Friday, July 28, 2006

Wacken 2005 Part I - Intro and Thursday

This is a repost from last year, reporting on the 2005 Wacken Open Air


The following post, and subsequent posts are a report and discussion on Wacken Open Air 2005, or how three days of rain, mud, ligament damage, no washing, and practically no sleep turned into probably the second or third-best weekend of my life.


So what is Wacken, really? Well, it's a little like summer camp, but with a lot more beer. It's a little like a con, but there are somewhat fewer nerds and the music is better. And it's a little like a concert, only about 25 times longer and better. It is a Mecca to which every thrasher must travel, and a Utopia that you cannot forget, and must fare back to.

Technically speaking, Wacken is a town of about 3000 souls located about an hour north of Hamburg. Every year, usually on or about the first weekend in August, its population expands 10-fold and its beer consumption increases by a factor of 15 or 20. Metalheads of every age, gender, ethnicity, and nation travel there, set up camp, and proceed to drink up and rock out for an extended duration. This year, I was one of them.

At 0600 on Thursday, 4 August, I walked out of the door of my apartment in Dresden. By 1600, I was drinking a ridiculously overpriced beer and watching metal karaoke. There were some interesting moments on the train, but the real adventure begins in Itzehoe, leaving the Deutsche Bahn system for the Tokyo-subway collegiality of the Wackenbus. 3 euro for a one-way, 30-minute trip in a bus filled about 30-50% beyond nominal capacity. But if it was easy, it wouldn't be worth it. I got in, found a site not especially wet to set down on, and proceeded to set up my tent, showing off my leet Boy Scout skillz.

I did not have the worst-looking tent on the grounds. However, I set mine up stone sober, which should have been a significant advantage. Of course, there should probably be an allowance for basically not having gone camping in 7 years, then attemping to set up a fairly complicated two-piece three-man tent, with overhang, alone, in raging wind-gusts, in the middle of a cow pasture in Schleswig-Holstein. I got it done, but injured my knee in the process, and went to get banded, and then into town to get some emergency nutrition supplies, to walk it off.

The awesomeness of the Festivalgelaende needs to be seen to be believed; no point describing (there are a few pictures that will be in a later update). But the town can be described, and the short form is Laconia (New Hampshire), with slightly fewer fat old dudes. Everywhere you look on the main drag, people in black shirts drinking, walking, lolling around, and the townspeople -- used to it after 16 years now -- just going about their business -- booming if it involved alcohol, most kinds of food, or camping supplies -- and taking our money, whether in established shops, or in little makeshift bars in their front yards where 6 euro got you a beer and a place to sit. It was a metal utopia where those who come from te outside could see that a world dominated by us is a nicer, freer, world -- somewhat more drunk and brash than normal, but still based on respect and Gemeinschaft, us for them and them for us. We're here for fun, not aggro, and are substanitaly like this all the time.

On to the bands! I got back in time to catch the last half of Tristania's set, and they were ok, but only ok. The riffs got a little boring after a bit, and there wasn't much variety. Metal karaoke, especially given the guys wandering around that area in hospital gowns with nothing underneath, was a lot more entertaining. But then again, they were the dead-first of 45 bands on the open-air stages, and not a lot really should have been expected.

Candlemass, though, despite pretty much getting off the plane in Hamburg and stepping right on stage (Messiah: "I haven't eaten in like 6 hours, which is a new record"), really fucking lit things up. I never really got into Candlemass (Cathedral kind of soured me on that age of doom metal), but this performance turned me right around. Messiah Marcolin is an absolutely insane performer, and really looks like the sort of 14th-century alchemical wizard that crops up a few times in the songs that went into their set. He is that of which he sings, and that woud totally make the show, if his vocals and the band's killer performances hadn't done it already. Fuckin' aye.

Oomph! was back for the first time since 1995, and kicked a substantial amount of ass. It was only during their set that it got dark, so their light show was actually effective, especially in combination with their all-white stage suits and the guitarist's transparent axe. Very cool overall, and they even played a couple songs that I already knew, closing out with "Augen Auf", which in addition to being a total asskicker is also a favorite anthem of Dynamo and the Monarchs. Not as cool, but still interesting, was their effect on some of the fans. No, I really wouldn't like to lick your nipple, dude; just standing here watching this band is already meeting my RDA of Teh Ghey.

I missed Nightwish. Bite me. My back was killing me, my stomach was tying itself in knots from a combination of lots of beer and weird and insufficient food (including some desperately rotten pizza -- how Germans can make this even worse than whitebread Americans is utterly beyond me), and I'd bee up since 5AM, most of that time spent on my feet. I heard them from my tent and saw the flashes of pyro (I was only about a kilometer from the main stage), but that's as far as it went. I think I fell asleep to "Over The Hills and Far Away", if indeed I fell asleep at all. I learned a lesson in festival energy planning that made the next two days a lot more enjoyable, though, so there was something positive in there.

What really struck me on the first day was the openness and hospitality of German metal fans. Of course, it helps that my German is really good and I can nearly "pass", but even after they find out I'm from America, they're still cool. Also, although Germany is getting older, there was little evidence of that here, though plenty that Germans don't stop rocking as they age. The average banger is still between 16 and 30, but there were plenty of guys with gray or fading hair.

Another thing that was a bit more of a culture shock was people peeing everywhere. Not so much in open areas of the actual festival infield (though this was not unknown), but if there is a cornfield, or fence, or stand of wood, or whatever, there is usually someone to be found pissing into it. The toilets are reserved for shitting, not beer queue drainage. And since there are no designated women's toilets (ratio was about 70-30, pretty typical), it could be argued that us guys are being chivalrous and considerate by randomly urinating into the underbrush.

It's not for this reason -- though it may be a consideration for some -- but boots are a necessity at Wacken. This part of Germany is fairly wet, and the soil composition and constant traffic quickly pounds many parts of the camping grounds and a lot of the infield into shoe-sucking mud. With my wide, high-laced ground-chewers, I could cross and stand in these areas without difficulty, but others lost footwear or didn't even try. Perilous, perilous.

NEXT: Part II - Friday, or, Wherever You Go, The Music Follows

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