At this time of year, tens of thousands of metal fans are usually preparing for one of a number of festivals across Europe. However, with the coronavirus pandemic stopping all mass gatherings, those festival sites will remain quiet this Summer. This hasn’t stopped thirteen of the top European metal festivals though who have combined forces to create the European Metal Festival Alliance.

A joint venture between Bloodstock and Alcatraz (Belgium), Art Mania (Romania), Brutal Assault (Czech Republic), Dynamo (Netherlands), Into The Grave (Netherlands), Leyendas De Rock (Spain), Metal Days (Slovenia), Midgardsblot (Norway), Motorcultor (France), Party.San (Germany), Resurrection (Spain), and Summer Breeze (Germany), this special streaming event will take place across the weekend of 7th-9th August offering exclusive live performances, exclusive new interviews and more from the likes of Avatar, Sabaton, King810, Venom Prison and Dee Snider.

Ahead of the event, we spoke to Bloodstock’s Vicky Hungerford to find out how the EMFA came together, her plans for Bloodstock Open Air and her thoughts on the future of music festivals.

So, you’ve got the European Metal Festival Alliance weekender coming in a couple of weeks. How soon after Bloodstock was cancelled did this all come together and how did you get involved ?

Vicky Hungerford: “Fairly quickly. What a lot of people probably don’t realise is that, with those particular festivals, we’re already really good friends because they’re all either in August or the end of July. What we do as festivals is, when booking bands, we discuss who is available in August. It literally just made sense and I think it was my brother Adam who suggested going an online event and very soon a conversation was struck up. It just seemed like the perfect thing to do and, yes, everyone was already doing online things at the time but we wanted to do something which involved the bands we were already booking whether it be releasing never-before-seen footage or going into a studio to record something just for the event itself. So, for this event, it’s not old footage from yesteryear, this is all unseen footage.”

Obviously you’ll have been planning this year’s Bloodstock from the end of 2019’s event. At what point did you accept it wasn’t going to happen ?

“It was rumbling from April onwards if I’m honest. We all know that the pandemic hit pretty quick and it turned around into a monster within weeks. We had our own timeline that if the Government hadn’t realised guidelines or things weren’t looking considerably better by mid-May that we would have to make a call. It was pretty clear that it wasn’t going to happen and it was the most heartbreaking decision that we’ve had to make but it was the right decision. I don’t want people to think we’re just thinking about the festival. It’s heartbreaking to have no events as music is a big part of all our lives but there was a bigger picture to all of this.”

Speaking to friends you have at other UK rock festivals like Download and Slam Dunk, what is the general feeling ?

“I think we’re all trying to be as upbeat as we can. I’m particularly good friends with Andy Copping at Download so we spoke about it as things were rumbling on. He gets it. We get it. He had to make the decision before us and we’re still picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves off and knowing that the first events won’t be back until the end of this year, early next year now. It is what it is.”

How difficult is it to stay positive having read the news that the Government have pulled all the upcoming outdoor drive-in gigs scheduled for August/September ?

“From my point of view I don’t think that drive-ins are something that is a particularly fantastic idea but that’s my own opinion. I don’t think it’s the same as going to a gig or a festival. For a film may be but, when I see images of it, I just think of Grease The Movie. That’s how I see it. So, would you want to see a metal band sat in your car on a rainy, potentially shit day where you can’t see through the windscreen? Me personally, no. I would rather we waited until we could get gigs back to the status quo. These outdoor gigs were planned for August which, in my opinion, was way too early so I think it was inevitable but I’ve got to give Live Nation their due for trying something. You’ve got to put something out there to see what might work and might not work. I did gather though that a lot of fans did like the idea of these drive-in gigs.”

It’s all about getting to see live music again isn’t it ?

“You know, if you told me I could attend the opening of a car wash I’d probably go. Whoever was playing I’d go. It’s just that social element that comes with music, the normality of doing something we love.”

Photo of Bloodstock’s Vicky Hungerford hanging out with fans

Speaking to the people you work with at festivals – from staff through to bands – what is the general opinion on what needs to happen moving forward ?

“I think everyone is just treating it like it which is an unknown quantity. It’s fluidly changing every day or week so dramatically. I’m positive that more and more things are opening. Social distancing doesn’t work at events so we need to be comfortable when festivals and gigs and events, even things like theatre, are back. Social distancing won’t work and to mention it in the same sentence as a festival is ridiculous. We’re looking at this year as a write-off. We’re all waiting patiently to see what is going to happen next. We’re already looking at having hand sanitizing stations at next year’s festivals so things that aren’t normally there are included. Social distancing at a twenty-thousand capacity event would impossible. It’s not a realistic aim. You’ve got to hope that, in the next few months, the virus is considerably under control so we can have a level of normality again.”

In your mind, what do you see festivals looking like in 2021 ?

“I’d like to say exactly the same as they do now. I just can’t see it working any other way? Keep everyone stood two metres apart? Part the crowd? Half the capacity? You’d lose the heart and soul of the event. At Bloodstock we’re smaller than something like say Download but, you’re still not going to have twenty thousand people then put alcohol into the mix. You’d take away their enjoyment. I think looking forward, things like sanitising stations, people are learning because they’re being forced to. It’s becoming a different way of life. Maybe things like hygiene and things we wouldn’t normally think about, we’re thinking about now.”

How much pressure do new guidelines put you under when planning future events ?

“I think the frustrating thing for us with the Government and their guidelines for events and gigs and festivals is that there isn’t any guidelines. We are the sector that has been most ignored and we’re one of the biggest sectors bringing income into this country. We haven’t been given any printed guidelines other than no mass gatherings. They said a few weeks ago that maybe open-air events could come back and everyone got really excited then they said no more than thirty people. So, what they’re saying is nothing bigger than a barbeque. It was a really misleading statement. It’s still a year away and we’ve come so far in four months, what will another four months bring? To even guess what the guidelines will be impossible. Whatever they are fan safety comes first and, as a festival, we will always put that as our priority. We’ll follow whatever guidelines to keep the fans safe and the festival going as it needs to be.”

Photo of Vicky and the Bloodstock team backstage with EMFA headliners Sabaton

In terms of Bloodstock next year, a lot of the line-up has been released. What position are you in ?

“We’re in a really lucky position in that the line-up is pretty much done and dusted. We’ve added an extra day not just because of the anniversary but because we think people will want to have an extra day next year. That went down really well. People have been calling for an extra day at Bloodstock for years now so it seemed like the right time to do it. We’ve got a few more bands to book because of the extra day and more entertainment to announce and we’re lucky that 95% of the bill rolled over because they all got it.”

On that note, you do usually announce the next year’s headliners at the event. Have you had to shelve any plans you had in your mind for a line-up for 2021 ?

“We had a couple of bands booked already I have to admit but we’ve explained to those bands what has happened with the line-up and we’re hoping we can roll them over to the following year for 2022. It’s an awful thing and it feels like you’re wishing your life away as we’re only in 2020 but I’ve already forgotten about this year and I’m already planning for 2021. In all honesty, like everyone, I can’t wait for this year to come to an end. We’ve all mentally written off this year so I’m already looking at bands for 2022 and 2021 we’re just finalising a couple of bands on the main stage and those for the extra day.”

What can we expect then next year ?

“Oh loads of things. People are feeling pretty crushed at the moment so we want to give something back. We’ve got loads of entertainment to announce and things that we think the bands will appreciate. We’ve also just announced that, in line with the VAT reduction to 5%, ticket prices won’t go up in August, they’ll stay the same through to January when the VAT relief expires. It saves everyone ten or twelve quid on their tickets which is a few beers and if we’re given the savings by the Government we can pass it down to the fans.”

Given the news that two venues in Manchester are closing and from your own involvement with the smaller scene, what do you think the heavy music scene will look like after all of this ?

“It’s going to be difficult. These venues are the lifeblood of the small bands coming through the ranks. We know that from Metal 2 The Masses. A lot of these small venues we had M2TM events at and it’s crushing. We’ve always encouraged people to go out to smaller venues if they can. These venues will struggle, the smaller bands will struggle but we’re doing what we can within our power to support these people. You can only hope that these venues will start to open again when they can and pubs and clubs and venues can get back to a level where they can function normally. It’s not a surprise to see smaller venues closing though. Their lifeblood is live music. I think it will be a slow recovery for smaller bands but, at the end of the day, the metal community is brilliant and we will get there.”

European Metal Festival Alliance is up next then. You mentioned earlier that a lot of festivals are doing virtual weekends. Do you see this as becoming a regular thing or just this year?

“I think just this year. Virtual events are great as they’re giving fans something we crave and you get the exclusive side of it. I’ll be honest, I only want to see it this year. I want to be that person back at a gig where we should be enjoying it and how we should be enjoying it. We could look at doing some kind of virtual event next year in addition to the festival. There is a lot of logistics and red tape to be adhered to when you’re streaming events live which we’ve done at Bloodstock in the past. You have to get approval from bands but most of them want their sets to be pre-recorded and edited. We’ve had people ask about it and there is a lot of interest but my argument is, get yourselves down to the festival and enjoy it properly.”

Just to finish then, do you have any message to the festival community Bloodstock is part of ?

“Just log onto the stream and, as a fun element, we’re asking people to send in their Bloodstock At Home photos. Get your tents pitched. We want as many social media posts as we can get and keep smiling. We’ll ride this year and we’ll have a monster of a festival next year!”

For more information on the EMFA and to get tickets, head over to www.MetalFestivalAlliance.com and for ticket and info on Bloodstock Open Air 2021, visit the Official Bloodstock Open Air Website.

Poster for European Metal Alliance

I have an unhealthy obsession with bad horror movies, the song Wanted Dead Or Alive and crap British game shows. I do this not because of the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll lifestyle it affords me but more because it gives me an excuse to listen to bands that sound like hippos mating.