Thomas Jensen: Wacken Open Air Interview

At the 29th edition of the biggest heavy metal festival in the world Wacken Open Air, Steel Mill sat down with Thomas Jensen, leader and heart and soul of the event. We touched on Wacken’s past, present and future, Thursday 2.8. headliners Judas Priest and festival’s 30th anniversary next year.

On Wacken 2018:

It’s been fantastic, I don’t know the specific statistics yet but it looks like it’s going to be the hottest edition ever. On the other hand it’s not true we always have mud over here, we have actually had more good than bad weather. The beginning of August is pretty good in this region, 2013 was nearly as hot, 2004 was very hot and there were hot festivals in the previous millennium as well. I haven’t been able to see as much bands as I would have liked, and not enough of the Wacken Metal Battle but there’s been some great new bands here. Swedish band Chugger was great, I met them at a local pub on Tuesday and Wednesday where we do a small show. I think they got to fifth place at the whole competition. Die From Sorrow (China) won, everybody said “what a great band”. I must confess I haven’t heard them but they were saying the whole tent was singing the lyrics so that’s pretty amazing. There is an international campsite where people are setting up barbeques and actually building bridges from pieces of wood, I really like that. Tonight everybody’s waiting for Clawfinger, Doro is getting a good crowd right it’s all great.

On Judas Priest headlining Wacken:

They were definitely a highlight. Priest were hammering out there. I was so happy that Glenn came on stage for the encores. They are such a visionary band. Musically the range from “Living After Midnight” to “Painkiller” or “Redeemer Of Souls” – not a lot of bands can do it, only few bands like Queen who can do anything and still have a spirit and bigger meaning. I think Priest has that. I was so proud we took them before we heard about Glenn’s illness. I was frightened and I would have understood if they had said they couldn’t do it. But they decided to go on. I know Andy Sneap really well, he’s a fantastic producer and a good friend. It’s always a risk but I think what Priest are doing is great.

On next year’s 30th anniversary:

It’s not about competition or topping yourself – although one of our mottos is faster, harder, louder. We don’t see it always as quantity, that’s sometimes difficult to measure. It’s like in sports, after the game everybody has a different opinion. There’s a lot of grey, it’s not all black and white. Like sound in concerts, depends on where you stand and watch the show. And it’s also about the mood. If your girlfriend has f***ed you up, then that’s hard for any band to turn that around (laughs). We always try to improve and change things. We don’t have a feeling we are at the end of the journey, there are still a lot of things to come.

© Eric Anders

On 2019 line-up:

We have a lot of it confirmed but decided to first announce 12 bands to give a bit of view of the range. It’s not the biggest bands, it’s more about the range. We are trying to cover different aspects of it, to give everybody a feeling of what it will be. I must say I like the upcoming line-up. There are a lot of bands from one continent and it’s not America or Europe. From that continent, there will be old bands, new bands, one of my all time we are getting there. (ed. note, the continent turned out to be Australia with Rose Tattoo, Airbourne and Parkway Drive announced, other announcements also included Demons & Wizards, Sabaton, Meshuggah, Dark Funeral and Krokus among others)

On Metallica possibly playing in Wacken 2019:

I don’t want to feed people’s expectations. If somebody only wants to buy a ticket for Metallica, he shouldn’t go here. You have to buy the whole package. We had a discussion with few concert promotors who were saying “oh, at our festival at 4 PM nobody’s in the infield”. In Wacken at 12 AM we have crowds of 20-30 000 at infield. That’s what we want and this is what we are trying to achieve. To get the audience to also listen to all the smaller bands. We are not here for the world championship, we are here for the olympics. I’m the first one to buy AC/DC -ticket or Metallica-ticket, I love them. I know Metallica wants to do Wacken some day and we want them as well, but it’s really difficult to get it scheduled. I think what they will do is two big stadium shows, two in Germany, two in Finland, one in Norway and so forth. And that’s good, Metallica-show is good for the whole metal scene because they pull everyone in. I know Lars Ulrich wants to do Wacken, and he knows we want them. It just has to be the right time and fit for their career and touring plans. There are a lot of components and although we think Wacken is the centre of the world, it’s actually not.

Last words for fans and Wacken Metalheads:

Stay heavy and support metal! Keep heritage of metal and Judas Priest alive!

Interview by Ville Krannila

Thanks to Heather Williams