Creating a Metal Paradise: An Interview with Thomas Jensen, Co-Founder of Wacken Open Air

We can choose the kind of world where we want to live, and work towards it.

For metal fans, meeting Thomas Jensen is a bit like meeting Walt Disney. After all, it was he who, together with Holger Hübner, put together the heavy metal equivalent of Disneyland. A (dark) Magic Kingdom where metalheads from around the world come to make their dreams come true.

Although nowadays it is easy to look at Wacken Open Air and at the empire that has grown around it (including heavy metal concerts in ski resorts, a heavy metal cruise, and tons of branded merchandise) as mere commercial ventures, the reality is more complex than that. Indeed, even though WOA (and ICS, the company that spun from it) are for-profit companies, they are still run by the same kids who, 28 years ago, were united by the dream of seeing their favourite bands play in their neighborhood.

“We were metal fans back then, just like we are metal fans today. At that time there wasn’t really a festival for metal in this area. I was a big festival-goer; I’d go to Scandinavia, to Monsters of Rock, and all of that stuff, so we thought that if nobody else was doing it here, we had to do it on our own. It’s a bit of a punk attitude. There was nothing in ‘our neighborhood’ like it, so we had to create our own thing to feature our music.

Back then people were telling us that we couldn’t do just metal, that we had to mix it with other music. Keep in mind that in those days most festivals were really mixed, so everybody said it would’t work. Nowadays everybody says the opposite, that it’s great that we only do metal. “

The first Wacken Open Air: August 24-25, 1990

The fact that people doubted the viability of this festival in its early days is understandable. There was nothing quite like it in Europe, and so the possibilities of it taking off were slim to none. When you look at the size of WOA today, with around 80.000 attendees every year (not counting the other events under the Wacken brand), it is easy to forget that money wasn’t always available. In those early days, in fact, merely having WOA as a job seemed way too distant.

“That wasn’t really our motivation back then. Our motivation was just to have our music represented, and have a great metal party. Only two or three years later did we start thinking that, maybe, we could make a job out of this. We realized that if we wanted to make it really professional, we had to make it full-on, since it can’t be done part-time.

It was around 1994 when we started to wonder how to organize things to make a festival. We knew that we wouldn’t survive only with the festival, so we got into all the different parts of the business; security, band management, merchandising, touring. Always thinking about how to finance Wacken.

I was fascinated when old-school tour managers would say to us that they were 20 years in the business, while we were wondering how to survive just for 10! That was our goal, to just manage to do this for 10 years and survive… and then do the same all over again.

Now that we just did our 25th anniversary we’re already dreaming about the 50th! [laughs]”

1999: The 10th Anniversary of Wacken Open Air

The failure of events like Soundwave serve as a stark reminder of how difficult it can be to not only get a festival going, but also to make it survive. Although we all get some much-needed Schadenfreude witnessing the Fyre festival disaster, where socialites and Instagram “stars” were scammed out of their money and left stranded on an island, the fact that such an event went under despite the massive amounts of cash it had at its disposal really highlights how difficult it all can be.

Thomas seems acutely aware of how lucky they were in succeeding the way they did. In the festival circuit, for every WOA, Hellfest or Graspop, a huge list of failures can be named.

“We had to learn it the hard way at the beginning. Soundwave was pretty big; they were successful much earlier than us. We had our learning years, and they were very hard. There was no glamour, no aftershow, nothing. Our only motivation was the music.

Wacken is not about the business, the aftershow parties or things like that. Our main motivation was, and still is, the music. This is what keeps us going.”

If you ask any metal fan about what they understand by the term “Wacken music,” you’re bound to get a list of top-notch, old school, heavy metal bands. This is no coincidence, as WOA has stayed away from a large part of the more “mainstream” sections of the genre, appealing instead to the very core of heavy metal fans. This must have been a tough decision, since festivals that simply filled their line-ups with whatever flavor-of-the-month band happened to be topping the charts, saw their revenues and sizes increase dramatically. WOA has, of course, taken a different route, although Thomas is quick to point out that the reasons are not only philosophical, but also pragmatic.

“Part of it is wanting to stay on track, because when we ask the fans what they want, the majority wants it like this.

At the same time, however, part of it is also the result of our festival taking place in August. There are a lot more bands available in June, so it’s much easier for June festivals to book the bigger names. We’re kind of forced to come up with different ideas!”

A Heavy Metal Village

They might all look different, but their core values are the same.

One of the most special parts of WOA is that, unlike other similar events, it doesn’t take place “near” a village, but “in” a village. Step out of the festival, walk a few meters, and you are in Wacken. Of course, the relation of WOA and Wacken isn’t merely geographical. It’s much deeper than that, almost symbiotic in nature. On the one hand, the village receives enormous financial benefits from WOA; on the other, a big part of the enjoyment of the fans comes from their interaction with the people of the village, and from the sense of being welcome as members of a big family.

I have the privilege of being friends with a family who lives in Wacken (I like to say that they’ve adopted me), and in them I see the biggest demonstration of the symbiotic relation that the village has with the festival. Neither Meike nor Klaus (the parents in this household), nor their children (some of them in their mid 20’s), are metal fans. And still, they look forward to this week of heavy metal mayhem, even if it means the occasional traffic jam when they go to work, or a bunch of unexpected guests (like myself) joining at their table.

Creating such a wonderful bond between the community and the festival isn’t easy. It requires patience and a lot of mutual respect. When you consider that this is an event that, every year, involves 80 thousand fans descending upon the village, loud and often drunk, it’s easy to think that some of the villagers might hate the event altogether.

The reaction of the village changes constantly. It’s a process, a slow process. This is one of the “secrets” of Wacken Open Air: It wasn’t created in one year. it’s an ongoing process. The village has learned from the audience, and the audience has learned how the people in the village react to them. There’s trust among the two groups.

When you look at the demographics of the fans, you can clearly see the changes. In the last 10 years we’ve been witnessing first, second and third generation of fans. At the beginning of the festival we’d only see one age group, whereas now we see a whole community. That’s what’s really nice about it. Although Wacken has always been kind of a family thing, now it’s even more, because there are kids coming with their families, it’s unbelievable.

If you had asked me about this in the 90’s, I would have said that this is not possible for metal. Maybe at Woodstock or something hippie like that, but not at a rock festival.”

“When we did the Full Metal Village documentary, the filmmaker wanted to show the ‘clash’ between the village and the fans, so I had to tell her that there wasn’t really a clash! [laughs] They might all look different, but their core values are the same.

In fact, in the film they don’t actually show a lot of the real village of Wacken, but of another nearby villages. Still, the film did help us a lot, because it showed an atmosphere of tolerance and understanding, even though the protagonists do not come from Wacken, but from two villages farther away, Vaale and Vaalermoor.

Sung-Hyung Cho, the director, was trying to create this image of a sleeping village that simply doesn’t exist in Wacken. if you go to Wacken tomorrow, it’s a lively village on the outskirts of Hamburg, with a lot of open-minded people. It’s not just a sleeping village that is awaken once a year!”

Despite the influx of young blood that descends upon Wacken every year, the village is affected by the same ailment that affects the countryside all over Europe: Young people seek life elsewhere. Drawn to the big cities, young resident are hard to find in places like Wacken.

“That’s everywhere in the countryside, unfortunately, especially in the Eastern part of Germany. There are whole regions where you only have old people, because the younger ones are moving to the city. This is something where we think we have a responsibility towards the village, and we’re doing a lot of things for the place.

From the beginning, for about 15 years now, we’ve been supporting the local public swimming pool, the local kindergarten, etc. They might appear to be small things, but sometimes all you need are small things.”

The Wacken swimming pool is an institution of its own. Enormous in size, it almost seems out of place in the village. So out of place, in fact, that the locals are always quick to remind me that it wouldn’t exist at all if it wasn’t because the festival funds it.

“My father used to be in the local parliament, and I know that when they were setting it up in the early 70’s, everybody was already saying that a little village cannot have a swimming pool like that. Still, some of the people just said ‘fuck it, we’ll have it anyway!’ [laughs] I think that this attitude is what I like about the place.

my father always used to say ‘Wacken is the center of the world,’ even though he wasn’t even born there. He was really proud of the village (sometimes maybe too much! [laughs])… sometimes you need to be a little bit crazy and a little bit stubborn. As they say in the business world, you have to think big, otherwise life stays boring.”

When Thomas speaks about the village, he does so from a place of respect and, almost, veneration. Although from a corporate talking head you’d expect to get that kind of spiel as a mere canned response, his words come from a place of sincerity. Wacken is much more than a venue for him. Perhaps that explains why, year after year, and despite the difficulties they faced in their early years, they kept things going.

“I’m born and raised in Wacken. It’s my home. maybe it’s because I’m getting old, but A lot has to do with respect. When we started, we couldn’t just buy our way into things; we didn’t have the money to just be like ‘we’re doing this: FUCK YOU!’ [laughs] We had to find ways around that. We were inexperienced; we needed advice and we needed help.

The first 3 or 4 editions of the festival some of the farmers charged us way too much money, and then we found someone who showed us that we didn’t have any clue about the farmers, and started helping us. You need someone like that, somebody who, in good faith, supports you, some kind of mentor. Of course, this person didn’t do it just because; He saw Wacken as a party where he could come with his friends, and saw that these two fuckers couldn’t keep it together, so he decided to help out [laughs]”

Creating a Beautiful World

Music is a universal language.

As dark as heavy metal can be, as much aggression as it packs, it is also responsible for creating an environment in which troubled people can feel welcome and understood. Although many have pointed the finger at heavy metal and labeled it as dangerous, researchers have argued that the problems does not lay within heavy metal. In fact, the anger, sadness and hatred coming from the Marshall amps that serve as the backdrop to any self-respecting heavy metal gig are not leading kids towards “the dark side,” but instead offering them a way out. When you’re a kid dealing with depression, aggression and anger, realizing that others have felt that same way can be a cathartic experience.

Growing older as a metal fan, hopefully overcoming some of the anger that might have lead you to it in your youth, makes you realize the importance of making sure that places like Wacken remain operational. It’s a labor of love and cooperation that, sadly, many might oversee because they get distracted by the “evil” outward appearance of the genre.

“Right now people all over the world see things very one-dimensionally. They think only about their own personal advantage; you can’t think like that, you have to see the bigger picture.

The world is a nice place! There are some assholes, of course, but people in general are good. I don’t want it to be different than that. when I meet someone my first thought is that they’re probably a good person. If you don’t think that way, then it all gets frustrating. It all sounds a bit hippie [laughs] even if right now I’m celebrating the 40th anniversary of punk.”

Although I’m younger than Thomas, I can relate to some of the mental changes that come with age. By and large, at least for me, they had to do with dropping some of the negativity and being a bit more accepting of others. When you’re a kid it’s easy to be a in a bubble and push everything out, so it’s great if you can mature your way out of that mindset. Although it might surprise some, WOA, with its 80.000 attendees and the great variety of music it showcases, actually helps to open kids’ minds by creating this space for social interaction and for experiencing new music, new things and even new cultures. Thomas takes that as a big compliment for himself and for the festival, and appears very proud of what his organization has accomplished here.

“I think that a lot of people complain about the younger generations not being politically involved, etc., but I think that, really, they are a lot more open-minded than we were. I was really like ‘this is my music! fuck everything else!’ [laughs] I was an AC/DC fan, I didn’t even like KISS, I hated them! And now, in our latest edition, when you see Foreigner playing in the main stage, while really extreme black metal bands are playing in the tents, and people watch both things… Back in 1982 that would have been impossible for me. It was ‘my way or the highway!’ [laughs]

One week after Wacken we do a music camp for kids who come for their holidays. They form bands, and it’s so interesting. This year we had Timo Kotipelto of Stratovarius and Nibss Carter from Saxon (he’s great with kids because he has so many of them… not to mention that he is just a big child! [laughs]).

These 16-18 year olds, they know about classical music, they know about old and new rock music… it’s a really wide range. I’m not saying all of them are like that, but many are; definitely more than when I was young. I think that it’s a great thing, because music is a universal language.”

Alissa White Gluz with Arch Enemy at Wacken 2016

Thomas is on the spot here. Evidence shows that millenials are more open-minded than the generations that preceded them. As annoying as some of their (or our) traits might be (at my age I’m supposed to be a “millennial”), there’s no denying that some great, positive things have come from them. It makes sense, after all, they are the first generation that is truly able to feel connected with the whole world, aided by the Internet. Whether it’s politics, science or culture we are now able to be exposed to things we never thought possible when I was a kid growing up in the 80’s.

When it comes to music, we sometimes overlook how amazing it is to simply be able to listen to something new with the click of a button, not being bound to having to buy a whole album before we make a decision.

“On the other hand though, back then we were forced to really dig deep into things. When I bought an album as a kid, it was a statement in and of itself. You could only buy one album at a time!

There are a couple of albums, like London Calling by The Clash, that really became favorites, even though when I bought them I thought that they were a piece of shit. I was really into punk rock, so I was like “what the fuck is THAT?!” [laughs]. I wanted something like the UK Subs, something old school (back then punk was about 3 years old, and I was already thinking about ‘true’ punk! [laughs]).

It was because I bought London Calling that I had to deal with it, play it a lot (because I didn’t have many records anyway), and eventually get into it. Nowadays you listen to something just once, because you can just stream it and if you don’t get immediately hooked, you move on.”

The very positive inter-connectivity of the Internet, coupled with the virtually endless pool of information at our disposal, has indeed made it harder to catch anyone’s attention. Most people will spend about 15 seconds on any given website (meaning that the majority of people who clicked on this link won’t even get this far, so thank you for joining me here, you wise and exceptional person!) which makes it hard to convey complex information. This has made it harder to create good content, as websites and magazines engage in a race to the bottom to create dumber and dumber content, knowing that shocking, inaccurate and pointless things are sure to get people’s attention.  Although he agrees, Thomas laughs and simply says that he still has hope for the world.

Christian organization giving away bibles to metalheads at Wacken

When Terror Strikes

We have to stay positive and work on solutions instead of restrictions.

Just a couple of weeks before WOA 2016 was to take place, the Ansbach Open Music Festival was the target of a terrorist attack. Although the only fatal victim of the attack was the perpetrator, and we now know that he was acting alone, in the immediate aftermath of the attack the question was raised as to whether this would just be the first of many such hits against massive music events. Could Wacken be next?

Thinking that the worst could happen to Wacken didn’t seem far-fetched back then. A large open area, full of thousands of fans who, to an extremist, might appear to be “decadence” personified, would be an ideal target and, therefore, represented a high risk. Somehow, the organizers of the festivals kept a cool head.

“We thought that the Ansbach bomb wasn’t really a terrorist attack like the one that happened in France. If I had said this when it it happened, that it wasn’t such a big a deal, people would have said that I wasn’t paying attention to what was happening, which is not true. I think that there was an overreaction on the part of the media. People try to simplify things, even though things are not that simple. The world is complicated.

The Bataclan attack was, for me, really an attack on rock music. Somebody who worked with us was working in the merch at that show, and he was among the victims. He worked with us 3 or 4 times. He wasn’t my friend, but I knew him. We donated the profits of one of our t-shirts for him.

I spoke with a friend of mine who manages an Irish punk band, and he told me how it all felt like Belfast in the 80’s. It’s the same in some places in South America, like Colombia and Brazil, where there is so much violence on the streets that there are areas where a tourist can’t even dream of going. we’ve been really lucky in Europe.”

Thomas is very much aware of what WOA represents, and how things like terror attacks, even those that target other places, actually threaten this festival. Still, he tries to look at things positively, and come up with the least harmful solutions.

“Even with the new challenges like terrorism we have to stay positive and work on solutions instead of restrictions.

We have to protect this union that we create at Wacken, with people coming from all over the world. We can choose the kind of world where we want to live, and work towards it. We have to make sure that we all live with as much freedom as possible, and to not lose it.”

Some of the accepted bags at Wacken (Photo made availble by Wacken Open Air)

When he talks about “freedoms” and “restrictions,” he doesn’t do it from a merely philosophical point of view, but from experience. Setting up the festival always involves a careful balancing act between what people can be allowed to do, and where the festival has to lay down some rules. Although WOA can deal with a lot of madness, there has to be a method to that madness. In the 2016 edition, for example, in the immediate aftermath of the Ansbach attack, backpacks had to be banned. Only members of the press were allowed to carry theirs, while everyone else had to either use fanny packs or their Wacken tote bags. It was certainly an annoyance, but it was also the only possible solution for the crew. It was either that or just having security search through every backpack. All 80 thousand of them.

“That was the main thing. One idea was to limit the movement, so that once you go into the venues, you can’t come out again, but that obviously doesn’t work at a place like Wacken, since you’re always walking around, and we were not going to treat the people in the infield as if they were in prison. They need to go in and out!

We ended up trying the ban of the backpacks. It requires taking a little bit of freedom from the audience, sure, but that way the security staff has a bit less work. A lot of festivals then copied our idea, and basically said that bags are dangerous… they just got it wrong [laughs]! It’s not that the bags are dangerous, it’s just that we wanted to make the job easier for security. There’s nothing wrong with a bag!

The local authorities were really great this year; they weren’t overreacting. They were working together as a team, which showed the kind of teamwork-thinking that we have in this family. We all get around the table, look at the problem, discuss it, make a decision, and then we all follow it. There were times when I didn’t like the decisions, but if we all come to them together, I can’t simply go against them.

I’m proud of the fact that even though everybody was panicking in Germany, everybody here behaved really well. The police and the fire brigades want the festival to happen; it’s not a burden for them, it’s a thing they want. They said that it’s important that we have events like these, and that we make them with as much freedom as possible. It was really cool.”

I asked Thomas if he ever thought that maybe WOA could be targeted, seeing what happened at Bataclan in Paris and, of course, in Ansbach. With the threat of terrorism on the rise, it was clear that 2016 was not the first time that they had this in mind.

“We’ve thought about that before. We did training with our local authorities a few years ago; we were the first festival that got a training at a police training center near Bonn.

Our fire brigades is made of volunteers. There are about 17 volunteer fire brigades (‘Freiwillige Feuerwehr’) from the nearby areas, and we’re really proud of them, because over the years they have achieved such a high level, even though they’re not getting paid. Any money they receive needs to go into buying equipment and, still, i think they can compete with the professional fire brigades.

This is where the ‘Wacken Firefighters’ theme comes from. It has nothing to do with anything professional. It started as joke; I knew them all, and they’d tell me that we needed some ‘proper’ music in the festival. So I told them to come with their fucking brass band to the festival and do the opening [laughs] They took it seriously! I told them that if they didn’t want to have bottles thrown at them they’d have to learn some proper songs for Wacken, so they learned things like ‘Highway to Hell’ and ‘Smoke on the Water.’ What then happened was that the community of metal fans realized that this brass band respected their music, because they were covering their songs.”

The Broke Marxist Festival that Never Was

Good Headline, Bad Reporting. Brought to you by Billboard.

We would be absolutely fucking stupid if we were selling out the festival so fast, and still had no money!

In 2015 Billboard published an interview with Thomas that made some pretty serious claims about the state of the festival. Among them, that WOA lived constantly in the brink of bankruptcy, struggling to recoup its money every year. The mere mention of the article makes Thomas laugh:

“She got everything wrong! She was soooo drunk! [laughs]”

The article claimed that WOA struggled from year to year, never knowing if the next edition would happen. Thomas continues to laugh:

“No! [laughs] That’s fucking bullshit! We would be idiots if that was the case! [laughs]

After that interview we did a little event in Hamburg, and while I was backstage Mille Petrozza from Kreator grabbed me and asked ‘Thomas! How bad is it!?’ [laughs] ‘Will Wacken happen next year?!’ I was like ‘Sure! We already sold out!’ [laughs]

The problem was that the girl from Billboard was really drunk, and I think she had been smoking something as well. It was the last day of the festival, I was really busy, and didn’t feel like doing another boring interview, so I told her to do it right in the middle of the Artist Area. By then she was already a little bit drunk. The interview took about an hour and a half, but we were interrupted every 5 minutes with people coming to talk to me, congratulate me for the festival, etc. I think that she was really confused.

What I actually said was that during our first 6 or 7 years, we didn’t know if we could keep doing it, so we had to find tricks to motivate the fans to buy the tickets really early (that’s how we invented the Christmas ticket). She got it all wrong, and thought this is what’s happening now. We would be absolutely fucking stupid if we were selling out the festival so fast, and still had no money! [laughs]

People were giving me shit on Facebook, asking me how we were doing. It created a great discussion, because she also referred to something where I said that Wacken was a little bit like communism or something like that. The problem is that I said it in the sense of a community, not in the sense of Stalin or Lenin!”

It all goes back to our conversation about capturing people’s attentions, even at the price of making stuff up as you go along or, at least, getting everything wrong in the process. It’s a culture of clickbait where not only do inaccurate statements get a lot of views, but also an echo chamber emerges where everybody starts repeating them without anybody bothering to verify things.  Nobody can deny that “Wacken Open Air: Heavy Metal’s Socialist Dream Struggles to Break Even” is a great title.  It’s bullshit, but it’s a great title.

“It’s like Full Metal Village. When I first saw it, even though I really liked the director, I thought that it had nothing to do with the place where I grew up. My dad was always very proud that Wacken was really open, and she was painting this picture of us… But then I thought that it’s just fiction, a movie, that people want to be entertained, and that this is the story they want to hear. Why not? We can live with it. In fact, Full Metal Village was one of our best promotional films, even though we didn’t do it, and had nothing to do with it, we only supported it.

Well, to be precise, we supported her, the director. I didn’t like the producers, because they were making a business thing out of it, because I would have liked to make it more about the community. It’s the same with the 3D movie; the director and the film are great. I think that they could have made it a tighter movie about the metal scene, but the film is still great. If the interview created a big reaction, it’s probably good too.”

Rain or Shine

The rain is always different.

“We care about protecting our brand, and we have structured the company so that, if somebody gets fucked up, we are able to make new festivals immediately, if something gets fucked up, like with a terrorist attack, a hurricane, etc.

There’s a big conference in London every year, the ILMC (International Live Music Conference), and they have a production meeting. At the beginning they show this video with all of the accidents that happened during the year, and you get really shocked with what can happen. We have a lot of firewalls, of course, but you can never be sure.

We want things to be as good as possible, with all of our love and passion, but nothing is certain.”

“See you in Wacken, rain or shine” has become a motto for the festival, which every year has to battle with an increasingly unpredictable weather. I still remember my first WOA, back in 2011, when I got to experience a massive downpour just as I was taking down my tent. Believe me, being on a train for 5 hours, soaking wet, is not a fun experience.

Of course, others have had it worse, as there are plenty of stories of people inadvertently camping on lower areas, waking up the next morning floating in mud. Imagine opening your eyes just to realize that you, and everything you brought, are covered in mud. The 2015 edition was infamous for this, as the rain in the days prior to the festival had been so relentless that there was hardly any solid ground left anywhere in the festival. Things got so bad, actually, that, according to my sources within the company, the option of cancelling the festival was put on the table. Of course, it’s hard to imagine what kind of explanation a festival this big can give to the people from all over the world, who planned their trips months in advance, after telling them they have to turn back.

The Wacken 2015 experience

“I was thinking about going somewhere else, maybe do some of the big shows in venues in Hamburg, set up tents, etc. You have to think outside the box here.

I know that there was a big hippie festival where they asked the audience to just come back two days later… and people actually came back! We can’t do that here though. Maybe we could have rescheduled Trans Siberian Orchestra from Friday to Sunday, but not the whole thing.

What I always have to tell people is that the rain is always different. In 2015 it stopped on Thursday, and then it got better. In 2016 we had less rain, but we had it every day!

I think that our team is really strong, and that’s what I’m really proud of. It’s not as if Hölger and me just sat down and created this team that can handle everything; a group of people that can keep going even when the shit getw thick [laughs]. It’s a process that developed over the years, and most of the people on this team love the festival so much that they are willing to go the extra mile. Maybe if it wasn’t Wacken some of the suppliers, when they saw the rain, would have said ‘Fuck it!’ [laughs] but not here.

You could really feel this in the team; I was always scared that they’d come and tell me that they couldn’t go on, but it never happened.

This is why we’ve spent a lot of money already fixing things. We couldn’t finish all the buildings we wanted for the 2016 edition, because we needed some additional permits, and that can take ages. Half of what we wanted to do was done before the festival, and the other half had to get done afterwards.

We still have to do a lot, and that’s why we had to raise the price. People didn’t like it, but it’s what we have to do.”

A Place Where Every Fan is the Same

We’re all equal, and we all have the same chances of being in front of the stage.

WOA has become famous for not having special VIP passes or special tickets that separate the audience. There are no “golden circles” or areas where those with the biggest budget can buy their proximity to the bands. Everyone is the same in the eyes of Wacken.

“The only thing we do is that we allow people to rent a caravan or a tent, but that’s via a different company that works with us. The ticket is the same for everyone; you can’t buy a special ticket. This is kind of what I meant with that ‘communist’ thing: we’re all the same here, we’re all equal, and we all have the same chances of being in front of the stage.

I think that it should stay like this. I’m not saying that every show that I produce should be like this, but Wacken, the spirit of Wacken, should stay this way.

We created things like the Moshtel, the camper van parking, etc., which is cool especially for people who come from faraway places like Australia, since then You obviously don’t want to bring your tent all the way here. I don’t have a problem if you buy the accommodation, as long as you understand that it won’t get you a special treatment in the festival.

We don’t want to change the festival experience. I don’t want it to be like it is in America, with designated areas in front of the space for people with ‘special’ tickets. I don’t want the first rows to be reserved for VIPs. It was like that when I went to Rocklahoma, and that area was just empty when the first bands were playing.”

A few years ago there was an infamous event at Ozzfest, when Sharon Osbourne got a bunch of assholes to pelt Bruce Dickinson and Iron Maiden with eggs. The reason was that Bruce had badmouthed the “corporate rock event” of Ozzfest, reality television and, especially, the fact that the first few rows were reserved for VIPs. It represented a segregation within the audience that he didn’t like to see and which, honestly, completely messed up the interaction with the fans. WOA seems to echo those ideas, as the infield continues to be the same for everyone. It doesn’t matter who you are outside the gates of Wacken. Here, you’re only one more fan.

Wacken’s Infield (Photo by Rolf Klatt, made available by Wacken Open Air)

“Our policy is that if you are among the first 10 thousand people to buy a ticket, you get a free shirt, nothing else.

If we ever did a designated area in the infield, it would have to be a balcony in the back. I don’t have a problem with that, but between the real fans and the bands, I’m with Bruce Dickinson: there shouldn’t be any barriers, and no restrictions. I don’t like VIP areas there. It’s not good for the atmosphere!”

Wacken Open Air 2017 will take place from August 3 – 8. Tickets are sold out, although a waiting list is available.

Remember to check out our review of Wacken 2016!

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