Ah day one of Hellfest. The air smells of infinite possibility. Maybe we’ll get to sleep with a rock star this year. Maybe we can avoid the mud that plagued the festival all weekend (We definitely couldn’t) maybe we will get so earth shatteringly drunk that we won’t remember inevitably throwing up all over EVERYTHING. Or maybe we’ll miss seeing a bunch of bands because we wanted to hang out with our friends. In all honesty – any of those options is pretty cool. Hellfest can be brutal, and there are worse ways to pass a weekend than drinking with people who have similar interests for three days. The artist VIP would be my home base and from there I would try and plot the greatest interview to shows attended balance I had ever come up with.
I started the weekend off immediately with Wo Fat. They are a band whose records have historically given me a bit of a hard time but whose live performances are critically lauded. I had never seen them live before (An increasing rarity for me) and was excited for their performance. Witnessing them melt the faces of the several thousand people who had gotten up early to see them was delicious. The band is so jam oriented that putting them on an album doesn’t really do justice to what they are capable of accomplishing. Live,it is a pleasure to watch them melt together to create something that is quite honestly transcendent and speaks to the enduring power of stoner rock. You get to chill out and delve deep into a world that is green tinted and in love with the pentatonic foundation of rock and roll.
As the band wrapped up I managed to catch them and lock down an interview. What was nice about this particular edition of Hellfest was that there weren’t quite many bands that I desperately wanted to see – and in many ways this was a good thing. Sure I had missed titans like Monolord earlier in the morning, but it also meant that I had a bit more time to chill out. Normally Hellfest can get a bit stressful with having to decide what bands I have to miss in order to do interviews, and while some of that happened this year, I was a lot more comfortable overall with my personal execution. Perhaps this is why I didn’t get as drunk as I usually do.
After interviewing Wo Fat and a pair of other groups, the time came for me to run off to see Havok, a band I’d never really been ‘in to’ but definitely was curious to witness in a live context. My curiosity more than paid off. There is a very distinct sort of magic that comes from watching a top notch thrash metal band melt the faces of ten thousand crazed people on a beautiful afternoon in a field in Franc. The only thing that could have made it better was if it was in an open air stage and not the tent. Even as is – Havok left me extremely impressed. The band play songs with massive meaty hooks and riffs upon riffs. In many ways it feels made for a festival stage. As they careened through their set it was impossible not to be charmed – this is a thrash metal band for the ages.
Up next for chaboi (Beyond more interviews) was Earth. In my opinion Earth have always been one of the most important and exciting bands in the world. They are the kind of band whose influence can not be overstated and who are such a force of nature live that to call them anything less would be an insult. Earth are the sort of band who, when playing to five thousand people, as they did at the Valley stage, are able to turn the entire crowd into a single unified being, enamored by the riff and enslaved to the almighty booming power that this sort of music can hold, especially over weak, broken spirits like us. With a slightly ridicuous faux-wolf tail dangling from the back of his pants, Dylan Carson sits proudly at the front of Earth, guitar perpendicular to the ground as he solos maniacally and shows us a path to freedom.
It was at this point that I found myself really starting to ride the wave. Hellfest is a delicate operation every year. You are operating on high amounts of alcohol, minimal amounts of sleep, and a maximum of things to do. It takes a few hours to really grab the bull by the horns and figure out what you are going to do with the creature. Yet with every Hellfest I have been to, while there certainly are ups and downs I’ve always been struck by an overall sense of magic realism. Weird little things happen at Hellfest, like when I got to introduce Jeff Pilson of Foreigner to Josh Elmore of Cattle Decapitation. It’s the little things that make it worth it and remind us why this festival is so goddamn great in the first place.
This was exactly why when it came time for me to watch the Melvins (Who I had had a great interview with earlier in the day) everything seemed to feel right. As always, the Melvins were absolutely stunning. Buzz Osborne’s philosophies shine through in the live show and they decimated the gathered masses at the Valley stage. Their live performance remains as decisively energetic and wonderfully weird as ever. The latest incarnation of the lineup – a three piece – utterly decimated in a live setting and reminded me why these guys have been hailed by so many for so long and why they have stuck around as long as they have. As a matter of fact, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that nowadays the Melvins are doing better than ever financially, and as anyone who has listened to their new record can tell you, musically as well.
Around this time my friends from Agoraphobic Nosebleed showed up and I got to play host. I’d like to take a moment to point out that the folks in Agoraphobic are some of the best people in the business. Asides from the fact that their band rules and half of them play in another kickass band, they are just very funny dudes. It’s weird when you meet people as low key as they who also play in bands as vicious as theirs, but in many ways it makes sense. Maybe I’m just writing this because I’m hung over and John Jarvis gave me a funny speech about our Words With Friends games, or maybe, just maybe, Agoraphobic Nosebleed are with their new material hinting at a bold future of grind.
So, with such a forward thinking band it made sense that we should go to see French prog icons Magma together. Playing in front of what may very well have been the biggest crowd of their 47 year career they unleashed some of the most stunning music I have ever seen, and I’ve watched them live before. After months of hard touring though Magma have reached a new peak. In the last twenty minutes of their set, the orchestra that is Magma crafted a massive crescendo, all directed by a seventy year old drummer who seemed just about ready to explode with his insane dedication and mind altering rhythms. This is a band who create sounds far heavier than any of their peers without using an ounce of distortion. They wrap you up in something monstrous and refuse to let you escape.
It was now that I hit one of the foundational problems of Hellfest – a problem I doubt they will ever be able to fix. I hoped to catch a little bit of Rammstein before running over to see Sunn 0))) for no other reason than that I know they have an amazing live show and I’ve never had a chance to see them. Yet, as I tried to snake through the crowd with a few friends, we rapidly hit a wall of bodies that simply could not be penetrated. In fact, we were a part of it. And we still couldn’t see. That’s what happens when you cram 40,000 people onto one space that small. It makes me wonder why people who aren’t VIP go to festivals at all. I’m not sure how you guys manage, but I admire your tenacity.
So since Rammstein was obviously not going to work out I decided to run over to see the almighty prophets of the riff in Sunn 0))) – another band I had never previously seen. I was a little surprised to see none of my industry buddies side stage at their show – but I didn’t especially care. I managed to find the perfect spot on stage – literally on the edge and mere feet away from the great men themselves. Their set was utterly mindblowing. Sure in many ways it’s just one extended chord – but the brain crushing power of their volume (As the stage shook I thought I would die under a pile of collapsed amplifiers) was transcendent. The deliberate nature of their movements, In conjunction with the robes and copious amounts of smoke made for a stage show that was as potent as it was minimalistic. It’s rare that I totally lose track of time during a set, but Sunn 0))) did exactly that and forced me to contemplate my place in the world.
Running around as the night came to an end (Finding a cab in Clisson after a day of festivalling is impossible for some STUPID reason) I found myself basking in the magic of Hellfest. Sure there was a lot of stress due to the cab situation – but at the same time I wouldn’t have it any other way. At one point, sitting with one of the most powerful women in metal we heard The Offspring play “Pretty Fly For A White Guy” and all I could think was, ‘Didn’t Weird Al write this?’ and the absurdity of the situation struck me. Here we are, thousands of gathered metalheads for what? An evening that culminates in going to bed at 5 AM with one of the most popular songs of the 90s stuck in my head.