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Big Day Out feat pic
Fans have fond memories of the Big Day Out (Photo: Getty/ Images; additional design by Archi Banal)

Pop CultureJanuary 21, 2022

Holograms, headlocks, bogans and Bjork: The Big Day Out’s best moments, ranked

Big Day Out feat pic
Fans have fond memories of the Big Day Out (Photo: Getty/ Images; additional design by Archi Banal)

From Rage in the rain to Rammstein in a row boat, how many of these major Big Day Out festival highlights did you see?

If everything was right with the world, today would be spent amid the hot, heaving masses. Across multiple stages in Western Springs Stadium, some of the world’s biggest acts would perform. By the end of the day, feet would hurt, ears would ring, sweat would be swapped and we’d all head home dusty, dirty and happy, overwhelmed by another satisfying Big Day Out festival. 

But everything is not right with the world. The pandemic continues with new variants spreading, a volcano just tried to wipe Tonga off the map, and Trump is rallying his troops for another election bid in 2024. As well, Auckland’s iMax building is still a mess, Rihanna hasn’t released a new album for six years, and Snifters remain discontinued. Shit is really messed up out there.

For music fans, the news is even worse: the Big Day Out continues to cease to exist. 

After two years of concerts being postponed or cancelled to curb the spread of a killer disease, everyone seems nostalgic for a whiff of easier times, a throwback to when a simple sniff couldn’t kill you. For 20 years, one Friday in mid-January did just that, providing respite from post-holiday back-to-work blues and allowing Auckland to rock to the sounds of the Big Day Out.

Big Day Out
Jane Yee’s Big Day Out plan, including $30 cash, matches, and three (three?) padlocks, circa 2002 (Photo: Jane Yee)

Grubby metal bands would perform on the same stage as hyped-up electro acts. Major rappers would play alongside the hottest indie acts, alt-pop singers next to dubstep giants. In the mix were local acts performing to the biggest crowds they’d ever seen, everyone going hammer and tongs from midday to close to midnight, with little respite from the heat, sweat, mosh pit and that smelly white guy with dreads who really should know better.  

It’s a rite of passage that no longer exists. Could it happen again? New Zealand Big Day Out promoter Campbell Smith recently told The Spinoff it wasn’t his decision to make, and he hadn’t had those conversations. Yet, he agreed nostalgia was at an all-time high.“Never say never,” he said. “I would love to do it again.”

So would I. Eight years. Eight dreary years. That’s how long it’s been since accumulated Boiler Room sweat dripped down our necks, a quick Fatima’s rolled pita was enough for dinner, and we danced until dusk beside a giant speaker, moshed till close to midnight at the main stage, and made collective memories that stand the test of time. 

Eight years is long enough to get nostalgic, so we thought, what the hell, let’s try to rank all of the best Big Day Out moments in order. 

Easy, right? Maybe not. Take a look at our list and see if we got it right.

20. Randa opens the Big Day Out (2014)

After the festival skipped New Zealand in 2013, rolling into the gleaming new venue at Western Springs to the sound of Randa opening up on the grassy lakeside stage felt like the Big Day Out’s second coming. The local rapper’s chirpy lyrics and heaving beats set the scene for one hell of a return: Pearl Jam, Arcade Fire, Snoop Dogg, Deftones, Major Lazer and Mac Miller. It would sadly become Auckland’s last Big Day Out. Thanks to Randa, it kicked off in the right way.

19. Scribe brings hip-hop to the main stage (2007)

Not many, if any rappers have rolled all the way onto the Big Day Out’s main stage. Scribe was the first, his all-conquering hits ‘Stand Up’ and ‘Not Many (The Remix)’ demanding headliner status across Australasia in 2007. That paved the way in later years for Dizzee Rascal, Snoop Dogg and Kanye West (but not, sniff, in New Zealand) to do the same thing.

18.  The Strokes get smashed (2004)

Hype for The Strokes’ first Big Day Out performance was huge. “Holy shit was I excited for The Strokes,” says The Spinoff’s deputy editor, Alice Neville. “I was right up the front and remember feeling genuinely scared I would be crushed to death but it was still fun.” Julian Casablancas had clearly arrived having had a few too many on the way, and he continued to swig from a wine bottle throughout the show. It led to a wayward (at one point he raved about the “firm breasts” of  New Zealand women) but still enjoyable performance. 

17. Rammstein in a rowboat (2001)

Smoke machines, pyro and flying dildos? That not enough for you? How about an inflatable rowboat? German metallers Rammstein seem to exist just to play at the Big Day Out, always entertaining with their bizarre costumes, bonkers slogans and hardcore metal antics. In 2001, they exceeded all expectations when frontman Till Lindemann did something no one has done before, or since, at a Big Day Out: jumping in a blow-up boat and rowing around the mosh pit.

16. Rocket man takes flight (2010)

Why did this happen? Who’s responsible? How did it work? Why don’t we all have jet packs now? I need a six-part podcast about this 15-second performance immediately …

15. Neil Young shows his vintage (2009)

Many raised their eyebrows when Neil Young was announced as the Big Day Out’s 2009 headliner. Who was this old-timer, and was he worthy of main stage status? The answer was an emphatic yes. “That was memorable,” says Campbell Smith. “Our younger audience [members] were like, ‘What the fuck?’ and were completely smashed in the face by how good that was.” ‘Heart of Gold’ became the set highlight, a swaying, singalong anthem, even if many in the crowd were past their best by that point.

14.  Queens of the Stone Age blow a fuse (2003)

So fiery were the Josh Homme-fronted rockers in 2003 that they literally laid waste to the Big Day Out’s main stage speaker setup. Dismayed, with the speakers down, they left the stage heads bowed, only to persuade The Datsuns to end their set early so they could take over and finish up at the end of the night, a surprise treat for those who were there.

13. Straitjacket Fits go off, then disband (1994)

Shayne Carter believes Straitjacket Fits’ Big Day Out performance in 1994 was among the band’s finest. It was also their last, but they went out with a huge set, a performance so good it blew away the night’s headliners, Smashing Pumpkins. “It was their blistering best,” one fan who was there says. “Unreal.”

12. Blink 182 stop the show (2000)

Red Hot Chili Peppers, Goldie, Chemical Brothers, Primal Scream, Basement Jaxx, Beth Orton, Nine Inch Nails AND Joe Strummer – the 2000 Big Day Out lineup was majorly stacked. That meant a crowd crush developed early during Blink 182’s rammed, stop-start afternoon performance on the main stage. “I was in the second row for Blink and was sandwiched between two massive hairy men where armpit hair and sweat covered my face,” says Mark Kelliher, The Spinoff’s general manager, who had twisted his hair into spikes and was driven down from Dargaville by his mum for his very first festival. It was worth it. “That set went on to be one of the best live experiences I’ve ever had.”

11. Prodigy do a rare encore (1997)

Keith Flint performs with Prodigy during the 2009 Big Day Out (Photo: Getty Images)

‘Breathe’ and ‘Firestarter’ had quickly become inescapable anthems, heard blasting out of every car that contained a six-disc CD changer. In 1997, it felt like everyone arrived at the Big Day out to see Keith Flint, Maxim and Liam Howlett mess up the main stage. In their second of three Big Day Out appearances, The Prodigy didn’t disappoint. “I don’t remember much about that show except that it was my first mosh pit, and that out-of-control feeling was unbelievable — I barely touched the ground,” one witness says. “Oh, and the crowd chant at the end was so loud it forced them to come back on stage for an encore.” At the meticulously scheduled festival, that was a rarity.

10. Odd Future mess up the Powerstation (2012)

After a misguided outcry over perceived homophobic lyrics, Tyler, the Creator’s gang of Los Angeles skate rap punks weren’t allowed to perform at the 2012 Big Day Out. They came anyway for a pre-show gig so incendiary it’s become the stuff of legend. Punters moshed before they started, the group’s members could be seen doubled over gasping for air, and when it came time for set highlights ‘Yonkers’ and ‘Sandwitches’, they didn’t have to rap a word: the crowd did it all for them. 

9. Flaming Lips end the night with zorbs and cosplay (2004)

The only place to be at the end of the 2004 Big Day Out was the stage where The Flaming Lips went off, mate. On a high from their best album, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Wayne Coyne and co delivered a colourful blast of bonkers energy, riding around the crowd in zorb balls while what seemed like dozens of back-up dancers dressed in animal costumes egged them on. “I have never witnessed anything like it: glitter, fake blood, costumed animals bouncing around, giant fists and stunning, stunning music,” one punter said. The best ending to a Big Day Out ever? Yoshimi says yes.

8. Dizzee Rascal goes bonkers (2010)

Putting the British rapper on the main stage probably felt like a risk. After all, the British grime-pop star had only performed in the Big Day Out’s Boiler Room before. But, in the late afternoon of 2010, Dizzee Rascal had one response to doubters, saving the best — his dance-pop anthem Bonkers — for last. The crowd went, well, watch this video to find out…

7. Anything that ever happened at the Lilypad

Anyone looking to recover from mosh-pit mayhem always found a good time to be had at the Lilypad stage. Hosted by two eccentric Aussies, nestled somewhere down the back of the venue behind the Boiler Room, at the Lilypad you never knew what you were going to get: a disco-glam rave at midday, followed by a comedy folk duo the next. The year Metallica played, fans were offered $100 to shave off their mullets AND SOME OF THEM DID IT. If the Big Day Out ever returns, the Lilypad needs to make a comeback with it.

6. MIA slays the Boiler Room (2011)

She wore high heels, climbed on top of the speakers, then invited fans on stage to play ‘Paper Planes’ while they dived into the crowd. It was Spinoff writer Josie Adams’ first festival, one she’d travelled all the way from her home in Taranaki for. After being put in a headlock in the Tool mosh pit, she recovered in the relative safety of the Boiler Room. “When MIA closed out the night with a goddamn hologram I cried a little bit,” Adams says, “because the future was here.”

5. Bjork plays as Rage fans sulk (2008)

Bjork performs at Mt Smart Stadium as part of the 2008 Big Day Out (Photo: Getty Images)

A rare female headliner, Bjork appeared on the Big Day Out’s main stage looking freakishly majestical. The problem? That show’s scheduling meant she was essentially the opening act for reformed rap-metallers Rage Against the Machine. As Bjork worked through some of her more delicate material (‘Hyperballad’, ‘Wanderlust’) fans began to chant “Rage! Rage! Rage!” at her. To her credit, she remained undeterred, finishing her memorable show with a heavier version of ‘Declare Independence’.

4. The Mint Chicks get out the chainsaw (2005)

The Mint Chicks
Kody Nielson takes to the Big Day Out stage with a chainsaw (Photo: Calum Henderson)

Sometimes, magic could be found on the Big Day Out’s smaller stages. In 2005, Kody Nielson, frontman for Auckland punk-rock upstarts The Mint Chicks, pulled out a chainsaw mid-song and began destroying the stage. The Spinoff’s Calum Henderson watched on in awe. “I was too indie for any of the headliners so I spent almost the whole day at the smaller stages waiting to see The Magic Numbers and The Streets,” he says. After the impromptu carpentry, The Mint Chicks covered The Buzzcocks’ ‘Ever Fallen in Love’. “Having grown up as the only indie in my teenage friend group, I genuinely believed I was the only person in the crowd who knew this song,” says Henderson.

3. Shihad soundtracks the setting sun (1994, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2008, 2011)

Did Shihad hit the main stage every Big Day Out at exactly 6pm? Not quite, but with nine appearances they came closer than most. “They always killed as the sun was going down,” says Campbell Smith, who booked Shihad to play every second year as a way to introduce the evening’s heavier acts. The only change came in 2003 when Shihad performed as Pacifier after their 9/11-inspired name change. Fans refused to accept it, instead chanting “Shihad! Shihad!” before their set. What proceeded was another epicly heavy and transcendent Shihad show, just like all the others. 

2. Rage in the rain (1996)

When Rage Against the Machine performed at Auckland’s second Big Day Out festival in 1996, a dark cloud that seemed to be hovering almost exclusively over the main stage unleashed a torrent of rain on the mosh pit from the moment Zach de la Rocha and co stepped on stage. Fans ripped up the white plastic sheeting covering the ground and used it as umbrellas, yet continued to mosh so ferociously that Mt Smart Stadium quickly turned into a mud bath. After seven songs, it was over. Bizarrely, so was the day’s only rainfall. 

1. Joe Strummer digs out The Clash hits (2000)

No one expected Joe Strummer to perform a set full of iconic songs from The Clash when he performed at the 2000 Big Day Out with his touring band The Mescaleros. Campbell Smith, who would go on to run nine Auckland Big Day Out festivals, remembers hearing Strummer begin ‘London Calling’ from afar while watching The Chemical Brothers in the Boiler Room. “I heard ‘I Fought The Law’ and thought, ‘Fuck, he’s going to do Clash songs,’” Smith remembers. He ran over to Strummer’s stage and stayed there for the rest of the night. He’s not the only one who thinks this was the Big Day Out’s best moment: several members of The Spinoff’s editorial team placed it at the top of their list too.

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