Just 25 kilometres south of where I live, France’s third largest music festival, Hellfest, attracts over 150,000 followers from over 70 countries, year on year. The picturesque town of Clisson, with its Italian renaissance features, and historically the southern most point of the duchy of Brittany, is an unlikely setting for one of Europe’s largest gatherings of ” metal-heads” and “extreme-music” lovers. Despite initial wariness from local residents at its inception in 2006, the event is now welcomed with open arms and has a significant impact on the economy of the community. It is this seeming disparity between the bucolic setting of the festival – classical style architecture and surrounding vineyard countryside- and the style of music on offer, that appealed to me.
Usually busy with the wedding season when the festival is on, I finally managed to get a weekend off last June and was able to make my first “pilgrimage” to this unique event. It was a fascinating experience and the atmosphere could not have been more friendly and welcoming, to the uninitiated like me. I had been warned that, victim of its own success, the festival had lost some of its original authenticity. It is true that the proliferation of pantomime disguises and some of the on site merchandising did lend a certain theme-park feel to the occasion. Having said that, on speaking to some seasoned festival-goers, Hellfest remained for them a unique annual event, a time to let one’s hair down, shed one’s everyday clothes , adorn the appropriate attire; and above all bond with those that share the same musical and lifestyle values. The pedigree on offer remains top-drawer, with the Scorpions featuring in 2015 and Black Sabbath headlining this year. So here are a few of my visual impressions from a very hot Sunday last year and look forward to returning as soon as the next opportunity arises.