Big Day Out Goes Bust

Monday, 30 June, 2014

The cancellation of the Big Day Out for 2015 was announced this past week in what can only be defined as tragic yet seemingly inevitable news. While organisers have promised for the festival’s return in 2016, the cancellation has raised serious doubts about any possible future for the Big Day Out

For those who have been following the tumultuous ride that is AJ Maddah’s ownership over the Big Day Out, the news is hardly surprising.

Big Day Out 2014 was an unmitigated disaster, largely in part to the cancellation of headliners Blur and the recycled, formulaic approach of previous festival management. As a result, Maddah and fellow owners C3 Presents, an American-based company, lost between an estimated $8 – $15 million in 2014 alone.

Along with outcries over the exorbitant price of tickets and drinks and the outdated line-up, the legendary festival’s future was very much hanging in the balance.

However the fate for Big Day Out was all but sealed when AJ Maddah, who personally lost $5.5 million from Big Day Out 2014, sold his 50 per cent ownership stake to C3 for the paltry price of $1.

While on the surface this is a perplexing move for Maddah, it makes sense for a long-term financially viable future. Talking with Triple J’s Hack, Maddah detailed that when buying his share of the company in September 2013, he had to present an undisclosed figure of capital for the continued livelihood of the festival, in addition to purchasing $400,000 worth of shares. In Maddah’s position, by selling his share of ownership, he is able to delay and further raise the investment of the capital until he believes that the Big Day Out is in a financially sustainable position for a significant reinvestment. At that point, C3 Presents are willing to sell his ownership stake back to him at $1 and resume plans for the festival for the following year.

Essentially ‘the festival is in hibernation’ until the ownership believes they are ready to invest again.

Additionally Maddah considered that if the festival were to go ahead for 2015, it would have only exacerbated Big Day Out’s spiralling reputation from the failed 2014 season. Maddah argued that the cyclic nature of the music industry led to a lack of artists available who were capable of headlining the event. Maddah adamantly believes the Big Day Out “can’t continue to go ahead with a substandard line-up and damage what’s already a fragile brand and a fragile event”.

Yet that seems to be quite a convenient excuse given the financial hardships for Maddah. 2015 will be the first year since 1992 that there will be no Big Day Out. Placing the blame on the inability to secure a decent line-up is simply a public excuse for the lack of the faith he has in the festival’s future.

Furthermore, Vivian Lees, the original founder of Big Day Out has accused Maddah of purposely driving Big Day Out into the ground so to allow Soundwave, a punk-metal festival under Maddah’s ownership, to gain superiority of the market. However, Lees’ words have been labelled as ‘hypocritical’ and are without significant merit. By 2011 Lees and co-founder Ken West were driving Big Day Out into a multi-million dollar deficit, Maddah’s financial commitment in 2013 saved the Big Day Out from being completely cancelled.

Nevertheless, despite all the hardships of the festival in the evolving music scene while simultaneously in the face of financial ruin, Big Day Out continues to have a future. Maddah has boldly announced that the Big Day Out will be back for 2016, that ‘the festival is alive’ and will come back more innovative and inspired than before.

However, whether such a reality ever comes to fruition is at this point dubious and speculative. However everyone can agree that the Australian music scene is better for the Big Day Out, and I certainly hope it comes back louder, braver and bigger than ever.