The earth shakes. The maw of a sweaty, unwashed demon extends to its fullest before engulfing the idyllic French commune of Clisson. This is, of course, Hellfest. Now celebrating its tenth birthday, the blasphemous bash has morphed from a mid-tier affair to a monolith that wrangles with Download and Rock am Ring in terms of appeal. Here’s why…
The Line-up Is Ridiculous It’s a mish mash of every metalhead’s varying musical fetishes. Think Marilyn Manson is nothing more than Nicolas Cage dressed as a vampire? Go watch Venom or Biohazard. Can’t stand Slipknot? Have your pick between Dead Kennedys or Norway’s very own Shining. From black to thrash, nu metal to punk and prog to death metal, Hellfest is one of the most expansive weekenders out there, catering for the needs of mainstream rock audiences but still maintaining their steely underground ethics. With that being said, the Alice Cooper/Cradle Of Filth/Mastodon/Children Of Bodom clash is fucking horrendous.
It’s All Very Compact And Superbly Orchestrated The arena itself is a beer can’s throw from the campsite – don’t actually litter your empties, they’re proper eco-friendly – and, once inside, all the stages are more or less a minute’s walk from one another. Well, apart from the Warzone stage, which can be accessed via a suitably magical forest. Staggered stages ensure that none of the acts on either main stage clash: Motorhead, Five Finger Death Punch, Alice Cooper, Lamb Of God, Judas Priest and Slipknot one after the other, with barely five minutes in between to scrape our ruptured ears from the floor? We’ll take it. Bands also play from 10:30am until am the following morning, ensuring everyone gets ample bang for their buck (well, Euro).
It’s Hotter Than England You could say this about pretty much any other summer festival – or even Soundwave, in Australia’s summer – but France straddles the line between British weather and uncomfortably sticky heat found closer to the Equator. In short: the perfect festival climate.
**The Extreme Market Is The Unholy Grail Of Heavy Metal Shopping **Last year, the Extreme Market was actually moved outside of the arena and into the main square, its extremities proving to be too obscenely brilliant to contain in such a small corner. The bazaar now comprises two humongous tents, boasting all sorts of jewellery, records, CDs, clothes and a cornucopia of other stuff you never thought you’d need. One of the most badass labels on the planet – Season Of Mist – have their own stall, flogging everything from Septicflesh to Phil Anselmo. So you should definitely search around there.
**It’s Like Secret Garden Party But More Evil **As mentioned in the opening paragraph, Hellfest’s entrance into Clisson is like a Satanic plague ripping through the countryside. The statue of a rancid, red-eyed raven overlooks the Val de Moine sporting complex as punters mosh in the afternoon sun; turrets burn with the embers of hatred (or just fire, really) and the landscape is pocked with barrels and industrial buildings, making the whole place look like Mordor and Fury Road rolled into one. The main hub is called Hell City Square. That’s pretty metal.
**There’s A McDonald’s And Supermarkets Nearby **Some festivals are pretty inaccessible and hidden away from the general public. Clisson, however, is only a short stroll away from the Hellfest site where you’ll find a Lidl, a huge hypermarket and a magnificent McDonald’s just opposite. Several crafty buggers always decide to chance it and utilise Maccys as an alternative to the festival portaloos, but everyone else soon catches wind (before forcefully releasing it). By the Sunday morning, you’d may as well be shitting in Chernobyl wearing nothing but a mankini.
**The Surrounding Area Is Gorgeous **Clisson is a quaint little commune that probably looks a lot better when it’s not packed full of leather-clad mentalists. This being said, it’s still worth a look around; if there’s no bands you want to see for a few hours, explore the gorgeous parks, take touristy photos outside the Château de Clisson and marvel at the adorable houses, wishing but never admitting that you’d rather live here than your overpriced suburban cesspit.
**They’re Going Cashless **In 2013, a friend – we’ll call him Dave – stored all his valuables in a fanny pack. Unbeknownst to us, he unclipped said fanny pack and put it in his pocket before pogoing in a Papa Roach pit. It obviously fell out, and Dave retrieved his fanny pack at the end of the day, devoid of the 200 or so Euros it once contained. While not as perfect as Download’s cashless wristbands, Hellfest’s introduction of a contactless card is a bit more Dave-friendly than previous years; unfortunately you can’t get a refund on any spare cash you leave, but the money does stay on the card ready for the 2016 edition!
**The Exchange Rate Is Pretty Decent At The Moment **We went down to Foreign Exchange with £120 and came out with €165. That’s a sizeable amount of extra beer to be consumed.
**Everyone’s Bloody Lovely **Were a group of metalheads to stroll past a school in England, they’d probably be subjected to a violent volley of homophobic slurs and bits of leftover lunch. In Clisson, we walked past a primary school and the kids were cheering and raising the horns from the classroom window. That is fucking metal.