The Big Day Out kicks off its 20th year celebrations today in Auckland but the mood is nothing short of sombre with the shock announcement earlier in the week that this year would be the final year for Big Day Out in New Zealand. But despite a changing festival landscape promoter Ken West is staying up beat about the future.
“The Big Day Out thinks global now and if there’s a territory like New Zealand that isn’t working we’ll leave it,” West said in an interview with stuff.co.nz “If there’s another territory that wants to support Big Day Out we’ll go there and that doesn’t necessarily mean in Australia. We offer amazing experiences and you can only do that if there’s a market for it.”
West revealed that with the recently announced creative partnership with C3 Presents, the promoters of Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits Music Festival, he’s looking to not only expand his access to quality international acts but is actively eyeing off expansion of the Big Day Out brand into Asia and possibly even North America.
“C3 called me and said we hear the Big Day Out is in trouble do you need help, and what could be a better phone call than that?” he said. “We’ll sit down soon and work out where we want to take this because the possibilities are endless.”
West accurately describes the past few months at the Big Day Out camp as “a shocker”, a year where ticket sales have been lacklustre and his long term business partner Vivian Lees abandoned the festival after negative feedback about the lineup from fans of the festival.
Looking back on the difficult time West said “I had to make a very big decision on whether the Big Day Out was over a week after it was announced or do I give it everything I’ve got In the end I’d prefer to tell my team we’re losing money than tell them they’re all fired.”
Although the festival doesn’t kick off in Australia until Sunday in the Gold Coast the team are already looking to put 2012 behind them and focus on coming back strong for 2013. West says he’ll come back “all guns blazing” but will still refuse to enter bidding wars with the growing list of Australian festivals competing for an ever depleting group of artists.
In recent years Splendour In The Grass, and in particular Soundwave have squeezed the Big Day Out financially and wrestled for the hearts of the Australian gig going public. West recently came out to attack Soundwave promoter AJ Maddah for starting a bidding war but not supporting the local industry.
“It’s about adapting to a new environment where the alternative scene isn’t there any more, the record companies aren’t around any more and the record stores where fans used to buy tickets aren’t around any more,” West sums up. Although we’re sure this is how West feels given the backlash he’s faced this year the actual numbers in the rest of the industry seem to point to quite the opposite.
Rival Soundwave, a purely alternative festival, has sold out three of their five dates in record time, and in Victoria it was recently announced that 5.4 million people had attended gigs in 2010 contributing over $501 million to the state economy. “The challenge now is to reconnect with what’s become a very complicated community in a saturated market with too many events,” he continues. “People aren’t going to four or five events a year any more and that’s a global reality.”