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The Big Day Out (BDO) is an annual music festival held in several cities in Australia and New Zealandmarker in late January. It started in Sydneymarker in 1992, spread to Adelaidemarker, Melbournemarker and Perthmarker by 1993, with the Gold Coast and Aucklandmarker joining in 1994. As of 2003, it has featured seven or eight stages (depending on the venue) accommodating popular contemporary rock music, electronic music, mainstream international acts and local acts.


The festival began in 1992 as a Sydneymarker-only show with Violent Femmes as the headline act, along with Nirvana and a range of other foreign and local alternative music acts playing at the Hordern Pavilionmarker. In the months preceding the event, Nirvana's Nevermind was released and became an international smash hit, therefore guaranteeing the success of the festival. Kurt Cobain was ill at the time of the show.

In 1993, the festival was extended to include Melbournemarker, Perthmarker, and Adelaidemarker. In 1994, shows in Auckland and the Gold Coast were added. In 1997 it was announced that that year's event would be the last. The following year, promoters Vivian Lees and Ken West organised a predominantly electronic and dance festival; however, the event was cancelled, and the Big Day Out returned in 1999.

American band Pearl Jam were booked to headline the 2001 tour almost 12 months in advance, as they had just started to do festivals for the first time since problems at festivals in the early 90s. On 30 June 2000 at the Roskilde Festivalmarker in Denmarkmarker, they ended their set prematurely after the crowd surged forward, crushing and fatally injuring nine people. They pulled out of the BDO, claiming that they would never play at festivals again. They did play Leeds & Reading Festivals, UK, in 2006.

In 2004, due to the popularity of the event which was headlined by Metallica, for the first time ever a second Sydney Big Day Out was held. Tickets to the 2010 Sydney event have sold out in record time, and a second Sydney show will once again be held - coincidentally, the 100th Big Day Out.

Artist lineups

Since its inception in 1992, Big Day Out has attracted a large range of artists, with headlining acts including Nirvana, Muse, Violent Femmes, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, The Ramones, The Smashing Pumpkins, Soundgarden, The Offspring, Rage Against the Machine, Rise Against, The Prodigy, Marilyn Manson, Foo Fighters, Blink-182, Metallica, Tool, Coldplay, The Killers, Nine Inch Nails, System of a Down, Neil Young and Red Hot Chili Peppers. The annual festival has also been a launching platform for many Australian artists, with various acts performing on the tour multiple times, such as Silverchair, Powderfinger, You Am I, The Living End, Jebediah, Grinspoon, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and Wolfmother.


Mosh pit death

During the 2001 Big Day Out festival in Sydney Jessica Michalik was crushed in a mosh pit during a performance by nu metal band Limp Bizkit. She died of asphyxiation five days later.

The Coroner's Court of New South Wales findings into her death criticised the crowd control measures in use at the time, and also criticised Limp Bizkit lead singer Fred Durst for "alarming and inflammatory" comments during the rescue effort.

Performers at the Big Day Out have since observed a "minute of noise" each year to honour her memory.

Flag ban

On 21 January 2007 a decision was made by the organisers to discourage Big Day Out patrons in Sydney from bringing and displaying the Australian flag. The organisers said the decision was a result of recent ethno-religious tensionsmarker in Sydney, complaints that the previous year's festival had been marred by roving packs of aggressive flag-draped youths, and recognition that some indigenous Australians take issue with celebrating the start of British settlement.

Sections of the community had strong views supporting or objecting to the policy. Former Prime Minister John Howard, New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma and Federal Leader of the Opposition Kevin Rudd publicly condemned the move. Iemma suggested the event be cancelled if the organisers could not secure the safety of attendees. Main stage act Jet performed in front of a large backdrop of a black-and-white Australian flag cut-out of their name, with lead vocalist Nic Cester adding, "I can't tell anyone else what to do but we as a band are very proud to be Australian and we don't want to feel we are not allowed to feel proud".

However, other people including Andrew Bartlett of the Australian Democrats, sports writer Peter FitzSimons and members of the hip hop outfit The Herd expressed concern that the flag was being misused by a handful of aggressive attendees in a jingoist manner, and that rock concerts were not the appropriate venue to be waving a flag.

Drug usage and death

Drug usage is commonly associated with the Big Day Out, with police searching suspected users and dealers by placing sniffer dogs at some entrances of each venue and patrolling the event. At the 2008 festival in Sydney, police made 86 drug-related arrests. In 2009, 258 suspects resulted in 107 people being detained for drug violations. In Perth (2009), police made 59 arrests for possession of drugs, including four with intent to sell or supply. 129 tablets of Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA or ecstasy), two grams of methylamphetamine, six grams of cannabis, 75 joints and 21 tablets of dexamphetamine were seized by police.

At the 2009 Big Day Out festival in Perth, 17-year-old Gemma Thoms collapsed after allegedly taking three ecstasy tablets. She died 12 hours later in Sir Charles Gairdner Hospitalmarker, after being transferred from the event's first-aid post. The girl and her friend reportedly took a tablet each whilst at home before the event. After arriving, she reportedly saw police near the entrance, panicked, and swallowed a further two tablets. Police later denied responsibility for Thoms' death, noting that no sniffer dogs were being used to search patrons at the entrance she had used. Thoms had been driven by car and had not taken the train to the station where police were searching. Police didn't make any arrests, but officers did raid a house in their search for the dealer who had supplied the ecstasy.

Beenie Man controversy

In November 2009, gay rights groups in New Zealand protested after controversial rapper Beenie Man was included in the second round of announcements for the 2010 tour. Groups such as cited controversial and homophobic lyrics from Beenie Man's songs such as "I'm dreaming of a new Jamaica/Come to execute all the gays". The group called for Big Day Out organisers to drop Beenie Man from the line up "to send a message that homophobia is unacceptable", and over 850 people joined a Facebook group to oppose his appearance.

On 15 November 2009, the festival's Australian organisers issued a statement on their website, confirming that Beenie Man had indeed been dropped from the lineup. Whilst they acknowledged his commitment to the 2007 Reggae Compassionate Act and his promises to not perform the offending songs on his tour, they ultimately made the decision to drop Beenie Man because they felt his appearance would "be divsive amongst our audience members and would mar the enjoyment of the event for many."

Compilation albums


  1. Flag row rocks Australia concert, Al Jazeera, Retrieved 28 January 2007
  2. Fly your Aussie flag | The Daily Telegraph
  3. Goh, Esther (2009) " Controversial anti-gay rapper to perform at Big Day Out", The New Zealand Herald, November 12, 2009

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