Radio Metal: To start off, could you give us a short summary of 2008?

Ben Barbaud: We are very happy with what we did. We had promised some improvements compared to last year and people were anxious to discover whether we had kept our word. I believe that people left the festival with smiles on their faces so according to the fact that the artists and the people trusted us and bought their tickets, we can agree that it was a good show, and that’s good.

What are the changes and improvements for this year?

Well we’re not going to do too many because it would be stupid to change too much when everyone enjoyed last year so much. So, no changes, some improvements; according to the fact that we are increasing the scale from 15 000 to 20 000, there will be an evolvement in the sanitary and catering departments, an added large screen, a fourth stage… oh yeah and showers will be added to the camp site! Little things like that, but regardless, people who had fun last year will find pretty much the same surroundings this year.

From an exterior point of view people seem to think that Hellfest has become a large scale business machine; however, there seems to be a lingering fragility within all important aspects of the festival. What do you feel has been achieved by Hellfest?

Nothing, you can’t delude yourself if you want to calmly make a living out of it… It’s not your average civil servant’s job, so we know that each year the festival is at risk of doing badly. Despite the fact that sales are doing relatively well at the moment, it doesn’t mean that a negatif event might threaten the festival’s financial health. Either way, we know that it’s a very fragile business. You can’t always expect to make a living out of running a festival. We are more serene about it now. In fact we have put on many editions of the festival and we know that are much better equipped technically and so is our budget, so we make less mistakes.

There seems to be an educational curve in your approach, notably with regards to the environment, ie festival-goers are asked to respect their surroundings etc. What relationship do you now have with the inhabitants of Clisson? Have relations improved over the years?

Of course! I’m a guy from the countryside so I am very aware of my surroundings. We are in a rural area where people don’t necessarily have the same access to culture as people from cities; therefore, it is normal that there is prejudice. We had to make a massive educational effort towards the people of Clisson, elected officials and insititutions who did not recognize the people who attend our festival. For the last three years there has been an imense respects between the surrounding inhabitatants of Clisson and the festival-goers; therefore, this goal has been achieved yet it did take us a bit of time.

Would the next step be to get subsidized by the French Minister of Culture? How far along are you with that?

We know that a metal festival needs more effort to get itself recognised than a french pop festival might. Because it’s a relatively unknown music genre, people who don’t know it are generally scared of it. We tried first of all to assure people that this was an serious and safe festival where people respect each other. We are now trying to show larger institutions that this step has been achieved and that they could use the festival for graphic commercial use. It is a large festival which attracts many people each year and although it is not yet as famous as it could be, it’s popularity is growing little by little. we are coming up to our fourth edition of Hellfest and I believe that the evolvement of our relations with the people of Clisson and the elected officials is already a huge step forward. I had suspected that it would have taken us longer.

(Ben) : « We know that a metal festival needs more effort to get itself recognised than a french pop festival might. Because it’s a relatively unknown music genre, people who don’t know it are generally scared of it. »
Does Hellfest benefit from financial support from linked organisations etc?

We have always had financial support, however the issue lies within the fact that there is disparity within the subsidization distribution in France. Many people believe that some events are over subsidized. I am basically complaining that Hellfest does not benefit from financing enough according to the size of the event, however, I am aware that there are worse cases. To be honest, the town council does not subsidize anyone accross the region. We receive 40 000 euros on a budget of 3 million euros. It could be pointed out that classical music events, for example, are given of over 17 per cent of financial aid before the doors are even open. Such inequalities are not right and even though people might think that that sort of music is more accesible, therefore, smaller budgets should take a bigger interest, this is completely untrue. Many people want tickets to Hellfest to be cheaper, yet this is simply not possible as long as events that people don’t care about are still being subsidized. Although things are starting to change! We started the year 2006 with 5000 euros in financial aid.

Hellfest is always looking for publicity, last night it was on radio France Inter. Even late at night, is giving away free tickets to the festival on radio stations a means of increasing the belief in festival’s credibilty and popularity?

A little bit of both because I understand the importance of doing things like that and it is pointless trying to convince youngsters who would rather go clubbing than go to Hellfest because the culture clash is too great. I am convinced that passionate music fans will be able to decide whether or not to attend the festival by looking at the line-ups. It is to increase the festival’s credibility and I want to able to answer people’s questions. I am also interested in what people have to say about the festival and I believe that it is important that people, especially in this music genre, are interested to find out about how the festival is lead and not just the outcome. It’s a music genre where people remain quite involved. They build webzines, bands, concert organisations etc; therefore, people often ask me how I started Hellfest and what needs to be done to make it work. This is why I try to make time to talk to those people. It’s not as commercial as a Britney Spears concert for example! We try to stay close to the people, which sometimes has a negative effect as people tend to appropriate the festival for themselves, and so any mistakes that may be made, they will scold you for it. It is beneficial sometimes and hurtful other times. But if I didn’t want anyone to attack me about it then I wouldn’t have made myself known or shown my face anywhere.

Could you give us a few words now about your line-up; what are you happiesr about? Are there any bands that you are particularly proud of obtaining this year? If yes, which ones?

I say this each year, but it’s the whole event that makes me proud. There is not one group in particular. Of course there are some bands that I’m happy to have gotten for this year, but I am overall pleased by the people’s responses when they find the line-up well balanced out and diversified.

The crowds are getting bigger and bigger, there’s notably an increase in British people. Could you give us estimation as to how many?

The British are difficult to count. They are in fact the largest group of foreign people that come each year. We get about 35 per cent of international people each year, as we did last year.

Do you have an explanation for this?

I don’t really know but I guess it’s because the British have a different musical culture to us French et it is not rare to see Manowar or Pig Destroyer fans in England a lot more than in France. In France there are many more restrictions, such as a stoner metal fan will not like rock music aswell because it’s seen as degrading. There are less restrictions in England and people are less uptight about it because metal is more accessible in their culture. For us, we have to make the connections ourselves. British popular music is metal so they have had many more oppertunities to see metal gigs. Whereas for us it’s Jean-Luc Lahaye, Frédéric François and Johnny Hallyday (all old school French singers), for them it’s Whitesnake and other bands like that. So of course they have a different understanding of music and I think that is what attracts them to the Hellfest line-ups.

Is there a communication effort with the British from your part?

Of course, we noticed that festivals in England are very successful and there are many metal ones. More people attend festivals in England now then at Graspop or Wacken and there are more British people at Hellfest than at these festivals. This is why we have increased our publicity partnerships with overseas companies over there etc.

Last question. Do the tickets get sold quickly? How many so far?

Right now we have reached the double of what we sold last year, but at the same time, we’ve increased the scale of the festival so this is not something to worry about. I think that Saturday will be full very quickly. maybe not completely full this year. It takes 20 000 people to make it full and I think that we will make it to roundabout 16 or 18.

Interview conducted May 18th, 2009
Website Hellfest : www.hellfest.fr

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