Windhoek Metal Fest: In a class of it’s own

Botswana metal band - Wrust
Botswana metal band - Wrust

In 2008, the Darkfiend made his first journey from Cape Town up into the South West of Africa.  The country of destination: Namibia.

Hundreds of thousands of people visit Namibia for a great many reasons.  Not least of all, the fact that the country sports some of the worlds best game hunting ranches, breathtaking scenery that borders on surreal, or even just a getaway for people who really desire some space and an escape from civilzation!

For “The Fiend”, however, the motives were quite different…  as the only thing that really draws him out from his dark abode is Heavy Metal!

In this ironic landscape, in the heart of the country (quite literally, since Windhoek serves as the country’s capital, and is pretty much bang in the middle!) hundreds of people did converge for a night of headbanging and debouchery.  Of course, M4A would like not to dawdle too much on the past, but rather look to the future – and so we contacted the organizers of the Windhoek Metal Fest to find out what is brewing in the pot for 2009…

Somewhere in an African Landscape

DF: Hi there.  Please introduce yourself.  You are welcome to elaborate a little.

WMF: Sven here, from Namibian power metal band subMission. I’ve also played in now defunct Arcana XXII, which some of the older metal heads might have heard of. I’ve been active in the Namibian scene since more or less 1995 and am one of the co-organisors of the Windhoek Metal Fest, WMF.

DF: Very few people in Southern Africa, let alone the rest of the world realize that Namibia hosts its own annual metal festival!  How many festivals have you put on at this stage?

WMF: We started in 2007 and on the 27th of June 2009 we’re hosting the third rendition. Word has gotten around since 2007 and more and more people regionally and internationally take note. One or two WMF shirts have also been spotted at European gigs, our spies tell us.

DF: Let’s talk a little about demographics.   Rumor has it that Namibia is the second most sparsely populated country in the world – after Mongolia!  Can you tell us more or less what the national population is?  For example, do you know how many people per square kilometer that may be?

WMF: Yep, it’s true. Nearly 1 million square kms with less than 2 people per square km. The entire population of the country is much less than South Africa’s Cape Town City alone, it’s approximately 1,9 million people.

DF: Given those statistics, and that much of the population consists of rural indigenous African people, a grouping that by large has had very little exposure to the metal music sub-culture – what sort of turnouts have you been getting at your festivals?

WMF: More than 95 percent of the population is indigenous African and very few are into metal. We’re working to change this!  However, our audience is fairly diverse and we’re getting decently sized crowds in the order of 300+.

DF: Your annual metal festivals, although small in scale compared to other parts of the world, have taken on the nature of a truly “international” affair.  In this sense, you have transcended  the achievements of a good number of other Southern African events which are at least double the size in every possible way.  Please explain, using examples of the sorts of bands who have performed in your country at these events.

WMF: Up to now we’ve had bands from USA (Conquest for Death, 2007), Botswana (Wrust, 2007), Angola (Neblina, 2007), South Africa (Architecture of Aggresion, Mind Assault and Azrail, 2008). This year the three visiting bands will again be from SA, namely Lady Axe, Juggernaught and Tranquil. We’re working on getting European bands, but due to the remote location transport remains a problem. We’ve had a lot of interest from especially German bands to come to Nam, the two most well known would probably be Heaven Shall Burn and Tankard.

DF: It has been said that the Windhoek Metal Festival is reluctant to repeat bands from previous visits to the festival.  What do you do if a band really got the crowd going?  Has that happened before?  What sort of demand exists in Namibia for repeat visits by bands, if not to the Windhoek Metal Festival?

WMF: What we want to do is open the gateways for foreign bands to come to Namibia. Hopefully a great response will entice bands to return by themselves at a later stage. There are so many cool bands out there, which makes it really easy to have exciting different bands each year. The WMF should serve as a stepping-stone for as many different bands as possible. Azrail is the first WMF band to return to Nam, which is great. As far as demand is concerned, I’m pretty positive. Established local metal bands draw between 200 and 300 people, so that could be a yardstick.

DF: Who do you think have been the top 3 highlights for Namibian fans so far, excluding local acts.

WMF: I think all visiting bands got great responses and did a great job. Many fans still tell me that the gig from Wrust in 2007 was particularly awesome. But generally it depends on individual taste.

DF: What can Namibian crowds look forward to for the next Windhoek Metal Fest?  Has the line-up gone public yet?

WMF: Yes, it has. Please check out http://www.metalfest.submission-band.com/.

DF: Can you tell us a little about the venue?  What sort of places exist in Namibia that would host a metal festival?

WMF: Up to now we staged the WMF at the Warehouse Theatre in Windhoek, which is probably the best known live music venue in town. This year we’re moving to the new Blitzkrieg Bar, which is one of the few full-on metal venues in Africa, probably. We’ve played a couple of gigs there already and it has a great concert atmosphere. We’re lucky enough to be able to play most small to midsized venues in Windhoek since normally we’re making money for the owners. We make sure to get the best possible backlines, sound people and PA for our shows.

DF: Tell us a bit about the next event you have lined up.  Apart from bands, is there anything different or special, that the Namibian metalheads have not experienced before?

WMF: This time we’re having a more melodic line-up. Previous WMF renditions were more or less dominated by death metal bands. So, we’re broadening the scope a little bit. We’re also handing out some very cool WMF-merch.

DF: How do you feel about what the metal4africa project is trying to do in the scene.  Given your experiences and knowledge of musicians in bands, do you think we are going to be able to achieve our longer term goals, and do you think that the “industry” will actually get behind an initiative like this?

WMF: It’s great. Hopefully the WMF adds toward that objective. The biggest problem is probably that many, many bands don’t have the staying power and determination to forge a robust metal culture. It’s gotten better though. I remember staying in South Africa in the mid 90s and there was nothing in terms of a scene.  I saw Iron Maiden play to only 2000 people in the Good Hope Centre in Cape Town, that’s how bad it was. Thankfully the tide has turned somewhat. If the industry will get it, is doubtful.  As far as I can judge commercialism still reigns supreme and the niche markets are neglected. Here in Namibia, we’re doing everything ourselves on our terms, which is sometimes tough but also gratifying.

DF: Are there very many of your own Namibian bands?  We are curious to know what sort of scene exists.  Tell us about some of the local acts and places where they perform.

WMF: At the moment the following bands play regularly: subMission (power metal), Delusions of Grandeur (metal), Fading Reign (melodic death) and Fallen Nemesis (metal core).  We’ve performed all over town; most of the other bands mostly stick to Blitzkrieg.

DF: Does the Windhoek Metal Festival have any long term prospects?  Feel free to elaborate.

WMF: Let’s put it this way: as long as our band exists there will be an annual WMF, since we’re the originators and organisors of the show.

DF: May we trade you a link on our web page in exchange for a link on yours?  What kind of message do you think that might send to the public?

WMF: Of course, the more interlinking between countries and bands, the better.

Metal Oasis

Although the WMF did not take place at the Blitzgrieg Bunker Bar last year, Dakfiend did make a turn.

If you are a metal head (which you should be if you read this far!) then this is an essential venue to visit when you find yourself in Namibia!  All the better if you plan your visit to coincide with the Windhoek Metal Fest… so check out http://www.metalfest.submission-band.com/ now and start making your travel arrangements today.

The Blitzgrieg Bunker Bar is definately a Metal Oasis in the middle of nowhere, and you can drink, and you can enjoy the good things in life (like metal, of course).