Growing up the Big Day Out was the festival that I and many of my friends wanted to go to as most of our favourite bands were on the the bill. I finally got my chance at the 2003 event with the Foo Fighters headling along with Jane’s Addiction, PJ Harvey, Deftones, Shihad, 28 Days, The Living End and many others I wanted to see on the day.
In 2004 it was Metallica with The Strokes, Muse, The Darkness, Something For Kate, The Sleepy Jackson and with each and every year I went there was always something I wanted to see and it was good to catch up with old friends and even make some news ones on the day.
I had the priveledge in 2012 to photograph the event for The AU Review even though the Perth event was re-located to a smaller venue.
So on Sunday 2nd February 2014 in Perth, Western Australia the Big Day Out will showcase its final installment for Perth music fans as news reports confirmed that the festival will no longer travel to Perth as of 2015. While this is a major blow for Perth music fans the big question is will the festival survive enough to come back next year for the remaining cities in Australia?
The Adelaide installment is now question because of the decision not to come to Perth next year and with reports in the media of major financial losses on this years run ($15 million according to the report on FasterLouder.com.au), supposed bust up between the festival partners and rumored legal battles with contractors how did it come to this for a festival that was once the summer highlight in every Australian music fan’s calendar and was respected by artists and industry figures alike.
Here are some of my thoughts on why this has happened:
It became too big
The Big Day Out festival started out in 1992 by Viv Lees and Ken West in Sydney, it featured The Violet Femmes and a well known grunge band called Nirvana. It was held at the Horden Pavilion in Sydney and it was such a success that the following year it went accross the country, and year after year it grew. It was primarly a rock music festival and featured bands like Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins, Hole, Mudhoney, Fear Factory, Sonic Youth, The Ramones, Screaming Trees, The Offspring and it also showcased some emerging and popular Australian acts like Powderfinger, The SuperJesus, Silverchair, You Am I, Frenzal Rhomb, Grinspoon, Jebediah, Nick Cave and TISM to name a few.
The festival expanded over the years to accommodate other genres like hip hop/R&B and dance music, so by the mid 2000’s it became a festival that catered for everyone’s musical taste so it didn’t matter if you were a rock/punk/metal fan, hip hop fan, or a lover of dance music, there was something for everyone. However the festival started to become a victim of its own success and little did they know that they would be soon fighting everyone else to secure artists.
In the mid 2000’s new festivals start to spring up all over the place and by the summer of 2011 there was Falls, Southbound, Summadayze, Big Day Out, Laneway, Good Vibes, Raggamuffin, Future Music and Soundwave all competing for the music fan’s dollar, a picture that wasn’t even contemplated 10 years prior in 2001 where the Big Day Out was pretty much the only one in town and now in 2011 they had to compete with 6 to 7 other festivals to attract artists to play on their festival instead of a rival.
Due to this circumstance questions started emerge about the direction of the festival as fans and critics started slag them off as they were either not promoting enough local or fresh talent or recycling bands that have played in the festival in previous years citing a lack of originality. Also around that time people to question that the market become so saturated with all these events were all these going to be sustainable in the future?
The 2012 edition was a disaster all round for the Big Day Out, organiser Viv Lees departed from the organisation, the Perth and Adelaide events moved to smaller locations and the dropping of headliner Kayne West off the Perth, Auckland and Adelaide legs, serious questions were being asked about the future of the festival.
In 2013 C3 (the group behind the US festival Lollapalooza) brought a stake into the festival which did result in some stability after the events of 2012 and made a mini resurgence and in late 2013 Soundwave festival promoter AJ Maddah also brought in a stake into the festival.
In 2011 on my FaceBook notes post I wrote about the fact that there were too many festivals on the Perth market. These were the festivals that I listed at the time:
• Summadayze (Gone?)
• Raggamuffin (Gone)
• Good Vibes (Gone)
• Future Music
• West Coast Blue’s N Roots
• We Love Sounds (Ministry of Sound) (Gone)
• Parklife (in hitaus)
• No Sleep Til (Gone)
• Supafest (Gone)
• Groovin’ The Moo
• Creamfields (Gone)
Now some of these festivals are staged at different seasons of the year (i.e Parklife in Spring, Blues and Roots in Autumn) and some are staged over 2-3 days (i.e Southbound and Falls Festival on the East Coast) but still that’s a lot and would a music fan have the money to go to most of these events during the year? Maybe 2-3 depending on the ticket price or lineup but each festival or festival lineup is not going cater for everyone.
The biggest threat to the Big Day Out has been Soundwave, the festival that is run by AJ Maddah, the man that Ken West once described as a “financial anarchist” for paying over inflated prices to bring the best rock, metal and punk bands to his festival, in a way though AJ has succeeded because over the last 3 or 4 Soundwave festivals have featured some mouth watering lineups and the music fans have responded in kind by buying tickets to his shows.
But its not just Soundwave that has done well over the last couple of years, Laneway has done a great job in bringing the latest in emerging talent through and Southbound and Falls Festivals bring an unique experience by offering camping options to their shows.
Maybe the Big Day Out organisers forgot that they needed some fresh thinking and also had a duty to show some new emerging talent instead of recycling lineups year after year? Well you couldn’t blame them for sticking with a approach that served them well year after but sadly this approach no longer worked and they pretty much ended up with the shortest straw in a congested festival market.
Battling the Claremont Council
In last couple of years the situation regarding the Perth venue the Claremont Showgrounds has always been up in the air. Claremont Mayor Jock Barker has made his feelings known that he didn’t want the Big Day Out or any festival staged at the showgrounds and campaigned not to have them there. To bypass this the festival would had to go the State Government to obtain special permits to stage the festival there.
In 2012 the festival re-located to McCallum Park in Victoria Park which resulted in a crowd of 12,000, in 2013 it went back to the Claremont Showgrounds but only if they had a curfew at 10pm which didn’t go down so well (the same curfew was also applied to the Soundwave and Stereosonic festivals which was also staged at the showgrounds in 2013).
After trying to secure an arrangement with the Claremont Showgrounds for the 2014 edition the organisers eventually decided in January 2014 to move the festival to the Joondalup Arena. However the whole saga with Claremont Council still fresh in their minds, and with the report of only 15,000 tickets sold for the Perth event the organisers came to the decision it was time to pull the plug on the Perth leg of the tour.
Pricing and value for money
In the late 1990’s a ticket to the festival would cost around $60-$90, now it would cost you around $190. Why the increase you say? Well you have to factor in the rising costs of staging these events which include freight transportation costs, flight bookings, stage construction, artist payments, food and drink vendor costs, merchandise stall costs, venue hire, security and medical personnel, permit applications and the value of the Australian dollar on the market and more. In the past they were able to get away with it because they were the only festival of its kind in Australia but now due to the competition they can’t anymore.
The music fans have also become more savvy with their money due to what’s is on the market. So let’s say there are 5 bands on the Big Day Out bill you want to see Vs 8-10 bands on the Soundwave bill you want to see, which one would you choose with both costing around $190? You would choose Soundwave because there is more value on show which means you get more for you money then you would at the Big Day Out. So at the end of the day it’s all about the value for money and over last couple of years the Big Day Out has failed big time.
The Future Now?
That’s the important question, now with the Perth leg gone after 2014 will festival survive? It could survive but for that to happen it will only have to be on the East Coast of Australia only which means the folks in Adelaide may have to suffer the same fate as Perth in 2015. Personally I think the Big Day Out needs to be rebuilt from the ground up and it also needs fresh thinking and a new way to attract the music fan and bring more value for money.
It can’t rely on past glories or its reputation it once had, those days are now gone and the way the festival market is right now, it will not survive if it continues the way it is and really it’s a shame because the festival that was once loved by so many, the festival that we all wanted to go to growing up is now dying a slow and painful death.
At one time the Big Day Out set out the standard for music festivals in Australia, now it can’t even match the that, so to all the music fans in Perth, I hope you enjoy the last Perth Big Day Out because it will be the last time we’d get to see this festival come to Perth.