((From The Mirror, UK daily, 3 August 2009)
Sonisphere Festival, Knebworth: It's Rude Not to Swear
By Will Stubbs on August 3, 2009 3:03 PM in Sonisphere
One day, every day will be a festival. At least it's the way things are going as each year sees a new crop of events to lure us back into the fields for paper cup beers and all-day tanning.
Last weekend saw the genesis of Sonisphere, a metal festival set to rival Download and give the black clad hordes more riffs, more roaring and more spoken "f**ks" per minute than Friday night down a Glasgow boozer.
I was joined by Enrique, the molecular biologist. Always handy to have one of those with you when on festival safari, in case you need to swab the burger vans for e-coli or declare the portaloos fit only for germ warfare.
As we sit impatiently in traffic my iPod blares out "Everybody" by Backstreet Boys. "We'll get a beating if this is playing when we get onsite" says Enrique. Luckily it isn't. It'll be Britney by then.
Knebworth is set amongst deep, lush woods. None of your rolling Pilton downs here.
Today there is no pop, there is only METAL. The first thing we hear on approach to the main stage is Killing Joke playing "Love Like Blood" and "Eighties". Jaz Coleman, their singer, used to unnerve me as a schoolboy with his Child Catcher fizzog and sinister look in his eye as if he knew your nastiest, most unpleasant secret. I'm glad to say he hasn't lost the magic. Still scowling and putting the sh*ts up the general public before retiring backstage for a Satanic cackle and a fat Cuban cigar.
Next up are Saxon. The Sonisphere organisers have cleverly planned it so that the stages at either end of the field play alternately, which means that five minutes before the end of each set the site looks like a Warhammer battle scene as Doc Martens and knee-high industrial goth boots stomp across to take up the best positions.
Saxon's singer is called Biff Byford. Another stalwart from my schooldays. His luxurious hair has definitely taken a pre-gig blow dry and he delights in shaking those leonine tresses as he powers through a set of good honest British metal.
We hook up with my friend Toby and his son, Harry. They have been camping the whole weekend and look remarkably fresh for it. They tell us Alien Ant Farm were the highlight of Saturday as they "looked like they were loving being there and gave the audience exactly what they wanted".
I am sad to have missed their rocking take on Jacko's "Smooth Criminal" and can only imagine the crowd would have been split between respectful and abuse-hurling for The Departed One.
On the enormous TV screens a man in a panda suit greets the arrival of Lamb of God. LOG are from Richmond, Virginia and all wear shorts. Their singer, Randy Blythe, is the sweariest yet politest frontman.
The air is thick with "f**k" and "motherf**ker" but throughout he continually thanks the audience for their involvement. That's a notable thing about the metal scene. Everyone is unfailingly polite. From the bands to the crowd there is no hint of the bad vibe you can get at some festivals.
My theory is that metallers put all their aggression into their sound and look so don't need to crown you on the head if you look at them wrongly. And many of them don't even drink booze at all.
Before we yomp down the other end for Mastodon we take a detour to the fish and chip van for refuelling. Harry and Toby recount proudly that they have had Mexican food for every meal so far onsite. That will have been two windy nights under canvas, then.
The price of food at festivals has been a perennial beef of mine. Everything is a couple of quid up on normal cost simply because they have a captive audience. Okay, I'm hungry and I'm not saying no but six quid for a shrunken cod and less than generous portion of chips in a polystyrene box will always be a rip-off.
Enough of my whingeing, there is a hair party going on onstage. Mastodon have been one of the recent names to drop on the metal scene and continue to go stratospheric. Their metal has a fat slice of prog running through it and they write concept albums about such erudite subjects as Moby Dick and Rasputin.
The drummer is the only one who doesn't have some major beardage or facial topiary going on, but he compensates with endless complex drumrolls around his rather jolly spotty kit.
We leave the others to it and take a walk around the rest of the site. Men in G.I. helmets flog an array of animal masks and army gear, a middle-aged man dressed as Kiss' Gene Simmons pouts next to a promotional booth and people scream from the "vomit comet" above us - one of those crazy crane contraptions that packs the combined punch of vertigo, centrifugal nausea and strong intimations of one's own mortality.
It's mid-afternoon and I am yet to lose myself in any of the bands. What hope for Limp Bizkit? Their notoriously pugnacious rapper, Fred Durst, was always falling out with people back in the day whether it was his own band members or anyone else's. Now he's re-emerged as a film director; will age have mellowed him?
"If I say f**k just one more time, that's twenty three f**ks in this motherf**king rhyme"
Gloriously, no. He effs and blinds his way through a frankly fantastic set of rock-rap classics, but always with a huge grin on his face. The audience love him and he loves them back.
When they play their
jump-up smash "Rollin", everyone does just that and the place is set alight.
Song of the Day, Performance of the Day so far. And extra marks to guitarist Wes
Borland's stage costume which fashionistas are calling "Albino Flying Monkey
The Wizard of
Feeder, yes Feeder, are due to start on the other stage. On the promoters' part the booking of the MOR pop rockers can only be seen as "one for the ladies". Enrique admits a liking for "Buck Rogers" as I scowl into my pint. No way am I going to stay here and drink cider from a lemon lemon lemon.
All I know about
The big hoopla of
Sonisphere is that we could be about to witness Nine Inch Nails'
last ever show. Trent Reznor wants to take time on other projects so could be putting NIN to rest.
He is greeted by the crowd reverentially, although I have always been suspicious that the title of Rock Messiah has been largely of his own making. Trent has clearly been necking the protein shakes and hitting the gym daily. He is a walking brick of muscle, signalling to people that they cannot broach Fortress Reznor, they can only submit to his dystopian industrial rock.
NIN kick off with sound and fury and then....just fall apart. Rather than blow our minds with stormtrooping beats and air-punching anthems, Trent picks his Possibly Last Ever Show to ...play the quiet ones. To get his bassist cuddling a cello. To play the piano badly. To pluck what appears to be spoons but is actually a mini Chinese xylophone. This is a disaster of Biblical proportions.
No one around us seems to be complaining, but no one seems to be enjoying it either. One bearded fellow shouts "Get on with it!" but Trent doesn't hear him. He's not playing for us, he's not playing a festival, he's playing for himself. I want to leave but we have to wait for him to play "the Johnny Cash one".
He deigns to play it - "Hurt" - last and I can confirm that it definitely isn't as affecting as The Man in Black's version. The end of Nine Inch Nails cannot come a moment too soon.
As we walk past two lads naked save for ladies' thongs scarcely concealing their Meat & Two Veg, we loudly proclaim that we need an antidote to the pretentious dirge we just suffered. It comes in the form of five men in mirrored sunglasses from Orange County.
Avenged Sevenfold are Guns n Roses gone speed metal. Ridiculously brilliant guitar solos, extraordinary double bass pedal drumming and songs lasting for ten minutes that have about four different choruses each. It is over the top, it is absurd, it is amazing. The band includes the wonderfully named Synyster Gates, Johnny Christ and The Rev on drums. The Rev manages to break one of his drum pedals such is his furiously rubbery thumping on them. Sorry, Fred. A7X have just pinched Performance of the Day off you.
But it's all about Metallica. That's why everyone's here, that's what most T shirts read, that's why throughout the day the crowds have expanded until reaching breaking point.
Opening to a climactic clip from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, the band once known as Alcoholica hit the stage. And proceed to tear everyone's face clean off.
I will admit to not being a Metallica expert. I have Master of Puppets, yes, I just don't listen to it that much. But, wow. Metallica manage to be super thrash fast whilst keeping every beat, riff and melody distinct so it's never a stodgy wall of noise.
James Hetfield, fully rehabbed and ready, looks in the peak of fitness as he asks how many people have seen the band before. When nearly 80% of 90,000 hands go up, he replies, "You're sh*tting me. And you came back for more?"
He dedicates the next song to the Metallica fan who is "right here, right now". At that moment, with my face warmed by the giant pyrotechnics and my ears ringing from the metal inferno, he was clearly talking about me.