Friday, August 12, 2011

The Answer to World Peace is Heavy Metal

Stereotypes of Heavy Metal are often very unkind. Negative, rude, dark, drunken… when we put on a black band t-shirt, we become these things in the eyes of many (not all) people. It doesn’t phase me, I’ll be nice to you anyway and if you’re not interested I’ll go back to my friends and our music. The thing is though, the stereotypes are wrong.

In New Zealand, there are plenty of drunken idiots, but they’re not genre-specific. Squish and I saw plenty of examples of that at the Katy Perry concert, just as many idiots as we’ve seen at any metal gig. I’m almost inclined to say it’s a kiwi thing, although my patriotic side doesn’t want to say so. We have a binge drinking culture, we know it, but many of us haven’t been out in the world and seen partying done any other way to learn differently.

I’m also inclined to guess that our drinking habits at home stem from our English roots and our close ties with Australia, because the English are the only drunken idiots we’ve seen in Europe - other than the opening ceremony for San Fermin where everyone was drunk and the worst were Australians and New Zealanders. We honestly haven’t really seen anyone truly wasted in any other country. When we were at the FiberFIB music festival, we were definitely surrounded by drunken idiots but anyone will tell you the majority of the crowd was English.

I digress. The point is, that at Wacken, everyone was positive, happy, friendly… the opposite of the heavy metal stereotype. 99% of the people that passed by were dressed in black, camo or tartan, wearing band t-shirts and heavy boots. The other 1% were grown men in tutus but that’s another post entirely.

On our way to Wacken, hands were thrown up in horns from car to car, anytime someone spotted another car that had been labeled W:O:A (Wacken Open Air). As we entered the town, people were everywhere but there was no trouble. When we arrived at camp, a group of strangers ran towards us with a board to balance the bike stand on in the mud and offers of just-cooked dinner. The only yelling we heard, drunken or sober, was cries of ‘Wackeeeennnn!’ by excited festival goers. As we waited in the queue to get our wrist bands, Courtney was offered a sip from someone elses beer for the first of countless times during the festival.

We heard that in 2009 when some of our friends went for the first time, despite 75,000 festival goers, there was no damage done to the town or local property, no police incidents and the majority of injuries were people that fell asleep in the sun. I don’t know what the stats were like this year but we didn’t see anything worse than that other than one guy in a crowd who threatened a crowd surfer who had accidentally kicked his girlfriend in the face.

We made friends with everyone we cared to, Courtney had beers with several groups of strangers of various occasions, our entire camp was made up mostly of people our friends from home had met the last time they were at Wacken. Everyone was just friendly and happy to be there.

The Wacken Promoters themselves spout that the festival itself is the headline act and the bands play their greatest hits. It’s true too, despite missing Motorhead for being sick, I didn’t really feel like I was missing out because lying in my tent I could hear and feel the Wacken vibe and it just felt awesome to be at Wacken, whether in a tent or in a crowd or somewhere in between. It’s just a huge celebration of a genre of music that really brings everyone together. People were drunk but not making nuisances of themselves. There were 60 year olds and 5 year olds all in the mix. One of the groups of people Courtney had beers with didn’t speak English but it didn’t matter.

I may be biased but I really don’t think this could happen with many other kinds of music. I’m sure the festivals held at wineries at home with singer-songwriter acts supporting names like Lionel Richie are calm enough. You might even make friends with the people on the picnic blanket next to yours. Try pop or RnB or dance, all of which I’ve experienced first hand. People get wasted, get into fights, destroy property. And that’s at small concerts, not 75,000 people.

At FiberFIB, the vast majority of festival goers didn’t care about the music. They might want to see one or two bands but they were there to get wasted, and many people shared this view with us, including people we met that had been before. FiberFIB was an extreme though, and in light of Courtney’s hatred not only for FiberFIB itself but all things not-metal, I was very defensive of the festival and non-metal lovers in general. I told him time and time again that it was a festival, there were lots of people and lots of idiots and people drink and get stupid and there are crowds and rubbish and insanity and it would be not too dissimilar at Wacken.

At Wacken, I’m sure there were idiots. There were probably fights and all sorts of carry on, but we didn’t see any, and that has to mean the concentration was lower than at the places we’ve seen several. The vibe was just happier, everyone wanted to be friends with everyone else and enjoy the festival. We didn’t see any drunk people that were aggressive or sleazy or anything but happy and having fun. We didn’t see a single person stumbling and falling over themselves. We didn’t even get drunk ourselves, at first due to a lack of alcohol but then because we literally almost forgot about it. We had beers, we had spirits, we drank every day but we never made it past slightly tipsy, and we didn’t care.

It all makes me wonder what would happen if the village of Wacken was all metal, all the time. Only metalheads or people that at least liked metal lived there, bands played regularly… or if the festival was permanent, a band played every night instead of a concentration of bands over a short period. You could turn up, pitch your tent, stay as long as you liked and leave when you had your fill. A metal-holiday park. If Wacken was essentially a permanent village with a rotating fill of bands and music-lovers, would the vibe last? Would the novelty wear off and the drink come on stronger and the fights start and so on?

It’s an interesting idea. Maybe all the world-peace-hopeful beauty queens need to wear more black and listen to Judas Priest and start promoting heavy metal.