Wacken Open Air to stay ′Louder than Hell′ | Music | DW | 29.01.2013
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Wacken Open Air to stay 'Louder than Hell'

Doubt was cast on the world's biggest heavy metal festival when two residents of Wacken filed a complaint about noise levels at the event. An out-of-court settlement has been reached and the 2013 festival will go ahead.

It was news which sent a ripple of fear through the heavy metal world. Two unnamed residents of the small village of Wacken in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein had filed a complaint with the Schleswig Administrative Court in January for stricter noise control regulations at the festival, dubbed 'Louder than Hell'.

The complaint cast doubt over whether this year's festival, officially titled Wacken Open Air, would be allowed to take place, a cause for concern for around 75,000 music fans who had already bought tickets for the sold-out event.

Wacken lite?

However, dpa news agency recently reported that an out-of-court settlement had been reached between the residents and the promoters ahead of the scheduled hearing for February 19th. The event is to occur as planned but with some small compromises.

“If the noise level exceeds an average of 70 decibels, the promoters will make a donation of 1,000 euros (around $1,340) to the community,” said lawyer Jens-Ulrich Kannieß, who dealt with the case.

This money can then be further invested into social projects within the municipality. Compliance with the new noise control regulations will be measured by an officially recognized surveyor, although festival promoter Holger Hübner always denied that noise levels were in excess of 90 decibels.

Some have argued that a maximum average of 70 decibels – which is about as loud as a lawnmower – is too quiet for the legendary event. In its more than twenty years as a major fixture on the European music calendar, raucous bands like Alice Cooper, Slayer, Thin Lizzy, Motörhead and Subway to Sally have taken to the stage in Wacken.

Wacken Open Air Firefighters at the 2012 festival.

Even the local firefighters get in on the fun.

A lot of hot air

One person skeptical about the newly-stipulated noise levels is musician Marc Reign, who has appeared at the festival several times with his former band, Destruction. While he felt the sound limit was perhaps “too quiet,” he didn’t consider the donation to the community restrictive: “Paying €1,000 is certainly better than cancelling the festival,” he told DW.

“I’ve been to Wacken nine times in total and there have never been any complaints,” he went on to say, “The whole town profits from the festival and everyone has fun.”

Festival co-founder Thomas Jensen was keen to reassure fans that Wacken will happen more or less as before.

“If the agreement we reached had in any way compromised the credibility of the festival, we wouldn’t have accepted it,” he told the dpa press agency.

Festival Wacken Heavy Metal August 2012

With numbers of around 75,000 expected this year, Wacken is the biggest music festival in Germany.

Marc Euler, press spokesman for TASH, the Schleswig-Holstein tourism office, was also happy a decision had been reached to enable the 2013 festival to go ahead as planned.

Musical patriotism

“For a lot of people from Schleswig-Holstein and indeed for a lot of Germans in general, Wacken Open Air is a key festival on the event calendar,” he told DW, “The festival is evidence of just how diverse the cultural landscape of Schleswig-Holstein is. Alongside the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival for classical music, Wacken remains one of our biggest draws.”

Wacken Open Air was founded in 1990 and by 1998 had become one of the key events on the European metal calendar. Last year saw some 75,000 fans descend on the village of Wacken – which has a population of less than 2,000 – to watch more than 130 bands perform across seven stages. But quite why the complaint should have come now, more than twenty years after the launch of the festival, is unclear. Theories range from newcomers to Wacken unaware of the festival's scale to opportunists trying to sue to make a quick buck.

Faked town sign of German village Wacken, home of worlds largest Heavy Metal open air festival. Photo: Bullenwächter

Wacken is on heavy metalers' GPS

Music producer and promoter Mark Reeder called the compromise “sensible.” While the action brought against Wacken is not indicative of a trend, said Reeder, it’s certainly an issue that club and festival promoters face on a regular basis.

“This has always been a subject of contention. It all depends on tolerance,” he said, “But with open air festivals, as PA systems become compacter and louder, it's much harder to control where sound travels. It can be a huge problem for a festival. Usually the person complaining doesn't realize that other people's livelihoods are at stake if such an event is pulled. This has always been the case since Woodstock, and I doubt it will ever change.”

For an idea of the kind of music you can expect to hear blasting out of the PA at Wacken Open Air, check out "We are the Metalheads" below, the official festival anthem!