Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Dammit MDF!

"VIP/Backstage tickets for the Edison stages: 

Every year, people ask if we will have something like this available, but we never have until now. A limited amount of 50 weekend (Fri-Sun) VIP/backstage tickets valid ONLY for the 3 stages at the Edison Lot will be available on our website tomorrow, February 26th at 2 PM (EST). This is a separate ticket that is needed in addition to general admission tickets for the Edison Lot. When you receive your VIP wristband at the entrance when you arrive, you will also be given vouchers that can be redeemed for 3 free drinks and a MDF T-shirt in the design and size of your choice."

 With this announcement, the Maryland Deathfest has officially “jumped the shark.” 

I trust that y'all understand the reference.

I don’t make this, or other criticisms regarding aspects of the festival, with the intent of being an overly negative keyboard warrior or backseat driver who somehow thinks he could do it a million times better. I certainly have ideas that I think would improve the festival but I can’t say that the organizers haven’t also considered the same ideas, weighed pros and cons, and determined them to be less than feasible. They invented the thing, so that’s sort of their right. 

But I am someone who has been to at least a few days of every edition of what’s America’s biggest metal festival; corporate rock touring fests like the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Fest notwithstanding. I’ve seen the event grow from its origins at the Thunderdome through the House of Rock in White Flint to its time at Sonar in downtown Baltimore. It’s always been a good time despite occasional miscues such as when Pestilence couldn’t make it (extra Bolt Thrower appearance that year!), Dismember getting cut off early by city curfew, the pepper spray incident, and I managed to even survive last year’s issues with the frightening security hired to basically beat and rob the festival attendees.

Just a typical experience for concert goers on Day 3 of the Maryland Deathfest.

Accordingly, as someone who could be considered a repeat customer, I think I do have a right to voice my complaints and concerns on a public forum if I so chose, and this happens to be my forum and this is where I draw my line. First of all, I can’t fucking stand the whole VIP tickets thing that has swept across the scene in recent years. I get that record sales are down and bands have to make up revenue in order to keep functioning as a touring act, but it seems grossly anathema to everything the underground metal scene is supposed to be to offer “VIP tickets.” It creates a class distinction between fans based on their ability/willingness to pay extra for spending 15 disinterested minutes with and getting an autograph from a particular band; something that historically has always been as simple as waiting by the bus after the show or going over to the merch table and chatting up a member of the band while buying a t shirt or CD. I don’t see why underground metal musicians are supposed to be treated like fucking rockstars as though they’re Aerosmith or the Rolling Stones or some fucking shit. These dudes shop at the same stores we as fans do and they work in the same shitty fucking jabroni jobs that we do; the only difference is that they happen to play instruments and create music that we’re willing to pay to hear.

Fostering and creating these kinds of distinctions makes the underground metal scene no better than any other music scene. When I think back on all of the cool experiences I had growing up literally just bumping into dudes who play in some of my favorite bands, I think it’s a tragedy that we’re turning those experiences into a commodity that can be bought and sold. As M told me, “VIP ain’t metal.” 

No, seriously.  VIP ain't metal.

My other fault with this goes more specifically to the organizers of MDF themselves. They have very consciously attempted to make the festival bigger over the last few years; fucking Carcass and Down played last year. I actually think that it was cool to get to see those bands, so I’m not complaining about that. Yet at the same time it’s become a logistical clusterfuck of multiple venues, unprofessional security,and tent stages. The inability to manage the moving parts resulted in last year’s final headliner, Venom, having their set cut short and a near riot breaking out as result. All the while the organizers were more interested in playing damage control on Facebook and online media than actually…managing the operation!

Ticket prices have also crept up aggressively each year; I understand that 2014’s edition of the festival would never be as affordable at 2003; when a 3 day pass to see almost exclusively American death metal bands cost me $40 bucks. Still, to attend every venue this year where bands are playing costs $255 bucks per attendee; since those passes sold out obviously the market is willing to bear that cost. Even for three days at the main stages (which are in an outdoor parking lot that’s a 15 minute walk away from the other venues, wtf?) the bill is $160 per fan for Friday-Sunday. The math for M and I= $320 bucks before parking, food, etc. Even with higher profile bands, that’s way beyond any rate of inflation.  I might have the means to pay, but that's merch I'm not buying, beer I'm not drinking, and other shows in 2014 I won't be attending as a result.  And that fucking sucks.

Now tack on the idea that for an additional $100 bucks per fan, you basically get to go backstage at the main venue (where I imagine therewill be a “lounge” tent or area for the bands), 3 free tickets for watered down macrobrews in a plastic cup, and a t shirt. Even the most appealing aspect of this, access to a clean bathroom, is bogus: this is a parking lot and your bathroom is probably a porta-potty.  But you get to sport a “VIP wristband” and act like you’re better than other fans. It’s both a bad deal AND fosters the bullshit rockstar/diva attitude that I say has no goddamned place in the scene. 

Typical Metal Divas being all VIP-like.

My guess is that the real reason that the organizers are doing this is because in booking so many high profile foreign bands with high dollar up-front guarantees for coming to the festival (I’m sure My Dying Bride and At The Gates don’t perform for cheap) that they need to actually raise more revenue in order to break even. Which brings me to the idea that best thing about MDF isn’t necessarily that huge (in the underground) international bands play but that it’s a 3 (or 4) day weekend of celebrating beer, metal, and meeting decent people who are fellow fans. My opinion here (forgive me for being a backseat driver), but maybe they should avoid booking so many international bands that cost too damn much money. For example, you can probably book Brutality from Florida for a lot less money than Cancer from England (not to mention, Brutality is a better band and actually released something new not too long ago!) And does there really need to be what's basically a second festival for grindcore and hardcore bands happening at another venue?  Maybe there's too much of a "good thing" here....

I’ll still end up going to this year’s festival because I dunno when I’ll have a chance to see My Dying Bride, At The Gates, or Unleashed any other time in the near or distant future. But looking at the direction the organizers want to take things, I unfortunately imagine that the Maryland Deathfest is going to implode in the next few years; destined to fall by the wayside just as the Milwaukee Metalfest before it.

Promoting the 2016 edition of the Maryland Deathfest?

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