Far away up in the north of Germany a small town called Wacken transforms every summer into The Holy Wacken Land, better known as Wacken Open Air (W:O:A) festival. It is a home for over 75.000 devoted metal heads from all over the world having a blast for four days in a row. W:O:A became the biggest metal festival of Europe, founded twenty six years ago back in 1990 by Thomas Jensen and Holger Hübner. The reason to do it according to Thomas:
,,We were fans. We wanted a festival, but there was no festival. Everybody said you can’t have a festival, but we wanted it and so we decided to organize one. How we did it? We were totally naïve. We knew nothing and festivals like Dynamo Open Air in The Netherlands, Roskilde Festival in Denmark, Hultsfredsfestivalen in Sweden and Monsters Of Rock were a big inspiration for us at the time. We took all the components, we didn’t know what we were doing but we just started.’’
The road hasn’t been easy for Thomas and Holger, but W:O:A survived and became more than just a festival, it is a land of its own (size of the festival area is 240 ha and size of the festival infield is 43.000 qm) and with an impressive infrastructure plus all in all 5.000 employees are working their ass off to make it all happen. About the success factor of W:O:A Thomas says: ,,The festival had the chance to grow and the fans made what W:O:A is today. The fans helped us and inspired us along the way. They carried us through difficult years. The enthusiasm and the spirit of the fans drive the whole team. They keep motivating us. We call them `The Orga’. We have to do what they tell us, that’s basically it. There were many mistakes and it might sound like a business advice, but you need to make mistakes to learn. Try things and don’t be too careful, because the more you learn the more you can deal with little fuck ups.’’
Fans as well as musicians, journalists, promoters and V.I.P., they all feel right at home at W:O:A. There is plenty of food and drinks available (a lot of local products), great music and a harmonious and brotherly vibe. Besides the festival and camping area, including seven stages and a variety of fun spots (movie field, metal market, beer garden, soccer field, art hall, and more), there is an artist village and a backstage area including a press office, of course only accessible if you have the right pass and wristband. Not to mention the traffic of trucks, all-terrain vehicles, forklifts, shuttle cars, quad bikes, scooters and bikes backstage to transport the artists, employees and supplies from A to B. Imagine all the work that needs to be done behind the scenes. Did it turn Thomas into a businessman or is he still that passionate metal head he was when he started this journey? ,,I try to avoid to become a real businessman and besides I am too messed up to be one. I try to surround myself with people who can take care of the business side as much as possible. Our bookkeeper keeps Holger and me on track when we go too enthusiastic and too over the top. But we still like to try new things, investigate the possibilities of this heavy metal playground, the way we did in the early days but from a different angel. If we all are too careful and do what we always do the world is not moving to the right direction I think. You have to go different ways and think out of the box to move forward. You need a bit of chaos to do what we do. Of course we can’t please everybody but we are trying to listen to the fans and bands and what they want and we do our very best to make it happen. It’s not always possible or it doesn’t work out like expected but they are always so grateful and give us the chance to explain. And that is not really common these days.’’
With hundred and twenty bands booked, among them are Europe, Opeth, Queensrÿche, Sepultura, Cradle Of Filth, Annihilator, Within Temptation, U.D.O., Dream Theater, In Flames, Judas Priest, Rob Zombie and Sabaton, and a special performance of Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO) and the one time reunion of Savatage, this 2015 edition of W:O:A supposed to be a success. And it was, except the fact the continuous heavy rain showers the first two days turned the festival area into an impassable sea of mud. Though it didn’t stop the fans to enjoy the performance of their metal heroes till the max, start a mud fight or sliding mosh pit, but for the crew and organization backstage it was a little nightmare. Rain boots were sold out in town in no time, it became a necessary fashion statement also for many artists and we even spotted Motörhead drummer Mikkey Dee with an old fashioned green pair. How does Thomas feel about this weather party pooper? ,,The crew has been unbelievable working, try to do their best like every year. But this time it’s hard because of the rain and mud. But the whole vibe is still good and everybody is fighting to make it work. In general there is always a lot that can be improved, especially when you have bad weather. Now it is so difficult to get the basics working. But we don’t want to complain, we are still keep on rolling.’’
Looking back at twenty six years of W:O:A this is what Thomas considers as his personal highlights: ,, A lot of little things, like meeting people, seeing finally bands I bought on vinyl when I was young, like Rose Tattoo. I am an all time Rose Tattoo fan. The first time we had Motörhead in 1997, because they are presenting the whole spirit, the lifestyle, and the attitude. Motörhead is always a bit `fuck you, I do it anyway’ and that is the kind of the spirit we have. And the reunion of Savatage for W:O:A 2015 together with the TSO performance. Regrets? No. Sometimes I get a bit mad at people if they are in my face and I can go a bit crazy as well but then you have to say sorry I have been overreacting a bit.’’
A tricky question for Thomas to answer is to point out the best W:O:A edition so far because for him every year is special: ,,Always the one we just do although this is going to be a hard task to make this one into the best edition. I enjoyed last year really. I was a bit scared, twenty fifth edition, it’s a big number, although lets face it, it’s only a number. Although Death Angel and Iced Earth were confirmed for last year but had to cancel their summer shows which was a bit sad, last year the vibe was really good, the weather was great so last year was really special. But actually many editions were great, like 2000 when my all time favourite band Rose Tattoo played. I had to put my sunglasses on because I started to cry a bit.’’
Having already so many bands on the payroll, which band is still on the wish list? ,,Metallica, like everybody else I guess. We also want Iron Maiden back. That would be awesome. And of course all our old friends, like Lemmy with Motörhead. Europe did a great show this year and I definitely want them back. And this young band Kryptos from India, who are on tour with Death Angel, played here a couple of times. They are so enthusiastic, so passionate and they are so into their music, they love it. For that matter the metal scene is totally open now and I like it. In the eighties and nineties we were more restricted, thinking in terms of football; our corner, our team. Young people are really getting it these days. Like this guitarist of Kryptos, he was watching Jon Norum playing with Europe the other day. He is a thrash metal guitarist but he loved it, he loves the spirit and the musicianship.’’
Festivals have been popping up like mushrooms the last couple of years. Bands go out on the road just for a festival summer tour or organize their own event. We can go rocking on a cruise, head bang in the mountains or at tropical location these days. The competition seems getting bigger but Thomas doesn’t worry about it at all. ,,We do like festivals. And if you like heavy metal and if you are in the music business you know to keep the scene really alive there need to be possibilities where bands can play. You can’t have the music without the bands so bands need places where they can play. Festivals also have to do something for young bands, for the underground scene. We organize The Metal Battle and of course other festivals can do it on another level. Don’t look only at the top, at the headliners. I think we have to do something for bands in general. In The Netherlands the club scene is really vibrant and that is great because music should be fun. You don’t have to be a superstar, the fact you play music is good already. If you do it for the money, you’d better get a day job.’’
W:O:A being the biggest European metal festival, does it need to grow bigger? Knowing there is already about 3.500 cubic meter garbage per day, 1.500 trucks with material, 4 km of power cable and 6 km flexible power lines and 280 distribution boxes, 800 toilets, 448 shower containers and 420 drinking water areas, just to name a few facts. ,,Do we want that? On one hand I would love to because I hate it when I read on Internet or by actual letters I receive, that people can’t get a ticket anymore. On the other hand we want to keep this spirit and this structure like it is right now and some people already think W:O:A became too big. Growing bigger and bigger is something you have to be careful with. We really have to look into it.’’
Of course with success come a lot of friends but also enemies. ,,We are not scared. We are stubborn and we are not going away! Hahaha. I think, and that counts for this whole industry, we have to treat the fans and the musicians well. We always have to keep that in mind. There is no concert without music and without fans it is really boring.’’
Being at the head of the table W:O:A is a 24 hour job, a passion, a lifestyle, but is it 24 hours heavy metal music for Thomas? ,,No. I do like a lot of old school punk rock. I also like blues rock a lot, old shit, country, rock music and I would like to go to the opera. Music is a big part of my life. I read a lot of biographies, watch good music documentaries also about the music era from the 50ths. I love that because my dad was a big rock ‘n roll fan.’’
We can conclude Thomas together with his partner and crew still has the true metal spirit. Despite of the weather W:O:A edition 2015 has been a great experience. TSO/Savatage delivered an amazing and unique show, Europe sounded as a true classic rock band and placed themselves right back at the top. Former Scorpions guitarist Uli Jon Roth and his band demanded respect for his outstanding performance and of course it was impossible to watch all the bands because of the sheer size of the area. W:O:A also is the festival where artists go the extra mile in originality. U.D.O. played a show with the Bundeswehr Musikkorps, there was Rock Meets Classic, a concept of German musicians, handpicked by bass player Mat Sinner, legendary voices of rock, Michael Kiske, Marc Storace, Joe Lynn Turner and Dee Snider, meeting a symphonic orchestra together going through some of their biggest hits and other classic rock songs.
DID YOU KNOW?
From the several press conferences that were held in the press area we learned:
Europe announced their show will be filmed for a live-dvd and will be released as bonus for a special tour edition of their latest studio-album `War Of Kings’.
Metal veteran Udo Dirkschneider announced the U.D.O.-Farewell To Accept tour in 2016! Meaning during this tour he will only showcase songs from the Udo era of the band. Udo comment to the news: ,,I still love singing these songs live. The songs are still an important part of my catalogue and still suit my voice very well. But at some point in your life, it´s just time to close the chapter. There has been so much talk and speculation about Accept, so I just want to give my last definitive musical statement about it and give my fans a chance to see me perform a complete concert of these songs one last time on stage.’’ The sixty-two year-old singer mentioned also he will not retire. He will work on a new U.D.O. album soon.
Trans Siberian Orchestra announced the release of a brand new album end of October called ‘Letters From The Labyrinth’ from which they already debuted a few songs at Wacken including ,,Madness Of Man’’, ,,Prometheus’’,,,Night Conceives'' and ,,King Rurik''.
Mikkey Dee, drummer of Motörhead revealed the first artist on new label Motörhead Music being the young band No Words featuring fourteen-year-old guitarist Nik Kai.
WINNER W:O:A METAL BATTLE
The competition took place for the eleventh time this year and more than forty countries joined the competition. Countries like Canada, Mexico, South Africa, the Middle East, Bulgaria, China, Japan (just to name a few) entered this worldwide network to figure out one band that represents their local scene at the international final round at the W:O:A. This year’s winner: Vesperia from Canada.
The Wacken-Foundation is a non-profit foundation, which dedicates itself to the support of hard rock and heavy metal music. Basically every artist and every band from the heavy metal scene can be supported by the Wacken-Foundation. The entire assets of the foundation are solely used to support artists from the metal scene.
AT THE LAST DAY OF THE FESTIVAL THE ORGANIZATION REVEALED THE FIRST NAMES OF BANDS THAT WILL PLAY AT W:O:A 2016
Blind Guardian, Ministry, Steel Panther, Eluveitie, Dragonforce, Callejon, Axel Rudi Pell, Legions Of The Damned, Orden Ogan, Unisonic, Orphaned Land, Borknagar, Therion, Pyogenesis, Henry Rollins (spoken word), Kylesa, Eskimo Callboy.
WACKEN OPEN AIR 2015 OUTRO
See you all in August 2016 – rain or shine!