Great day; What happened to Australia’s iconic music festival?
For nearly two decades, an entire generation was bound by a single ticket to the Big Day Out.
It defined what live music looked like in Australia, and at one point it was the biggest traveling festival in the world.
This summer marks the 30th anniversary of the first-ever Big Day Out, which means it’s been 30 years since two guys came together with an idea that ended up forever shaping Australian music history.
The beginnings of the big day
The Big Day Out was created by Ken West and Vivien Lees.
Ken was a music promoter in the 80s who teamed up with Vivienne Lees, the manager of Australian rock band Hunters and Collectors.
Ken was based in Sydney and Viv was in Melbourne, making them the perfect jigsaw pieces to create a gold class Australian music tour.
When the ’90s kicked off, they released the Violent Femmes on a national tour, and for the opening act, they were locked in a burgeoning band – Nirvana.
But Ken had bigger ideas because a few years earlier he had been to Summer Fest in the United States.
There were multiple stages with lots of different bands playing a lot of different genres, which in the early 90s had never been attempted in Australia.
So Ken decided to turn the Sydney Violent Femmes show into a full day of music.
It was originally called “Can-Fest”, but a week after its launch, the biggest music festival in Australian history was dubbed – The Big Day Out.
21 bands were going to play on 3 stages, but oddly the tickets for the first Big Day Out were not selling well.
It was until January 11and 1992, when Nirvana reached number 1 in the American charts with his album It does not matter.
And just like that, The Big Day Out was the hottest ticket in town.
Nearly 10,000 music lovers showed up, which was more than the Hordern Pavilion could handle.
We said that when Nirvana playedit was so hot and crowded that it was raining inside due to sweat dripping from the roof.
On this day, a cultural icon was born; Ken and Viv had created an event that marked an era.
Building a cultural icon
The Big Day Out never really planned to go beyond that first show. But he came back, and from 1993 the festival was back on the road.
In the years that followed it grew rapidly, with shows in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, the Gold Coast and even across the divide in New Zealand.
The Big Day Out brought with it unrivaled line-ups from some of the world’s biggest artists like Iggy Pop, Kayne West, Bjork, The Killers, Rage Against the Machine and The Prodigy.
It put these great artists alongside burgeoning local acts and bands – like in 1995 when festival organizers hired a band that had just won a national competition, which turned out to be none other than Silverchair.
1997 was going to be the last Big Day Out and it was huge.
But just two years later, The Big Day Out returned – in fact, it returned for another 16 years.
The end of an era
The Big Day Out has become such a cultural phenomenon that nothing could slow it down, not even the global financial crisis of 2008. That year, audiences were treated to Arcade Fire and Dizzy Rascal.
Fans began to expect bigger and better lineups than the previous year, and it ultimately had a huge impact on the people who brought the festival to life each year.
In 2014, the festival reached a breaking point.
The two co-founders, Ken and Viv, were no longer working on the festival, and 2014 inevitably became its last year.
The latest Big Day Out marked the end of an era for a generation of Australian music lovers.
It was a rite of passage that gave many Australian artists a shot in the industry and even shaped how live music works in Australia.
We had 22 spectacular years of Big Day Out, but it got so big it finally broke.
When Ken West was questioned by Double-J what happened at the Big Day Out, he said the simplest thing he would say was that he “collapsed under his own weight”.