Rockavaria 2015 – fighting all odds

A lot of explanation and organisation details at the beginning – jump right to the details about the music,

It was some time ago that the last rock festival in München (or Munich, for you non-Bavarian speaking crowd) had happened – depending on what you count close to twenty or roughly twenty-five years ago. That’s a long time.

Now München is (rightfully) know to be a city with an especially strict administration, and is (undeservedly) known to be inhabited by people who would not exactly understand the finer details of rock music – not only the music, but more the ideology behind it, so this might not have been a surprise. But more importantly, big rock festivals in larger municipalities hadn’t happened that much in Germany in general for some time, for whatever reason.

The message that this would change, by the end of May of 2015, with Rockavaria naturally created some commotion among rock fans, not only in München, but also in the greater area. Presented by a newly-established company, this should have been a set of three festivals, the other two in Vienna and at the Grüne Hölle (Nürburgring).

That the Nürburgring location fell through at the last minute was not the only reason why long before the actual festival date, people started to lose faith in the presenter. Petty atrocities with the press (among them with Süddeutsche Zeitung, one of the three relevant German-language newspapers), a stalling ticket sale which led to special deals being offered being considerably cheaper even than the early-bird special deals, now possibility to set up your camp on the festival ground, all that had rock fans in a state between joy (for a nice festival in München) and disdain (for all the aforementioned negative aspects) for the recent time.

I cannot claim to be experienced in rock festivals myself. I can, however, claim, that I am well-versed with the opus of many of the acts that were on the bill: the first album I had bought had been Judas Priest’s “Screaming for Vengeance”, the first rock concerts were Judas Priest (I guess it was the Turbo tour? I still needed parental supervision back then) and Metallica (Damage Inc.), before I started to drift off into Miles Davis, Frank Zappa, John Zorn, Karlheinz Stockhausen and similar stuff that had me not exactly keeping a close eye on rock music.

Still, with a lot of my heroes from back then on the bill, plus some “I’d like to catch them sometime” acts thrown in, that was too good an opportunity to be left out – and I also considered that I wanted to play my, however small, part in establishing a rock festival in my old hometown. So the day approached.

Lineup and General Organisation…

The festival took place on a total of three stages, all in the Olympiapark (the Olympic park from the 1972 summer games), namely the Olympiastadion (large open-air stadium), the Olympiahalle (medium-large hall) and the Theatron (a small stage with a lake in its back). Events ran for three days (Friday to Sunday) from around 1400 to 2300 hours. The big acts (in the sense of playing last in the stadium) were Muse on Friday, KISS on Saturday and Metallica on Sunday, with Incubus, Judas Priest and Faith No More appearing before them. Especially Sunday had it in it for a metal oldtimer: with Exdous, Hatebreed, Testament and Kreator completing the bill in the stadium, there was only one band that wasn’t founded between 1980 and ’83 (Hatebreed), and only one that didn’t play metal and wasn’t active practically non-stop since (Faith No More). There was a lot more to see for anyone into slightly heavier rock, with Friday being the most “pop” day, obviously, and “weight” progressing each day.

…and Organisational Flaws

The presenter is a newly founded company, called Deag, which has reportedly former senior staff from experienced presenters (e.g. Lieberg’s company, responsible for Rock im Park/Rock am Ring) in its ranks, so one would suspect some experience in this company as well. For that reason, some of the many flaws in organization appear completely inexplicable. Let’s start with the Theatron area: this is a small stage, with a relatively small seating area. While access to this stage had to be limited to the point when not even all the proper seating locations had been filled was not only hard to understand, but also unacceptable, as it made access to this area linked to a thirty-minute wait at around 1500, and completely impossible at around 1700. The comment that this was enforced by authorities was obviously a blatant lie – I’ve been to many events happening on that stage which had the entire hill in front of the stage covered with people. Now people have come to accept that they’re only allowed to bring a maximum of 0.5l bottles to the festival, but when you have to stay in a location and drink sales are only limited to some sellers dropping by occasionally is, again, unacceptable and a serious attack on the health and well-being of the festival-goers (which, one might to point out, are the paying customers, after all).  The same goes for the front area in the stadium (no toilets in the entire stadium floor area!). And the front waves in the stadium also appeared relatively sparsely populated, while the rear reportedly was completely packed during Metallica’s set. Sticking with limiting access: it’s well understandable that after KISS has finished, not everyone coming from the stadium will fit into the Olympiahalle. For that reason closing the halle off completely does not only leave fans pissed for a reason, but also top acts like Airbourne playing in front of a half-empty venue.

I could really go on for quite some time, but let’s look instead at the thing that really counts: the music.

The Music

I already mentioned my old love for the NWOBHM and subsequent Bay-area scene music. Add to that love for some German outfits from that time, a fascination with the musicality of Mike Patton (albeit more relating to his work with Fantomas, Naked City etc.) and a secondary interest for the slightly odd, and you will understand why I looked at the lineup with great joy.

Unfortunately, I suffered from some weather-related headache on Friday, so my attendance was limited to the earlier acts (Triggerfinger, an act normally heard in clubs, playing the stadium: great, as was the heavier Southern rock (?) of Grant Bjork (Theatron) and the odd “cabaret” of Babymetal (arguably the best masters of their respective instruments during the entire weekend, and my highlight for Friday). Sadly, I missed the rest of the day, but heard great things about Muse’s performance (who still had to perform in front of an at best half-filled stadium).

Yours truly in front of Brant Bjork performing at the Theatron
Yours truly in front of Brant Bjork performing at the Theatron
Enjoying the festival...
Enjoying the festival…

We continued through Saturday starting with Dr. Living Dead on the way to the stadium (great mix of, maybe early Metallica and RATM (?) with funny masks to go along), only to hear from some disgruntled spectators that Hellyeah had cancelled, but in time for Accept (nice to hear the old songs from our youth again, but nothing special), before I originally wanted to hop into the Theatron, where I was denied admission by the huge queue, skipping into the parallel track into girlie metal in the hall (Beyond the Black, Epica), then returning to the stadium…for an outstanding performance by Judas Priest. Spanning the entire repertoire from 1976 (Victim of Changes) to 1990 (Painkiller) and throwing in two tracks I didn’t know, this was a great performance of all those old tracks – and talk about rock music also being critical of political activities, a track like “Electric Eye” seems even more up-to-date today as it was back in ’82. They rocked the stadium for my personal favourite of this day.

Ending the day in the stadium were KISS, with whom I never had a great relationship, but on the other hand, you simply know some of their old hits, and old hits it was they focused on (with only one newer track in the setlist). They were as crazy as ever, including makeup and odd attire, a great light show, use of cranes and moving stage elements, and big fireworks at the end of the set (which ended 30 minutes early, reportedly by a deal the presenters cut at the last minute to save on costs…). All in all, a great day, not only because but to the greatest extent for me because of Judas Priest, which made it possible for me to overlook not getting access to Mad Caddies and the short performance by KISS.

Looking down at KISS
Looking down at KISS

Sunday, the third and final day: I initially had planned to visit the stadium starting with Exodus and then stay for the beginning of Faith No More, in case I didn’t like it skipping to Meshuggah, and then enjoying Dir En Grey instead of Metallica (this old fart never really overcame Metallica’s sellout into mainstream pop back in the day). We were late to arrive, well in time for this day’s youngsters Hatebreed (whom I had once discovered at a festival and enjoyed since). There was still a lot of space at this time (owing to the fact that it was a city festival, after all), but Hatebreed managed to motivate the crowd for loud singalongs, mosh circles and all the other fun things in metal core. Their singer Jamey Jasta also told us “tomorrow, your voice has to sound like mine” – and he went on to be right, at least in my case.

With us warmed up properly, Testament was a great continuation of the list. Starting the set with the opener from their first album (“Over the Wall”), they went on to give us all the wonderful tracks from their albums. The returned lead guitarist Alex Skolnick was a pleasant surprise to me, as his very unique style of playing had always made this band a little different than the others, and that in a good way. Special mention goes to lead singer Chuck Billy’s habit to play along on air guitar at the side of the stage during solo breaks – nice!

Next up was Kreator, another oldskool group, this time not from the Bay area scene, but from Germany. At that point I was already rather heated-up (dialogue happening at that time: “those sunglasses make you look younger” – “no, that music makes me look younger!”), and Kreator were able to build on the and increase the energy even more, including all those heavy-hitting early thrash metal classics by them, and showing (again) a band who can still hold it with the following generations.

Raised eyebrows during the setup for the next act: white-clad roadies decorated the black stage with white flower pots, a white backline and white instruments, before a white-clad Faith No More hit the stage.

Note that during the setup, people were already blocked from entering the first two sections of the ground floor by an approach that can politely be called “overtly cautious and conservative” but more fittingly “idiotic, antisocial and lazy”. Add to that that there were no toilets provided on the entire ground floor in the stadium, and you can easily see how this added to the bad rep the presenter had already obtained up to then. But back to Faith No More.

After four decidedly “very heavy” bands, this was something different. I had had some reservations in advance, for two reasons. One, this band had, differently from the other acts on that day, folded for a long time and then been resurrected for what some people claim was an aim to work on the retirement fund (and nothing else). More importantly, some concert videos I had watched of their recent appearances showed Patton definitely challenged by what seemed a degraded voice…not the best for a band that, more than any other band of that festival, is centered around their lead singer’s prowess.

I was proven wrong, fortunately – we were listening to a Patton at his best voice-wise, sitting well in that very different sound. What’s more, three songs into the set, he was also the furious devil in his stage presents I have come to love, and so my idea to enjoy Meshuggah had to be postponed to another concert. We got great presentations of a lot of the old classics, plus some enjoyable new tracks, and the only downside was a set that had started late and ended early.

On to the final performance of the evening – the group that had defined the term “speed metal” before becoming a household name four albums later. As mentioned before, I had the plan to enjoy the first few songs, then skip to Dir En Grey, and listen to the end of the concert from the back. Following a war-oriented movie intro (that had me thinking “For Whom The Bell Tolls” immediately), they launched into their current opener “Fuel”, before it was in fact “For Whom The Bell Tolls”.

I won’t go into the details of which tunes they played, only so much: they had covered about every album (including a great rendition of “Metal Milita”), and they gave the impression that they thoroughly enjoyed themselves – which was made easy by a stadium that had finally filled somewhat to capacity. And with that, it was easy to forgive them playing out of sync two times, and Hetfield even once forgetting the lyrics (with a stadium full of energetic fans helping out in one voice as a prompter).

My voice continued to be challenged by singing along at full throat together with the crew around me, and so the festival’s longest set with over two hours came to an end all too soon (and before I could even once think about Dir En Grey) with “Enter Sandman” and bunch of black Metallica water balloons dropping onto the audience (of which I was able to secure one of the largest ones).

This day, it was even acceptable for me (and I would reckon for most audience members) not to be able to visit Within Temptation, but rather going to a sleazy pub, sitting, drinking, singing, before going to bed at the end of a weekend that was, after all, a really great experience.

Chuck Billy playing air guitar to one of Skolnick's solos.
Chuck Billy playing air guitar to one of Skolnick’s solos.
The audience lives for this - Hatebreed performing
The audience lives for this – Hatebreed performing “Live for this”
“Paranoia, coming form within” – Mille rocking the Olympastadion
White-clad roadies, white backline, flowers...is this really a rock festival?
White-clad roadies, white backline, flowers…is this really a rock festival?
The sexiest man alive - Patton!
The sexiest man alive – Patton!
Hetfield still has it!
Hetfield still has it!
“Master of Puppets” – currently Metallica’s most-played tune.
Metallica doing
Metallica doing “sanitarium
“Enter Sandman” playing ball
After the storm that was Metallica
After the storm that was Metallica
The big Metalliballoon in front of Schwabinger 7.
The big Metalliballoon in front of Schwabinger 7.

People

Of course, a festival is more than toilet locations, and also more than the big and small acts: it’s a lot about the people. And the people at Rockavaria were great. There was a very relaxed and joyful atmosphere everywhere you went with nice people enjoying themselves and none of the usual alcohol-induced oddness. The staff (which obviously suffered from the idiotic management decisions as much as the spectators) also was very polite – a special “thanks” goes to that one security guard at the stadium entrance, who did, on every day and every time he admitted someone, add a “thank you and enjoy!”. And while the typical festival mood (with not seeing a proper shower for several days, not sleeping for several days, and all that slightly odd crazyness on the side) was absent in the overtly clean München, the good mood was there – thanks to you other festival-goers and to you staff.

Summary

There was a lot of critizism in this article – nearly all of which had to do with the presenter and the organization. And there was a lot of praise – which had to do with the bands, with the people, and the music. One author really hit the nail on the head by stating that “bands and fans […] simply turned shit into gold”.

And with that: even though we (rightfully) had a lot to complain, all in all it was an unforgettable experience, and I really hope that we’ll have an event like this next year – or rather one with the same folks, but a different organization.

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