It’s unusual reviewing an online festival, but with the thought and effort put into Wacken World Wide I thought they earned it! As a rule I tend not to watch much in the way of streaming, but I was interested to see what this “XR” stuff was all about so I kept an eye on a few streams. I’m glad I did!
Wacken World Wide was the German festival’s answer to the Corona lockdown which has, as some of you may have heard, affected live music here and there. The line-up was pretty damn decent with many huge names recording bespoke sets (30 minutes to an hour) as well as some short interviews. A fair bit of archived footage was also shown, which isn’t a bad thing given the quality of Wacken’s main stage recordings, but I was mainly interested in the new stuff.
Over the three days I picked a few bands I particularly like and popped the stream up when I was doing work at other times. The one constant was that I was bloody impressed. The XR live shows where an exclusive set has been merged with a digital background worked far better than I expected. With some smaller “real” effects (a flame pot here and there and basic lighting) ensuring the bands were in their element, everything else was CG. What I liked, though, was that there was no attempt to make it photo-realistic. It was obvious fakery, but emphasised the online nature of things. Think Xbox 360 rather than Avengers: Endgame and you’ll get the idea.
Instead of a crowd, we had pinpoints of light which moved in little circle pits, and were occasionally replaced by snippets of footage that fans had sent in of them headbanging, drinking beer or rampaging around their own gardens. The background was a wonderfully metal city with a skyscraper formed of a horns-wielding hand. Swooshes of red light flew through the air. Like I said, just the right side of not-real. As a bonus, a lot of the usually-static backdrops got a little digital treatment. Some just tricked out in 3D, some sparkly (Kreator’s was great) and some to extend the set like Sabaton.
What sold every single performance, though, were the performers. Despite being crammed onto a much smaller set than they’d usually be entitled to, they played to the crowd who weren’t in front of them. Hell, there could be three camera operators, a director and Hans the tea-boy stood there and each of the acts looked and acted like they were performing to 100,000. Cries to open circle pits, sing along and so forth were screamed and I swear it made me want to join in! There was no lack of effort, either. I’m sure the heat of the lights had something to with it, but not one band finished their set without being soaked in sweat. From what we gather from a couple of people we know who were on-set, these live performances were live as well, not pre-recorded. A huge amount of credit needs to be given to the bands for their displays of professionalism, and to the tech crews for pulling this stuff off so well.
Like a “real” festival, I picked up a couple of new bands to listen to as well. Alcatrazz were impressive, In Extremo very enjoyable and my son and I both Loved Hämatom. Because of real life I missed a few others I’d have been interested in, but it was good – as always – to see Russkaja play (please come to the UK one day!) and to finally catch Fiddler’s Green live as I missed them at Wacken Open Air last year.
For something that was put together in a comparatively short space of time, I have to give Wacken World Wide a huge thumbs / horns up! With just the right mix of new footage, classic shows and brief interviews they really pulled it off. Regardless, let’s hope that it’s a one-off and we can be back to gathering in a bloody big field again next year.