Hellfest 2009 - Interview With Ben (Boss Of The Festival)

Conducted by: FreakyMarge (phone)
Published: 12.06.2009





Hellfest is coming and it's time to talk a bit about it! This is an interview with Ben, the big boss of the famous French festival! Enjoy!


Marge: What are your greatest achievements with Hellfest overall and this year particularly?

Ben: The biggest achievement is that the adventure goes on. I've started all this eight years ago now, and to see that this project stands up despite all the difficult phases, and gets more professional while becoming easier for everyone is my biggest achievement.

For this year particularly…well I more consider the continuity, this year will also have an outcome and I hope to confirm our organisational progress. I pay more attention to the history of the fest.


Yes I see. Have you overcome some mistakes that permit you to move on and progress?

There had been a lot of mistakes! Every year. Some of them are more or less important. Surrounding myself with inefficient people to work with, to want too much too fast, to be too impatient…But that made me able to see things differently over the years. I did not always associate myself with the good personnel, or did not take on the right responsibilities. When we began we didn't know how to do and organize such things, we don't come from the show industry and we didn't conduct studies of this domain. We've learned directly on the field. And we have that philosophy that it' better to make mistakes and keep things move on than do nothing and fail to move on. That permitted us to grow on faster. This year we're about to welcome 20,000 people per day, and we wouldn't be there if we had been more shy, you know?


About the bands, how do you proceed to get them booked? Do they come to ask you or do you really want specific bands and have to fight to get them on board?

Both. There are some artists that we really want, and that we think that it would be interesting to have on the bill. Then there are some artists that are on tour and available during our fest so they ask us. That's almost fifty-fifty, I would say. And of course we try to have a more interesting mix of different styles.


You told me once that the booking of the bands isn't the most difficult part…what are the biggest difficulties, and did you have some particular difficulties this year?

Well, the difficulty is when you began your first edition, because you really have to convince the partners and the artists to take part of this event and you don't always have the experience needed to convince them. You also have to convince the institutions of your town, the town hall etc. Once you have done that, your event has to be at the same level of the expectations. People pay 100 euros and are right to demand to attend something of quality, and good conditions. That's a much more complex to organize than to book the bands, because if you know a little bit the music and how much you need to pay for them, that part is easy. During the festival, we have 300 employees and about 700 volunteers, and it's more difficult to get them all on the same page to make the machine work…That's one thing that we have done wrong in the past, we were understaffed and overworked, we expected too much out of the staff we had. But that's also a money problem. If you need more people, you have to have the money for that! We have a much better way to work now and for the last two years, we have had more money to pay more people, so we begin to get a festival where the artists and the crowd feel good. That's the purpose of our work: to offer a show that is better and better from one year to the next. We have to know to convince people to come back the following year. So the more difficult part is surrounding the festival with the good persons, to put them in the good position and to trust them. At the beginning, I wanted to do it all by myself, but now I can hardly imagine how I could do it all alone.


This year we will have two big main stages with a big screen in the middle, two tents and one called the "Electric Circus"…can you tell us more about the concept behind it?

Oh, we are conscious that people who come to spend four days in Clisson want to go back home with the best memories possible. Last year we had skateboarding, this year we've decided to add another tent with some animations that maybe some persons will find useless and some others fun. We don't think that people are just here to come to see a show, to have a drink, and go back like they can do at home in some venues. That's a real commitment, they meet people, and they have fun so we try to offer them something more. This is the first time that we try something like this, and we will see if people like it or not. But we went to some other festivals and we've seen that they offer stuffs like this, so why couldn't we do it as well?


Could you explain the spirit of Hellfest, and tell what it makes it unique compared to other festivals?

You know, every fest is different. The organizers don't come from the same environments. Some shows are organized by huge companies in order to gather the more people possible, some others, like us, create it out of passion. The Hellfest looks like the people who work on it. It's maybe more eclectic than other fests in Scandinavia or Germanic countries, more open on more extreme currents. We also pay attention to the decoration and stuff like that. So it's different on many points but also assimilates to other…we all have the same models. Wacken has been here for a long time; they have much more financial support that we have, so we try to do everything within our means. But musically speaking, we're maybe different…we pay attention to more unknown and eclectic bands. In our offices, we're listening to a lot of different styles and that is what the Hellfest is like.




Yoann and Ben of Hellfest Productions



About what percentage of the festival goers will be visiting from abroad?

It's about 35 to 40% I would say. Obviously the fest couldn't exist if we didn't have this foreign crowd that trusts us to put on a good experience. These foreign fans could easily go somewhere else, but we have about 6000 foreign people per day, and that means that the bill speaks to us. Another thing is the fact that we are at comfortable size for humans, so people don't feel compressed all day long.


Do you think that French people are too critical of the fest?

No, no, that's the same thing elsewhere you know. People are used to criticize what they find at home and what they hear about all the time. We're all the same: we've begun to listening to that kind of music to be different and as a consequence, when you hear about Hellfest being the number one metal fest here in France, I can totally understand that some French people claim that it's better in Germany or in UK etc…because they still want to be different! I'm sure that Belgians criticize Graspop and Germans criticize Wacken too, stating "it's better in Hungary, or in the UK" or whatever. So I don't think it's just a French attitude. However, what's French is that we don't have that culture…when you see that Graspop welcomes 50,000 people while Belgium is about the same size that the region of France where Hellfest is situated, that maybe shows that French people don't really have the festival culture yet. They sometimes prefer to go to some unique show and go back home. When Metallica or AC/DC come to play in Paris we have the same number of people coming to see them as they have in Germany or other countries, but maybe that we don't really like the idea of spending three days to see 100 bands, sleep in a tent and that kind of stuff.


And don't you think that the craze about the Hellfest can develop a better recognition of that culture?

Yeah, maybe, little by little, if we keep going that way. Maybe that the French people will follow if they hear that it's an event that cannot be missed, "if you're a real metalhead, you have to go there" etc, and that it will enlarge our crowd, to be comparable with the size of the country. France is as big as Germany, and it even beats Germany as far as selling metal records. Maybe that Hellfest will break the French paradigm about festivals. I hear a lot of people who tell me, "Oh no! My friends and I have to go for three days!?" whereas German people have been doing that for a long time. Maybe that it will change in few years…we can already see that we welcome more and more people each year so it looks like we convince a little more people every time. But maybe that they're just waiting for a huge headline act like Iron Maiden to show up.







I think it's already a good sign if you welcome more people every year!

Yeah, but it's always shy you know. This year the fest apparently won't be sold out, even if we are waiting for 17,000 or 18,000 people per day which already is a great result but to give you an example, the Summer Breeze welcomes 25,000 people per day with a bill that wouldn't make 3,000 people come here. Then again, there's a big lag! But Hellfest is still a young festival; we will see how it evolves in few years. We mustn't forget that last year was a great edition but it wasn't the case in 2007. We maybe still have an uncertain image. On one hand we can have the image of a very eclectic fest, with rare bands, but on the other hand people can say that they've heard it was not organized as well as other festivals. They maybe need some time to be completely convinced. You know, Graspop welcomes about 6,000 to 7,000 French people per day, versus only 8,000 to 9,000 here. It's also true that some people don't want to be mixed with other styles of metal here in France. In Hellfest you will find people who listen to hardcore, punk etc. That is why we can have a lot of English people, they are much more eclectic and open than us. There we can find people who like Killing Joke, Manowar and Pig Destroyer whereas in France finding someone who is both a Manowar and Brutal truth fan at the same time is quite rare! So we'll have about 3,000 English people, which makes up 50% of the foreign market that come to Hellfest.

Then again, it's all a question of culture…in France when you're listening to Black Metal it's can already be difficult to like death metal in the same time! But I'm not a big psychologist so I can't really point this or that to explain why people come or not. (laugh)


The future will tell us!

Exactly!


Well, to finish, what are you going to feel when the gates open the first day?

I think my first though will be "I look forward for this to end" (laugh). Once people enter, we have about 72 hours left before they go back. And during those 72 hours, we're just hoping that everything's going to be fine and that there won't be any accidents. Of course we're happy to see them arriving, we've worked one year for that but…if everything's going well you can just be happy to be here but if problems begin to occur, you can just be impatient to see the end coming! When the gates will open, it will be "ok let's go, let's the show begin" and we're hoping that people will be happy. But I'm anxious by nature!


It must be even harder for someone anxious!

Yeah! All depends on the role you have to play. I'm the director so I'm mostly worried about accidents because that is where my responsibility is engaged, but I won't be anxious about the sound of the stages…the sound engineer will be! Everybody has their own fears, but if the problems accumulate nobody can resolve them, I will be ultimately responsible. I have very bad memories of the 2007 edition, where we all were submerged by problems and we couldn't wait to see the three days end. Last year it was totally different and we could enjoy the fest ourselves. Right now I'm worried about the weather but we'll see…


Well I wish you to enjoy it this year!

Hopefully I'll be able to do that, like everybody else I hope!


Thank you very much Ben, and see you there!


Thx to Ben, Hellfest team and Roger for the interview. And Thanx to BitterCOLd alias Craig for the proofreading ^^


 




Comments

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Bas - 12.06.2009 at 14:42  
Nice interview, always interesting to know what someone responsible for such a big event thinks about it himself
BitterCOld - 12.06.2009 at 21:55  
Well done, was a good read - certainly interesting to see things from the perspective of the promoter.

lot of talk about numbers, but it seems to me as an American who has never been across the pond and to a festival that HELLFEST would be the one i would attend. seems that "only" having 20,000 or so would make the whole experience a bit more intimate.
Baz Anderson - 15.06.2009 at 15:06  
Nicely done! Good to know he appreciates the English at the festival!
Yeh, I prefer Hellfest at under 20,000 compared to Download that a few days ago had between 70,000 and 80,000 each day and Wacken.
Hellfest was fantastic last year, completely different to 2007. Hopefully it'll be just as good this year.
Collin - 15.06.2009 at 17:39  
Nice read. Like he said, Hellfest still has an uncertain reputation in France, because of all the crap that happened with the Fury Fest and also because the 2007 edition was, in some ways, a disaster in terms of organisation. Not everything sucked of course, but the rain didn't help back then. The good thing is, they've learned their mistakes and the festival is slowly gaining recognition. Rightly so, if I may say
iaberis - 19.06.2009 at 16:52  
Now that was an interesting interview! (unlike others)
BitterCOld - 22.06.2009 at 23:51  
Any chance of a follow-up interview on the '09 experience? what went right, what they'd like to do better for next year?
Bad English - 26.06.2009 at 20:20  
Hmm about France n Germany , I just wanna say there maybe 10-30 festivals huge fest in Germany what hepen there Summer Breeze, thet fest what Prom usualy attend, but in France this is only one what I know

About syle mixes thets what I hate in such fest, I like one style bands and for HF 30% of all bands I like to see

Its be stupid if Electric Wizard n Pentagram play at same tim in diferebnt stages or WASP and hmm simmilar good band

IMO Germam fest are more sold ot because its easyer to get there if you live in Nordic Europe same Belgium, important is festival location to
BitterCOld - 29.06.2009 at 01:01  
Written by Bad English on 26.06.2009 at 20:20


About syle mixes thets what I hate in such fest, I like one style bands and for HF 30% of all bands I like to see

Its be stupid if Electric Wizard n Pentagram play at same tim in diferebnt stages or WASP and hmm simmilar good band



i disagree.

first liminting the scope of musical performers limits your potential audience.

second, the same thing over and over and over and over and over and over would likely get a bit boring. variety is the spice of life.

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