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Wacken Open Air's recent sell-out success is just one of many signifiers of a genre in its prime, argues Planet Rock editor Paul Brannigan
By Paul Brannigan on 20 Sep 2018
With arguably the most loyal and welcoming fanbase in the world, sell-out international festivals and a number of boundary-pushing acts selling more tickets worldwide than ever before, hard rock and metal has never been in better condition.
No more is this evidenced than with the continued success of Germany’s Wacken Open Air, the world’s biggest heavy metal gathering. In early August, a quirky news story about two elderly Germans escaping from their care home to attend the festival went viral. But less well publicised was the fact that, within five days of the 2018 event concluding, all 75,000 tickets for the festival’s 30th anniversary in 2019 had been sold.
For Thomas Jensen, CEO of International Concert Service and co-founder of the event, the achievement is both a testament to the loyalty and support of the Wacken community and, in a broader sense, a signifier of the current robust health of the live music industry in regards to metal. “The climate for metal right now is really strong,” says Jensen, who first staged the festival in the northern German village in 1990, with just six bands and an audience of around 800.
“We have always said that Wacken is as much about the fans as the bands, and when we talk to those fans, it’s clear that the hunger for metal worldwide is only increasing.”
“In terms of global ticket sales, I have never known the genre to be stronger”
“In terms of global ticket sales, I have never known the genre to be stronger,” agrees John Jackson, CEO of international booking agency K2, which represents metal giants Metallica and Iron Maiden, alongside Slayer, Ghost, Gojira and Mastodon.
Metallica, who later this month will announce a summer 2019 European stadium run as part of their on-going WorldWired Tour, broke attendance records no fewer than 29 times on their last European tour, while Iron Maiden’s recent Legacy Of The Beast run, which wrapped with two sold-out nights at London’s 02 Arena on August 10/11, saw the English band play to 750,000 fans across 38 shows.
“Metal is still seen as an outsider genre but it’s a huge business globally, it transcends borders and languages,” says Alan Day, promoter at Kilimanjaro, who booked the company’s Sonisphere festival series across Europe. “People say metal isn’t on the radio anymore but it never really was, and the live scene is bigger than it’s ever been, and going from strength to strength.”
“One of the most exciting music documentaries in recent years for me was Iron Maiden’s Flight 666, seeing them fly into different territories and being greeted by hysteria everywhere,” says Paul Ryan, agent for Bring Me the Horizon, Bullet for My Valentine, Lamb of God and more, at UTA. “You can’t stop the rock, it’s as simple as that! Metal is a lifestyle, not a trend. I’ve been booking bands for 16 years, promoting for 3-4 years before that, and it’s clear that the appetite for this music is still growing.”
“You can’t stop the rock, it’s as simple as that!”
By common consent, heavy metal was born in Aston, Birmingham, officially brought into the world on 13 February 1970 when, amid the sound of thunder, driving rain and an ominously tolling church bell, Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi first employed ‘The Devil’s Interval’ on the title track of his band’s self-titled debut album. Though Sabbath brought down the curtain on their storied career with a final performance at Birmingham’s Genting Arena on 4 February 2017, their influence is imprinted in the DNA of every single metal act who succeeded them: :We made a good mark,” Iommi told this writer proudly as Sabbath bade farewell.
“Sabbath may have bowed out, but metal has never gone away,” says Andy Copping, Live Nation’s president of UK touring and the promoter of Download festival, which rose from the ashes of the legendary Monsters of Rock, the world’s first bespoke heavy metal festival series.
“Metal has never got the recognition it deserves, and I’ll be flabbergasted if it ever will, but the fans are out there, in bigger numbers than ever. This idea that rock is dead is a myth. I remember one year where the media were talking about how rock is dead, and that year we did 100,000 tickets at Download with Sabbath, Metallica and The Prodigy, in the same summer where the Isle of Wight Festival sold 30,000 tickets.
“Unlike some other genres, this is a genuine community. We have a great relationship with other festivals – Wacken, Bloodstock, Graspop, Hellfest – and we talk to one another and look at each other in terms of ideas and inspiration. We’re in this together.”
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