Saturday 7th November sees Leeds University host the 12th annual Damnation festival, one of the largest one-day Metal events in Europe and with, arguably, this year’s 27 bands providing its most potent bill ever. Swedish MeloDeath pioneers At The Gates lead the event but, with Irish Black / Trad legends Primordial, Belgian tortured ‘Posties’ AmenRa, Oakland power-Stoners High on Fire and Doom heroes 40 Watt Sun in accompaniment among other giants of the extreme scene, there is no shortage of serious competition.
Festival team member and Press Officer Becky Laverty is suitably enthusiastic about the event, which will be opened by UK outfits Tacoma Narrows Bridge Disaster and The King Is Blind. “It was great to nab At The Gates as our headliners, they’re an awesome outfit. But we’re incredibly happy with the rest of the line-up too: there are some cracking bands, each of which will be bringing something unique to this year’s table. Japanese Post-instrumentalists Mono, for example, couldn’t be more different from, say, High on Fire: yet both are perfect fits for us. We pride ourselves on having both up-and-coming bands as well as big names, so we’re confident of delivering another eclectic and exciting day.”
Capacity has been reduced after criticism was levelled with regard to much overcrowding during 2014’s tenth anniversary show. Becky confirms: “We listen to the feedback we get after each event, and always take it on board, so it made sense to respond this way when people complained. We can’t perfectly predict how many will want to watch each band – although we do give a lot of thought into every band’s slot on the bill – so we removed some of the pressure this year. Hopefully this should mean no more queues to get into any of the rooms, and a bit more room to move around unhindered throughout the day.”
Savannah Sludgers Black Tusk were scheduled to play, but recently had to pull out. Fortunately some high-quality help was at hand. “Unfortunately Black Tusk had to cancel their present tour plans entirely” Becky explains. “We shuffled things around as a result, and we think Brighton crushers Sea Bastard are total heroes for stepping into the gap. Such is the nature of the business: delays and cancellations do happen. Our fingers are firmly crossed that we’ve got that out of the way, and it’ll be all plain sailing from here!”
With so many fantastic bands over four stages, it must be hell to avoid catastrophic clashes, though largely these seem to have been negotiated this year. “We put a lot of time and energy into getting the line-up right. Gavin McInally, Paul Farrington and I go back and forth for weeks to try and create a timetable that does justice to all of the bands, but also to the fans who will have a jam-packed schedule on the day. We can’t keep everyone happy of course, but we certainly try our best.”
That’s a colossal understatement for one of the smallest, hardest-working festival teams around right now. At the time of writing, tickets are still available for what promises to be as intense an event as ever. £36 for 27 bands?
Following their successful comeback with 2014’s At War With Reality (Century Media) Melodic Death Metal Gods At The Gates have been announced as main headliners of Damnation Festival in Leeds, England on Saturday November 7th.
With 26 more bands across 4 stages to be announced the fest is off to a great start with its’ line up.
The band commented: “We are very happy to announce that At The Gates will be a part of the Damnation Festival 2015. Especially fun to be back on Yorkshire soil where it all started back in the day on Deaf/Peaceville Records. See you there folks!”
Damnation have confirmed that following complaints of over-congestion at last years sold-out event there will be a reduced capacity, but that it will not impact negatively on the line up.
Festival director Gavin McInally said: “We plan to, once again, deliver the best line-up of music the UK will see this year at a cost to our fans which is also unrivalled, and having At The Gates as our first announcement, can be taken as a statement of our intent for 2015. Our capacity has been decreased, our ticket prices will remain the same and by the time we’ve completed our four stages, we fully expect another sold out day of Damnation this November.”
In October 2005 a young Glaswegian, sick of the direction metal festivals were heading, realised a crazy notion and months of insane work with a raucous expression of rebellion in a dark, cavernous club in Manchester. Celebrating its tenth anniversary this November 1st, Gavin McInally still talks of DamnationFestival, now based at Leeds university, with infectious enthusiasm and pride.
I first asked the reasons behind picking Manchester for that first Damnation festival in 2005: “It was purely logistical. We had to face facts: in Glasgow, we’d possibly have struggled to get the numbers we were after. In London, we wouldn’t have had the following from Scotland or Wales. So we tried places like Sheffield, Bradford, and Nottingham, but Manchester had what we wanted at the time.”
So how did the idea became reality? “I knew nothing about the industry then. I was a fan who followed Download and Ozzfest, but I felt they were becoming tired. We had some great bands on our own doorstep – the likes of Charger and Sikth – and I thought ‘How hard can it be to find a pub to put half a dozen bands on?’. So a dozen of us set out on a bit of a crash course! I was a journalist by trade, so found it quite easy to contact the bands. Once they realised we weren’t offering a bag of peanuts to play, it soon became much bigger than the pub gig I’d envisaged! My lack of experience a challenge though. There was a lot behind the scenes I didn’t know, like any of the technical aspects required for a gig. We’ve got stage managers now so in comparison to then, it’s like night and day! We’d booked fourteen bands of a high calibre, and the guy at Jilly’s Rock World was pivotal in helping things run smoothly.”
“I almost puked!”, he replies to my asking how he felt that morning. “Despite seeing the ticket sales; the message boards buzzing; and the bill fully realised: it doesn’t hit home until you see the people queuing outside. It’s then you think, ‘Shit! This isn’t a joke!’ By that point there was nothing I could do if something went wrong: it was all in the lap of the Gods. Last year, bizarrely, I could’ve left the venue and had a sleep. Everything was running so perfectly!”
There’s a small team involved in bringing this extreme extravaganza to us, helping Gavin at various stages of the process: “One by one over the years the original team fell away, but we’ve picked up some vital people. Our graphic designer, Bri, is responsible for all the posters you see, and for the way Damnation looks online: and Becky of course, our press officer, who deals with you guys! The core is me and Paul, based in Nottingham, and we deal with all the bookings, Facebook postings and correspondence, all the day to day stuff. Then of course we have freelance stage managers, engineers and venue staff who deal with stuff on the day.”
Damnation is renowned for staging some lesser-known acts, but it’s a situation Gavin is torn over. “It’s frustrating. We’d love to fill a venue with these guys, but we have to think realistically. Fans wouldn’t come to see 27 bands of that calibre. Putting a local band on a headline stage in a 1,000 capacity room, with 25 people watching, does nothing for the band, the festival or the fan. You need a Carcass or a My Dying Bride to make it worth the ticket money. It’s great to give that chance though: Iron Witch opened the fourth stage last year, and there was no room at the back. If 600 people watch and 500 of them stick a ‘like’ next to that band’s Facebook page after seeing them, fantastic. That’s why Damnation started in the first place. We’ve only around four slots to give to that level of band so we sit around and filter through to pick the best ones. Evile, who opened a stage in 2006, are probably the biggest example we’ve had. They were unsigned when we put them on, and we can’t take the credit for their success but to see them supporting the likes of Megadeth now is a great feeling.”
For this November, Raging Speedhorn and Bolt Thrower were the first to be confirmed. I felt that the former were core to the festival itself, having brought home the first event. “It’s a personal thing. The first metal gig I ever went to was Charger, Speedhorn and Amen, and I’m a massive fan. We don’t have a big habit of rebooking bands – nobody else has played more than twice – so it’s testament to how fondly they’re thought of here. They went out with a bit of a whimper but they’ve tried other things and come back. They’ve never had Frank at Damnation before, so to be doing their first two albums also, it’s going to be an unbelieveable show. Bolt Thrower? That in itself is incredible as they only play festival or two per year across the world, so to even be considered is unbelieveable. Tickets began to fly as soon as they were announced.. Some crazy bugger from Australia’s booked flights on the strength of that alone! We’ve also got Saint Vitus and Cannibal Corpse, so that’s some opening salvo! There are four or five others lined up for announcements soon (Anaal Nathrakh, Revocation and Corrupt Moral Altar were announced after the interview), & they’ll be fantastic. It’s the tenth anniversary and we want people to say, ‘That’s the best bill of this year.”
The festival, of course, continues to grow: too big for some, who complained of time clashes last year. “It’s frustrating for us too. We’d love to ensure everyone gets to see all the acts but, you know, it’s the same at every festival, some of the biggest in the world. The only way you’re going to avoid it is to book shit bands. The only advice I can give is, if you really want to see a particular band, get there early. When Vallenfyre played the rectangular-shaped Terrorizer room last year (a big bottleneck resulting in a queue outside the doors), there was enough space for another two hundred people in the wings. It was really annoying for us, and for the fans who couldn’t get in. So nearer the time we’ll have plenty of notices saying ‘Please don’t stand at the entrance’.”
We agree on how irritating this was, particularly at the aforementioned stage at regular intervals last year. So, given this, are there any changes planned for this year?
“We did consider going to two days but, surprisingly, the feedback has been a resounding ‘no’. We’ve generally a slightly older fan base, many with kids, who don’t want to have time away from home or spend two nights’ hotel fees, they’ve got work Monday morning…I think our average punter is 33 and maybe we can’t survive for two days at that age! Why mess with what’s working and try to make it into something else?”
I asked if Gavin felt he’d opened doors for the indoor festivals in this country, the ‘Punter’s Festival’. “Well, in 2004 when I first got the idea, there was only really Download and Bloodstock as far as I’m aware. There have been so many since and whether Damnation played a part I don’t know as I’ve never asked any of the organisers. If it did, great. It’s not rocket science. It’s just getting the investment, showing a bit of commitment, doing it right, and putting on a product for fans that’s worth it: offer them something different from the usual tour that’s going through town, and see if you succeed.”
Upon being asked if he is proud to be the curator of one of the greatest indoor festivals in Europe, Gavin’s down-to-earth nature resulted in a ‘wow’ before his considered response: “Obviously I love Damnation to bits. The line-up for me is the best as it’s my taste in music, they’re bands that I want to see. So yes, proud of what it’s become, delighted that so many fans share the same taste.’ And as for the future? ‘If I had a really bad year where I was shat upon from all sides, that could break my spirit: but at the moment there’s absolutely no reason why Damnation couldn’t go for another decade. I’d rather be optimistic: let’s look at the twentieth anniversary in ten years time eh?!”
Gavin is an affable, ebullient ball of energy who talks fast about his creation as if it were one of his children. The love displayed is evident in the product thousands of fans have witnessed over the last nine years, and whenever the name is mentioned it’s with deep reverence by all who’ve attended. Make sure you don’t miss out on this year’s festivities – just don’t stand in any bloody doorways, right?…