Viv Lees: “I feel like I’ve been in an abusive relationship”

Former Big Day Out promoter Viv Lees has broken his silence about the fracturing of his twenty year partnership with Ken West, telling The Sunday Age, “It was appalling. I feel like I’ve been in an abusive relationship.”

Coinciding with the event’s first Australian stop on the Gold Coast, Lees’ interview reveals a man not entirely happy with the events that transpired in 2011: “I loved being in the Big Day Out and it was a very poor outcome for me,” he admits, “But I don’t want to be negative about it because it’s my legacy and I put a lot into it.”

Lees says that when he realised it was no longer financially viable to continue with this year’s event he approached West but that, “Ken wouldn’t hear it. His response was not to look at it as a business proposition but to barge ahead and try to overwhelm me with his arguments.”

West recounted his version of events to the New Zealand Herald in December, saying: “My business partner bailed on me one day after going on sale – which was very helpful – after thirty years of working with each other. Without going into the gory details, we had an understanding… The agreement was I that I felt personally that with the twentieth year we were trying so hard to deliver the impossible – we’d put massive offers in for Eminem beyond our budget, we were prepared to take a loss for this year to produce the best show we could.”

This differing of opinions led to West offering to buy Lees out, and as Viv recalls: “I’ve no reservations about my decision. I feel strange being out of it when I’ve been part of it for 20 years but, at the same time, I couldn’t work with him. I found him too objectionable. ”

West has since entered into a financial partnership with Lollapalooza promoters C3, who now own a 51% stake of the company.

Lees also touches on his disenchantment with the vitriol of Facebook users, who slammed the festival’s decision to book a “pop” headliner such as Kanye West; something which Ken had previously revealed “was part of the reason why my 58 year old business partner [quit].” Lees admits, “They weren’t looking from the positive point of view that he is one of the great creative musicians in the world at the moment. A big festival in the UK or the US can put people like that on, but we have an audience that’s closed to that. So it is disappointing.”

However, despite the bitter end to a hugely successful twenty year partnership Lees ultimately wishes nothing but the best for his former partner: “I think there’s nothing that can’t be turned around with a line-up that crosses over different groups in the audience. Ken is trying very hard to keep the spark of life in it and he’s brave for doing that.”

Earlier in the week FL spoke to Ken West about his hopes for the future of the Big Day Out, and his memories of touring some of the biggest names in music – read it here.