Sonisphere: The Big Four? No, The Big Fail
How a travel to a Holy Land becomes a victorious mission, but with many losses.


Article by Marco Ferrari - Publish on: 25/06/10

Dear readers, you can’t imagine how much we have been dreaming of telling you about the concert that was meant to become one of the most important musical events ever. For those who have grown up (like me) listening to some fucking thrash metal lps, the Sonisphere concert in Switzerland was a dream that, alas, soon became the worst nightmare ever.

The staff of SpazioRock was there, to give you a complete report, in the name of our passion for music. But before we talk about the complete ineptitude of the promoters, we would like to talk about the travel and the music: there you have the report by Marco Somma.

 

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Live Report by Marco Somma

 

It’s Friday at dawn. This is a day to remember. The biological alarm clock gives way to the Metalhead’s one that forces you to open your eyes and to get up half an hour earlier. The anxiety to reach the location of the celebrations is as big as the names written on the ticket.
We set out in an unceasing rain. The weather forecast foresees heavy rain until late night, but it doesn’t matter, a change of clothes in the car and a rain jacket will be enough to face the field-day.. at least in the most candid dreams.
A four hours journey, interrupted by a bad coffee yet able to give us the energy that, in the meantime, was discharging. Despite the continuous roadworks, the trip goes on well. The landscape was easy on the eyes and the path marked on the map (we didn’t have a navigator, we were for the old school) worked very well. Everything went on fine and we arrived at the location perfectly on time.
Several metalheads by foot from the camping area and a few others by car created quite a messy rowdy line. After a quick round through the parking areas, we convince ourselves that in a few hours the soil could turn into a trap without a way out. In any case, luck is on our side and we find an useful parking area along the main street.

Until now everything was fine, a chronical pessimist would have said even too much and would have started worrying; it’s a pity that if there is a pessimist among us, he decides to think deeply in silence. Ten minutes later, we’re in the front of the entrance of the concert area. The scene in front of us has an apocalyptic appeal: many people, whose looks were not reassuring in everyday life, were struggling with their legs dipped into the mud until their ankles. The rain keeps on falling endlessly on our heads and it seems that it has been doing so for many hours. A few tractors passed near us, dragging sedans and economy cars with mud on their windows.


We take a deep breath and we dive into this nightmarish expanse. In about an hour and after one kilometer we are finally in. From the stage, we can hear the notes of “Antisocial”, announcing us that Anthrax has already begun the show. While we make strides towards the barriers, we wish that the wobbling sounds will end when closer to the stage, but it’s time to join the party and put the bad thoughts aside. 
Unfortunately, Anthrax’s performance is not among the best ones. The setlist is mostly based on old school songs, however, Belladonna’s voice has lost the power we once knew. So, the songs are a double-edged weapon, they are still there in the hearts of the fans, but the singer doesn’t seem to sing them in the way he once did. Because of the sounds, the instruments are not able to make up for the situation. They are inconstant, the setting of the volumes is totally chaotic: as a result, the concert is an unintelligible mix of sounds. Luckily enough, the tribute song “Heaven&Hell” to Ronnie James Dio is not compromised.
We cheer ourselves up thinking that the festival has still a lot many things to offer. We hope that the rest of the day will not be similar to the way it started.

In the afternoon, the rain slowly stops and there’s a cloudy sky with no rainfall. Paying attention to the weather becomes vital, since we have the feet totally dipped in the bog. If the rain had continued to fall until midnight, as the weather forecast said, we would have turned into clay.

Concerts rapidly follow one after the other on the two main stages.

The sound settings and the alternation of the bands it may be the only point that leaves you the chance to discuss during the day. A few people like the fact of not having time to relax and to chat a little quietly, but some others don’t. The sounds are extremely rough and stay the same. The rhythmic sessions exceed the harmonic ones, and voices find difficult to prevail. The result is impressive, maybe with a strong “Nu-Metal” taste, considering the bands that are playing.
Bullet For My Valentine and Alice In Chains are not suitable in the line up of the event; they can’t either find an audience ready to welcome them or to appreciate them as they would deserve. Both of them show their skills perfectly but they are not enough convincing. Stone Sour makes a better performance, maybe because it’s much more comfortable with the context, it’s able to thrill a good part of the audience. Taylor confirms to be a good frontman, even though the voice effects are misleading sometimes. In less than an hour of concert, Stone Sour shows two new songs and beats out with a promotion of the next album that even makes Vanna Marchi envious.
At 4.30 PM it’s Slayer time. It’s always them, super aggressive and smiling as never before. The only surprise is an untypical setlist that doesn’t miss the big classics, but offers recent songs less known as well. With Slayer there aren’t real surprises but this is the reason why people loves it.

When Megadeth’s time to begin comes, the very first delay of the day comes. Nothing to worry about anyway, Mustaine would have never accepted to play with a hasty soundcheck.
We take advantage of trying to eat something, but a new bad surprise is waiting for us at the gate: the food stalls are overcrowded, the prices are too high, and it takes about half an hour to wait for a smelly pizza and a small bottle of water that pretends to be a beer.
Then, we try  to go to the “rich” ethnic food stalls that sell food but to quench our thirst you have to go back to the stalls that we’ve just talked about. “We can’t sell drinks, we don’t have the authorisations”- they told us. We go back to the stages demotivated, nervous and hungry. The waiting is paid off for sure. Megadeth’s performance is awesome as expected. A few mistakes during the execution surprise everybody, even the frontman, who doesn’t take it too seriously. Moreover, he creates a good feeling with the audience. The appearance of Scott Ian alongside of  Mustaine on the final notes of “Peace Sells” is just perfect.

Lemmy’s always Lemmy, and when he takes his place on the stage he knows that very well. Motorhead isn’t that originality – master; it makes hard rock and says so proudly, and in the same way it draws a crowd. The boys set up a strange setlist as well, apart from the old classics they play a lot of recent songs. The “Over Kill” version they play is for sure the longest one we can remember.
In a few minutes, Rise Against shows up on the second stage. The audience is ready to jump and dance for the band. Its performance lasts 45 minutes but it seems to lengthen for hours. After having  celebrated Motorhead, creator of a rock that was always the same, it seems difficult to accuse someone else of repeatability, but there’s a limit: 45 minutes with the same rhythmic line that changes with the beats, every now and then there’s a riff, and an “Offspring” voice that tries to be like John Bush’s one. Terrible.

We had ten minutes to recover and then images of a Sergio Leone’s classic appeared on the screens. Ennio Morricone’s notes spread out in the muddy stall and the eyes of those present focus on the main stage. “Creeping Death” blows up on a enthusiastic audience. On the screens Hetfield’s face takes place of Clint Eastwood’s and any concern disappears with exaltation. Seeing the effect that Metallica cause on an audience is quite impressive but this time there’s something more: the four horsemen seem more exalted than they already seemed in the last months. They play as they have never been doing so for many years; they were extremely powerful, fast (sometimes inaccurate) and overwhelming. To be sure that it wasn’t just our impression, we take a look around to see people’s faces and it seems that no-one was spared. A mix of disbelief and excitement melts during these first classics. When the frontman stops before switching to the songs from “Death Magnetic”, the party looks like it’s going crazy.
Before moving on to the new songs, Hetfield takes time to joke a little with the audience, asking if it was bored and not convinced. Then he asks so again, with a more knowing voice: “Are you getting bored with the new stuff? Sure? Not even a bit?”. Comforted, Metallica picks up where it left off, it plays a few songs from the latest album and the it goes back to classic songs. “Fade To Black”, “One”, fireworks, deep thoughts and happy humour complete the whole atmosphere. Two memorable hours passed but the mission’s completed and it’s time for the damages.

To make sure we can convey properly the situation, we would need an expert war observer. People struggle to reach the exit, many of them are barefoot, deprived of their shoes trapped in the mud. More than one girl is forced to be carried on the shoulders of a friend; but the worst comes from the camping area and the parking areas. Despite it has stopped raining, the mud, in a few zones, is almost half of a meter deep. Someone who’s very tired falls down and he must be picked up because it was beyond his strength. A girl cries leaning on a tent, grabbing her leg. Some farm tractors begin to move back and forth to drag muddy cars away from the liquid soil, and all of this for “only” 30 CHF per car.
We reach our car, hungry, feeling chilly and with one pair of shoes left; we decided to wear dry clothes ( a part from the shoes that were cleaned during the concert ) and to move straight to a service area along the highway, to eat some food and to drink a hot coffee. It’s a pity that in Switzerland service areas close from 11 PM to 6 AM..

Should we talk about Swiss efficiency? It’s buried under a sea of mud, and there’s no tractor that could stand a chance!


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I think that the judgement exposed in this report should be obvious; moreover, it should express a clear failure, but I feel that I should spend  more words talking about the extreme conditions the fans were forced to face.
For those who just like me arrived the evening before to enjoy the warm up session with Overkill and Airbourne, the seriousness of the situation appeared immediately clear and I would like to analyse it in every single aspect:

 

The parking Area: it was incredible how they could think of organizing a festival with such importance without the infrastructures on a clay soil. The only ones who were happy about this, were the “very nice” local farmers; with their tractors they kept on dragging the cars, for 30 CHF each.

The Entrance: from Friday already the line to the entrance lasted more than an hour, with our feet deep into the mud, waiting for the backpacks and bags to be opened and checked just to enter the camping area; then, needless to say, they allowed hammers, knives, stakes and various gears to set up the tents. I really would like to know the usefulness of that barrier.. Maybe they wanted to see if our army boots could bear the weight of mud.

The camping area: I find ironic calling “camping” an expanse full of mud, rats and without a supporting infrastructure (a part from 10 toilets for 15.000 people). There was a great disorganisation, there wasn’t a marked area, there wasn’t a corridor left clear for an area that with mud, tents and ropes looked more like a balancing act.

 

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The concert area: absolutely inadequate. It’s definitely intolerable that an advanced country has this lack of organisation. There were about 20cm of mud the first evening and almost 40cm at the end of the concerts. Nothing has been done to prevent this disaster: it would have been enough to scatter some chipboard around, in order to attenuate the secondary consequences of an unsuitable location.

Sounds: did you hear them? It’s unthinkable to offer concerts with malfunctioning sound systems. Moreover, the volume setting didn’t allowed you to listen to the music, if you were talking with people near you.

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Food stalls: there we have a lot of problems, but besides the usurious prices (4 CHF for a glass of water!), the real problems were the hygiene and the space. The big stalls were already full on Thursday evening, when there were about 15.000 people attending the event. You can imagine what happened the following day, with 60.000 people: there were endless lines and many stalls ran out of food at 4 PM. Luckily, there were some amenities: nice moles peeping out everywhere. The small and funny furballs were cuddled by those present, but if you also consider the sewer rats, it’s obvious that the basic hygienic conditions, in order to cook and sell food, were not guaranteed. Ok, Switzerland shows off its independence from the rest of the world, but something like this would have never be allowed in a civilized Country of the European Community.

Staff: Here it comes the paradoxical part. This kind of festival with such importance in Europe and in the rest of the world ( we met guys from New Jersey and from Australia too) can’t have people working there without even knowing a word of English. This consideration is addressed to the stalls’ staff; regarding the security staff and the first aid staff, they didn’t seem too busy in the camping area, while guys were fainting in the mud or with tired feet. It’s useless to talk about this in details, however seeing people stagger, cry and hold their cold and aching limbs, was like watching a scene from Vietnam war, not exactly from a modern civilisation.

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I’m sorry for this long, yet free, outburst, however I couldn’t pass over all that happened in silence. The biggest European event turned into the worst music festival ever, due to the complete incapacity of the promoters; and it’s right to speak out against these conditions.


I feel that the only wish I can address to the Sonisphere Swiss staff is to be terribly ashamed.


Pictures by Laura Olmi and Fabio Franchini.
Special thanks to Alessandra and Rachele Leoni for translation.




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