Monday, June 20, 2016


Arriving at Hellfest is like checking in at a busy hotel. There is such a swarm of people and enormous amounts of staff attending to the arriving “artistes”. This is certainly a whole other ball game to the more intimate, personal DIY fests we normally play. With things being the way they have been today though, I’m very thankful for the professionalism and efficiency behind this huge production.

We only have about an hour until we play, so with that being the case, our personal welcoming committee, a pleasant chap who would fit in just as well at the concierge of the Hilton Hotel as he would Hellfest, gives us our passes and food tickets before showing us to our dressing room and then to the towel area. They have a guy working on the towel station backstage, each member of each band gets one stage towel and one shower towel, all have to be signed for and returned. As Jon points out though, the amount of bands on this fucking thing, and all those towels, it adds up to a bit when you think about it.

We drop our bags in the dressing room, take what we need and then wait for a shuttle bus to drive us over to our stage, the Warzone stage. Our friend Arvid meets us at the stage. He’s doing front of house sound for us today and he’s also been very helpful in getting some guitars and extras sorted for us at the last minute. He’s here doing Entombed AD’s, not the real Entombed, sound so is doing us as a bonus job. The stage crew working the show today are the epitome of efficiency too, although with that very friendly. That unfortunately isn’t always the case at festivals of this size. This one particularly happy chap has sorted us three guitars and he’s very happy to bring them to us and is eager to make sure we’re all good. They even have a drum set ready to go, cymbals and all, all set of to the side of the big stage. With not much else to do, we watch the latter half of All Pigs Must Die’s set, drinking Red Bull from the side stage room. It’s been a long time since I drunk that piss but today it’s needed. I drink two. Johan had also provided us with nutrition bars in the van earlier as Jon was changing clothes in the back seat, struggling with his tight jeans and cursing his choice of music career, lamenting over the fact that if he’d been a hip-hopper he could have worn baggier clothes.

The sun is shining, for now, and there are a lot of people watching All Pigs Must Die. The stage area here is built and decked out as an old fortress, they put a lot of work into the esthetic of this festival, it’s very unique in that sense. When the guys are done the field rapidly empties as everyone pisses off to another band on another stage somewhere. It’s a weird feeling setting up and soundchecking on a huge stage in front of a huge, empty field. Brian, our friend from Trap Them who is now playing in Pigs comes over to greet us, and he tells Jon he’s happy to lend him his guitar. The Kvelertak guys are also here and they’re equally as happy to help out, so I borrow a backup guitar Vidar. As we’re soundchecking you can hear the band on the next stage pretty loudly, it’s kind of off putting. Even more so the fact that they seems to be playing nothing but covers. At first I thought it was just the PA, Rock n’ Roll by Led Zepplin chugging along, but then when a stomach turning version of Smells Like Teen Spirit comes next, to the roar of a very satisfied crowd, I really begin to wonder what the fuck is going on. Fucking pub band playing next door and everyone seems to love it.

There aren’t a whole load of people here as Arvid starts up the intro track that Andy has sorted out. And it sounds a little weird on stage, always does on these huge joints, sound swirls around a bit depending on where you’re stood, and since I’m never stood still it makes it a bit difficult for me to get any kind of grip on the songs. The area fills up as we get a few songs in though and by the end of the gig there are a good couple of thousand watching and some mosh pits going off. But for some reason, I just don’t feel it. The buzz simply isn’t there, and by halfway through the set I’m looking forward to the end.  Last time we played here it was in a big tent and the atmosphere was amazing, today felt like a bit of an anti-climax although I have no idea what the audience's perception is, this is purely how I feel.  I guess it has a lot to do with the fact that we’ve pretty much come straight from the plane and I haven’t had time to get my head together before it’s time to play. And my head is still feeling the pressure of the plane, hasn’t quite let go yet. Or maybe it’s a hangover. And then playing on unfamiliar gear on top of that… It feels to me that we do a professional job, pretty standard, but nothing more than that. Brian who has been stood side stage watching us the whole time reckons it was good, but I’m not that enthused. I’m kind of just happy it’s done and we made it here. As I’m packing up the gear I hear some English accent shouting my name and when I turn around there is some old metaller guy waving at me and calling, I recognise him from somewhere, somewhere from the blurry past of Raging Speedhorn I’m sure. I shout a bit of a conversation with him as I’m packing up, trying my best to act like I know who he is.

Once we’re packed down and cooled off we head back over to the backstage area and chill out in the little dressing room for a while. There is a bottle of Hellfest wine on the table and Jon is eager to crack it open. We sit around with Arvid and sup on that for a while whilst trying to send off an email to the baggage company to make a claim for our gear. But the server seems to have crashed and the mail won’t go through, I’m sure they’ve got a lot of correspondance to get through today. We give up and head over to the catering hall and have a beer outside by the bar before heading in for food. I bump into a very old face on the way, one I haven’t seen for years. Paul Ryan, who was the original guitarist in Cradle of Filth and played bass in Enmity, who were out with Speedhorn on the second tour we ever did, playing to an average of twenty people a night. He then became an agent and was booking us for a while. He's’ now the top boy at The Agency Group in the UK. It’s weird talking to him, we’re obviously living in two completely different worlds nowadays.

The Turbonegro guys walk through, all dressed up as they do. It’s weird seeing my old mate Tony Sylvester dressed up in makeup and hot pants, now singing with them. Dream come true for him, he was always a huge fan. I say friend, but I guess Tony is more of an acquaintance. We hung out for a while when Dukes of Nothing played some shows with Speedhorn, and nowadays we see each other on social media but have no contact. He doesn’t spot me as he walks past with the entourage anyway.

The local beer they have here is really good, fruity and crisp, somewhere between an ale and a pilsner. It does the job perfectly, gives me an appetite for dinner. We head into the big dining hall and browse through the huge selection of buffet foods. There isn’t a whole lot of vegetarian options though, I scrape together some couscous and vegetables, a bit of hot sauce saving the day. It’s a great production they put on here though, I have to say. Large round tables, loads of food, bottle of wine to each table. Fucking luxury.

After dinner Arvid calls the luggage company for us, being brought up in France he knows the lingo and we’re hoping he can sort us out but they just tell us to write an email.. Marvelous. We’ll simply have to hope for the best at the airport in Nantes tomorrow before we fly to Paris. With fuck all else to do, we start to drink. The Kvelertak guys are hanging out with us, really nice people, although I have a hard time understanding the Norwegian accent. They seem to really like Victims for some reason, it’s funny. They played with us on their first ever tour at a Converge show in Hamburg and we’ve kept a bit of contact since. For all their success, they are still a very humble bunch of guys. We mull around for a while, drinking small glasses of beer, invariably eating cheese and crackers from the cold buffet, talking with different people like the Converge guys, but I feel myself just getting more tired with every beer when what I’m actually aiming for is to get a bit of a buzz. It’s just not happening tonight. And the constantly changing weather has now locked it’s setting to chilly and I wouldn’t be totally against heading to the hotel and lying in bed watching tv. I think I might have a little hangover from yesterday that’s just not budging, I’ve had a nagging headache all day. Sucks.

We decide to change scene anyway and actually go and take in a bit of the festival. Melvins are playing on one of the stages so we head over there with Vidar from Kvelertak, take a walk over and have a chat on the way. Dropkick Murphy’s are playing one of the stages and Jon gets pissed off with them and starts mouthing off. I think he’s a bit drunk, he’s been tanking the red wine all evening. He says anyone playing Irish tinged punk should be shot. Finding this a bit extreme Vidar remonstrates that as bad as the music is he’d rather just avoid it than have anyone murdered. “Näh, näh” Jon shakes his head, having none of it.

It’s always fun to see Melvins but in all honesty, as much as I love the band, after a while it gets a bit tiring. It’s like watching one long drum solo. As much as Crover is a great drummer, it bores me a bit after a while. There’s never any stop to it, and I’d rather just hear them go up and play a set of songs. Steve McDonald, whilst very cool for playing in Red Cross, is also a bit tiring, prancing around stage like a tit. All that aside, they’re still Melvins and I still have huge respect for them.

When they’re done the four of us go for a bit of a wander around the site. They’ve built a little mini town area, it looks like a film set. We walk around the hordes of people discussing the logistics of this insane festival. Mad to think that it started out as Fury Fest fifteen years ago, or whatever it was. It’s enough with ten minutes though, before you know it we head to the backstage area and sit down with cheese and crackers and a beer. Peace and quiet. Rock n’ roll. Fuck it.

I end up catching up with Sylvester as I head to the bar to get a drink for me and Jon. He’s surprised as fuck to see me. We chat for a while, catching up on old times and old friends. I can see Jon sat over in the corner, getting more and more anxious about his glass of wine I’m holding in my hand and after five minutes or so he cracks and heads over. Jon is happy enough to meet Tony though. Jake and Nath from Converge soon join us in mingle. Funny how these days we talk more about kids than music. How times have changed.

We have a lift taking us to the airport hotel at eleven thirty and Converge start at ten forty, so we head over to watch those guys from side stage for a half hour or so. It’s nice seeing them play in the dark of night, adds to the atmosphere. I’m talking to Nate just before they go on, the crowd baying for them. They’ve just flown in today and he says he’s knackered and too old for this shit, but then when hit the stage he flies around like a maniac, as always. It’s quite something to see. Me and Andy had been talking about how Nate had aged a little since last we met. The beard is getting greyer. We’re all getting on I guess. But it’s quite something to watch Converge deliver as they do, even if you don’t like the music you have to be impressed with their sheer brutal musicianship. Converge are one of those bands that just seem to steamroller on, they’re like an industry, a trademark in the hardcore world. I wonder if they will still be around in ten years time, when they’re in their fifties, still playing this brutally? Probably.

It’s time for us to head back and catch our lift. We walk along the road outside of the arena, past the big stage where Rammstein are playing. What a fucking daft band. It’s amazing really, the riff they’re playing as we pass wouldn’t have made it past the shit filter at a Morphine practice when we were thirteen, and here they are playing to twenty thousand people or something. Mind boggling.

There is a very friendly French girl waiting to drive us back to the airport hotel where we’re staying. We grab our bags and head off. I sit up front and talk with her along the way, always happy to chat to new people. We’re talking about the situation with our luggage, about the strike of the baggage handlers. She says that it’s typical France. I tell her that this strike was actually localised to Brussels airport, “Same shit”, she replies. Word. She tells me about the tradition of striking in France, how they normally go out and protests during specific days every week. Land of the revolution. I blame Napoleon. Joking aside, I do feel a sense of solidarity with the workers, I understand why they strike. I just wish they’d left it a day…

We get back to the hotel, right next to the airport. The reception is closed but we’d been sent door codes for the two rooms by the production staff at Hellfest. We find the rooms. Johan and Jon’s door opens, mine and Andy’s does not. Fuck… I have a horrible vision of sleeping on the floor in their room. I’m really longing for a bed, have been for hours. Andy notices that our code is missing a digit though, it’s one shorter than the other room. It’s simply a matter of testing the code with a new number from zero to nine. Thing is, the cunting door flashes red for about ten seconds after every failed attempt. We make our way through the digits, one by one. Eight turns out to be the magic number. It seems to be a recurring phenomenon, there is always some sort of hassle with hotels and festivals. Always. Thank fuck we’re in though. Getting under the cool white covers is absolute heaven. The thought of crashing out on the floor in their room was enough to make me weep, even if Jon had shouted down the hallway as he was going for a fag that he could take the floor himself. He’s pissed up and doesn’t seem arsed.

Time for bed, and it’s never felt so welcome. We fly for Paris tomorrow.

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