Hellfest 2014. One of the biggest heavy metal festivals of all time. This year there would be such greats playing as Iron Maiden, Slayer, Carcass, and Black Sabbath. Suffice to say, the French metal scene was aflutter with anticipation for months before the fest. They were preparing what was surely to be the greatest heavy metal event the nation had ever seen. I was lucky enough to work for the festival, this along with my previous work with my heavy metal blog gave me an incredible level of access. I decided to take this intimate knowledge of the festival to divulge a story about Hellfest, not just another review.
Thursday, my friend Dennis from Sweden had stayed at my house the night before, we went to the station where we agreed to meet my friend Mike who had recently arrived from Texas and his new acquaintance Tai from Vancouver. Already, you get a sense for the very international nature of this festival. While the majority of festival goers were French, at least 50% of the crowds came from different nations and English was the predominant language. On top of that, I barely knew my travelling companions, having met all but one for the first time that week. Things were going to be insane, no matter what we did. We get in the train, France’s famous TGV, as we got closer to the sacred land of Clisson (Where Hellfest takes place) we gradually saw more and more metalheads in the train. This culminated in a jam packed regional train to the festival crammed with thousands of fans screaming as we roared down the tracks, ever closer to that sacred earth. On the TGV we made friends with a pair of older American couples who traded us liquor for food and water. Who knew that buying baguettes and Evian would one day help get me drunk? Reality was already starting to fade away. As my friend Tai put it, “This is what I love about metal, we’re one big, retarded, screwed up family”.
Finally, after a long walk from the station to the actual site (Put some signs up next year!) it was time to find our camp spots. As a volunteer, it took me an especially long time to figure out where I needed to be. I did however find a case of free beer, so the weekend was off to an incredible start. As I marched about trying to find my designated camping spot and plowing my way through a six pack I realized that this weekend may very well kill me. As long as I saw Sabbath first I knew it would be okay. So I continued my search for a campground before finally setting up next to my new friends Gerard and Gerome, the only people for about a hundred yards, they seemed nice enough. It certainly seemed like an ideal campsite. As a disclaimer, after this point things started to go mad, Hunter S Thompson style mad, alcohol took over my life, and walking in a straight line was but a fading memory.
After finally setting up my tent I head on down to the main campground and joined up with my drinking buddies, we leave for the vaunted ‘Metal Corner’ a camper hangout on the grounds filled to the brim with bars, places to eat, and general partying. One highlight of the early part of my evening was the discovery that you could actually purchase beer in 3 pint jugs for cheaper than buying just standard pints. This would soon lead to an alcoholocaust of the likes of which I had never before experienced. Night fell on Hellfest and the fans started to scream in anticipation, a mighty roar going up after every pint. I sat there with my friends as we realized we were on the brink of the best weekend of our lives.
As the night got colder we wandered over to the main campsite, fully ready to get trashed in anticipation of the festival. As I wandered around the campsite I bumped into a variety of French metal buddies, all of whom were excited and ready for the weekend to come. I had never felt a stronger bond with my French metal brethren, we were sitting on the brink of a weekend that would change all of our lives and we knew it. Towards one in the morning I went on a extended walk with my good friend James from the rising French death metal band Geostygma (Somebody book those guys!). As we talked about the future and the possible ways forward after my impending move to America it felt as if we were on the brink of something new, exciting and maybe a little sad. We started down a brave new world which we would start to embrace this weekend.
By three in the morning I’m wrecked, I know I need to get back to my tent, and as I wander I start to contemplate this festival as a landmark event in my life. Away from home and finished high school, this is the closest thing I would ever have to a graduation trip, and there was a clear significance for this weekend as a coming of age ceremony. Maybe I haven’t gone to Cancun with high school girls like my peers, but I certainly have made friends with random Scandinavians in a campsite of 40,000 people. Stumbling out of the campground I bumped into my friend Willem, a guy who I had spoken to online for years and had very much anticipated meeting at Hellfest. Of course, I could barely walk at this point and our first conversation was simply limited to me using my crew pass to help open a few doors for him to be able to access the campsite. (Seriously, why did none of the security guards speak English?) This reflects the strange ability of Hellfest to bring fans together, from across the globe, seemingly by accident. It’s my first taste of the incredible magic of this festival. After some searching I crash in my tent and pass out. Hell is coming.
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