Hellfest, also called Hellfest Summer Open Air, is a French music festival specializing in heavy metal, held each June in Clisson in Loire-Atlantique. Its high attendance makes it one of the greatest French music festivals, as well as one of the biggest festivals of metal in Europe and the first in France. It originated in another music festival, the Fury Fest, held from 2002 to 2005 in different places of the Loire; the Hellfest takes over in 2006 and knows, in a few years, a continuous rise in visits from 22,000 in the first edition to 152,000 paying visitors in 2015.
Its programming is primarily focused on hard rock and metal on the two main stages, while each of the four other festival’s stages are dedicated to a particular style like black metal, death metal, hardcore punk, doom metal or stoner rock, making possible the presence of groups such as Iron Maiden, Deep Purple, ZZ Top, Motörhead and KISS, as well as that of Slayer, Megadeth, Sepultura, Cannibal Corpse or Anthrax. The festival was the successor of Fury Fest, which was held in 2002 and 2003 in Clisson and Nantes respectively, and 2004 and 2005 in Le Mans. Despite having their share of logistical and legal difficulties over subsequent years, the festival endured and continued. The festival’s location has made it a major attraction to rock fans from other countries. It has particularly proved popular to United Kingdom fans primarily because of the better weather conditions offered compared to that of the UK. Many regularly make the trip over due to the lack of rain and because of the incredible diversity of the line-ups on offer.
In general, the festival has also weathered the problems of finances and legal actions to emerge stronger and ensure a great reputation both from punters and professionals in the music industry and media areas. The reputation of the festival also ensures that it regularly sells out all three days nearly as soon as ticket sales are announced, and even when the complete line-up is still not revealed. This indicates the standing of the festival in terms of delivering quality musical entertainment, and in terms of logistical organisation.
This year’s line-up features another sterling bill of complete diversity from a variety of subgenres within the rock spectrum. From the classic rock bands of Deep Purple and Aerosmith, through to punk, and the classic thrash of Kreator and Slayer. I chatted to a friend who is a regular visitor to the festival for many years and this was his summing up of the event:
Hellfest: The line-up. A group of people with very different tastes in music can go to Hellfest and all be satisfied by the line-up. From the major headliners, both new and classic, to the very best of the underground in the altar, the temple, and the valley, add to that the flat out punk and hardcore assault of the war zone, no stone is left unturned. For 16-hours-a-day the choice of aural and visual assault on the senses is there for the taking. Whilst in the arena there is a vast variety of food and drinks at reasonable prices compared to any UK equivalents. There are ample sitting areas to watch the world go by, there is a forest which is great to take the heat off at the height of day. The new tribute to Lemmy is stunning. Outside the main arena is a massive metal market and mini city which is great for just taking the weight off the feet for a while. Clisson is a beautiful town, a 15-minute walk away and a major supermarket for stocking up for the campsite. Entry to the arena was troublesome last year taking a lengthy time to get in, although this is the first year there has really been this issue, understandable in today’s environment. It doesn’t compare to the rest of the fests, it’s a manageable crowd, though can get busy Saturday evening. People that go to the likes of Download would be shocked at the conditions – Download being a third world country, Hellfest a 5-star resort.