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Q&A: Wacken Open Air Vice President Miriam Hensel

One of the world’s most popular metal festival, Wacken Open Air’s vice president Miriam Hensel talks about bringing their band competition to India and Bangalore Open Air

Rolling Stone India May 26, 2014
Wacken Open Air 2013. Photo: Olaf Malzahn/Wacken Open Air

Wacken Open Air 2013. Photo: Olaf Malzahn/Wacken Open Air

EDM festivals with big-name DJs aren’t the only ones that can boast about selling out tickets in advance. Annual German metal festival Wacken Open Air, which takes place between July 31st and August 2nd, sold over 70,000 tickets within 48 hours of releasing tickets. Says the festival’s vice president Miriam Hensel, “It was crazy. We started pre-sales the night the [2013 edition] festival got over. We had just wrapped up and we were super tired. Suddenly, we got the information that the tickets were already sold out.”

Hensel is on her seventh visit to the country to promote the festival’s band competition Wacken Metal Battle, which was won by Shillong death metal band Plague Throat at the finale in Bengaluru on May 25th. Over 30 countries take part in Wacken Metal Battle, sending one representative band to perform at the festival in northern Germany. This year’s lineup includes Norwegian black metal veterans Emperor, experimental metal act Devin Townsend Project and British extreme metal band Carcass, among others. Also representing India at Wacken is Mumbai extreme metal band Demonic Resurrection, as part of their UK/Europe tour to promote their fourth full-length album, The Demon King. Says Hensel about including Indian bands, “I’m very happy to have them at Wacken, because it shows that Indians have to support their local bands. If you never support your local heroes, they’ll never get a slot at Wacken.”

In an interview with ROLLING STONE India, Hensel talks about why Wacken Open Air is in India, the business of metal festivals and supporting local promoters to organize festivals such as Bangalore Open Air.

 

What is your impression of Indian metal so far, looking at bands competing at Wacken Metal Battle?

It was not easy to figure out the winners. It’s good to see a lot of potential in the metal scene. I personally felt that there wasn’t a big difference in the style of metal played between bands from Mumbai and Hyderabad. They’re all on the same level.

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This year, you had German folk metal band SuidAkrA to headline Wacken Metal Battle regional rounds, which took place in six cities. What was the idea behind that?

When Wacken Metal Battle started out in India [in 2011], it took place in three cities. Then we got the idea to add a headliner, just so that more people would show up. We contacted the people from Max Mueller Bhavan and the Goethe Institut and since they are German, they said, ”˜we like to support our culture’. Our culture is metal [laughs]. For Wacken, it’s nice to have our brand here, where metal is growing. Like in Kolkata, one of the bands who were competing were just playing their second gig together, but they had a full packed club. That’s a good lesson for them.

 

What do you think about Bangalore Open Air starting a crowdfunding campaign this year?

First of all, I think crowdfunding is a great idea ”“ not just for festivals or musicicans. But in India, I feel there’s not much business in music apart from Bollywood. There isn’t even a big radio station for metal or anything.

What’s not so easy to understand in India is that we, as festival organizers, do not sell tickets in advance, the festival can’t go on. It’s simply because we have to pay a lot of other people in advance. I think metal fans don’t always know about the business behind festivals. A lot of smaller festivals get canceled all the time. It’s a bit unfair to cancel the smaller ones, because they always do such a good job.

 

A lot of international festivals want to host editions in different countries. Norway’s Inferno Metal Festival, for example, came down to Delhi and Bengaluru earlier this year. Do you think it’s a good idea?

Yes, why not? If we [festivals] don’t come with the idea to make money, then why not? There is massive interest and if we can pick good bands, then it’s a great idea.

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But Wacken is a little different. We’re interested in supporting someone like [Bangalore Open Air promoter] Salman Syed. Of course, we can come to India, rent the venue, hire a local crew for production, get some good international bands, make some money and go home. But we want to support the local scene. Wacken Open Air needed at least 15 to 17 years before it got coverage in the mainstream press in Germany.

 

What kind of problems does a festival like Wacken Open Air face?

The problems for festivals are usually the same, whether they are big or small. The weather, for example, is always very risky. Northern Germany is always prone to more showers. There have been times when we could have canceled but we never had to, thankfully.

 

But what about in terms of getting sponsors and money to organize the festival?

Getting sponsors is always difficult. Some years ago, we tried to get sponsors, but no one was interested in a metal festival. We were angry, but we converted that anger into energy. Now that we sold out tickets so quickly, they [sponsors] are coming.

I think the problem in India for sponsors for metal gigs is that you don’t have too many publishers, labels and record companies ”“ those are good multipliers.

 

In addition to the winning band from Wacken Metal Battle India playing at the festival, you’ve also picked Demonic Resurrection to play there. Last year, there was [Bengaluru old school metal band] Kryptos. What do you think about Indian bands playing at Wacken?

I think it’s the only way to show Indian fans what their local scene is made of. I’m very happy for Demonic Resurrection. They’re a great band. Everyone is always looking for Slayer or Metallica to come to their country, but you’ve got to look at your local bands. Support your local heroes, otherwise they’ll never get a slot at Wacken.

 

 

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