Boiler Room Breakthrough: Big Day Out Brings Dance Music to the Masses

The Rise of Dance Music at Big Day Out: An Insider’s Perspective
Club 77
Boiler Room Breakthrough: Big Day Out Brings Dance Music to the Masses

The Boiler Room was an essential part of the Big Day Out experience, creating lasting memories well beyond the summer festivals. Dark, loud, and always packed with writhing bodies, it was a place where fans saw their favorite electronic acts and many had their first taste of live electronic music. It emerged at just the right moment, as dance music was set to explode into the mainstream and become a key part of popular culture.

Ben Suthers, the mastermind behind the Boiler Room's programming for 15 years, shares his experiences and insights into how this iconic stage shaped Australia's electronic music scene.

Interview Transcript with Ben Suthers

Big Day Out | Boiler Room Manager 1999 - 2014

When I look back at it, I think that what Ken West tried to do when he was putting together Big Day Out was to drag all sorts of disparate people together. He always aimed to create multiple stages, places where people could have a good time, walk around between things, and maybe discover something they hadn’t seen before. Especially towards 1996, 1997, and 1999, part of what we were doing for the Boiler Room was creating an environment where people might stumble upon dance music and then come out deciding they actually really liked it.

This approach was epitomized by acts like The Prodigy and Fatboy Slim. These artists crossed over into the rock audience, bringing people into the Boiler Room. Often, once they were there, they never left. It started with just a couple of bands, Severed Heads and Itch-E & Scratch-E, in 1993 and took off from there. It became clear that there was a space inside this rapidly growing music festival for some dance music.

In 1994, Andrew and I put together a lineup that became the first dance music stage of the Big Day Out, and it was incredibly popular. It held its own and continued to grow. The pinnacle moment came in 1999 when, for the first time, our lead act was a DJ—Fatboy Slim. He became a staple, filling rooms with his incredible energy, alongside other frequent collaborators like Peewee Ferris and Bexta from Brisbane.

Black and white picture of crowd at Big Day Out festival

Over the years, we had so many great moments and countless acts that contributed to the Boiler Room’s success. By the time we reached 2011 or 2012, social media had created these tribal moments where the audience would decide to come together. This shift meant that trying to be everything to everybody, like Big Day Out aimed to be, didn’t work as well anymore. People preferred going to see specific acts like Fred Again rather than a mixed lineup.

Our goal was always to attract all sorts of tribes, uniting diverse groups through a shared love of music. The Boiler Room at Big Day Out became more than just a stage—it was a cultural phenomenon that brought dance music to the masses and left an indelible mark on Australia’s music scene.

Interview research and video edit by Madi Martin-Bygraves

Club 77 Weekly Newsletter
Sign up and get a weekly Club 77 newsletter
By signing up to receive emails from Club 77, you agree to our Privacy Policy. We treat your info responsibly. Unsubscribe anytime.
Thank you for signing up!
Stay tuned for the latest news...
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
© 2024 CLUB 77. All Rights Reserved.