The festival began in 1992 as a Sydney-only show, and was extended in 1993 to Melbourne, Perth, and Adelaide. In 1994, shows in Auckland, New Zealand, and the Gold Coast were added. With the exception of 1998, the festival has continued with the same venues since, touring through January and February.
Notable acts that have played the festival include the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Silverchair, Nirvana, and the Foo Fighters, amongst many other notable acts from the region and around the world. The Chemical Brothers, Fat Boy Slim, and Basement Jaxx have played in the Boiler Room.
The festival was struck by tragedy in 2001, when teenager Jessica Michalik was crushed to death in a crowd surge during a performance by Limp Bizkit. The coroner's finding criticised the crowd control measures in use at the time, but also criticised lead singer Fred Durst for "alarming and inflammatory" comments when a rescue effort was underway.
Subsequent shows in 2002 and 2003 have featured a "D-barricade" (a different barricade design reducing the risk of a crowd crush).