellent perks. The most noticeable is that hotel prices aren’t inflated to participating countries and delegations. And they have to include breakfast and wi-fi in their tariff for Eurovision, which explains why you might see the odd superstar making sandwiches and rolls at the breakfast buffet.

 

Yes, it’s amazing, and it makes you feel very lucky to be in such a position. But with that in mind, I can’t wait to see my excess baggage costs.

Friday 22 May 2015

The first thing you notice in Austrian tourist shops is the printed slogan “No Kangaroos in Austria”. It’s on cups, rulers, bags and ceramic thimbles. It’s time to get Continental, Australia. The following might convince us to drop an 'a' and an 'l'.

 

The world’s best hot dog stands

Everywhere you go there is a gourmet sausage kiosk. They’re the best late night snack for the budget conscious bloke who’s had a couple of quiet ones. And unlike the Aussie kebab, there are no regrets to either your pocket or your stomach. For 5 Euro ($7) you’ll get a choice of Bratwursts, Bosna, Wiener and the decadent cheese sausage called Kasekrainer, in a roll with sauce and mustard. And a beer. A beer! Ahhhhhmazing!  

One of the sausage stands is called Rasputin. Self-explanatory really.

 

Coffee

You get two types of coffee in Australia - warm brown drink, and hipster barista. Both try and espouse the virtues of their single origin, high altitude bean that’s organically passed through a Meerkat. I don’t care, I just want an Espresso that doesn’t need a mortgage. And Vienna is winning because a ‘flat white’ will cost you about 2 Euros ($2.80). Yes, it’s nearly twice what you’d pay in Rome, but hey at that price make mine a double!

 

Beer

The Austrian beer market is full of micro-boutique breweries, and that means there is excellent variety. The big players here, like the Eurovision sponsor Ottakringer, also serve a decent refreshing brew. Austrians love their beer, so much so the ‘big guys’ can’t get away with serving the same tasting beer with a different label. Off the tap a 500 cl (that’s ½ a litre!!) will set you back 4-5 Euros ($5.60-$7). Also they sell beer in supermarkets and you can walk the street and drink at the same time. Cheers! 

 

Hotel breakfasts

In Europe it’s common to have a continental breakfast of cold meats, salads, cheese and bread. Hang on, isn’t that lunch? Have we all been brain-washed by the commercially savvy mega-corporations in believing there’s only “one” healthy and nutritious way to start the day? Noooooooooo!!! Actually, it’s okay. This works in your favour. The hotels will offer a range of things for international guests. From yoghurt and bircher muesli to pastries and deli goods. Here’s the tip fellow anglo-breaky-phile, collect the bread, cheese and deli goods first. The Europeans will think you’re a local. Put that on your table then go straight back and grab a bowl of muesli and yoghurt. Then as you eat your ‘normal’ breakfast, you can construct your ‘European’ breakfast. And once you’re full, wrap up what you just made in a napkin to take-away. That’s lunch sorted!

 

Do we need to all move to Europe? Or do we need to drop our prices? Bugger it, let’s move!

Wednesday 20 May 2015

It’s been a tough day for the contestants in the first Semi Final at Eurovision. We had the first two dress rehearsals, the second being the final that the international Jury votes on. This is all after backing up from the official opening last night. Contestants walked the red carpet, met their fans, got hounded by the press (again), and then enjoyed the Mayor of Vienna’s company for dinner.

Maybe I’m just being kind.

But never the less, the result is the same. I reckon there’s enough here to start making some decisions on who’s hot and who’s not. Here’s what to expect in Semi Final 1.

Moldova: Remember Corey Worthington? Imagine he’s about to get married, and his bucks night is at a theatre restaurant, and the show is called “Puh-lease Academy”.

Armenia: There’s 6 of them, including half-Aussie opera girl Mary-Jean O’Doherty (MJOD). She’s grouse, we love her.

Belgium: The fans like this one, but for me it’s like staring at a bar code for three minutes, waiting for it to scan.

The Netherlands: Normally you say “Aye yai yai!” to express confusion or frustration. The Netherlands set it to music.

Finland: Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät (PKN) let their music do the talking. They have a greatest hits album. They are the coolest band here. I am not sure it’s enough.

Greece: See Albania.

Estonia: This is your first toilet break. The chorus goes, “Why didn’t you wake me up?”. It’s because your song sent me to sleep.

FYR Macedonia: If you think you’ve heard this before, Google “The Calling ‘Wherever you will go’”. This is the long shot I’d put a lazy lobster on.

Serbia: She has the voice to launch a thousand ships and has slowly built up the momentum behind the scenes, becoming a crowd favourite.

Hungary: Boggie is the stunning front lady with a name like an 80s board game. This is a musical version of a trip down the Hume highway at night. Look for the kangaroos in the headlights.

Belarus: It’s a song that doesn’t have any staging or props to distract you. This may be its problem.

Russia: The power ballad of the century that will send bingo cards into overdrive. Wind machines, white dresses, sung in English. But it’s super Disney, so expect it to appear in Frozen 2.

Denmark: By far the catchiest song of the night. It’s like a classic 60s Britpop meets Vanda and Young production. When it finishes, go to your second toilet break.

Albania: See Greece.

Romania: A powerful message in a commercially-safe soft rock song. Something for Mum, something for Dad.

GeorgiaThe delegation were saying to the press she had lost her voice and she was holding back. You don’t need me to tell you what that means... if anything.

That’s all of them!

With this in mind, I think Hungary, Moldova, Finland, Belarus, Albania, and Estonia will pack their bags on Wednesday morning. However it is up to us to keep our favourites. And Australia, we get to vote! So set the alarm and join in the fun!!

Sunday 17 May 2015

Guy Sebastian is the talk of Vienna 2015. Having just walked the red carpet at the official opening, Guy said exclusively to SBS Online “everything just came together today… we took our time and stayed focussed”. Aint that the truth!

Let’s be straight up, if online betting agencies are anything to go buy, at 5-1 he’s a good thing. The journey and preparation to Vienna has been very low key, with Sebastian and his management keeping a tight hold on his press commitments. This is the second time in a month that Guy has travelled to Europe, so the jet lag ought to lead to voice lag. But not today.

This was the first rehearsal for the ‘Big 7’ - those countries who have already qualified for the Grand Final. There’s a lot of pressure for the qualifiers to bring their A-game, and when you are invited to compete, like Australia, there’s no room for amateurs.

While it means nothing to the Europeans, there is a real concern amongst Australians that the ocker cliché of old will rear its ugly head. Again. We’ve had kangaroos on bicycles before. And while we know the song is amazing, there was a sense of trepidation in the press centre that the staging might let him down. We Aussie’s are a cynical bunch, aren’t we? Insert sigh of relief here. There are no thongs, no mambo shirts, and no billabong shorts. Sebastian’s stylist, Gabe Robinson has dressed him in white linen pants, shoes with no socks, a jacket with pocket chief, and a fawn coloured fedora hat. He’s there to impress the Europeans; he’s there to look good. 

This was the first rehearsal, the first time on stage with the props and the lighting, and the ARIA award winner took it in his stride like he had done it a hundred times before. Guy has played a strategic move today. While every country belts out the song at 100% (and remember they will perform the song at least 8 times on the stage before the first live broadcast) he took his time, dropped out in some parts, and refrained from pushing his voice.

You could hear a pin drop in the press room. Nearly 600 of the world’s press sat silently listening to the song, waiting for a mistake. When the pressure is on and you are live on stage, the cracks appear. The UK’s Electro Velvet looked like they were preparing for a junior Rock Eisteddfod. Italy forgot you need to sing to the camera when it’s in front of you. France sent everyone to sleep.

Guy Sebastian’s mellow soulful voice was more than anyone expected.

“I loved it, I loved the song, I love the showmanship, I like him… he looks like a superstar” said Austrian journalist Manuela Tiefnig.

In the press conference afterwards, Guy was happy with the way things came together, but admitted to watching back the recording and saying “I really want to bring it right back. There’s a lot going on, too much going on, so I need to strip it back”. I’m not sure who’s more critical - the critics or the artist! Whatever the end result one thing is assured, you will be proud of the performance.

Forget everything you ever knew, and prepare to be blown away. Guy Sebastian is world class, and worthy of an each way bet.