I returned home from Wacken with ringing ears, shredded feet, a maniacal grin and so deprived of sleep that I forgot the lyrics, title and band behind one of the greatest rock songs of all time. (I’m SO sorry, AC/DC.) I adore Alice Cooper (now more than ever) but couldn’t put his albums in order, I love Of Monsters and Men with as much passion as I hate the Beatles and I had to google Volbeat and Amon Amarth. Rock, beardy Viking metal and Icelandic folk pop aside, I’m currently yowling along to my Airborne and Steel Panther playlist and while I could draw cartoons of both bands, I’d have to think hard if I wanted to name all the members. The above list of shame is surely enough to illustrate why I’m not a music journalist so I’ll leave it to the musically knowledgeable to cover that side of things and stick to all the rest… 😉
So, my first outing with the Wasteland Warriors was exactly a year ago- I’m now an official member of the tribe and can’t believe I’ve only known these guys for twelve months! I arrived early with the rest of the crew to help turn our substantial area from makeshift shed to rusted multi-area walkthrough with cars, bikes and cages. I learned it isn’t as simple as building up shelters and decorating- we had electricity lines, connections, power points, cables that absolutely cannot be touched and requirements for the cars so that when the inevitable mud took over the festival world like Dothraki ghost grass, they could still be driven around the arena without a tow truck leading the way. I have a newfound respect for the riggers and buildup crew who worked on the main stage areas- work begins over a month in advance! We were all pathetically tired having worked around the clock so we chilled at our camp most evenings with barbeques, supernoodles and conversation until the allure of a drinking game and really high up ‘beer garden’ with a view got too strong. What on earth is the green stuff called Waldmeister? It’s amazing!
Two entered, one left… 😛
So grassy. So clean. So much work to do.
Outside of the campgrounds and food alley/toilet swamp, there are several areas that make up Wacken: the village itself (there’s a fantastic article about the relationship between villagers and metalheads here), the Bullhead City Circus (which holds more live bands, wresting, a disco and… metal yoga!), The main stage area where the headliner action happens (complete with beer garden, food, shops, merchandise and mud) and the Wackinger Village which is populated by Vikings, mediaeval re-enactment people, two stages, all the beer anybody could ever drink, more food, games and the ‘Endzeit’ (apocalypse)! This year we filled an even bigger area and in keeping with last year’s “what the hell did I just sign up for” tradition, I volunteered as tribute for the cage fights.
Bring it on… (photo by Sven Noehren)
I can go without sleep for one night so long as I get a chance to recover. Having had a rather busy night on Tuesday, I zombie-shuffled to the Wasteland area on Wednesday preparing to be annihilated in the cage but as ‘luck’ would have it, the rain made running the fights impossible. As the crap weather continued into the night, we curled up on the sofas one of our team was genius enough to bring so visitors drawn to our area by the lighthouse effect of our merchandise stall saw a damp mass of rust and bone tangled in a sea of blankets with multiple limbs occasionally reaching out for gummy bears and coffee. That isn’t to say that the vibe was miserable- far from it. Wacken is known for erratic weather and while disappointed that we couldn’t do our shows that day, we were enjoying catching up in relative comfort and at that time last year, I watched Iron Maiden in similar conditions- a positive association for stagelit drizzle!
This year’s mud situation…
As we expected, the weather improved for the rest of the festival and I made my way to the main stage to see Status Quo in beautiful blazing sunshine….. before I was turned away at the gate due to my accessories. They were allowed last year but it seems this year my painted wooden claws were in fact too metal for a metal festival. It’s okay- I watched from afar and had no problem hearing the music or seeing the band on the massive television screens. To the tune of Rocking All Over the World, I took myself shopping which I hadn’t been able to do last year due to my newbie “What? there are SHOPS?!” situation. Look what I got!! I need to do some customisation on the t-shirt of course but I don’t dare touch it until I know exactly what I want to do. I really wish I’d bought one for my dentist! 😉
You may have noticed I like weapons, especially knuckledusters, but as most events mean flying from England, I unfortunately don’t bring weapons but one day I am going to piece together a scythe for my Deathhawk outfit. Though I am about to start work on a new character, I still feel that what the top deck of my boat really needs is a scythe so I’ll probably make one anyway.
So as I don’t have a stabby, beat-y, punchy thing to fight with, I found myself clobbering my lovely friend Machinefairy with my fists in front of the howling audience, winning my first cagefight….. before getting my throat ripped out by rabid dogs which the regenerated Machinefairy defeated by carving their hearts out. There was a terrifying Pikachu, insect-human hybrids, a spiky pike almost the length of the cage, massive bash-proof shields, fights for love, fights for revenge, plot twists, a tar demon and lots of blood and gore. If you want to keep up to date with the Wasteland Warriors cage fighters (or god forbid missed our show), follow us here, as things are about to get intense… 😉
Photo by Sven Noehren
Photo by Sven Noehren
Having said that, this is the point where I get all mushy. While I can’t tell you with any degree of authority about music- I just know what I like- the atmosphere and community at events like Wacken is just as much of an attraction- if not more. There’s a normal level of everyday niceness that is perhaps amplified as we’re aware we can look scary, but then there’s going above and beyond: Metalheads Against Litter (bins everywhere with this message and hardly any rubbish thrown about), Metalheads Against Bullying (a truck with merchandise and a ‘chill out and put the world to rights’ zone), Metalheads Against Racism, Homophobia, Discrimination. Even Metalheads Against Hitler- I often notice patches declaring support against nazism. The Wacken Foundation helps the fight against blood cancer (Alice Cooper donated a substantial amount after his show) and leftover tents go to the homeless.
Sure, some fans look down on other fans and some people (wrongly) assume that if you don’t look the part you can’t really be into the scene, but I’ve never seen true nastiness at events like this. I find it fascinating the way certain subcultures tend to go hand in hand- like historical re-enactors and metalheads! (Anyone want to shed some light on this?)
As school was not kind to me, having friends wait for me or offer me something they think I could need (like extra sun cream or water) is one of the ‘little things’ I never take for granted. I value the simple kindness and open friendliness here just as much as the music. It’s a standing joke that the people who punch you to the ground in the moshpit are the same people who will help you to your feet immediately after. I didn’t even have to chuck anyone in the mud this year! The vast majority of people who asked to pose with us were lovely, respectful, and I made some new friends! Maybe I give off a crumpets-and-tea vibe even before I speak but somehow the English gravitated towards me- it’s always fun realising someone’s from your own country this far afield in a 75,000-strong gathering. Even better, when people you didn’t expect to see arrive- it was the loveliest surprise to see our postapocalyptic brothers and sisters “The Zone Rats” from the Czech Republic! We met at Junktown and got on so well- though we had less catch-up time than we would have liked, they joined us for a few days and their presence was a highlight. See you soon, Zone Rats! You can ride with us any time. <3
Photo by Sven Noehren
Friday was the infamous Wasteland Warriors onesie party and I left with a small fluffy convoy to go and see Marilyn Manson but after wiggling my way towards the front, I made my way back again almost immediately. Oh, Manson… He’s been through it recently and I wasn’t expecting a mindblowing performance but oh deary dear. Sound issues (or forgetting how to use a microphone), no-reason stilts, long black silences between songs, half-hearted stabbings and at the beginning of my least favourite song (Personal Jesus- the line ‘reach out and touch Faith’ is hard on people called Faith, haha!) I joined the substantial stream of people also heading away from the stage and returned to the party and our secret formula drinking game.
As our music is usually drowned out by the chainsaw carving right next to us, we get the chance to bounce around in the cage, dance to techno, wear ridiculous outfits and… play limbo. Sadly, my bat onesie didn’t arrive on time but help arrived in the form of another fluffy green dragon one. I didn’t freak out any rock gods this time though (for the Dee Snider story, click here). ;P Officially, our ‘display time’ ends at night but as most of us choose to stay in our area, we become ‘accidental artists’ regardless of what we’re doing and our parties attract quite the audience! Alcohol makes me sleepy- especially as I’m 99.9% straight edge and normally never touch it, so I woke up in the arena at 3am in a snuggly ball under a blanket (thankyou blanket-giving friend) and thought I should go back to camp before people made a sculpture out of me. Like this.
I spend a lot of time in the dance cage. 🙂 Photo by Stefan
As expected, teardown took less time than buildup but even after a 9am start, a crew of at least 20 people still were only leaving at around 3pm. I spent the night in the airport as I often do and took my last selfies with a lovely couple who recognised me from the fights even without the armour. (I hope you got home safe, Liana and Jake.) I was woken from my bench-shaped bed by the arrival of a very sleepy Pyrohex (very talented fire performance group- watch their shows if you get the chance) who had missed their flight the previous day. Despite my zombified state, the few hours of extra company and cat pictures was actually really lovely. Performers rarely get the chance to talk to each other as rehearsals, shows and exhaustion/photos often take up all of the allotted time. There really should be a retreat for performers to chill out in! 😀
So now I’m home and preparing for Wasteland Weekend and an adventure in California where I’ll be joined by more of the Wasteland Warriors… and celebrating a belated 30th birthday! I’m scribbling as fast as I can, because my list of “things I want to tell you about” includes a photo expedition to an abandoned factory, nearly dying in Romania, the second-most-haunted forest in the world, and the reasons why we need to talk about Copenhagen. If you want to be kept updated, subscribe and never miss an adventure. 😉
Photo by Sgt Pepper. “WACKEEEEEEEEEENNNN!!!”
p.s. I asked my friends for their three minute band rundown:
Amon Amarth – “Fucking awesome”. “Moshpitting to Amon Amarth was deffinitly one of the highlights, I mean, it’d be rude not to.”
Cypecore – “On the wasteland stage with pyro – very entertaining!”
Megadeth and Alice Cooper “frigging awesome!” “Alice Cooper is always worth watching, strings his songs together like a story and the stage show it’s self is really well done”
“I sustained possibly a permanent scar in the Napalm Death mosh pit and quite likely to have been concussed by multiple games of ‘Danger Can’ in the campsite.”
Volbeat: “pretty good”
Possessed: “quite good, hadn’t seen them before”, a bit pissed of that I missed Skalmold, although they can be an acquired taste
“Damn, what had Marilyn Manson been smoking?! And his hair looked like Dwayne Dibbley”.