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COPENHELL by Amber V. '24

a giant metal fest in Denmark 🤘🏽

cw: harassment (noted before the section where it’s mentioned, skip to the next pictures from there if needed!)

“What’s your favorite type of metal?” asked a volunteer after Copenhell. We’d been talking about engineering, both civil and mechanical.

“Uhh, copper?”

“No, like, music.”

“Oh. The screaming kind’s pretty cool.”

shot from the side of a stage

Last week brought me to Copenhell, the biggest music festival in Denmark dedicated to metal. Tickets have been sold out since before the pandemic, but volunteers could get in free. I signed up for two twelve-hour shifts deconstructing the stages, and voila! Four-day festival tix! A friend of mine volunteered as well.

me in front of a crowd lookin edgily sidewaysI sacrificed my best chapstick to the Copenhell gods. It fell out of my pocket on the first night.

me doing the devil horn symbol w my tongue out while a random dude in the crowd observes disapprovinglyme n my friend we r vibing

 

 

While waiting in line, my friend and I came up with bucket list items for my first metal fest:

  1. crowdsurf
  2. get a tattoo (apparently at the metal fests in Scotland, which are bigger than Copenhell, there are legit tattoo parlors set up among the vendors)
  3. get on the big screen
  4. try the festival beer
  5. ride on someone’s shoulders
  6. throw up in the port-a-potty toilets
  7. get in the mosh pit

I thought #6 sounded unpleasant and strove to avoid this. And succeeded!01 I will add, however, that the toilet situation at Copenhell was one of the best I’ve ever seen at any large event. The toilets consistently worked, and there was paper, soap, and running water available every single time.  

After several years in the queue line, we got in. Nearly everyone was dressed in black; the most color you saw was the in band emblems on shirts. Silver chains and rings — on ears, noses, lips — caught the sun. 

The festival itself took the ‘hell’ in Copnenhell quite literally. The stands and stages were all dressed in black. Vendors’ names heavily featured the Devil; the coffee stand was called Doom Coffee. There were pennants on the hill with upside-down crosses.

I had expected none of this and took it in with glee. I ran into the first shop I saw, pawed through band shirts that I’d usually find only in the back of thrift shops, and rarely in my size. Here there were shirts with bands I listened to — and not just Pink Floyd, either — that actually fit me. 

The entire venue was immense, with four stages and more acts than you could listen to — especially coming after work, as I was. I sort of like that, though, this feeling that you’re in a space too big to explore all of it. 

Before entering any crowds, my friend and I set up camp on the hillside and watched Gloryhammer from afar. I drank in the crowd below us, their tattoos and piercings, leather and over-long hair. We matched the aesthetic. Ahead of us, there was a sea of people bouncing before the lead singer. At the end of a song, a wave of hand-horn symbols rose from the crowd. I understood for the first time why that symbol, the rock one with the pointer finger and pinky raised, meant rock music.

The headliners on the first night were Metallica. I wore the same shirt as several dudes in the crowd, ages 20-something to 70. 

My friend and I met some other people we knew and made our way into the crowd. I got up on my friend’s shoulders, looked out over the crowd. And then I found the mosh pit during ‘Enter Sandman.’ The chaos swallowed me, and I was thrown between bodies, singing along although no one could hear, while Hetfield’s voice resounded around us. 

the metallica dude!

me again but now in a different shirt that says metallica

 

cw: harassment. Not discussed after the next set of photos, so skip ahead if needed! Take care of yourself <3

I’m soaking up vibes, collecting details that will make their way into some narrative, sometime. I’m figuring out which patterns ring true. I like this feeling of finding a new space which suits me, if not perfectly, then at least decently well. 

I’m telling stories of this festival. I like most of the facets of this space I’ve found.

I met with a female coworker on the second day, and said, whatever feminism’s been doing for the last thirty years is working. People are chill. Strangers offer to put you on their shoulders when you can’t see over the crowd.

They push me out of mosh pits, and I wish they didn’t, but they’re trying to protect me. I am much smaller than they are. And when I go in again, they realize I meant to be there. We push each other around and choke on dust.

The next day, to a different coworker, I said, whatever feminism’s been doing, it’s making progress. Strangers offer to put you on their shoulders, and they lean in to make out afterwards, but when you deny them, they don’t actually assault you.

I don’t know what it was, the third day of the festival, but I couldn’t keep strangers’ hands off me. My friend remarked, as we exited a crowd, that every time he turned around I was snapping at someone. I said I wished I had been meaner.

 

“You don’t fucking touch people without permission,” I told a thirty year old dude.

He neither apologized nor denied it, just said, “Not anymore.”

 

It’s interesting, having a good time while trying to be safe, knowing that no matter how much you try, you are not guaranteed to actually be safe; and trying to have a good time anyway. 

That isn’t a new narrative for a lot of people. This particular event just happened to be more dangerous than the spaces I normally occupy.

I got on this guy’s shoulders during Death to All and he asked if I was okay. I said yes, I was fine. His strength belied for a moment how drunk he was. But when he walked forward, his gait was steady; I didn’t worry about him falling. At that moment I was the only person on someone else’s shoulders, looking at a sea of metalheads, devil’s horns thrust to the stage. The singer pointed right at me. I raised both hands. The guy below me moved closer to the front, avoiding the flow of crowdsurfers. He held my legs with one hand, more tightly than needed. He was strong and I wondered if he would be the exception to the rule, if when he let me down and leaned in and I refused him he wouldn’t take no. The bass was gorgeous in my ears and the singer was screaming now, up close. I was cheering. The guy below me asked someone beside him if I was okay. I gave him thumbs-up. I thought that I should get down soon, while I was anticipating the danger.
I asked him to get down. He did. He leaned in and I moved quickly away.

“Are you good?”

I said yes, thank you, held a thumbs-up far out in front of me. He didn’t try anything. 

He and I went separate ways through the crowd. I returned to cheering Death to All. They were a fucking awesome band.

 

I tried writing this blog without this section, but it felt disingenuous. The third night, I recorded every bad experience.02 and the majority did not come from interactions I responded to, like riding someone’s shoulders I was feeling a sort of fury that I don’t often encounter. Some parts of this space are terrible.

I decided consciously then to still have a good time the next day. To wear the same thing, because even if my shirt showed shoulders and cleavage and maybe attracted more attention, I’d face harassment either way. So I might well go to this festival in the clothes I like. 

 

I could wear that shirt, and mosh in the hearts of crowds, and tell men “don’t fucking touch me” without fearing a violent response too much, because a lot of people before me came here with chips on their shoulders, determined to take up space whether or not the crowd wanted them to. There has been progress. And there needs to be more.

So I chose to enjoy the festival and the scene despite these nasty, massive flaws, which we’ll try to iron out in my lifetime. I don’t think we’ll succeed. But we’ll get closer. 

At the end of the last mosh, which had turned into a spiral, a bunch of people running in a circle and kicking up dust, the only other woman in the circle hugged me and I threw up devil’s horns, like yeah, motherfucker, we got this.

stage during daytime

Iron Maiden

a red-lit building at night

the food court

stage at night

KISS

stage with backdrop reading 'Thunder Mother'

Thundermother

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I came in hoping to discover new bands, and man, there were so many!

Alestorm and Gloryhammer are fun and fantasy-esque, like a harder version of stuff I listened to years ago. 

I prepped for Thundermother, who were great; Hellacopter was awesome too. Both are sorta hard rock.

Best of all, in the middle of the crowd before Baest — a Danish band that doesn’t sing, just employs the sort of screaming that sounds like it’s shredding your vocal cords — I discovered that I love the sound of false cord screams03 I looked into it later and it turns out you make the sounds in your false cords, which are above the vocal cords, so the vocal cords are undamaged . Like this:

I’d struggled to get into this type of hard heavy metal, as it’s not ideal when played through my tinny android speakers, and not the most optimal soundtrack for studying thermo — too close to my inner monologue. But in the middle of a crowd? Sounds amazing.

I cheered for Baest, then kept an eye out for anything that sounded similar. I found Bersaerk that night, Death to All the next day, Opeth, and, a personal favorite, Jinjer. 

Jinjer is a Ukranian band, and the lead singer, Tatiana Shmailyuk, explained that she was making this appearance to bring awareness to the war. According to a friend who worked backstage, she also brought coffee to her crew after the set.

Maybe it’s ignorant of me, but I hadn’t fully realized that women can scream like that. Shmailyuk totally could.

During the festival, I mostly hung out with people I already knew. I met some interesting strangers, though. There was a girl with snakebite piercings who threw herself into the middle of mosh pits, which as a rule here were occupied by six-foot-tall men. There was a blacksmith from the UK behind me in the merch line; we talked shop while waiting for T-shirts.

During the two days of volunteering that followed the festival — twelve-hour shifts, but carried out with a healthy regard for breaks and coffee — I met all sorts of musically-inclined folk. The civil engineering student whose favorite metal is not copper described in a sleep-deprived haze how drilling into the ground works in Denmark, where the earth isn’t very solid. He also translated all the Danish instructions for me during work. The lead on deconstruction, a contractor from Latvia, had a seemingly endless supply of wild stories which I cannot repeat here without his pizzazz. And one of the stages we took down folded up and became a truck!

crowd before iron maiden

the crowds for Iron Maiden were too thick to move through

After Iron Maiden the final night, my friend and I got vegan burgers and sat in the food court, nestled between three stages, which were were positioned so that we could only hear the music from one. We harkened back to the bucket list: neither of us had thrown up, in toilets or otherwise, so it was tragically incomplete. We also hadn’t been able to find any tattoo parlors.

But everything else?

I’d ridden on a lot of strangers’ shoulders. The festival beer was pretty good. One of the times I got in the mosh pit, a giant European guy looked at me, bewildered, and said, “Why are you here? You are small!”

Multiple times, older women in the crowd would ask me if I wanted to crowdsurf, and given the affirmative, they would get the attention of tall people nearby — their partners? Strangers to us both? I was never sure — and say, in English or Danish, “lift her up.” And the crowd came through, a handful of people working together to lift me overhead. It’s a wonderful feeling. A lot of people crowdsurfed here — if you stood near the front for some bands, close to the mosh pit but not too close, you were in the middle of a highway of crowdsurfers.

A good run, my friend and I agreed. I would find out at work the next week that I’d gotten on the big screen, too!

Festival-goers destroyed the grass on the hillside, and the final day saw dust rising from everywhere, not just the well-trampled ground of the mosh pits. I got home that final night coated in dust, marked with bruises of unknown origin and other people’s spilled beer — at least I hoped that it was only beer. I showered off the worst of it and curled in bed, jotting down all the details I could. I was overflowing with music, though already the glory was fading, and exhaustion settled in its place. I’ll find that wonder again, in the heart of a different crowd, somewhere down the line.

Rock on!

bus

Copenhell shuttle, bus no. 666

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