Knockout Outdoor 2023: Bigger and Better


The Australian rave community has been blessed this year. Events have come in thick and fast, a plethora of DJs have taken the trip down, and production across the board has seen a big step up.

Out of all these events, though, the biggest is still, undoubtedly, Knockout.

60,000 people woke up on the 30th of September, felt the blazing hot Sydney sun on their faces, and knew that it was finally rave day. 

And this was the rave they’d been waiting for. 

It’s the biggest in terms of attendees, it’s the biggest in terms of budget, and each year, it’s the biggest in terms of hype. KO is Australia's biggest rave, and HSU’s magnum opus.

With this year’s theme “The Spirit of the Wolf'' acting as the foundation for much of the stage design, leaks of the stage beforehand actually left many a little disappointed. Many thought it too closely resembled last year’s stage and this, in combination with the mixed response to D-Block & S-te-Fan’s anthem of the same name as the theme, was a small hit to the hype. Yet, with an expanded capacity, a stacked lineup spread across 3 stages, a larger budget from increased ticket prices, and a clear blue sky forecasted for the day, expectations were still sky high.

One of the best things about Knockout is its structure. The 3 stages means almost everyone’s KO experience is different, with individual tastes catered to with the uptempo of “The Pit”, and “The Oasis” offering classics and frenchcore. Many anxiously await the release of the set lists, praying for their favourite acts not to clash. Clashes are inevitable, but no other Australian rave has you watching the HSU livestream from your phone to catch two sets simultaneously. Arriving at 3 pm, my group was greeted by a packed Oasis stage, with about half the people in attendance not even looking at the stage, and instead lining up for merch.

Being at the main stage from about 4:30 pm onwards meant that Vertile was my first taste of 2023’s Knockout. Personal highlights were “Together We Grow”, and Vertile’s remix of “golden hour” by JVKE, which used Vertile’s own vocals that he’d pre-recorded. Before long, Rooler would take to the stage. Moving from being in The Pit last year to the mainstage this year, Rooler brought his usual enigmatic style, getting Villain involved for a showcase of their impeccable Jumpstyle skills to his latest hit “FCK DAT!”. He even brought his mum out, making him one of the only people at Knockout whose mother knew they were there.

But as the sun began to set, a darkness overtook the skies, meaning it was time to bring out the lasers, and for Showtek to follow soon after. 

For many, the laser ceremony signals the true start of the event, where production is truly on display for the first time of the night. As is tradition, Ray Volpe’s “Laserbeam” kicked it off, as green lasers beamed out of the stage. “Activation” got its third play of the event to end the ceremony, before perhaps the greatest hardstyle duo to ever exist, Showtek, took to the stage. 

The creators of arguably the most iconic Hardstyle song of all time, “FTS”, have transitioned into a more mainstream sound in recent years, but they rolled back the years for a vintage set. “The F-Track” and “Colours of The Harder Styles”, the anthem from 2006’s Defqon.1, were both highlights, with an unreleased opening track with Timmy Trumpet called “Dream” also providing a tease for what could potentially be the duo’s next big hit. But of course, “FTS” provided one of the loudest crowd reactions of the night. An anthem of rebellion and a rejection of conformity, its words echoed into the Sydney sky, just as they have echoed and resonated with so many, still standing strong 16 years after its original release.

The eccentric Norwegian duo of Da Tweekaz took to the stage soon after, returning to Giants Stadium and appearing for the second time after last year’s KO.  Their humorous stage presence was ever-present. No other DJ tells you to pick up trash from the ground and throw it into the air (twice), or plays multiple disney tracks including their remix of “Can Can”, all interlaced with tracks like “Reload” by Sebastian Ingrosso & Tommy Trash. Of course, “Jägermeister” made an appearance, with the duo bringing out Dimitri K for a classic Australian shoey, and one of the rawest drops of the night.

For many, one of the biggest draws of the night was witnessing Headhunterz’ last set in Australia for the foreseeable future. With the legendary Dutch DJ retiring from live performances from January next year for physical and mental health reasons, this was a chance to celebrate 16 years of innovation from one of the forefathers of the genre for possibly the last time. A personal highlight was early in his set, with his remix of “Her Voice” by builder leading into ILLENIUM’s “Paper Thin”. These are two songs that Headhunterz had remixed almost 10 years apart from each other, but both hit just as hard. ”Rock Civilization” and “Destiny” would soon follow, two of Heady’s greatest hits, fitting for his final set in Australia. HHZ’s set felt like a tour through his career, a trip through a museum devoted to a legend. To close, he brought Vertile back out, playing “Before I Wake” and “Lost Without You”, which closed for this year’s Defqon, and perhaps closed out Headhunterz’ long career of unforgettable live performances. Villain passed the mic to his good friend for a final farewell, an assertion that in his orange heart, Australia remained, a feeling that undoubtedly goes both ways. A fitting way to sign off to a community that owes him so much.

But whilst rawstyle has been on the rise in recent times, more happy hardcore was next up. 

D-Block & S-te-Fan, too, have had a long illustrious career spanning almost 20 years. Starting with “Harder State of Mind”, they too would play a myriad of songs that have defined hardstyle for years, like “Twilight Zone”, and “Darkest Hour (The Clock)”. Unsurprisingly, “Spirit Of the Wolf” was played, but perhaps what was more surprising was that for many, the track sounded significantly better live, overcoming its initial mixed reaction at release. A remix of “Where You Are” by John Summit provided another ethereal moment, but the highlight of the set for me was definitely “Infinity”, the duo’s track with Sefa which just carries so much emotion in its melody that you can’t help but feel the energy, an energy that would soon be fully on display for the final set of the night.

But before that, it was time for more happy hardcore. As Villain said, and has said so many times before, the king was back.

Many view Darren Styles’ sound as one of the most mainstream in the scene. His poppy vocals and melodies have acted as a gateway for many into the genre in recent years, and for newcomers to the genre in the past few years it’s almost a rite of passage to add  “DLMD” and “Switch” into your first hardstyle playlist. As such, despite some viewing his songs as overplayed and overhyped, deep down I think his songs hold a special little place in a lot of our hearts. 

Daddy Styles opened with a remix of “Hardbeat Market” by Builder, a classic with a melody so timeless it could rejuvenate any crowd. “I follow rivers” soon followed, a song from Darren’s more recent catalogue. This would provide one of the most breathtaking laser displays of the night, with the illusion of walls of blue light illuminating Giants Stadium in a sight so breathtaking that no video could do justice. Throughout his set, Darren balanced the nostalgia of the classics with the anthems of today. Older tracks like “Better Off Alone” by Alice Deejay, and “Clarity” by Zedd were balanced by Darren’s iconic hits like “DLMD”, “Wonder” and “Quiver”. He even didn’t shy away from pulling from other genres, with a hardstyle rendition of “Rhyme Dust” by MK and Dom Dolla, one of the biggest House songs of the year. 

The king of happy hardcore is one of the best at balancing moments of excitement with emotional beats throughout his set, and this was perfectly on display during the emotional climax of the set, his remix of “Us Against the World” with one of the biggest electronic hits of the year, “Miracle” by Calvin Harris and Ellie Goulding. Everyone knows “Us Against the World” is almost certain to never leave his regular setlist, but to intertwine it with the euphoria of “Miracle” showed innovation and adaptation, proving once more why he’s known as the king.

For the final set of the night, Sefa decided to dress for the occasion. In a sea of black t-shirts, active wear, TN’s and bumbags, the 23 year-old Dutch DJ donned a Charcoal suit and,  accompanied by a live guitarist and violinist, was ready to end the night with a bang. I’m not sure if wearing a 3 piece suit to a rave on a 30 degree day is something I’d personally do, but Sefa is clearly more committed than I am.

Sefa took a page out of Darren’s book with his opener of  “You’re my angel”, but I doubt anyone’s ever heard a version of that song with a live violin. Such is Sefa’s eye for the extravagant; never afraid to revolutionise the definition of a hardstyle set and truly shake the paradigm. Track after track, Sefa delivered, with The Prophet’s “Wanna Play”,  Rooler’s “Domination”, “1527”, Sunset Bros’ “I’m Feeling It (In the Air)” and “Muzika” all getting plays. As “Domination” faded away, one of the hardest drops of the night was soon overpowered by the familiar tune of “Nothing Like the Oldschool”, again with a live violin. There is something so satisfying about the tranquillity of live instrumentation being replaced by a raw, in-your-face hardstyle kick, and it felt like every moment of beauty in Sefa’s set was soon juxtaposed with an instance of pure exhilaration. Just as D-Block & S-te-Fan closed their set with “Infinity”, as did Sefa, and honestly, who can blame them for doubling up. I’d been wanting to hear the track live since the moment the KO lineup was announced, and you won’t hear me complaining about hearing it twice. 

At the youthful age of 23, Sefa is primed to take over the Hardstyle scene for years to come. Don’t be surprised if the Dutch DJ is back in Australia soon, maybe even headlining another set just as big as this one. 

Sadly, it was time for the closing ceremony, to draw the curtains on a truly unforgettable night. “Spirit of the Wolf” was first up, with “Lost without you” coming after, with both songs appearing for the second time, but this time accompanied by an entourage of fireworks that lit up the Sydney sky.“Lose my mind” by Brennan Heart and Wildstylez would follow, a song that is becoming more and more of an anthem for the Hardstyle community as time goes on. Gammer’s “Believer” and a Dr Peacock and DJ Mad Dog remix of “Fade to Black” by Metallica would end the show. I really don’t know if words can do the closing show justice, but videos on TikTok or YouTube are probably the only way to begin to understand the scale of production on display. HSU went all out.

Hearing from others on social media and after the event, the energy in The Pit was electrifying, with one of the highlights early in the day being Aversion’s remix of “Activation” and “Too Cold” by Sickmode and Rooler, combining this year’s song of the moment with that from last year’s Knockout. It wouldn’t be the last time “Activation” got played. Funnily enough, Vertile was playing the song at almost the exact same time at the main stage, which was either precise planning or a ridiculous coincidence. Other highlights included Anderex and Mutilator’s “Neon Future” set, with “Twin Turbo” providing one of the loudest crowd moments you’ll ever see. Dimitri K of course was also a standout for those who would choose his set over the closing acts at the main stage. Hardstyle loyalists at The Oasis were also in for a treat, particularly in being transported back in time with Noisecontrollers’ Classics Set.

But the show didn’t end there. With HSU announcing an official afterparty the day after, and last-minute appearances from Sefa and Headhunterz, those partaking in the two-day bender were truly blessed, with an intimate setting surrounded by only the most devoted of fans.

The Knockout experience was different for everyone. A first rave and an introduction to an entire new world for some, and a final farewell to close a chapter for others. But undeniably, HSU provided not just the chance for a single day of enjoyment, but a chance for a whole weekend of escapism for all those who partook in this year’s spectacle. HSU now turns their attention to Epik, before HTID kicks off another potentially paradigm shifting year for the production company. Knockout may or may not be back next year, but if it is, the formula for success has already been laid out.


Written by Josh Lopez – an enthusiast of all things live music, regardless of genre

Whilst he is currently an Engineering student, Josh has a passion for writing and music, originally growing up with influences in Hip-Hop and R&B before falling into the rabbit holes of Hardstyle, Trance and Techno music. Josh is a part of, a university social club which hosts events for young adults where popular DJs like Coone, Anderex and Colin Hennerz have previously played.

  • Dec 01, 2023
  • Category: News
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