Every year since it’s inauguration in 1990, the Wacken Open Air Festival (W:O:A for short) regularly sells out. This might seem unremarkable given the fact that many festivals sell out in many places, except Wacken sells out virtually as soon as the tickets go on sale, which is the day after the current year’s event has ended. And with only a few of the bands formally announced. Or even rumored.
Wacken sells out because of the name Wacken. In this sense, it is the closest festival on earth to the annual American Burning Man event, which takes place in Nevada’s Black Rock desert at the end of August. It has been hailed as a convergence of communities committed to the spirit of freedom, creativity and self-expression. This could actually have been written about Wacken. Because Wacken is exactly that, only for fans of heavy metal and hard rock music. It is a community which exists year-round, in various places worldwide, a tribe which sleeps and eats and breathes and works and raises families like everybody else. A tribe which for most of the year has to perhaps curtail it’s full self-expression and it’s unbridled enjoyment of all things metal, a tribe which thus once a year gets to come together in a friendly space, set-up it’s community and get lost in itself for a week.
Brain surgeons, postmen, office clerks, pilots, lawyers, short-order cooks, mechanics, the over-employed, the un-employed, everyone downs their 51 week-a-year tools and comes together for a week of tether-free living. People come to Wacken for each other as much as anything else. Polish fans camp next to Indian fans they might’ve met the year before, Dutch fans camp next to Japanese fans, German fans camp next to English fans, indeed, if you were to wander the fields of Wacken you would see the globe represented. There are no rules of attendance and there is no ‘silent snobbery’. If you love the lifestyle, if you love the music, if you’re curious and want to simply experience the community, then welcome one and welcome all to Wacken.
People drink, people smoke and people dress up. People laugh and people party. People mud-slam and people slam-dance. People occasionally sleep. People enjoy being with each other, weather be damned, and people will adorn themselves, their tents and their vehicles with all sorts of decorative statements. People enjoy putting the clock away other than to make sure they don’t miss a particular band, and people enjoy violently disrupting their circadian rhythms so gloriously.
Of course the bands that play Wacken are important, for their music has co-created the tribe which exists so fervently. But the lifeblood of Wacken are the people who go to Wacken every year. They are as much the star as the stars themselves. They are the substance which gives Wacken it’s credence. And they are the free-style-family who become every bit as much of the attraction as the ‘attractions’ themselves.
I have always found Wacken to be a deliciously overwhelming experience, a visual as much as aural cacophony of colors and sounds and sights and smells. I wanted to see that captured in a book. Enter Pep Bonet, a photographer who takes on the Sierra Leones and Haitis of this world, capturing humanity like no-one else I know. Bearded and fearless, yet gentle and with a personality that flows like a river, I wanted Pep to document this tribe. I knew he would get in there, spend time, get his hands and face and jeans and hair and cameras dirty. It’s in his DNA, it’s the only way he knows. We’d report in with each other in the early AM, grab some breakfast, and then Pep would amble off, not to be seen for virtually the whole day. I didn’t see anything Pep shot until a month after the festival. I didn’t need to, because I knew he had it. And he had it, traipsing back from being in the thick of it, mud splattered all over him like it was many of his subjects, almost giddy with delight at the whole experience. He managed, I feel, to bottle the essence of Wacken’s glorious, loyal tribe, in all it’s multi-faceted dimensions.
So here you are.
THIS is Wacken.
THIS is the lifeblood.
But you know what else?
I believe there’s a little bit of this tribe in everyone…in you, in me, in all of us…so whether you’ve never consciously contemplated moments like the ones you’ll see here in your life, or whether these pages are mere reflections of your inner (and outer) spirit, let your freak flag fly proudly whenever you get the chance. Because we are all freaks at heart. We all want a venue to cut loose and express ourselves, and we all want a ‘safe-house’ in which we can do it.
Wacken is all of those and more…so much more.
Text by Steffan Chirazi
For more information on the book and companion CD set see here.