J Balvin performing onstage at Splendour in the Grass 2023. Photo via Matt Jelonek / Contributor via Getty Images.
Australia Today

The Big Australian Music Festival Is Dead. What Next?

Splendour in the Grass has been cancelled, following a tragic trend that has spelled end times for Australia’s large music festivals.
Arielle Richards
Melbourne, AU

Splendour in the Grass has been cancelled. Two weeks after Kylie Minogue was announced as headliner and three days out from April fools’, the news, reported on Wednesday, seemed an unfunny joke. Putting aside its inherent commerciality, its lineups of late and waning mass appeal, Splendour was Australia’s biggest music festival. 

Held annually in Byron Bay, NSW, the festival attracted tens of thousands of attendees, and has successfully attracted a dedicated audience for over 20 years. The news of its cancellation first came in whispers from music industry workers, before the festival made an official announcement on social media late on Wednesday. Splendour’s primary media partner, Triple J, had already called it.


Splendour’s cancellation follows a tragic trend that has spelled end times for Australia’s large music festivals. In just three years since pandemic lockdowns lifted Australians have watched as, one by one, they’ve flailed and fallen. 

Last year, Falls New Year’s festival was cancelled after an attempt to move it saw locals oust it from their town. Falls, which is run by Secret Sounds under promotional giant Live Nation, had been cancelled in 2019 due to fire risks, then was brought down by the pandemic in 2020 and 2021. Groovin the Moo was cancelled in 2024, citing dissipating ticket sales. Dark Mofo, Tasmania’s notorious winter arts festival, was postponed in 2024. 

In Victoria, from 2021 to 2023, independent festivals Boogie, Inner Varnika and Hopkins Creek were all permanently cancelled. Once considered a unique, defining asset to Australia’s youth culture, increased pressure to cover costs – offering organisers the uneasy choice to dilute their community or go bankrupt – have seen niche festivals fall off.

Last year, Splendour was unable to sell out. The lineup was probably a contributing factor, as well as the utter shitshow of 2022, where catastrophic weather butchered day one, turning what was a thousand-dollar-plus venture for many attendees into survival. Once considered too big to fail, now Splendour has.

And this was inevitable. Tragically, the live music industry in Australia has been gutted. Despite the creation of the new national body Music Australia, and the grants scheme Live Music Australia, there has been little other meaningful support for the arts in lieu of the pandemic. Even before the costs of artists, stages, medics and staff are considered, there’s rent, insurance, and police to cover. 


In a statement, NSW minister for music John Graham said he was “deeply worried about the festival scene”.

“The festival industry is under extreme pressure,” he said. “The NSW government offered financial support to help the event proceed this year. We will continue to work with them and hope to see them return next year.”

But there are very clear and obvious reasons young people are no longer able to fork out for a festival where the $450 ticket price is just the beginning. And no one is rushing to lock down $450 tickets amid doubts of whether it’ll even go ahead.  

Times are difficult and constant, abrupt festival cancellations during the pandemic produced a purchasing fatigue. There was also the chance you might get COVID three days out, be unable to sell your ticket, and have to cop the loss. People aren’t leaping to buy tickets three months in advance when they can’t even be sure they’ll be able to go. Without enough ticket sales, festivals have no choice but to cancel. It’s a sick cycle. 

And why would anyone want to spend more than $450 for a lineup that just doesn’t hit like it used to?

Ticket prices at Splendour have increased only slightly over the past decade, with a three-day-camping ticket costing $355 in 2014. But, in that time, the minimum wage has remained the same. It isn’t inconceivable that, for most punters, there were only one or two acts the lineup’s catch-all ambition actually managed to grab. And who’s forking out thousands to sit in the mud watching the same acts curated by the great homogeniser Triple J? Not in this economy. 


At a time when music tastes, fandoms and genre have become increasingly niche and disparate, major festival programming has been unable to adapt.

Splendour’s lineup this year is an interesting mishmash. There are some exciting acts on it. But as you peruse, you can’t help but wonder, who is this for? 

The headliners: Kylie Minogue, Future and Arcade Fire. Below them: Girl in Red, Yeat and G Flip. In what world would fans of Future want to be at the festival where Arcade Fire is headlining? Who are Arcade Fire’s fans in 2024? Why is Baby Gravy (the collaborative project of Yung Gravy and bbno$) billed so high? Who do the programmers think their audience is? 

It’s probably not fair to compare lineups from a decade ago, but I will anyway. 2014 had Outkast, Two Door Cinema Club, Lily Allen, Interpol, Foster The People, Angus & Julia Stone. It’s still Triple J, but at least it’s cohesive. 

Every year, the same lineups are only slightly plumped up by mid-tier international headliners. This is what a monopoly on music festivals looks like: When only one or two companies can afford to put on shows as big as Splendour, taste, curation and originality is eschewed in lieu of drawing the biggest crowd possible. 

Splendour failed under its own weight, but it isn’t alone. All of Australia’s big festivals lost sight of their intent. Big Day Out comes to mind. When the only way to function is to make as much money as possible, lineups must be as generic as possible – to pull in the dosh, a wide net must be cast. The vision is gone, buried under a desperation to break even. 

Arielle Richards is the multimedia reporter at VICE Australia, follow her on Instagram and TikTok.