Hellfest is a three day metal extravaganza held annually in Clisson (a rural town in Western France). The festival has been running since 2006, and has grown considerably since then. I went along this year for the first time with six of my friends. Without a doubt, it is one of the best metal weekends that I have ever had. Of course there were many contributing factors that created the great atmosphere there, including the ticket price (very inexpensive), ease of access, the complete organization of every little detail, the beer, the shots...and so on.
But there are three things that stand out in my mind- the music, the people, and the surroundings. If you are to include the Thursday night, it becomes a four day metal and rock ‘n’ roll party. No bullshit, no trouble, lots of drinkin’ and...well you’ll just have to go to find out the rest! All for 144 Euro!!! Keep in mind too that there were 120 bands playing this year, not to mention all the other things going on around the site! What a fuckin’ DEAL! So, there were seven of us all headed together with a plan to arrive on the Thursday afternoon.......
DAY 1-Thursday June 16th 2011
We arrived in Clisson at about 3pm, having been up ‘till dawn that morning polishing off a couple of bottles of Glenfiddich. The members of both vans were feeling a little queasy after gnarly sandwiches from a truck stop for breakfast a few hours previous. Our first port of call was the supermarket. We needed supplies: bread, cheese, meat, saucisson, tinned fish, corn, beer, vodka and whiskey. It took us about an hour to get all this together, but once back in the van we had a real sense of achievement...we cracked some beers, and drank to the days that lay ahead.
Once we got to the site, which was very close (1/2km) we unloaded the yurt that we would call home for the next four days. It took us nearly three hours and the same in cases of beer to get the fucker up, but it looked great...big enough for twenty! It was time to pick up the wristbands and check out what was goin’ down.
There was a bar set up within the perimeter called The Metal Corner, with a big top and a sizeable stage: Live bands and DJ’s ‘till late. The bar was not crowded and we managed to score a long picnic table to get our night started at. Pitchers of beer were ordered and more people began to arrive. Everybody was real cool and there was already a great vibe in the air. There were some good bands that played the low-key gigs that night. People were dancing on the tables, downing pitchers and generally behaving like a bunch of drunken sailors.
At about midnight, the DJ’s began... playing Van Halen, Metallica, Motley Crue, Motorhead and a load of other class tracks. By 2am the place was fucking pumping! My memory starts to get a little shady at this point, but I do remember dancing and headbanging A LOT! I can recall fleeting glimpses of the others swooshing and flailing around too, big messes of hair and toothy grins with eyes the color of crazy...good crazy. The bar didn’t stop serving ‘ till the wee hours, by which time the crowd must have looked like a gaggle of sweaty, long haired, punk, tartan wearing, headbanging, shouting, bearded drunken MUSIC fans who were on the cusp of three days of more debauchery and GREAT MUSIC!...I have no idea how I got home or what time it was. Nice.
DAY 2-Friday June 17th 2011
Damn! We were fucking hungover today. All awoke between 9 and 10 am. There were showers available, but screw that! We had some gigs to see and some drinks to have, after breakfast of course. Sardines and saussison on a baguette never taste so good, still drunk from the night before.
A little after 11am all of us were in the venue at the front of the main stage for Valient Thorr, who fucking SLAYED! First band of the festival (well second actually, but first for us). They had everyone back like it was 3 o’ clock that morning in The Metal Corner, eyes and veins bulging from rocking hard, alcohol and who knows what else pumping through their bloodstreams.
After Valient, we all went walkabout, checking out the marketplace where there we loads of great records, clothes, jewellery, books, pictures, posters and a tattoo tent. Some of the best artists in France and beyond were holed up in this tiny inconspicuous marquee, making art on the skin. I ended up succumbing to my addiction and getting a piece while the others went to see some of the afternoon bands: My Sleeping Karma, Suicide Silence, The Dwarves, The Answer, Dagoba, Kruger....and more. Once the tattoo was done, I met the group at Primordial, who played an awesome show.
After that, it was on to The Exploited, then to Vader, then Meshuggah, and then IGGY!!! And the night was still fucking young. The line up was so goddamn great! After Iggy we all went to Clutch, then we split, some to Rob Zombie, some to The Melvins, then all back together for the final show in the Terrorizer tent, Monster Magnet, who capped off a near perfect day of music , mayhem, meetings, tattoos, drinking and generally checkin’ shit out...occasionally like zombies (the drunkenness comes in waves).
So the last show was over, but the Metal Corner was still churning out the brews. Again until real early or late depending on your point of view. Tonight the DJ was doing disco remixes of classic tunes, I remember hearing a Breaking the Law disco version. They were also throwing in some cheeky pop songs like Beyonce and the like. But every motherfucker in the place was going ape-shit, regardless of the disco slant to the proceedings. Again, my memory gets shanghaied at this point, only to be recaptured some hours later, hangin’ with a bunch of old school Belgian metalheads, drinking Ricard from a water bottle with the sun coming up. We trashed their campsite. The gazebo was fucked anyway and the table only had three legs. I stumbled home around 9am, and the rest were asleep. I slept ‘till noon, and awoke to them talking...I had no hangover, I was still freakin’ wasted! Good Times!
DAY 3-Saturday June 18th 2011
We needed more supplies. Today we walked to the supermarket and filled a trolley (which was brought back to the camp). Beer, booze, smokes and food...much the same as our first ration stop. One of the girls had been bitten all over by mozzies during the last few days, and she really needed some relief medicine. Seeing as there weren’t any bands playing that we really had a hard on for until about 6pm, me and one of the lads (Dave) took a walk into the village to find a pharmacy. The others went back to the yurt with our booty. Clisson is small, but really beautiful, a big river bisecting the two sides of the town with 13th Century ruins, forts and walls enclosing the old style, artisanal center. It took us about an hour to find and walk to the pharmacy, which happened to be opposite a local tavern serving cold beer. It was hot and we were thirsty after the long uphill walk. We nipped in for a quick one only to emerge hours later with a nice whiskey/beer buzz going. It was a great way to break up the day. Of course, when we made it back to the yurt, the others had left already, so on we trucked to the first band we were to see today: Thin Lizzy.
We got to the main stage at about 5.15pm....Lizzy were already on and the crowd was huge! The atmosphere was great and the lead singer...WOW! He sounded so like Phil! It was a great show. Next up was Destruction...then some looking around for the rest of the group while Apocalyptica played, then Sodom, after that Black Label Society(Zakk goin’ fuckin’ NUTS!!!), and finally, we bumped into the rest of them. More pitchers of beer, nips from the flask and cheers all around as we were glad that we had found each other before the end of the night. Kreator were next followed by Scorpions/Converge...we split in half for this one and met up again for the final show, Bad Brains.
After the final show, it was back to the Metal Corner again to get fuckin’ crazy! Which we did, again. The DJ was doin’ the old school metal thang: Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Slayer and a bit of Skynyrd thrown in for good measure. I ended up losing the rest of the group, but hooked up with a Scot, a Northern Irish guy and an English chick and we all went back to their camp when the bar closed. Yet again, I swayed back to my camp just after sunrise with a belly full of beer and Glenfiddich and eyes that would not be any use to a blind man! Once I got to the yurt I hit the deck and was out cold! Roll on day three!!!
DAY 3-Sunday June 19th 2011
“Jesus Fucking Christ!!! Please take me now, I am a broken man.” This was the first thought on ressurection this morning. I was indeed a broken man. I felt terrible. All the others were a little better, but not much. It was noon again. We sat around inside the yurt, licking our wounds, eating baguette and cheese, shotgunning red bull and sipping beer. Within the hour we were sufficiently energized to take on the world! Well the final day of Hellfest anyway. We walked to the venue like a paddling of ducks, all a bit lost but still functional. We missed a lot of the music in the afternoon, as we mostly spent our time self-medicating at the Volcom tent in the back of venue. The guy running the tent was playing great tunes, it was a sunny day, we were all together and this was what was so fucking enjoyable about it! For once we were not scrambling around to find each other. We had our own little party right there and could wander off, get beer, check out some music, safe in the knowledge that we had a party base to come back to. So, the afternoon went like that, a real chilled vibe.
The first band we caught up with was Cavelara Conspiracy who were great. Then a break in our “chill-out zone” before catching the first bit of Mr. Big, after that, it was over to the Terrorizer tent for Goatsnake(WOW!!!), then Judas Priest on the main stage, then back for Electric Wizard, then either Ozzy or Hawkwind (who can still lay the trippy psych down). Then we had a break before the final show of the night in the Terrorizer tent. We ended up meeting a mate who managed to get us all backstage for this one: Kyuss Lives! It was the best gig of the weekend and a great one to end the festival on.
All of us hanging out on the scaffolding and standing on the road cases rocking out to such a fucking AWESOME band! We did not want the night to end. When they finished their set and the lights came up, we all looked like a bunch of psychedelic speedfreaks who’ve just chowed down on handfuls of happy pills! We were fucking elated to the max. We bounced back to the Metal Corner all smiley and shit, talking about what a great gig and deadly festival it had been.
The Metal Corner was packed, and the air was full of positivity. The DJ spun the metal/disco thing again and the bar kept serving ‘till 5am. At the very end some enterprising groups took the huge metal rubbish bins, hoisted them over their heads and beat rhythms on them...massive hollow tribal beats accompanied with chanting by the appreciative crowd: “HELLFEST!...HELLFEST!...HELLFEST” This went on for at least an hour while everybody drank, talked and sang and danced.
We walked back to the yurt after 6am, the chanting and drumming becoming more and more distant. We were satisfied, silent and so saturated with alcohol, also moderately sober. That all changed once we got back to the yurt. We put on some music, I think we started with Hank III, took out the vodka and whiskey, swilled some beers and sat around until about 9am shootin’ the breeze and being thankful for the music festival that we will all be at again next year! There’s no place like Hellfest!