Hellfest is an ode to all the kids, teens, and overworked adults who loudly blast System of a Down on their commute.
The French rock and metal festival rose like a phoenix in the mid-noughties and became all the fuss in the scene. Art director Ben Barbaud and music programmer Yoann Le Nevé founded the festival to create a shared space of interest for the country’s rockers and metalheads.
In essence, Hellfest is the Comic-Con of the rock and metal scene.
Here’s everything you need to know about Hellfest.
Hellfest started in the summer of 2002 as Fury Fest, founded by avid rock and metal enthusiasts Ben Barbaud and Yoann Le Nevé, who had big dreams and almost no funding.
Fury Fest only lasted three years, from 2002 to 2005, and its short-lived legacy was partially due to the founders’ inability to market and properly showcase their brainchild.
Hellfest emerged from its predecessor’s ashes, and in 2006 it became the second-largest festival in France and one of the most successful in Europe.
By cultivating its music ethos and drive to be the best, Hellfest now brings in over 70 nationalities on France’s grounds.
With performances from iconic bands, thousands of beer liters, and an insatiable appetite for 24/7 headbanging, the event became a staple for self-proclaimed rockers and metalheads.
The French festival is somewhat mainstream yet maintains an air of obscurity appreciated by die-hard rock, death metal, heavy metal, and thrash music fans.
With over 200 bands and artists scheduled to perform, including headliners like Guns N’ Roses and Iron Maiden, it’s no surprise Hellfest witnesses 60,000 daily attendees per annum.
Acts that you would immediately associate with Hellfest’s repertoire and those that would have never crossed your mind have already graced the festival’s stage.
Alternative metal band Deftones, the Korn quintet, and legendary members of Deep Purple and Judas Priest have all been part of Hellfest’s family.
The four-day mega event takes place in a large vineyard in Nantes, Clisson, a historical city in the west of France.
The vineyard is a maze in its own right, with ancient castles, a zoo, a last-of-its-kind papermill, wetlands, and a museum showcasing traditional wine-making gadgets and machines. We can confidently say Hellfest scored itself a top-notch setting.
Aside from all the landmarks and must-visit spots, the forest where the vineyard lies is worth long walks of trance.
As Hellfest nears, the vineyard transforms into a mini-city emblematic of the rock and metal scene. Visitors can access the location seven days a week when the festival isn’t taking over Nantes.
With over six themed stages, expect nothing but the most elaborately decorated setups showcasing a perdition motif scattered throughout Hellfest’s grounds and pyrotechnics, adding pizzazz to the event.
Main Stages 1 and 2 are where headliners take Hellfest by storm with hard rock and metal beats. Smaller stages like The Altar Stage, The Temple Stage, The Valley Stage, and The Warzone are preserved for subgenres of rock and metal, like hardcore punk and stoner rock.
The festival grounds are filled with installations dedicated to Hellfest’s cult. From the Steampunk Clock, the Hellfest Guitar Monument, and the Lemmy Kilmister Statue honoring the late Motörhead frontman, Hellfest shows its dedication to the culture.
Included in the Hellfest ticket, camping is very much on the table and a part of the experience at the French festival.
Color-coded camping sites are spread sporadically throughout Hellfest’s grounds, so make your pick from the ticket tiers with what suits your budget and prepare to hatch out your tent.
Some festival-goers opt for Hellfest’s hotel packages with some extra bucks, so you’re free to pick your home for the four-day event.
The French festival knows its audience and offers plenty of activities throughout the event.
A skate park sits on the side of the festival action, making it accessible to partiers all through the day. Taking festival-goers on a trip – in more ways than one – a Ferris wheel sits in the middle of Hellfest’s ground.
Carnival games like Ring the Bell are scattered around Hellfest for attendees to take their competitive side out to play.
Clisson, where Hellfest takes place, is an idyllic city where family-friendly outdoor activities reign supreme, serving as a sweet juxtaposition to the hardcore fest. From kayaking to hiking and apple picking, festival-goers are spoiled for choice when at Hellfest.
The rock and metal festival is essentially a mini-town celebrating the genres’ culture. A medieval-meets-gothic theme takes over Hellfest, with the skate park shaped like a coffin designed by Madneom Street Art Park.
This company creates installations and decorative stages for entertainment purposes. In fact, Madneom is responsible for most of the festival’s intricate decorations and The Warzone stage setup.
Hellfest’s name didn’t sit well with your average male and female Karens as it evokes the spirit of the devil – in their world. With continued outrage and complaints from a self-obsessed generation, sponsors like Coca-Cola ditched the festival in 2009 to be on the majority’s side.
We’d hoped it stopped there, but there’s more. Government officials and elected leaders jumped on the bandwagon and publicly denounced Hellfest as it did not represent French values and culture, calling it “satanic.”
The French AFC (Association of Catholic Families) sought legal action against Hellfest with requirements to keep the festival 18+ and provide their association with the festival setlists for approval. Thankfully, a sensical judge denied their demands in 2010.
Socialist political activist and fellow metalhead Patrick Roy showed immense public support to Hellfest and repeatedly asked his conservative counterparts to basically chill the fuck out. The late influential politician was honored in Hellfest’s 2011 edition with posters of his face covering the festival’s walls.
While all this nonsense could’ve pushed Hellfest to lose sight of its vision and mission, the French festival powered on. Despite its unique venture, Hellfest is now one of the most respected and celebrated in the industry.
Hellfest is known far and wide for its band-branded merch and incredibly busy goody booths. Redditors of Hellfest have some advice for us: come as early as you can, don’t bring cash for the merch – just top up your ticket, and buy whatever you need before it all runs out.
While the merch trip sounds like a hassle, the festival offers endless food and drink options. It wouldn’t be a French affair without wine and beer bars in every corner, so practice your pretend ‘I know what I’m doing’ face as the sommelier asks if your first taste is what you’d expected.
The good news is that aside from the food stalls, neighboring restaurants, and supermarkets, Hellfest is mindful of people’s diverse food preferences and allows ticket holders to bring their own on festival grounds.
If you’re a penny-pinching student or lactose-intolerant badass, Hellfest is happy to accommodate.
Considering the size of Hellfest’s setting, the festival app is an indispensable asset. You can find the lineup, a Hellfest map, and even top up your ticket as the festival is cashless.