Big Day Out founder Ken West has died at 64

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Big Day Out founder Ken West has died at 64

Ken West
Ken West at the Perth Big Day Out in 2006 Image: Sophie Howarth
Words by Talia Rinaldo

"Ken was big and noisy in life but passed quietly and peacefully"

Ken West, the co-founder of the iconic Australian festival Big Day Out, has died peacefully in his sleep at the age of 64.

“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 the 7th April 2022,” his family said in a statement shared on Thursday night via Double J.

“Our family would appreciate respect and privacy during this difficult time. Ken was big and noisy in life but passed quietly and peacefully.”

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A music juggernaut throughout the 90s and early 00’s, Big Day Out was one of the most integral parts of Australian culture, it’s eternally shaped the landscape of our vibrant live music scene, and for 22 years, it defined itself as the sovereign celebration of our festival circuit.

West, alongside fellow promoter Vivian Lees, organised the first Big Day Out for January 1992 at Sydney’s Hordern Pavilion, featuring 21 bands including Violent Femmes and Nirvana as part of their only ever Australian tour.

The following year, the event expanded to Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth with both The Gold Coast and Auckland added in 1994.

The festival went on to become a huge music festival spanning six cities each year, cherished by punters and performers alike until its final year in 2014 when it was bought by US concert promoters C3 Presents.

Over the years the festival saw performances from the likes of Neil Young, Kanye West, Soundgarden, M.I.A, Muse, Powderfinger, The Prodigy, Arctic Monkeys, Rage Against The Machine, Arcade Fire, Chemical Brothers, The White Stripes, Metallica, Limp Bizkit, Foo Fighters, Red Hot Chili Peppers and many more.


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A post shared by KenWest@kenfest (@kenwest_kenfest)

Earlier this year in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the iconic first Big Day Out, West issued a couple of chapters from his memoirs Controlled Kaos on his KenFest. website, covering the event’s first six years.

The book was due to be finalised in 2023 and issued as part of a touring pictorial exhibition.

“The Big Day Out provided me with the greatest job in the world,” West wrote. “Working and partying with incredible artists who motivated me to create beautiful complex events. Human alchemy was taken to its limits. Continually evolving and growing for over 20 years.”

Following the news of his death, music fans, friends and fellow industry giants took to social media to pay tribute to West and what he created with Big Day Out.

Rest in peace Ken West. Thank you for everything you’ve done for our industry.