Wacken promises fans a virtual metal festival to remember

Europe’s largest outdoor metal festival Wacken should have been celebrating its 30th anniversary next month. While the impact of Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on the live music scene, the German festival is fighting back with a free digital streaming festival, Wacken World Wide. Wacken supremo Thomas Jensen tells ZT’s  Paul Castles how the new immersive concept will work. 

ZT: Hi Thomas, so as with metal festivals right across the globe you must have been devastated when you realised that Wacken would not be taking place this year. 

Thomas: Of course, it’s an absolute disaster and we are all really sad about it. In 30 years of Wacken we have never had to face a situation like this before. The coronavirus has really shown us how we perceive news. When it first broke in China it just all seemed so far away. Then when we saw the pictures coming in from Italy we knew it would reach Germany. So first the carnival didn’t happen then the skiing didn’t happen. We still thought in good old Viking style that we could find solutions to any problem but then the German Government said no big events until the end of August at the earliest. We thought we may be able to postpone the festival a little but with such an international audience and fans and artists travelling from all over the world it was clear that couldn’t go on. 

ZT: Once you called the festival off what was your first priority? 

Thomas: In the past when we’ve faced problems we get the team together and try and get some ideas going. We saw our first priority as being around ticketing and setting up a way to process the refunds. We wanted it to be transparent from the start, making it easy for the fans who wanted refunds to get them. 

ZT: How have the fans and artists reacted to the news? 

Thomas: The majority of the audience actually rolled their ticket over to 2021, more than 90% doing that, which is far more than I ever expected. Artists sent us messages of support and when you see how important your work is to musicians and fans that means a lot. I just feel so bad for our suppliers and crews. These are the guys suffering the most right now. Bands can work on songwriting or an album but the guitar techs and lighting techs these guys are really suffering. I’m really scared that the industry as a whole could end up losing a lot of these skills and knowledge as many of these people are now having to take day jobs away from the music industry. 

The story of Wacken is that we’ve always said the only ones helping us are the fans. We never had any expectation of government funds.

ZT: Did the German government offer you any support? 

Thomas: Not really. The heavy metal community has always been used to doing things with little or no help. The story of Wacken is that we’ve always said the only ones helping us are the fans. So we never had any expectation of government funds. But as a whole I think they should do more to support music and the club scene. We could learn a lot from the Netherlands and some of the Scandinavian countries where they really support the small venues. Those 300/400 capacity venues are the ones we really need to keep hold of. 

ZT: So how did the idea of the virtual festival idea develop? 

Thomas: Well in 2004 we did a 72-hr metal marathon live broadcast so we have some experience in this area. We asked our long-term partner Telekom what are you doing to help us this year now the festival is off? We told them that we have some ideas and luckily they’ve agreed to support us again. 

Battle stations… Swedish giants Sabaton are among a host of acts appearing on screen at a virtual Wacken this year

ZT: Virtual Wacken isn’t simply a case of running some old footage online? 

Thomas: No, it’s much more than that! We will have some highlight shows from the past but you buy a DVD or go on YouTube for that. We do have some stuff in the pipeline that has never been seen before but we also want to show new stuff and new performances. I really appreciated some of the living room concepts we saw in March/April but for this I wanted proper live shows with lights, fire, smoke, the whole shebang – I want it loud and extreme! 

ZT: Just explain how the virtual festival works, how it all comes together? 

Thomas: I’m not the most technical person, I still enjoy old black and white cowboy movies! But basically the artists will be filmed in real time against an LED back wall and floor with precise camera tracking to create as near authentic a festival experience as you can have without actually being here. It’s called XR-technology and it basically brings the stage to life. We’ve been testing it out and it looks like it all works! One of the things I’m most pleased about is that we will be working real crew members which is a symbol of their spirit and I know it will mean a great deal to them to be working on a live music event. 

ZT: What bands will be playing live using this technology? 

Thomas: We’ve got some of our closest friends supporting us, including Blind Guardian who first played at Wacken in 1992 which was really the very first year when you could see the kind of direction Wacken was moving towards. We’ve also got exclusive live performances from Heaven Shall Burn, Kreator, In Extremo and Beyond The Black. I’m really excited about things and it looks promising. We’re still hoping we may have performances from bands from different countries but clearly with travel restrictions that is not easy. 

Thrash attack… German kings Kreator performing at Wacken in 2017… This year they return virtually!

ZT: What kind of experience will the virtual festival be for the fans tuning in? 

Thomas: We still want to try and do what the festival has always done which is connect people. We will have fan cams from around the world. The festival has 75,000 fans every year but this time if you can’t come to us, then we’ll bring metal direct to your living room. At the moment there are still so many ideas bouncing around. It may be that some kind of virtual festival will be an additional format for us in the future.  

ZT: Some artists have been charging for virtual performances, was that ever considered? 

Thomas: No, we thought it was so important to give something to the metal community so that everyone can join and watch for free. If people do want to support us they can buy a special tshirt or festival wristband or even special souvenir tickets. Just visit www.metaltix.com 

ZT: How we do we watch? 

Thomas: It will be free online at wacken-world-wide.com between July 29 to August 1. There will be a virtual programme of events with newcomers of Wacken Metal Battle, interviews and behind-the-scenes stuff. 

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