I’m less metal than you – a day at Mexico’s Hell and Heaven festival

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“But I don’t even like metal” I said before seeing it was a free ticket. Then I donned a Wet Nuns tee and hoped for the best.

In this case, the best case scenario was the festival actually taking place and not getting surreptitiously cancelled by some government prick. Even if I got a free ticket the day before and stage times were confirmed, I had a creeping suspicion that people who looked forward to this gathering called Corona Hell and Heaven Metal Fest were a little disingenuous. After all, if it was abruptly cancelled back in March, what keeps it from getting shut down a second time around?

Still, a free ticket, even as I swore I wouldn’t go because someone decided to back down on a promised press pass. No reason given, just got an email that read : accreditation cancelled.

Oh, well, that’s the review game, yo.

So, two weeks after surviving The Great Hipster Flood of 2014 (TM), I was back at Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez, shitty camera in hand and ready for a cold day. Which didn’t happen.

"Oh, I see you have a heavy metal festival. It'd be a shame if y'all wore black and I SHONE ALL FUCKING DAY."

“Oh, I see you have a heavy metal festival. It’d be a shame if y’all wore black and someone shone all day long.”

Fuck you very much, Sun. ANYWAYS, as we arrived, we were sent the long way around towards the entry point. And by the long way around I mean: a lovely heat prostration death march. 15 minutes or so of walking below the blistering sun, getting searched by a security detail that really didn’t do that much of a good job (I smuggled candy, which was apparently forbidden, uh). Also saw a lot of people with chain wallets and chains (for their keys, I hoped). We then had to walk some more, pass through another ticket checkpoint and just on the other side of the fence we were surrounded by desperate beer sellers.

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Now, the conspiracy theorist in me says we were forced to walk this much so they could sell more beer. And this time around the tiny Alex Jones we all carry inside seemed to be right.

"CORONA IS REPTILIAN BEER, SHEEPLE!"

“CORONA IS REPTILIAN BEER, SHEEPLE!”

Another long walk along this stretch of road, surrounded to the right and left by memorabilia and merch vendors with vinyls, picks, t-shirts for the beer bellied punters and a couple of weird statues/installations.

"GET OUT OF HERE, STALKER!"

“GET OUT OF HERE, STALKER!”

It looked a bit cheesy but not as bad as the people offering you to paint your face resembling any KISS member. On that subject, I was surprised to see so many Catman facepaints. Then again, my introduction to KISS fandom was:

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No one wants to be Peter Criss, Lois!

Claudia wanted to see Día de los Muertos  and they were a good starting point for the day, with the guttural vocals being the perfect icebreaker. The crowd seemed small (all things considering) and the non-music related highlights were the Cobra t-shirt worn by the lead guitarist and a sign promising someone’s mother that they were at a Juan Gabriel’s gig.

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New Blood Stage was for smaller acts. One of these new(ish) acts is called Rapture. They’ve been together for 9 years and have a lot of underground buzz. Their death metal kept a few people entertained, even sustaining a cool mosh pit for a couple of songs. Somewhere between a burgeoning migraine (thanks, Sun) and a cornucopia of free cds the band was chucking at the audience, I realised two things:

  1. There were a lot of press people larking about, probably more than music fans.
  2. This was a family friendly event.
"The family that dehydrates together stays together."

“The family that dehydrates together stays together.”

These points are relevant to this wordfest because:

  1. I originally had a press pass for this event. It was revoked before the event. No explanation given. Then again, it was a “gentleman’s agreement” situation, so there’s no real bad blood here.
  2. The amount of kids I saw befuddled me. Then again, if I had kids, I’d rather have them watch metal than put them in the vicinity of too cool for school hipsters like the ones that seemed to overcrowd Corona Capital.

But back to the review. The fairground area had two (2) games: a mini-ferris wheel that probably got stuck when four (4) fortysomething metalheads tried to ride it and had to be pried out with the jaws of life and a weird double pendulum ride, similar to a Looping Starship ride.

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That’s all. The motorbike area was a little tract of land, no bigger in area than any McDonald’s and rarely used. Must have been exhilarating to be the bike rider here, as the area looked dangerously small and the possibilities of pureed metalheads a la Mexicana was likely. Big respect to the guys doing their jumps in such a tiny space.

"I REGRET NOTHING!"

“I REGRET NOTHING!”

The crowds started to arrive in droves once U.D.O. got their heavy metal set running along fine and dandy, with a few guitar squeals trying to upstage Udo Dirkschneider’s almost falsetto vocals. Udo revisited his days in Accept by singing ‘Balls to the wall’ and you know the fucking song is catchy when even a poor kid dressed up as Gene Simmons (armour included) was pumping his fist in the air.

minikiss

“Gene Simmons sure gets around…”

Casual observation: dressing your kid in full Gene Simmons regalia in a scorching hot Autumn day constitutes statutory child abuse. Hope the poor kid got a tub of ice cream for his troubles.

Someone near me remarked that Udo’s vocal delivery seemed similar to Chabelo. This person was promptly taken to a shed near the porta-potties and was never seen again. Probably the same fate happened to the joker yelling “REEEEESOOOOORRRTEEEEEEEEEE!” or the fatso that kept wondering if Mastodon was going to have a surprise set.

No, wait, that fatso was me.

"No, I haven't seen a halfling & his entourage of dwarves!"

“No, I haven’t seen a halfling & his entourage of dwarves!”

A strange parade of pantomime characters then entered. I thought they were entrepreneurial fans who managed to sneak some fancy dressing but no, they were paid performers walking along in disguise. I saw La Llorona, a blueish zombie, two goblins looking for ANY epic metal band to groove to, a dragon that dislodged its neck a few times and a Slash / Axl Rose combo on stilts that could be the only time you’d seen them in public together since The Spaghetti Incident? came out.

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Then another trend seemed to be observable: people in KISS make up and KISS bandanas (some of them with a fake latex tongue sticking out) and a lot (and I do mean A LOT) of people with red NY baseball caps. To put it in context, KISS make up and bandannas were the flower crowns of Hell and Heaven Fest, red Yankee caps were the Indian headdresses. Hope you lot are happy with your appropriation of the Douchebag movement. How many bros have suffered for you to mock their struggle wearing that iconic cap?

We stayed for a few songs of Overkill’s set, which was beset by terrible sound, and decided to see the other stages: Foro Norte Stage and True Metal Stage. There were supposed to be more amenities there, but we only saw an empty blue and yellow circus tent, a small lucha libre ring and a MMA ring with two bellends fighting each other with chairs.

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"CHAIRS!"

“CHAIRS!”

Transmetal had a good crowd and you could assume by the dust devils forming that the crowd had jumped and moshed their way through most of the set. I’ve never seen (or heard) Angra before and was pleasantly surprised by their set. I’m a fan now. Double surprise as the sound guy was actually earning his keep.

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As the place was getting properly packed, we made our way for Annihilator’s set. “They are like Metallica when they started” promised Claudia but that wasn’t convincing enough as I don’t really rate Metallica. Annihilator I now rate, though, because they were pretty ace, even if the last couple tracks had their sound drowned by the crowd. Alarm bells were ringing.

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I think I’ve been wanting to see Rob Zombie for the vast majority of my music devouring years and, well, the set left me wanting. The sound was terrible, you could barely hear the songs and the audience chanting of “¡SÚBANLE!” (“turn it up!”) went unheard. Two covers, James Brown’s ‘Get up (I feel like being a) Sex Machine’ and Diamond Head’s ‘Am I evil?’, were met with confusion (the former) and exhilarating praise (the latter). I’m not sure about the drum and guitar solos. I have no quarrel with musicians showing off their technical prowess, I just would appreciate them if I could actually hear them.

Two White Zombie songs (‘Thunderkiss 65’, ‘More human than human’) calmed my seething anger and ‘Dragula’ probably sorted me out. Can’t stay mad at anyone with that song blasting out. Still, the set was a bit of a disappointment. See also Educated Horses for further letdowns.

At least Claudia came with a zinger: “that wasn’t Rob Zombie, that was El Ecoloco!”

"Dig through the ditches / Burn through the witches."

“Dig through the ditches / Burn through the witches.”

We ploughed our way out of the crowded area. Korn was next but we didn’t want to see them if the sound kept being shit. It was. We sat down at the food area, wondering to just call it a day. Strangely enough, Korn’s set was sounding good(ish) there and you could feel the ground tremble with all the fans jumping to ‘Falling away from me’. Shame, I’ve seen them twice before and I liked their show.

The True Metal (chortle) stage was behind schedule and Samael was still performing. We caught the last 2 songs and sound seemed okay-ish. We thought about setting camp there but we could listen clearly to the music from Foro Norte Stage. This could mean trouble. Still, we moseyed to the stage and saw Salvador y los Eones, who had a cool show. Salvador also had a soapbox moment, lamenting the lack of local talent on the larger stages. If I’d been him, I’d complain instead about the terrible sound mix. You could barely hear him and you had to walk pretty much back to the True Metal (snicker) stage to (sort of) hear his music.

You know where this is going, right? Because once Obituary started their set, both Claudia and me lost our patience. The sound was shit, you could barely hear them, barring a few well placed vocal growls that gave little flashes of hope.

But no, the fucking sound was terrible. And I hate to bang on about the sound so much, but this is a metal festival. How is it possible that Weezer’s set a fortnight ago was much louder than any of these metal bands who are supposed to make our bodies tremble with their punchy music? This is not how you treat your customers.

We left the True Metal (pfft) stage, with Claudia remarking that you could get better sound in places like El Circo Volador. Yes, it would have been costlier to see two or three bands at a smaller venue like El Circo Volador, but at least you get to hear the band as they perform, not a strange concoction of badly mixed grumbles and tinny vocals. For Krist Novoselic‘s sakes, I’ve heard better sound mixing at house gigs.

We were losing hope. I managed to convince Claudia to see a couple of songs by Limp Bizkit. I’m a closet fan and I probably lost all credibility with everyone reading this. I don’t blame you. She only likes ‘Boiler’ but I could see in her eyes that she was fed up beyond belief. Understandable: she loves metal and the whole audio fiasco was ruining the experience.

Fred Durst’s vocals are the same as in the albums. This is good if you are a fan, bad if you consider him a whiny singer and obnoxious rapper. I liked ‘Rollin’’ but, you guessed it: the sound was shit. We could hear the boozehounds around us louder than Fred Durst and company and we decided to just sit and sulk at the food area. I’d be terribly frustrated if I were Wes Borland, that beautiful freak with the odd guitar tunings and Mighty Boosh-esque body paintings. Somewhere between ‘Hot Dog’ and ‘Golden Cobra’ I started to space out as Claudia typed on her phone. I saw a guy slumped over at a Corona table, wearing a ridiculous black vest with a tapestry of embroidered rock band patches. He seemed drunk as fuck and one patch in particular started to change shape into a text that summarised my feelings.

"THIS IS NOT AN EXIT!"

“THIS IS NOT AN EXIT!”

I looked at Claudia and we nodded. This was the end for us. We left, tired and disappointed. I mean, for all the snark and lame jokes I’ve laid out in the previous 1911 or so words, I actually feel saddened about this whole ordeal. Because it was an ordeal. Even worse. It’s a terrible situation because as much you can make jokes about metalheads, they are mostly nice people (nicer than a lot of indie fans I know…) and they deserved something than being forced to walk miles and miles and see bands they longed for only to be let down by shit sound mixing, empty promises of side shows and a general feeling that this is a consolation prize for years of trying to have a festival in Mexico that panders for the black t-shirt and jeans slice of the population.

Sure, I don’t like a lot of metal so this might come as hypocritical of me, but if there’s good sound available for festivals like Corona Capital or the smaller stages at Vive Latino, why take away from a metal fest what most of the attendants want? THESE PEOPLE NEED AMPS GOING TO ELEVEN!

Claudia and me left Autódromo down in the dumps. She loves metal and I just wanted to have a good day out of my comfort zone. Neither of us got what we wanted and I can’t help but feel bad for all Mexican metal fans that really wanted this to be a great experience and got a “peor es nada” experience. Even worse, I couldn’t believe other Mexican websites sucking up to the festival. Christ, have some spine, you tosspots, call out badly organised and poorly mixed festivals. You have loyal readers that want your opinion, not your platitudes that were bought off with tickets and a couple of drinks.

And we, as the public, are partly to blame. We need to stop getting ripped off. Indie festivals with jacked up prices, metal festivals with quiet mumblings passing as the final sound mix and rock festivals with no identity. We are letting our live musical experience go down in the dumps because we are not able to hold accountable those in control. Please, music fans, do yourselves a favour and demand a better treatment. Because if you don’t, well, this is just the beginning. It will get much, much worse.

Words: Sam J. Valdés López.

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