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FestivalsKen West, founder of Australia’s Big Day Out festival, has died

“A father, husband, mentor and most of all a legend”

By Ali Shutler

Ken West Big Day Out
Ken West at the 2004 Big Day Out. CREDIT: Press

Ken West, the co-founder of iconic Australian rock festival Big Day Out, has died aged 64.

The news was confirmed by his family in a statement, per Double J, that reads: “We bring unfortunate news that Ken West; a father, husband, mentor and most of all a legend, has passed away peacefully in his sleep on the morning of April 7 2022. Our family would appreciate respect and privacy during this difficult time. Ken was big and noisy in life, but passed quietly and peacefully.”

Big Day Out was originally created in 1992 by West and fellow promoter Vivian Lees as a one-off event in Melbourne. The following year, the event expanded to Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth with both The Gold Coast and Auckland added in 1994.

  • READ MORE: Glory, chaos and friendship: what I miss about the Big Day Out

The touring festival ran annually until 2014 (with a year-off in 1998) and saw performances from the likes of Soundgarden, M.I.A, Muse, Powderfinger, The Prodigy, Arctic Monkeys, Rage Against The Machine, Arcade Fire, Chemical Brothers, The White Stripes, Metallica, Foo Fighters, Red Hot Chili Peppers and many more.

West was in the process of writing a book called Controlled Kaos about the festival, which was expected to be released this year. In January, West shared a few chapters from the project on new website “Kenfest” – Big Day Out’s original working title.

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“The Big Day Out for me was life changing, and the first six years were the heart and soul of a great adventure. A different world, innocent, dangerous, optimistic and a lot of fun,” said West.

“The complete book itself is written, however with thousands of photos, artwork and documents to integrate it is constantly evolving,” he added. “As for the E-book, that’s another story. Hopefully at least one will be available by the end of the year. I will let you know, when I know.”

Speaking to NME, West said that he started working on the book in 2002, “as I felt days were numbered and I had better document what went on for historical purposes”.

A rowdy crowd at an early Big Day Out. Credit: Bob King/Redferns

The business partnership between Lees and West dissolved in 2011, with West then partnering with American company C3 Presents (who run Lollapalooza).

In 2014, C3 announced that the festival would not be returning the following year. “While we intend to bring back the festival in future years, we can confirm there will not be a Big Day Out in 2015,” they said in a statement at the time.

Following the news of his death, people have taken to social media to pay tribute to West and what he created with Big Day Out. This includes artists such as Billy Bragg, who said: “Sorry to hear of Ken West, founder of the Australian touring festival the Big Day Out. Ken made the whole thing like a party for punters and artists alike. UK bands called it the Big Day Off. Lots of fun memories hanging with Ken and the BDO crew. So long mate.”

Read other tributes below.

What? Oh no?! Absolutely gutted. RIP Ken. 🖤😔 You were a major guiding light to many in the music industry, including me….

Posted by Mark Gerber on Thursday, April 7, 2022

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