In three days' time the gates of hell will once again slam open as the fourth annual Copenhell festival kicks off. In these days leading up to the festivities, I thought it might be appropriate and interesting to sit the brains behind the festival, Live Nation's Jeppe Nissen, down for an interview regarding the event's origins and ambitions, as well as everything in between. Read on to find out what this metal aficionado had to say about it all:
RF.net: First off, I'd like to ask how Copenhell came to be? Where did the idea come from? When did you start envisioning and planning it?
Well, actually, before we started Copenhell we had talked about a festival in Denmark organised by the Live Nation office. In Denmark the market is extremely small in this world, and we have such big players; big, amazing festivals like Roskilde Festival and Skanderborg Festival - there's a lot of big festivals, and we work together with them, so there's no room to do another festival like that.
I've been listening to metal all my life and I book metal shows 360 days a year - that's what I do, that's my life. So I thought that there was definitely a gap in the market. There had never been a metal festival on this scale in Denmark. We have a lot of good small metal festivals, like Royal Metal Fest and Aalborg Metal Festival, but never a big-scale international metal festival. So we decided that there was a gap in the market for it, and I was pretty convinced that somebody would like for this to happen, and in 2010 we jumped the gun and invented Copenhell.
RF.net: Was it a spontaneous decision that it should be that year, or was there a lot of consideration regarding the timing of it involved?
Jeppe: Well, we had thought about 2009, but we didn't have the time, power or great ideas to pull it off then. So it ended up that 2010 was the year, and we just went at it, guns blazing!
RF.net: What were some of your main priorities with regards to how you wanted the festival to look and feel?
Jeppe: There's a couple of legs in that question, because from the beginning we knew we wanted to do a metal festival, with a pretty hard line-up - so that it would stand out as a metal festival, and not a rock/pop/metal festival. We found the area where it is held, Refshaleøen, which is a rough area of concrete, big shipyards... you know, it has some history that actually fits very well to metal - a lot better than a green field or a forest, for instance. So we found this area, and felt that it had a good connection to the music. One of my thoughts was that I also wanted the artwork to fit to a metal festival, so we got to do the artwork for the first year. We worked a lot with putting on some side shows as well - you probably remember people hanging from hooks and stuff. We wanted it to be a full-on metal festival, but still, a full-on metal festival for everybody. So even if you didn't like metal, you were still welcome and invited. Those were the thoughts we had about it.
RF.net: At the first-ever Copenhell in 2010, the turnout was approximately 4,000 people as far as I recall. Did that first year meet your expectations?
Jeppe: In the first year, we looked three festivals ahead. We knew that the first couple of years would be an investment, and we wanted to break even in year 3, which was last year. And the first two years were an investment: on the artistic level, on the festival level, we were satisfied with the festival we did, but those years it wasn't the best time to organise a festival. At the same time, there were a lot of mistakes, things we didn't know about... You have to learn, that's something you just do. But I think the program, the line-up was good all three years, and in that respect we succeeded. Audience-wise it was OK, and in keeping with our plan, we did break even in year 3. So mission accomplished.
RF.net: There were a couple of high-profile cancelations that year, including of course one of the headliners, Mastodon, as well as DevilDriver and Suicide Silence. And in 2011 there were serious issues with rain taking out the main power supply every now and then. So I'd like to know, was there ever a time when you felt genuinely nervous about whether or not the festival was going to be a success, with things like this happening?
Jeppe: I wouldn't say I was really nervous about it. You know, shit happens! You will always have cancelations at festivals. It's of course super unfortunate when major bands like Mastodon cancel. But that's what happens. I would say the worst thing was the weather in the first two years. It was eight degrees, it was raining a lot; it was cold and bad. That's always a bummer, but you know, the metal audience, when it comes to this, is the most amazing audience in the world. They're in it for the music, for their friends, and for the scene. They are tougher than the rest! So I wasn't nervous as such, because these things happen.
RF.net: How did you manage to convince The Dillinger Escape Plan to play their second festival show in one day that first year; to fly all the way from Switzerland to replace Mastodon as the headliner that day?
Well, they are a band who take some hits, as you know from their shows. They're hard-working guys; they don't back down. So they were totally up for doing that! I don't think there's a lot of bands that would have done that, but they are tougher than the rest. It was a little bit hectic to get them up here on time, but even though it was nerve-wrecking, it worked out in the end!
RF.net: You pulled a similar trick in 2011 when it became clear that John Garcia and thus Kyuss Lives! were not going to be able to make it, by bringing in Artillery on what I understand was only a few hours notice. How is that possible?
Jeppe: Oh, yeah! The lead singer was in Toronto; all of the rest of the band were on site at Refshaleøen, and they told me, "We have some news... our lead singer is in Toronto." I don't know how we managed to convince Artillery. They were the first band that came into my mind when I was thinking about what to do - maybe some guy told me that they had their rehearsing room on Amager? I figured, "let's try it", and they came in without any rehearsal and did well!
RF.net: What are some of the things that you have learned since the first edition of the festival that you have consequently changed or improved in consecutive years?
Jeppe: We are better at doing a festival. The band booking of course changes from year to year in terms of who's out there. That's a chapter for itself. But we are better at building the site; how to make the site work so that the audience feel welcome. It has to be crowded when the music plays; it has to be tight and intense. And when there's no music, when you're roaming around, there has to be more room; you have to be able to feel some space. I think we're much better at creating the festival site, and working the area well for the fans. We're much better with the food; the first two years we had some awful food out there, and we're better now at offering more options and better food. So in general we're better at organising a festival.
RF.net: What do you feel are some of the greatest challenges when it comes to organising a festival of this scale?
Jeppe: There's a lot of challenges. There's one thing that's very important to us: all the volunteers. They make the festival run; they're our heart on some level. But it's hard to organise 800 to 1,000 volunteers. Normally, when we do shows, people get paid and you can tell them what to do. It's another situation with volunteers; you have to work in a different way with them. It's amazing that we have so many volunteers that are willing to help, but it's a big challenge. It's of course also a challenge to put together a good line-up. It's not always that easy; it's hard work.
RF.net: The marketing of Copenhell is extremely widespread and creative. How do you come up with all these ideas for promoting the festival? Here I'm thinking feats such as the Copenhell Metal Cruise...
...and the street stickers! I don't know, I also run this festival to be able to do something special. It's a genre-specific festival; it's a metal and hard rock festival, and I think we can
do something that's a bit different with it - both on the marketing side and in terms of the sideshows that we put up at the festival. We can have people fighting with swords, hanging from hooks, or whatever... If you're a metalhead, and you see some guys fighting with swords, 90% of people will think it's great!
So we want and need to do these things, really odd things. The metal cruise is of course an idea spawned from the big metal cruises such as the "70,000 tons of metal" cruise in the Caribbean. We wanted to do that on our scale, and in our way, and I think it works really well. It gives the metal life; like it's happening all year around and is part of the city. The asphalt stickers were also part of this concept.
RF.net: What is the band selection process like? How do you pick the bands that you want to have play at the festival? Is there a difference between the first year and now?
You know, it's of course a huge puzzle. I would like to have as many sub-genres under the Copenhell umbrella as possible. I would like to have black metal, death metal, Viking metal, power metal, hard rock, sludge, and what have you. But I have 32 slots this year - the biggest ever - and still it's difficult. There will always be some sub-genres that I miss. Maybe the right bands are not available, or I simply don't have room for them.
Besides that, I also promote metal shows all year round, so I know what's happening. I know who's out there, who's releasing new records, and I read all the big magazines. I investigate metal for our shows. I do a lot of research! And then I start to pick. I start from the top, and see who's available in that weekend. I can't just go out and say "I want this band!"; they have to be around in Scandinavia, London, or somewhere close by. Some of the Download Festival bands, for example, can't play that festival and Copenhell back-to-back. Then I think, "Who do I want to present? Who do I want on the poster?", and I start going at it. All the time I bear in mind that it has to be a broad program with something for everbyody, if possible. It's not possible, but that's the mindset that I have.
RF.net: Is there a difference between the first year you were booking the bands and now, in terms of who you're able to get?
Jeppe: There's a huge difference! In the first year, we were a brand new festival and nobody knew it. The audience didn't know it, the agents that we work with to get the bands - they didn't know it. So I had to go out and say, "Hey, I'm doing a metal festival in Copenhagen. Trust me, it will be good!"; and the agent would say "Okay, I'll give you Megadeth," or something. But I had to convince them that it was going to be good.
Now that we're into year 4, it's completely different: every agent, every band... they know Copenhell, and they find it interesting. The line-ups have been good, and it seems like Copenhell is something they themselves want to play. So there's a huge difference! Now they actually want to play here, and we have to be more selective. It's a luxury problem!
RF.net: How much pressure do you feel from other nearby festivals with similar profiles such as Roskilde Festival, Metal Town, Hellfest and Download Festival when it comes to putting together the annual Copenhell line-up?
Definitely. That's of course a bit of a problem, that a festival like Download takes place in my weekend. It's hard for some of the bands with huge productions to play back-to-back. Alice in Chains are playing back-to-back - they're only playing two shows in Europe this summer as far as I know: Copenhell and Download. And Down can do it. But that's not big production bands; a band like Rammstein or Slipknot would not work - their production is huge. In that respect, of course it's a problem - and Download in particular have much more money than us. They can go out and throw the big bucks at Slipknot, Rammstein... whatever they want, basically. I'm not in that position yet. It's my goal to get there, but right now it's OK; I know my position in the market. I'm the little one, I know!
RF.net: As I understand it, Anaal Nathrakh was to play at Copenhell this year, but then announced that they would appear at Roskilde instead? What happened there?
Jeppe: Actually, I have no idea. I had them confirmed. I love the band, and they were definitely goign to paly. But then the agent told me "Hey, I also confirmed Roskilde - is that OK?". And I said, "No, that's definitely not OK!". Then they chose to play Roskilde. I guess they chose Roskilde because they had another show lying around in Europe that weekend or something. It was tough luck, but...
RF.net: What is your personal dream booking for Copenhell - both realistic and unrealistic?
Jeppe: You know, this could both be realistic and unrealistic at the same time: Pantera, when they get back together again. When! They will. If they get back together, that would be it. But still, I have a lot of dream bookings when it comes to major headliners: Slipknot, Tool, Iron Maiden, System of a Down... There's a lot of good ones out there that I'd like to get my filthy hands on!
RF.net: Last year the more mainstream variants of the Danish media publically crticised you for not booking any Danish bands for the larger stages, so I would like to know what your reaction to that was?
Jeppe: Well, I think those were some strange articles. From my points of view, they weren't serious. They claimed there were no Danish bands playing at the festival, and I had 9 - the biggest number I'd ever had; I had a whole stage for Danish bands! It seems like there were some bands that didn't come on the line-up that year, and they were pissed, or... Well, actually maybe it's good news! I'm very happy that it's an important festival to play for a Danish metal band. But I did have 9 bands on; the biggest amount of Danish acts ever - and this year I have even more. So I didn't really react to it. But I think it's good that somebody wanted to play the festival, and it's certainly good to have the debate about it.
RF.net: What do you think about the present state of the Danish metal scene? Is it healthy?
At this point, I would say it's healthy. In the last couple of years it hasn't been that strong. We have had a bunch of metal acts that were our
Danish bands that we send out, which have started and stopped. We are waiting for the new wave to come, and I think they are almost there. The new generation are super hard-working, and they're very serious about what they're doing; they know how to work this scene. Then we have to mention one of the biggest metal bands in the world: Volbeat. People can call it what they want, but it's a metal band, and it's one of the biggest in the world. They sell tickets like shit
in Europe and in the U.S. They're going to be huge! With that, you know, it's amazing that young bands can look at that and see that they can actually do it; that it's actually doable!
So I think the scene is healthy. We have Aalborg Metal Festival and Metal Royale. Now we have Copenhell - a big international festival that bands can use to get out. There are more things to play, and they can see that it's doable. So I think it's a healthy scene and I'm looking forward to the next generation to kick some ass. The scene believes in itself. That has been gone for some years. Small venues like Beta and Pumpehuset are working very hard; there are a lot of people working very hard for it.
RF.net: What do you love most about the metal culture in Denmark today?
Jeppe: What I love most about it? I think the vibe around it is amazing. When you're at Copenhell, it's an amazing vibe. People are so happy, and they are so metal, and there's no violence. People are super drunk and into it!
RF.net: Have there ever been any actual incidents like that at Copenhell?
Jeppe: Only very small incidents, but no violence as such. And you know, 10,000 people, 80% men, very drunk - you know, it's so impressive! Of course the medical crew is busy because of the pits, but no real violence. It's amazing!
RF.net: Is there anything that you dislike, or would like to change about the scene?
Jeppe: Well, I think it's the same problem that has always been there. Stop whining! It's fucking hard work; you don't become a big star just like that. Stop asking for 10,000 DKK because you think you need it to play. Play, work hard! Less whining, more hard work! But I think people are better at supporting each other now - that's important.
RF.net: Some people have also complained about the price of beer at the festival, as well as having to buy water rather than it being freely available. What's your take on those complaints?
I totally agree about the water, and this year we'll have water posts set up around the festival, so you can get it for free. When you've been in the pit, working hard, you should get some water, also for health reasons. So that has been worked on.
The beer prices... I can see they're maybe a bit high. They're not super high in comparison to other festivals, but we're not super cheap either. But we need to sell those beers to make the festival run. We need to sell beers and make money on them to be able to book Alice in Chains and... Bornholm. That's a necessary evil. But at least the beer is cold. And there's going to be a happy hour this year as well, on Saturday from 12:00pm to 2:00pm.
RF.net: What are your future plans with the festival? Do you intend to keep it at the scale it is now, or would you like for it to continue expanding into something much bigger and/or diverse?
I would like to expand it. I would not want to grow explosively. I think that the way that the festival these first four years has been growing has been healthy, and I think it's important, for my festival, to grow it from the inside, so the core audience can follow it and start to feel ownership of the festival; that they can follow where the festival is going. But I would like it to be bigger. If I could present the acts that we were talking about before, that would be amazing. And to do that, we need to be more out there. It takes time, but I don't think that's a bad thing. Some people will of course say that it's going to lose its atmosphere if it gets bigger, but I don't think so. You know, Roskilde Festival rooms 75,000 people and there's an amazing vibe out there. And we're never going to be that big. Maybe it's going to be 10, 14, 16,000 people over the next years, and I think that would be fine. It would be amazing to have a metal festival in Denmark that could present the big headliners.
RF.net: Have you considered turning it into a 3-day festival?
Jeppe: Yes, I would like to do that if it makes sense for the festival. But it's not a priority right now. Maybe in 2014, 15... Of course I get jealous when I see the Hellfest program, which has 120 bands and covers every sub-genre. That's amazing, and I would like that. It's unfortunate to say no to some bands; there are some bands that I would love at Copenhell, but I only have 32 slots so I can't have them all. I would of course like more slots for the festival, if possible.
RF.net: That was the last question. Do you any additional comments, famous last words or anything of the sort to conclude this interview?
Jeppe: Definitely shout-outs to all the volunteers working for the festival. It's amazing! I've been to a lot of different festivals in a lot of different festivals, but I would say that the vibe we have at Copenhell, the attitude that people have is super unique - from my point of view. I think it's so amazing that the volunteers are working hard, and people are so brilliant to each other... of course they go at it; that's what they need to do. But they still show respect to each other, so hats off to that. I think it's so amazing!