Ken West: Why I’m co-running Big Day Out with AJ Maddah

Despite industry speculation earlier this week, Ken West has not left the Big Day Out. He will be jointly running the festival with US promoter C3 Presents and Soundwave’s AJ Maddah.

West confirmed the news in an exclusive interview with Fairfax Media today. “I need everyone to calm down,” West told Fairfax in a statement. “The world is not collapsing. In short AJ is joining the BDO circus and I am staying. So the BDO team will now be C3, AJ Maddah and yours truly.”

West described Maddah as a “kindred spirit” and the logical successor to his Big Day Out legacy. ”[He’s] crazy in a good way … He knows this event better than anyone and has always been its greatest supporter, even as a competitor… I know him and I trust him.” It’s an interesting turn of events given West’s rather disparaging remarks about Maddah in the past – he described him as a “financial anarchist” in a 2012 interview with The Vine.

For the past two years, West has run the Big Day Out in conjunction with Lollapalooza promoters C3, who bought a 51 percent stake of the company in 2011. He had previously helmed the Big Day Out with co-founder Vivian Lees for 20 years. Falling sales and other pressures – both internal and external – had brought that partnership to an acrimonious end in November 2011.

Speaking to triple j’s Hack program earlier this week, Lees voiced his concerns about Maddah joining the Big Day Out team, especially given his reluctance to put Australian acts on his Soundwave and Harvest lineups. “I’m a little dismayed that AJ has come into the picture,” he told Hack. “I’ve seen him in action. If he doesn’t like the way something’s going, he’ll cancel it. He’ll get halfway along in one direction and turn 180 degrees in the other direction and think that nobody notices. He has skin as thick as a rhino, and he’s a gambler. It’s an amazing turn of events.”

Maddah told Fairfax that his involvement came at the insistence of West, who wanted to wind back his role. He said he now holds an “equal” financial interest in the Big Day out, but would not confirm exactly how much. “Maybe [I bring] a bit of energy and vitality,” he told Fairfax Media. “Part of the problem at the Big Day Out was they had gone so far away from where the event started… you could stay it had been a bit bloated and bureaucratic.”

He said he was hoping to reduce queues and improve the design of the Big Day Out site, but rejected the notion that he was looking to phase out Australian bands. “The percentage of Aussie bands at the Big Day Out will not change,” he said. “There will be no change to the spirit of the Big Day Out. It’s Ken’s vision and I’m working for him. For 20 years it’s been my ambition to work for the Big Day Out. It’s been a great festival for 22 years. I don’t need to fuck with that.”

Big Day Out CEO Adam Zammit will remain in his role, with Fairfax reporting “dozens” of job cuts. The Big Day Out kicks off on Friday, January 17, in Auckland with a lineup that includes Pearl Jam, Blur and Arcade Fire. For full details head here.


Big Day Out 2014 dates:

Friday, January 17 – Western Springs, Auckland

Sunday, January 19 – Metricon Stadium & Carrara Parklands, Gold Coast

Friday, January 24 – Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne

Sunday, January 26 – Sydney Showgrounds, Sydney

Monday, January 27 – Sydney Showgrounds, Sydney

Friday, January 31 – Bonython Park, Adelaide*

Sunday, February 2 – Claremont Showgrounds, Perth*

*Venues TBC