Diving into 2003’s Big Day Out Lineup 20 years on

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Diving into 2003’s Big Day Out Lineup 20 years on

Big Day Out 2003
Words by Benjamin Lamb

We're diving into the nostalgia inducing 2003 lineup of the Big Day Out - one of the most beloved now defunct Aussie music festivals.

It’s been a hot minute since we’ve had an international band-centric touring music festival that hit all corners of Australia, one of the last being Big Day Out, which had its final incarnation back in 2014, 22 years after its first, which was headlined by the Violent Femmes and Nirvana. 

Read up on all the latest features and columns here.

Over the years, there’s been many exciting lineups, today we’re diving into 2003’s, arguably one of the festival’s best. At first glance, the bottom section of the line-up lists few recognisable names gracing today’s lineups, but many were the style of the time. 

A staple of Australian festival lineups, even to this day, is a selection of Australian musicians and bands, with groups such as Jebediah, COG, The Waifs, Kid Kenobi, You Am I, The Living End, The Vines, Frenzal Rhomb, and many more having taken to the Big Day Out stages in 2003. Each of those groups were formed back in the 90’s, and the 2003 Big Day Out saw them at the peak of their popularity. 

Another key addition on the Australian end of the line-up came from groups like Rocket Science, who were first formed back in 1998, and quickly received a lot of attention for their unique approach to rock music. 

The year prior saw the group release their second album Contact High, a record that reached the number 60 spot on the ARIA charts and received a great deal of critical acclaim from the industry and fans alike. The group were one of the first bands to hit the stage at Big Day Out 03’, playing a 45-minute set on a stage which also hosted the likes of Wilco, You Am I and The Waifs.

The line-up featured a number of well-known and up and coming internationals, groups like Dry and Heavy, a Japanese dub and reggae band who started as a two-piece, and have gradually built up the group over the years, still continuing to tour until today. 

As we move up the lineup, we have a number of international artists, such as Jimmy Eat World. You may have just caught them recently alongside My Chemical Romance, but back in 2003, they were only a decade into their career, a mere two years out from the release of their hit single ‘The Middle’. The group played a 45-minute set on the Triple J Essential Stage, in a prime early evening spot. 

Equally weirdest yet most exciting line-up addition came with Kraftwerk, the pioneers of electronic music who have been around since 1970. At the time of Big Day Out 2003, the group had last released an album 17 years prior, but were in the midst of recording an album, which was released in August that same year, called Tour de France Soundtracks. 2003 was the first time Kraftwerk had hit our shores since 1981, so this show also saw them play sideshows at The Metro Nightclub in Sydney and The Palace in Melbourne. Kraftwerk closed one of the stages at Big Day Out 03 with a 90-minute set.

Following this electronic stylings, Big Day Out 03’ also saw Underworld, and if you haven’t heard of them, they are a British duo who first formed in 1987. In 2003 the pair were 6 albums in, and it had been a year since the release of their 2002 album A Hundred Days Off. This release received some critical acclaim and hit the 24th spot on our charts. Underworld hit all Big Day Out dates besides Perth and Adelaide. 

Like all good festivals, 2003’s Big Day Out featured a broad range of genres, with rapper Xzibit popping up on a few of its dates around Australia. It could be argued that this was at the start of Xzibit’s rise to popularity, he had just dropped his 2002 release Man vs Machine, which reached gold status in the US, and was only a few years before his hosting gig which made him the household name he is today. Xzibit was in fact recently on Australian shores for the popular Juicy Festival. 

Yet another international came out for the festival – a band known as The Music, who had only formed back in 1999, and played a 45-minute set in the middle of the day. The Music are an alternative rock group who disbanded in 2011, but reunited in 2020, and played a reunion show in 2022. 

The rock came in strong with the higher end of the lineup, with rockers Queens of The Stone Age, who were one of the newer bands on the list, only having been performing for around 7 years, a year after they released their hit album Songs of The Dead, which featured the iconic ‘No One Knows’.

A heavier flavour came to the lineup with Murderdolls, a band consisting of two popular musicians in the genre – Wednesday 13 and Joey Jordison. The band only dropped two releases, one in 2002, and one in 2010, a year before they broke up, and 11 years before the untimely death of Jordison.

An arguably interesting headliner came with the addition of PJ Harvey, the alternative rocker who has been a staple of the music industry for decades. This tour came only two years after the release of her 2000 album Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea. 

Alongside PJ was the band Shihad, who at the time of the 2003 festival, were called Pacifier, later told to change their name from Shihad due to its similarity to the word ‘jihad’. They returned to their original name in 2004 and have continued to tour Australia.

2003’s Big Day Out was officially headlined by iconic Dave Grohl fronted rockers Foo Fighters, a performance that came one year after the release of their fourth studio album One by One, the release that featured ‘Times Like These’ and ‘All My Life’, and won the band a Grammy award for Best Rock Album. The group closed out the main stage called the ‘Blue Stage’, with a 75-minute set, playing all of their hits at the time, tracks like ‘Monkey Wrench’, ‘My Hero’, ‘Learn To Fly,’ and many, many more. 

Check out more previous Big Day Out lineups here.