Image: Ros O'Gorman

Big Day Out Co-Founder Ken West Has Died Aged 64

Ken West, co-founder of the popular Australian touring music festival, Big Day Out, has died. West’s family released a statement confirming the event promoter passed away in his sleep at the age of 64. A cause of death has not been provided.

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

Ken West and Vivian Lees launched the Big Day Out in Sydney in 1992. The inaugural headliners were the Violent Femmes, supported by Nirvana and a raft of local acts, including You Am I, Beasts of Bourbon and Yothu Yindi. The festival expanded in 1993 to include instalments in Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth.

West and Lees added events in Auckland and the Gold Coast in 1994 and the Big Day Out remained a six-city tour up until its dissolution following the 2014 iteration. From 1994 onwards, Big Day Out lineups typically featured many dozens of performers, a large percentage of which came from overseas.

Some of the Big Day Out’s biggest headliners were Björk (1994, 2008), Rage Against the Machine (1996, 2008), Metallica (2004), Beastie Boys (2005), The White Stripes (2006), Tool (2007, 2011), Neil Young (2009), Lily Allen (2010), M.I.A. (2011), Kanye West (2012), Soundgarden (2012), Red Hot Chili Peppers (2000, 2013) and Pearl Jam (2014).

West’s career as an event promoter preceded his pioneering work on the Big Day Out. In the 1980s, he’d organised tours for the Ramones, Deborah Harry, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Beasts of Bourbon and The Church. Ramones appeared at Big Day Out 1994, while Cave & the Bad Seeds played in both 1993 and 1996.

Learn more about West’s memories of the Big Day Out on his dedicated Kenfest website.

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