[26 June 2014]
Sound Affects Editor
How unforunate it is that right as one storied music festival gets underway that another finds itself abruptly closing up shop. Just as England’s Glastonbury festival is busy attracting huge crowds to its part of the globe for a bill topped by Metallica, Arcade Fire, and Kasabian, way down under the people in charge of Australia’s Big Day Out have announced that they are canceling the event for next year.
When it first launched in 1992, the Big Day Out was Australia’s equivalent to the United States’ Lollapalooza, in the sense that it was ostensibly the country’s premier showcase for the cutting edge of alternative rock (though both always invited along purveyors of other underground-rooted styles) just as the genre was bursting into the global consciousness. Like Lollapalooza in the US, the Big Day Out was in the right place at the right time, and its success turned into an ongoing concern (and as time wore on, an veritable Aussie institution). It became the standard bearer for all such events in the country, the top division multi-artist bill that musicians both foreign and domestic felt blessed to be included in the lineup of.
If anything, the Big Day Out of today has become a victim of the vibrant (and lucrative) annual festival calendar it has helped inspire. Commentators are already opining in light of the cancellation news that recent Big Day Outs have had increasingly familiar lineups, and that the fight for suitable headline-level acts capable of shifting the amount of tickets necessary to justify a multi-city extravaganza is only becoming ever more fiercer. There’s certainly a point to that, especially when one begins to rattle off some of the bigger recurring fests and realizes how many there actually are. Glastonbury, Reading, Coachella, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Pinkpop, SXSW—that’s just a sampling, and that’s not even considering all one-offs and the non-package tours artists have to fill their calendars with. With record sales a shadow of their past glories, musicians have to go out on the road to make a profit. Lucky for them, the public’s appetite for live music is one of the few luxuries that seems, on the whole, recession-proof these days. The downside is that if audiences’ dollars now have so many contestants, understandably tickets sales are going to flow to the bills that customers feel offer the best value for their bucks.
It’s very likely the Big Day Out isn’t ready to be consigned to the history pages quite yet—after all, it took a break once before in 1998, and its organizers are already expressing hopes for its return in 2016. What is worrying about its abrupt cancellation is what it represents to Australians: that an event once so integal to its national music scene has, like its American cousin Lollapalooza in the late 1990s, succumbed to becoming Just Another Festival. Even more worrying is what the example of the Big Day Out bodes for the health of the live music explosion of recent years. Despite what everyone wants to believe, bubbles always pop, and when the abundance of multi-day mega-dozens music spectacles finally outstrips demand, the music industry is liable to be in a rude shock.