Wacken roll: Thomas Jensen on what makes Wacken the world's best metal fest

A photograph of the stage and crowd at Wacken

Wacken. It’s a name synonymous with being the biggest and boldest pure metal showcase on the planet. Since its first tiny outing on a hill outside the town of the same name, founder Thomas Jensen has been at the helm, carefully moulding it into one of the must-attend events in the metal calendar, cultivating the lineup every year and forging strong bonds with bands and fans to ensure the perfect atmosphere across generations of metalheads.

“It’s like making a bomb,” he states, unexpectedly. “You need all these little components and if everything’s not in place, it’s not blowing up.”

Originally begun as an outdoor show to put on his own cover band, Skyline, in the barren north German state of Schleswig-Holstein, the inauspicious start was light years away from the slick, gargantuan operation it is today.

“The first two were really naive, we didn’t know what we were doing. There was a lot of trial and error… mainly error,” Thomas fondly remembers. “We had local bands from Kiel and Hamburg playing in the middle of nowhere. Even on the second flyer we said, ‘The heavy festival in the north’, which we could say proudly as there was nothing else.”

Despite losing money in subsequent years, the desire to simply create an annual party in the guise of a live music event is what led Wacken Open Air to grow organically from a crowd of 800 on that very first night to more than 80,000 annual attendees. Thomas’s love for live shows and zeal for the festival he and his friends created nearly 30 years ago is still what drives him to deal with the agents, health and safety concerns and currently the infrastructure in the increasingly muddy arena, to put on the best show possible for not just the fans and big-hitters, but also a variety of up-and-comers from all around the globe.

“We have the heritage acts, like Deep Purple or Blue Oyster Cult, the extreme bands like The Hirsch Effekt and then bands from places like Sri Lanka or Botswana – 99% of our audience won’t know those bands but the tents will always be packed. Someone asked me if I thought Wacken was the world championship of metal. I said that we would rather be like the Olympics, where you have variety; bands like the Jamaican bobsleigh team as well as your all-time favourites.”

After establishing the Wacken Foundation to help young rock and metal acts, his achievement of attracting generations of families who enjoy the friendly vibe, and curating another lineup that melds a new generation with some historic stories in the Wacken tome, has Thomas considered passing the torch onto someone else? “No,” he replies, laughing. “I don’t what the fuck else I can do.”

Wacken Open Air 2017 takes place on August 3-5. You can Check out this year’s lineup and ticket information at www.wacken.com

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