Great Moments In Rock History

Big Day Out 1996: Ben from Regurgitator’s Rock History

Ben Ely is best known as a member of beloved Brisbane band Regurgitator, the alternative rockers who played Australia’s longest running touring rock festival the Big Day Out six times during the BDO’s colourful history.

The Big Day Out festival was a glorious rite of passage for Australian rock-loving kids who enjoyed a genre-neutral exploding mixed bag of rock, electronica, experimental bands and performance art each summer and bands enjoyed a relaxed week with more luxurious days off than show days. 

Happily, the Big Day Out backstage stories are as exciting as you dreamed they’d be as a young sunburnt, sweaty rock fan in the mosh. In this week’s Great Moments In Rock History, Ben tells us the story of a few photographs he’s dug out of the archives to share with us. 

What’s the story of these photographs?
These photos were taken during Regurgitator first national tour with the BIG DAY OUT. It was a massive deal for us at the time. The Big Day Out was the biggest tour in the country and the 1996 lineup was massive. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, the Dirty Three, Rage Against the Machine, Jesus Lizard, Porno for Pyros, Tony Hawk, etc etc.

What wouldn’t we necessarily know just looking at it?
What isn’t in the party photos is Rage Against The Machine, the Jesus Lizard and Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. There is a story, see below.


What happened before and after?
Well I used to be a big fan of Jane’s Addiction, particularly the Nothing’s Shocking album so when I saw their singer Perry Farrell at the opening party in Auckland I went up and said “hi.” He seemed nervous and a bit edgy, although very friendly.

Many years later I read the PIGS IN ZEN biography about Jane’s where it mentioned that Perry had a raging speed addiction during this timeframe. Made sense, nice guy though – can’t judge someone for a drug addiction. Anyway. We had a drink and a chat, then later on the tour, during the stop in Adelaide I ran into Perry in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel and he invited me to a room party where he was going to play for everyone some songs off his new Pornos For Pyros record. Amazing. The drummer in Regurgitator and I attended. I turned up to the party and Mike Watt (the Bass player from Minutemen, Firehose, The Stooges, Pornos For Pyros) was jamming. I joined in, picking up some bongos. We played ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ by Lou Reed together.

Mind blown.

I have always been a big fan of Mike.

Then Perry came into the room and passed out flowers and made everyone sit in a circle. While the acoustic guitars started to ring out Rage Against the Machine walked in… then the Jesus Lizard… while Perry and his tripped out mind were performing his new songs the Bad Seeds walked in.

During the performance I heard the sound of a guitar amplifier feeding back, though I could’t see any amps in the room. I looked over and saw Blixa the guitarist from the Bad Seeds with his mouth open screeching along to the hippy love in.

He single handedly shut down their performance… then David Yow who spent the whole tour wearing only a pair of cowboy boots and a single pair of jeans with no shirt and carried a bottle of whiskey as an accessory fell over the couch crash landing into the middle of the hippy love in. Then Zach de la Rocha approached me and basically asked if he could date the girl I was with at the time.

What could I say? How could I compete? He left with her.

It was a very bizarre few hours.

Elastica were also on the tour! Everyone was freaking out about them. We had a big beach party at the end of the tour and their lead singer Justine Frischmann asked me to go for a walk with her and I didn’t. We all then went skinny dipping. I don’t think Damian Albarn would have been happy.


You guys played the Big Day Out six times. What was it like at your first one (in 1996)?
It was a really exciting time for us. We were young. Had songs in the charts. We were touring with some of our favourite bands in the world. I ripped my pants when i walked on stage in Sydney and a girl pointed to my crotch during the second song alerting me to this disaster. I was embarrassed… I played the rest of the show with my bass in front of my groin area…

How much did things change over the years?
I think things changed as the stage diving laws changed. As the laws changed the line ups and the crowds reactions were getting less aggressive and violent as the years go by… not such a bad thing I guess.

What was your favourite band to watch side of stage?
Zach De La Rocha screaming ‘F**k you I won’t do what you tell me’ with 40 to 50 thousand people going absolutely berserk was probably the biggest reaction I have ever seen from a crowd ever… people as far as the eye could see and further were really losing it. It was pure chaos.

What was your most memorable performance?
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds were really powerful and amazing to watch. Their track ‘The Mercy Seat’ was my highlight of the tour I think… incredible.

Did you have any funny/memorable backstage run-ins?
The year we toured with Hole and Marilyn Manson was strange. Courtney Love would demand helicopters to transport her to the shows on random occasions… then walk around back stage naked and falling all over the place. I remember her wardrobe department girls having a hard time with her… Marilyn Manson though was nowhere to be seen. Then a photographer from Rolling Stone magazine turned up, at which time he decided to throw around plastic chairs backstage hitting the members of Powderfinger. It seemed kinda phoney to everyone. Staged riot.


Were RATM freaking amazing at the ’96 show?

What was the best feedback you got from your fellow bands and what was the song that ALWAYS slayed the crowd?
I honestly can’t remember. I remember kids singing along to our music for the first time at a BIG DAY OUT. That was shocking. In a good way…


What was the last time you guys played like?
We toured as it a few years ago when PEARL JAM and SOUNDGARDEN played. The numbers had dropped off a bit. It was actually very emotional. I always felt that the BIG DAY OUT was always such a rite of passage for teenage kids and it was sad to notice that the crowds had dropped off to other festivals that dedicated their lineups to specific genres. The BIG DAY OUT always had a great focus on music and visual art. That’s what I think made it very special. People would go to see bands and get switched on to visual and performance art. I think that was Ken West’s influence. He had a great vision. To me he was like the ANDY WARHOL of Australian music promoters.

What’s next for you?
I’m going pretty deaf in my left ear. I play solo with an acoustic guitar to minimise the damage. I just released an album titled GOODBYE MACHINE. I play small venues. I also compose music for contemporary dance and film. Oh… and Regurgitator does the occasional show here and there.

Christina Rowatt



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