SAMPLES > Bloodstock Open Air Festival (2009)

Catton Hall, Derby - Friday 14th to Sunday 17th August 2009

In this instalment I’ll be looking at the Bloodstock Open Air festival which took place mid-August in sexy Lichfield.

If you’re unfamiliar with what I’m talking about well perhaps you’ve heard of the Download (formerly Monsters of Rock) festival, yes? How about Kerrang? Well, take these concepts and all they stand for and throw them out of a window into some traffic. The aforementioned items have nothing on Bloodstock: a festival simply teeming with metal of the hardest variety. Seriously, it makes the Scuzz channel on Sky Digital seem like a soft, new kitten that moderately rocks out. Sometimes.

The festival goers of Bloodstock were a brimming sea of black band shirts and large amounts of head hair and beard (the men look the same as well GUFFAW!). If you’ve never been to a festival before let me set a few records straight: yes, it really is a no-holds-barred when it comes to people’s choice of attire. Yes, you will go home smelly and dirty even if you use the on-camp showers. Yes, beer is very much the cornerstone of the weekend’s diet. And yes, you will get robbed. Not by other campers, just by the prices.

Like most other festivals (though probably only a fraction of their sizes due to its somewhat esoteric clientele) Bloodstock boasts an array of merchandise stalls, food stands and bars for which to keep one occupied for the full four days. Nothing much else can be said about the amenities on offer. Food is overpriced as always but bizarrely becomes rather tantalising after several pints. And there are a variety of clothes outlets that pertain to the generic customer (customisable shirts, funny slogan shirts) and to people more suited to the festival (band shirts). As well as a slew of CD shops.

Bloodstock also offered – what me and a friend referred to as – a hippy tent. By which we mean a tepee that sells all manner of new age trinkets: home-made musical instruments, incense sticks etc. Very mellow. Outside of which was a seated area combined with an ongoing bongo session. And yes, we did have a go. Nothing says 'primordial' like beating pseudo rhythms on a skin-tight drum. All that was missing was a loin cloth.

This aspect added a rather unique dimension to a festival devoted to a transgressive form of metal and was a welcome for my friend and I after a heavy dose of headbanging.

Headliners for the festival included Carcass (yay!), Cradle of Filth (boo hiss etc.) and Europe (wha’?). By this alone one may expect the Bloodstock line-up to cater for a wide variety of headbangers: those who like brutal death metal, those who like more commercial stuff, and those who like…The Final Countdown. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your world perspective) it seems that only the metalhead elite would find enough bands to enjoy. After all this is a metal festival and if Kerrang has taught us anything it’s that watered down versions of metal can soon make the genre wade and a little too commercial.

Friday saw such bands as Blitzkrieg, Million Dollar Baby, Die Apokalyptischen Reiter, Municipal Waste, Saxon, Arch Enemy etc. with Carcass as the main act. Each with its own take on the festival crowds and the atmosphere. Municipal Waste, pour example, made an attempt at breaking a world record for having the most crowd surfers during a single song. Considering the majority of their songs are a little over 2 minutes in length that's some feat. Did they do it? I don't know, I'd been drinking. My bad.

Arch Enemy and Carcass seemed to follow on from each other particularly well and were perfect co-headliners. In more ways than one, with guitarist Michael Ammott playing in both bands. The explosive magnitude of Arch Enemy's vocalist Angela Gossow (yes she's a woman!) electrified the festival air and the welcome return of Carcass after their split in the mid-90's could not have topped the evening off any better.

By Saturday the intense metal allure was still very much alive and kicking. With bands such as Entombed, Apocalyptica, Battlelore, Kreator, The Haunted and The Wolf keeping people headbanging on the main stage. Co-headliners Blind Guardian were a brutal storm of power metal-y goodness and one that I will be wanting to see again.

Cradle of Filth topped the night off, unsuccessfully I'm afraid, when a barrage of tossed gob stoppers (yes, gob stoppers!) severely injured their guitarist and forced the band to end their set after only a few songs. Say what you will about them (I'm not a fan myself) but I do feel a little sorry for those who paid up to £100 to see them and was unfortunately let down by the elite few that couldn't make them feel welcome. Maybe they were wrong for that type of festival. Or maybe – as some people's shirts suggested – Dani Filth really is a cunt.

By Sunday the hangovers were beginning to take their tolls, but the metal kept on coming. Whether we liked it or not. Which we did. Because, quite frankly, we're sadists.

Anyway, some interestingly powerful sets from both Amon Amarth and Turisas that saw people through the roughest of phases with their folk-laden metal. Unfortunately we didn't get the opportunity to catch Europe in action. But as many people can ascertain there's only really one of their songs that stands out. Perhaps most of the people who saw them were only there for that one hit. Perhaps not. Again, I'd been drinking.

In terms of the acts themselves – many of whom from foreign lands – their performances had an appeal about them that gave loudness and heaviness new meanings. The bands seemed genuinely excited about the opportunity to play in a festival devoted to a socially shunned and misunderstood musical genre, and like many other festivals it gave them a new and wider audience. Die Apokalyptischen Reiter were one such act I had never heard but have now added them to my list of “albums I will totally buy legally”.

And if the main stage wasn't to ones taste, the alternative unsigned stage heralded a new breed of up and coming metal acts, each given a much appreciated opportunity to play live to a festival audience. Whilst the Sophie Lancaster stage (named after the goth girl beaten to death almost two years to the day of Bloodstock) hosted a number of entertaining time-fillers such as Guitar Hero contests, metal DJ acts playing none of the chart toppers as well as a metal karaoke which kick started just after the main acts finished.

As Bloodstock virgins, my friend and I decided to cavort with a group of other people in our predicament with whom we'd come in contact with via Facebook. This made our overall experience of the festival that much easier. A friendly face was never too far away and during no-band times it was somewhat of a relief to be able to meet up with others rather than just hobbling back to our tent like defeated warriors...

...ooh that reminds me: Viking battles. Yes, in the midst of the food stalls, the Guitar Hero battles and the rather tacky fairground rides a roped off area had been lain. Crowds gathered, with beer in-hand, to watch local actors, donned in full Viking outfits, battle it out with each other. Obviously fake fights but this didn't put a dampener on the display before us, as each member fought and hacked their way to victory. An entertaining spectacle if I ever did see one.

Having a sort of gathering place for a genre so specific yet also responsible for being scapegoated in the past, Bloodstock doesn’t just seem like a festival as it does more a community. At the risk of sounding like a cheese-monster on his third helping of Winsley Dale, it’s a coming together bonded not only by a love of metal but by an entire way of life. You can all be sick now.



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