Is the Big Day Out dead?

Primus at the 2014 Big Day Out  Pic: Kane Hibberd


When Primus played the 1994 Big Day Out at the Melbourne Showgrounds, the mosh-pit was a war-zone. The grunge-era Gen X crowd jossled amongst the crowd surfers in heavy Doc Marten boots.

The crowds were so dense — as was the choice of  stages and bands — that you had to allow extra time to wrangle your way through the mass of humanity to get to the next show.

But that was in its halcyon days, when the Big Day Out was the most important gig on the calendar and before it faced a saturated market of competition from other music festivals.

This year’s BDO was a poor shadow of its former glory. A mere 23,000 piled through the gates and it was easy to get a spot up-front to perve on Swede rockers The Hives.

The general vibe was down too, it was hard to pick-up any sense of the electric excitement that cuts through the ether at a fkn great rock n roll show.

Punters stood sedately and politely to watch Primus play their set. This behaviour was reflected at most of the other stages too. Long gone was the hectic mosh pit where crowds threw their energy back at the band.

Instead, I watched punters standing still, while holding up their mobiles to watch the gig being mediated through their screens. A different generation? No. The older punters where doing this too.

This year’s line-up was a nostalgic tribute to the 1990s. The mighty Pearl Jam headlined with a heart-wrenchingly passionate two-hour set. Mudhoney played the purple stage, after Primus’ bass heavy thumped the main stage in front of two giant inflatable astronauts.

As a result, the crowd was age diverse, yet flat.  The security looked bored.

The quality of music was second to none. In fact, I saw some of the most important world-class rock guitarists who left my jaw on the ground. Not the least from Melbourne’s very own Gareth Lydiard from The Drones, who looked like he was trying to kill his axe.

However, the choice of music was sparse from BDO years past. There were fewer stages and fewer acts. There is usually a lot of anxiety involved in deciding which band to see, as the program is jam-packed with clashing playing times. It was only a small issue this year.

It’s no secret the BDO faced embarrassment when Brit-poppers Blur pulled out few months ago.

The marketplace was a fraction of the size too. There was only a smattering of stalls offering retro-clothing, sunglasses and a few environmental organisations trying to get kids to sign petitions. It didn’t help that there was only one coffee cart.

The Boiler Room is ordinarily an ear-piecing den of sin with searing beatz and pinged-out trippers. This year it felt luke-warm, only one third filled and energy-less.

The weather was pretty ordinary as grey skies drizzled over Flemington Racecourse. It cleared up for a mild summer day. Maybe the weather flattened out the crowd? Girls froze in scanty cotton dresses and blokes threw jumpers over band tees. Luckily there were only a handful of punters draped in Australian flags.

By the time Pearl Jam took the stage just before dusk, a huge proportion of the festival assembled to give homage to the grunge heroes.

They played a good cross-section of their back-catalogue and the crowd’s united voice sang-along with anthems like Even Flow and Jeremy.

Eddie Vedder played with grace and respect. He repeatedly thanked his audience and the other bands on the bill. I even re-discovered my 20 year-old crush on the Seattle rock-god.

However, I imagined if the man wondered what happened to the audience who tore-down the fences at their Myer-Music Bowl gig at their 1995 Vitalogy tour? Where has the rage gone?

This ain’t the 90s anymore. It’s another age.

What will become of the Big Day Out? Is a festival founded in 1992 still relevant, when Nirvana  broke hearts at the first one?

Is it in its dying days?


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