For 30 years now metal heads from all over the world travel annually to Wacken, this little town up in the north of Germany, to celebrate Heavy Metal. The two friends Thomas Jensen and Holger Hübner organized the first edition of Wacken Open Air in 1990, having 6 bands on the bill. Since then the duo got on a nonstop roller-coaster, facing exciting challenges, many ups and some downs, but they believed in their mission and made their Wacken Open Air become one of world wide’s leading metal festivals, being a complete metal life style experience, welcoming the biggest metal gods as well as runner up talents and about 85.000 visitors on their Holy Grounds.
Thomas [L] and Holger [R] - Photo credit: Pep Bonet
Unfortunately because of the COVID-19 pandemic the planned W.O.A. festival can’t take place this year and suddenly Thomas and Holger (and their entire team) were facing a brand new challenge, an unfamiliar territory to be able to celebrate Heavy Metal. It didn’t scare them off, instead they got creative and innovative and in a short amount of time they came up with a unique alternative: The digital streaming festival Wacken World Wide that will take place in the originally scheduled festival period from July 29 to August 1, 2020, completely independently of the actual W:O:A festival. This special event is live and available for free online and via app on wacken-world-wide.com, MagentaMusik 360 and MagentaTV. The line-up of this unique event features concerts by Blind Guardian, Sabaton, Heaven Shall Burn, Kreator, Mister Misery, Beyond The Black, Trivium, Doro, to name a few, as well as interviews, live shows from the archive, Wacken Foundation and much more.
A week before this unique event I was exclusively invited for the online video conference The Round Table with co-founder Thomas Jensen to ask few questions about the ins and outs of Wacken World Wide. Since many other summer festivals had to be cancelled, Thomas starts off by saying he’d never expected something like this to happen.
,,After we went through the trail of tears depression, anger and freaking out, we thought “what can we do?”, and let’s look at the options we have. Together with our partner Telecom we had the opportunity to set up an event, that I think is going to be huge. We’re probably not be able to bring all the ideas we are having to life in this first edition but it’s already mind-blowing what’s going on. We will have real live shows and live shows that I believe can be compared to what we’ve been doing for 30 years in Wacken on the field of the Holy Grounds. So we will have some huge shows and we are extremely proud that we can do this at the very last minute because travel restrictions went down a little bit and therefor we can bring in international acts like Sabaton from Sweden. I am looking forward to if they can top their double stage performance and I know they are aiming to do so on a virtual mix reality. We try to bring in up to date technique, a real metal show with real amplifiers and a real crew that’s working behind the scene with sound, light, everything. We are extremely proud and it shows again how loyal the metal scene is because when we reached out to a lot of the artists, all our long-time friends, like Blind Guardian who are regular visiting us since 1992, now that we are in deep shit, one phone call and they are there. The same goes for Kreator and it is really great that they support us with every fuckin’ idea we’re having [laughing]. And also a big thank you to all the media and people who have supporting us with this new concept. It is exciting and we know it is on a short notice but…. what can we do?’’
How did you manage to pull this off in such a short time, something that normally would take months and months of preparation?
,,I must say it all comes down to the entire team and therefor a big shout out from my side. Holger and myself would not have be able to do this if we wouldn’t have all these brothers in arms, such a great crew, who are passionate doing nightshifts and getting their head around problems 24/7. We also have our great partners. The philosophy of Wacken is always that we try to be very loyal to everybody involved, our suppliers, our crew, our artists. Sometimes we get criticized we always have the same bands, but we love them, it’s like a family and the same goes with our partners and it all comes down to the people and the personal relationships. We reached out to our partner Telecom who are broadcasting our festival since a couple of years, and we feel very lucky they have confidence in us and the other way around, what makes it possible to pull this off in such a short time, to create something that I hope would push the boundaries a little bit for the future. I must say a lot of the crazy ideas have been floating around since a while. Like I said, we won’t be able to bring everything to life of what we’ve been thinking about but I think for a first step it looks really promising, I can assure you. I saw a demonstration and let’s see what the bands do. We’re interested in everything where we can go with metal and concerts and I hope we prove that this week.’’
What can you say about the technical aspect because it needs to be solid as a rock and you don’t want to break the Internet as well when you go live?
,,Yeah, it works, trust me. We have this what we call XR studio, with lots of LED screens and camera’s that are connected to computers that track everything. We use the newest technology that’s been used in major Hollywood film productions, so we are very, very proud of it, all these gadgets and gimmicks [laughing]. It is a little bit like James Bond, we don’t know what happens when we press the button [laughing]. Telecom is confident the Internet won’t break and if it happens just for 5 seconds it will be okay. Like with any other normal festival there will be a running order with time settings and you can choose what you want to watch. There also will be different time settings, a repeat, because we are aware of the different time zones our fans are living in. There are different options to watch; via app on wacken-world-wide.com, MagentaMusik 360 and MagentaTV. Unfortunately for the German TV stations that are usually our partners this was on a too short notice, but let’s see what happens in the future.’’
Are all these bands playing in their home countries and you are adding things to the show, how does it work?
,,The bands that are playing on the XR stage are physically in a secret studio somewhere, which is not in Wacken. So the big shout out is there’s no need to travel to Wacken in the Wacken festival week because we keep the Holy Grounds clean. The secret studio has a huge stage, a scene where you have a lot of LED screens around the musicians, the whole floor is LED screens and we can beam in fans from everywhere on the planet so the bands will be able to interact with the audience. It’s a real show that will be recorded, other than that we also have a few real live shows at secret places around the globe, but the XR stage bands are Sabaton, Blind Guardian, Heaven Shall Burn, In Extremo, Beyond The Black, Hämatom and Kreator. They are performing a real show just like they would have done it in Wacken. The bands are coming up with ideas how they can use the technology for the best of their artistic outcome. A lot of the things that will happen even I don’t know and so we are extremely proud we can do this. At first it looked like we couldn’t have a lot of international acts but now we got also Body Count confirmed, that will be a real show. We think it is extremely important to show how loyal the metal scene is and we want to have performances from all over the planet. Our motto is: If you can’t come to Wacken, Wacken is coming to you. We realise because of the current situation in the world, things can change within 24 hours or even any minute, but I have already heard from fans over the world they are very pleased with this event because people are in lockdown and there is absolutely nothing to do for them.’’
Thomas [photo by Lilo]
How exactly do you bring the fans into the live streaming, which is one of the main concerns with streaming concerts mostly being a one-way communication? Where fans can’t show their support by screaming or head banging.
,,There will be a lot of possibilities where fans can participate. We are setting up a few Peer, fan cams where we are streaming reactions or where they film themselves and then send it to us. We are getting feedback from all over the world. We especially have been reaching out to our Metal Battle partners around the globe. We are doing something for the Metal Battle as well, bringing new comers, best offs and interviews and I think we will have some chats going on with possibilities to interact. We for sure are also developing ideas how to connect more with people in the near future, because we want metal, we want live, we want connection.’’
If this works out, will you use it in the future even when the real Wacken festival comes back?
,,This event gives us the opportunity to push the boundaries, there are no limits with time and space, or whatever. We can do it. To us it was extremely important to do this first edition absolutely for free because a lot of our fans are in deep shit economically, people are loosing their jobs, it is an unsecure future and we really appreciate it they are still putting their trust into us that we will bring them a great festival in 2021. Nobody knows how next year will look like, but we are planning W:O:A 2021 and hope for the best. The crisis is not over and we have to come up with creativity and we have to stick together but we definitely will use what we are learning now. I appreciate online shows where you have to buy a ticket because it is a great way for bands to have at least a little income. I don’t know if we can do Wacken World Wide for free the next ten years and we have a few ideas we have to discuss, but for now let’s keep it simple and let’s give the scene something back. It’s important the whole metal community can join this first edition without any limitations.’’
Is the available exclusive merchandise line a way for the fans to support this years event financially?
,,As we are getting older now , we realise it is really a gift that the people are putting us in the position that we can do something like this. But we wouldn’t be Wacken without merchandise [laughing]. The crew came up with some really good items. Beside the t-shirts you can buy a ticket and a lot of people are into wristbands so we have that as well. They both cost 4,90 euro each and buying those items would really support us because a lot of the profit will help people keeping their jobs. But to us it is important that you don’t have to buy merchandise to be able to join Wacken World Wide. Though of course we really appreciate it if fans will buy some merchandise [buy merchandise here].''
Wacken World Wide online: