While people from all over the world flock over to Belgium for one of the biggest and most popular festivals of electronic music – Tomorrowland – I was counting down the days until I could leave for a little German town in the northwest of Germany. A little more than 100 km south of the border with Denmark lays a village called Wacken. A name that will sound familiar to most metalheads as it is the home of the biggest heavy metal festival in the world. Each year many cows need to find different accommodation for a few days as about 80.000 metalheads take over the fields of the 1.800 villagers.
After five past visits I was tempted to head over again for the festival’s 25th anniversary edition. I had to book my ticket with Belgium’s official Wacken Travel partner as the festival was sold out in less than 48 hours. In the meantime the 2015 edition has already sold out for the 10th year in a row in a record speed of 12 hours! So unless you can book a ticket through an official travel agency, you might want to plan ahead for 2016… But let’s first see how I experienced this year’s edition.
All pictures with courtesy of Grimm Gent
To get you warm for the reports of the many shows I first provide you with a sketch of the many things going on at Wacken Open Air. Just like Graspop Metal Meeting, the first day is actually a warm up day, without any big names. However, we wouldn’t be talking about the biggest metal festival in the world if there would not be sufficient entertainment. The first day two smaller stages, the WET stage and Headbanger’s stage, are filled with bands from all over the world competing as their countries’ finalists in the Wacken Metal Battle. Because the Belgium bus company chooses to leave early Wednesday morning in order to arrive in the early evening at the camping grounds, I missed the representatives from Greece. Be sure to check out your countrymen KIN BENEATH CHORUS‘ Facebook and music when you have the chance!
Happy to stretch my legs after 10-12 hours of bus (luckily accompanied with constant metal music and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of Belgian beer) I head off to find a spot on the camping ground. As it is divided into zones covering the whole alphabet and they chose to give names to different roads, you can imagine it’s quite big. Take a look at an older picture to get an idea about the insane size. We decided to set up camp in the middle of a zone reserved for Icelanders, Norwegians, Danes and people from the Faroese islands. These northerners proved entertaining company for the whole weekend. This is also part of Wacken Open Air: the opportunity to meet metalheads from all over the world (even South-America and Asia) and fraternize headbanging and chugging liters of beer.
Wacken camping 2008. (C) www.heavy-metal-rock.co.uk
There was no need to worry about the fact I missed a lot of bands during this warm-up day, since there was enough other entertainment to fill the first evening. Germany doesn’t only have a huge metal scene, it is also home to what they would call ‘Mittelalter’ music. Translated this basically comes down to Medieval-inspired rock, metal or folk. Most of these bands have lyrics in German and as a folk metal fan who understands some German I can definitely appreciate it. One of my favorite bands in the genre, FAUN, was performing by the time we arrived at the Wackinger stage. So watching some folk while drinking mead, the beverage of the Vikings that appears regularly in Norse mythology, my pagan heart is in a happy place.
The Wackinger area is a fantasy area where you can see knights and Vikings living and re-enacting battles the whole weekend. All of the things going on here are just some of the many things you can experience at Wacken Open Air besides live music performances. You can find cooking classes, a pole sitting competition, a swimming pool in the village, a place to smoke waterpipe/narghile/hookah, axe throwing, archery, wood crafting, live metal karaoke, experience torture devices, … and probably so much more.
And then there is all the merchandise and memorabilia of the big Wacken franchise you can collect. Every visitor receives a ‘full metal bag’, filled with all kinds of thingies. For the collectors there is the annual Wacken patch, sticker and magnet. More practical stuff included a rain poncho, water bottle, ear plugs, condom… All with the symbol of a bullhead on it, the official Wacken logo. In case of the condom Wacken’s motto “Harder, Faster, Louder” gets a whole new meaning. If the free stuff is not enough, people can open up their wallets to buy Wacken tents, sun glasses, dildos and so much more. Wacken is the only festival I know that sells more merchandise of the festival itself than of the bands performing.
Each year Wacken showcases some heavy metal artworks
Many foods get a special ‘metal name”, here are some Thai noodles for you
Every time I visit Wacken Open Air I make sure to watch at least one performance of Rainer Limpinsel, better known under his stage name MAMBO KURT. The story goes this guy was playing his organ on the campsite several years ago and became so popular the organization decided to put him on a large stage for all to see. Whether are not this is true MAMBO KURT is one of Wacken’s classics. Classic metal and rock tracks like Slayer’s “South of Heaven” or Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” are altered to a Bossa Nova, Samba or Polka version. I believe he is the only person at the festival that can get away with playing an organ-version of Robbie Williams “Angels” or get so many metalheads dancing on the classic Tetris tune. MAMBO KURT is just plain fun on a first night.
Another reason to love the Wackinger Area is the fact that it offers the best food of the festival. While the main festival area sells the traditional festival foods like hamburgers, pizzas, fries, Asian noodles or hot dogs (in Germany replaced by their tastier ‘bratwurst’), the Wackinger offers some authentic meals, baked in front of your eyes. Tasty garlic breads, wild boar straight from the spit, freshly baked bread … all of these things make it worthwhile to make a little detour if you are hungry. While wandering around we stumbled upon a band of pirates called YE BANISHED PRIVATEERS, playing acoustic and unplugged next to the Viking longboat that sells mead.
Yes, you better read that again. Wacken has a Viking longboat on which they sell mead…
YE BANISHED PRIVATEERS bring catchy folk songs and sea shanties. Because they were playing off stage it felt much more like a friendly gathering than a live concert and people were dancing and singing along with the band of pirates. I learned they would be playing several other times at some of the stages over the weekend and was determined to check them out on a stage.
Once a day all the fire artists living in the Wackinger area gather to perform a longer and bigger show and because it was the calmest night of the festival I got a good spot to watch. Accompanied by music of Nightwish, Apocalyptica and several others I was treated on an amazing and spectacular show. After one last mead we moved over to the camping grounds to fraternize with our northern friends and get a good night sleep before the first official day tomorrow.
I hope you got a good idea of the atmosphere and entertainment the biggest metal festival in the world provides. Stay tuned for my report of the first official festival day and reviews of some of the many bands playing!
Beer stands can be found everywhere so no need to be thirsty!