Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Going to the Extreme

Maybe metal isn’t the answer to world peace*. Maybe Wacken is just an isolated happy place, because Party San doesn’t feel like a home away from home, or friends you just haven’t met yet. The ride from Prague was average, a mix of boring highways and countryside detours. We stopped for an early lunch of schnitzel and potatoes with mushrooms and gravy along the way and cemented my thoughts that German food is fast becoming my favourite from the trip so far.

Eventually, we found Schlotheim. Going from a 75,000 person festival to a 10,000 person festival I knew it would be a lot different, and that was proven from the get go. There were no Party San cars on the road, in fact very few cars at all, and the 2 or 3 groups of metalheads in town gave me a buzz that was shortlived. There were tiny signs pointing the way, none of the fanfare of Wacken that added bit by bit to the buzz and excitement. But I knew it would be different and none of this set me back, it was still metal, still music, just smaller.

The sign above the entrance said ‘Welcome to Hell’ and as opposed to the friendly ‘Welcome Metalheads!’ signs that signaled Wacken, it kind of felt like they were trying too hard to be hard or dark. I liked that Wacken was just happy and that from hours away you could feel a good vibe and a celebratory mood. Courtney liked the sign and so I was outvoted.

We waited in a queue that turned out to be unnecessary – from what we can gather cars need to pay a garbage and parking fee but bikes don’t. We think. People walking past the queue laughed at those waiting and further set PartySan apart from Wacken. Maybe it happened there too, but I didn’t see it, so I recognized it as a difference.

Party San occupies part of an airfield and so it was that we set up camp alongside the runway. Courts helped a guy next door who was struggling with his tent in the wind while I put all our stuff away and set up the beds. Of course with his gift of the gab this meant I heard but didn’t see Courts for 20 minutes as I recreated ‘home’ again and he had a beer with his new friend. After a difficult ride in strong wind, he deserved a rest. I wanted to just sit for a minute myself – the tent always looks the same but the view is always different, so it’s nice to just sit for a few minutes after everything is in some kind of order and regather my thoughts and sense of home. It’s only a few minutes but it helps, so Courtney was left to his new friend.

I went to the toilet wearing my jeans and a white singlet with a picture of a high heel on the front, which earned me pointed fingers and laughs from a marquee of diehard metalheads I passed. When I returned to the tent I changed into my Wacken shirt before we went to join the queue for wristbands. Far from the likes of FiberFIB and PartySan it took about 10 minutes to get to the front, if that. We searched for the shuttle bus to the supermarket but discovered it had stopped running for the day so instead we decided to grab a beer and settle into festival mode. Courtney being Courtney had already found someone he kind of knew while in the toilet queue earlier and she was seated near the bar so we joined the table. How he recognized her, someone he’s never met but has seen on Facebook through a mutual friend, I’ll never know – I’m terrible with faces.

It was nice to see people that could become familiar faces, but the girl was deep in German conversation with another friend and Courts started a conversation with the third member of their party while I looked at the program to see who was playing that night. PartySan doesn’t have the big names like Ozzy and Judas Priest that have entered the mainstream and I guess that’s why some of the people that come here choose PartySan over Wacken. The guy Courts was talking to seemed to be on that train of thought as he explained he wasn’t interested in Wacken for similar reasons and the boys got to talking about the bands that were appearing over the coming days.

As we know I am only a talker when I’m in comfortable territory (which is when you can’t shut me up) but otherwise conversation doesn’t come so naturally to me. I tried to find a way into the conversation, I really did, but I didn’t know anything about any of the bands they were talking about and neither of them looked at me or even noticed I was there. Courts wasn’t consciously ignoring me of course but he was turned away towards his new friend and I felt very conspicuous sitting at the end of the table so I went for a beer.

There was a group of boys near the bar who had obviously been there awhile and were chanting at the barmaid that she was possessed by darkness and fire. She was laughing, and eventually they turned their attention to other patrons, chanting ‘The man with the sunglasses is possessed by darkness and fire!’ or ‘Those three men are possessed by darkness and fire!’.  It was a compliment, and so when I heard ‘She is not  possessed by darkness and fire!’ I turned around. They were laughing at me and when they saw me look up one said ‘You are not possessed with darkness and fire’. I don’t know why. I was standing there with two empty beer glasses to be refilled, in a Wacken shirt, having an ‘I-don’t-speak-your-language-but-I-understand’ body language conversation with the guy next to me (who had been waiting to be served since I had been at the back of the queue).

It seems silly I know - who cares whether a bunch of drunks think I am possessed by darkness and fire? - for me though it summed up my first impressions of PartySan – I was an outcast, not metal enough to be here. When our company departed the table I said as much to Courts – just that the general vibe of the place was metal and metal only, no non-diehard metalheads allowed. He agreed, so it was somewhat of a relief to know it wasn’t just me being paranoid and picking up the weird vibe. He also said he thought it was fair enough though, which after the previous couple of hours made me feel like I really shouldn’t be there. I tried to converse with him, to say that if metal culture is really as welcoming and better-than-everything as he says it is, shouldn’t they welcome anyone that wants to join in? I don’t tell a potential nail client who has only had acrylics on once, that she’s not nail enough to wear my nails (bad example, but I’ve got nails on the brain and hopefully you get the idea).

I feel like there’s a music hierarchy – pop isn’t cool enough for ska and punk, punk isn’t cool enough for alternative, alt isn’t cool enough for  rock, rock isn’t cool enough for heavy metal, and now heavy metal isn’t cool enough for black metal. I see it all the time, every sub-group of friends I have that is into music, thinks their music is the music and anything softer is lame. Funnily enough I don’t recall a debate about heavier music not being ‘real’ music but I’ve been in and amongst hundreds of debates about softer (sometimes microscopically softer) music that’s not ‘real’. I just want to love music, I prefer great guitar solos and I’ll always turn to 80’s rock and metal, but I’ll give anything a go. At Wacken there was plenty of debate about favourite bands but I never heard anyone speak down about anyone elses tastes and it was refreshing.

Anyway, when I said to Courts that if metalheads were that awesome they would want everyone to join in, he felt like his opinion was being attacked and I felt like I was just trying to talk about a vibe I had noticed. He thought I was being negative and I was, but in response to the perceived negativity around me. What could have been a mature conversation about the differences in metal subcultures (and what at the time I thought could be an opportunity for him to make me feel at ease – but boys don’t see these opportunities) turned into an argument and we retreated to the tent to sit in silence.

So here I am, watching the battery go flat and venting. I will go into the festival grounds tonight with an open mind - after all, when I went to the toilet again a minute ago, a guy wearing fluffy pig ears shook my hand. I will have fun, I’ll try out the new bands I haven’t heard before and I will be positive and step out of my comfort zone and talk to people the way Courtney does – naturally and with ease - as if I’m at home, or a friend’s house party, or a gig at home with eyeliner and black boots. But, when all is said and done and you guys stop reading this blog, it will still be a log of the memories I’ve long forgotten, so I’ll post this anyway. It’s my blog and I’ll cry if I want to. And then, to make up for it, I’ll make a better story happen for next time.

*Maybe it’s Heavy Metal  that’s the answer, because Courts has just informed me PartySan is extreme metal - closer to the just-noise music often associated with metalheads by non-metal lovers.