For the seventeenth consecutive year, metal fans in the Northeast will be making a pilgrimage to the Palladium in Worcester, MA for the New England Metal and Hardcore Festival on April 17-19. Like previous years, the festival caters to fans of just about every genre of metal. Want classic thrash? Exodus and Testament will be playing. Hardcore? Nails and Code Orange are there. Tend more towards the new school? Between the Buried and Me and Motionless in White are there. We caught up with Mass Concerts’ Scott Lee to talk about how he books the fest, marketing outside of the New England area, how the music industry has changed since he started the Fest in 1998 and whether he views the Maryland Deathfest as competition.
When do you start booking the fest, right after the last one ends?
We try to look at everything in perspective. Who’s touring, if there’s ideas of any specialty types of situations. Are bands willing to do reunions or you know that type of thing where you put your ear to the ground to see what’s going on. There’s different agents and different touring cycles that we try to watch and who’s putting out records. All that type of thing. It’s not right after, it’s always going. Am I thinking about 2016 right now? Yes, I definitely am. Who’s doing what, who’s doing everything. Everybody’s so far ahead of the game nowadays you just gotta be, you just gotta be ahead of the game.
What’s the ratio of touring packages that are coming through to outreach to bands to play as a one-off?
Fifty-fifty I’d say. I mean, people make tours around the festival too. Sometimes it’s like band A is going to be on tour, I’ll send them an offer. Others will play the Fest with a tour around it. I’ve been in this business for, I think, 25 years now and I’m pretty old, I’m 43. So you know people, you know what they’re going to do, you know habits. Being a promoter, I know all the agents and can pick their brains.
You have several more waves of announcements. Are there still bands that being confirmed as we speak?
As we speak. There was another offer just before this phone call. The ideas are there and everything’s there. The festival’s basically booked, but we’re going in waves because some bands will come back, you know? It’s just part of the whole festival.
Are there any bookings this year you’re particularly excited about?
Very excited about BTBAM, very excited about the Red Chord, very excited about Testament. I’m actually really excited about Motionless in White. I think a lot of people don’t see them as a metal or hardcore band, but they are a metal and hardcore band. They are more metal than hardcore, but they definitely have hardcore roots, they’re fans of it. And I think they’re one of the best up and coming bands around. They played Mayhem, they’ve done the Warped and they’re a very strong, influential band that’s coming up right now and I’m really excited about having them. If people would have more of an open mind I think they would understand about that band. That band has been touring and doing stuff and taking out metal bands and hardcore bands and doing things their own way and they’re very respected in the music community and I’m really proud to have them.
It seems like the last couple years, the days are kind of partitioned by genre. Is that something that’s –
It just happens! It’s like Friday and Saturday are very metal oriented days. The hardcore’s the hardcore, it’s upstairs, it’s a blast. Bodies are flying, it’s a great time, everybody’s having a wonderful situation. But, you know, BTBAM, Red Chord in the main room on Friday. And then Testament, Exodus, Nuclear Assault, Nails, and there’s going to be a few other really cool tidbits coming out on that one. And, you know, Motionless in White, it’s the metalcore day. We’ve hit every realm of different hardcore bands that we could, I think. Code Orange Kids with Overcast, old and new. We’re bringing in Rotting Out, Indecision, and Incendiary, one of the best new hardcore bands ever coming from Long Island, New Jersey. I think we hit the core on the head. I think the metal you can’t go wrong with, Testament, Exodus, and Nuclear Assault. I really wanted to have a little bit more death metal. I think I have a couple more things I’m bringing in. There’s just some situations that just couldn’t come to play. And, you know, there’s always next year.
So it’s not really necessarily an intention to kind of partition the days by genre?
No it’s definitely not. It’s just how lays, how the whole thing comes together.
So for the last few years you’ve been doing the South By Southwest thing and have had the tour to the Metal Fest in the past. How important is it for you to brand outside of the New England area and was there anything in particular that made you decide to do that?
I don’t think we’re going to do the tour this year. We’d rather have the bands playing tag the festival on their admats. It’s one of those things where I’d rather put something out that’s really, really, really good. Not saying that the past tours haven’t been really, really, really good. But what we’re trying to do is push the brand. South By Southwest is something that is pretty unique and it’s like we go down there and you know, we hit the old Emos and we have a great day. I can’t announce anything yet with that because I have to wait on people but it’s going to be a party and we have a great time. But it shows awareness too because of all the people that are down there, the hardcore community. We’ve raised some younger bands, we’ve raised some older bands we have and you know it’s exciting and it’s free. It’s to show what the festival’s basically about in the biggest forum in America, South By Southwest.
Was it your idea initially or were you approached by someone?
Sylvie, a former employee of Mass Concerts suggested we do a showcase at South by Southwest, I’m like ‘how do we do that?’ And we figured it out talked to some people and we got it done we’ve been doing it year after year now. I didn’t go the first year and we went down and we did it and it was awesome, it was great. The Annex, at the time held 600 people or something and the guy at the door had a clicker and in and out, we did over 2,000 people and that’s one day of Metal Fest in a 6 hour span. So that’s pretty cool to me.
So would you say that more brands have kind of recognized that metal is a good place to put their sponsor here and dollars?
Yeah it definitely is the truth because, here’s the thing, metal heads and hardcore people, people get this whole persona that they’re like Bevis and Butthead. No they’re not. They are brilliant people, a lot of them smart people, a lot of them have money, a lot of them want to go and find new things. There’s a lot of people that are involved with metal that are in computers, or whatever, and they have money to spend on things and I challenge any type of person and any type of company. They definitely should get involved with some type of sponsorship with metal and with festivals because you’re bringing in those people. You have an active audience right in front of you. You can go spend money on TV commercials or radio ads and you’re still not going to hit this demographic. You can have somebody with a big jumbotron sitting there flashing your logo and wanting to know what it is in front of you, in front of 2,000 people. And you’re gonna want to know what it is between each band you see that and it’s cheaper than doing a commercial or a radio advertisement these days.
This is the 17th year. How has it changed since you first started doing it, I mean it’s been at the Palladium the whole time, correct?
Yes it has.
How have you seen the concert industry and just in general the Fest change since you started doing it 17 years ago?
The concert industry as a whole has changed in different ways. I mean, the whole music industry has. People aren’t buying records. So bands aren’t getting paid for the record sales and in turn have to tour more, have to do this more, have to make more money that way. VIP ticketing is has become a big pull leading into the whole touring aspect. So they’re touring there’s a lot more saturation, there’s a lot more of that going on. Where you would see a band once a year, now you’ll see a band three times a year. So you’ve got to be careful of what you’re booking. That’s one thing. So there’s more touring bands. And I think that it kind of hurts the festival aspect but it’s good for the fans because they get to see their band more often obviously, but it takes the novelty out of it.
I think there’s a lot more festivals being booked. 17 years ago, it was us and that thing in Milwaukee. Now there’s probably another 25. I think we set some trends, which is cool, but I think it’s over saturated. But that also helps because more bands are touring. I think it’s different because of social networking. It’s a lot different in a lot of different aspects. Times changed, with technology and with everything. I think a lot more bands are touring the states. From the European side of things, we used to see more bands coming over. Now you don’t see that as much. I think it has to do with taxes and visas being so expensive. I feel that it’s a little bit harder these days, there’s a lot more working against you. You’re not just putting together a festival and there’s a lot of tours that are just festivals. It’s just like sometimes the novelty is tarnished from that. But that puts us on our toes to try to make it better. That’s one of the things we have to do.
It seems like the East Coast kind of has the festival scene locked up between you guys and Maryland Deathfest.
Yeah Maryland Deathfest is awesome; they do a really great job there. I’ve never been, but on the line-up aspect and everything like that they really have a niche, you know? We’ve changed our niche over the years. We change things, move things around. Different genres of extreme music , different sets. They’re just going, oh yeah we’re, we’re- there’s three different genres it seems like. Death metal, crust, punk, you know and they do a really good job there.
Do you find yourselves going after some of the same bands?
Sometimes. It happens.
Are there any bookings over the years that you’re particularly proud of?
Meshuggah, Lamb of God early years, I mean, there’s a lot you know what I mean? I can sit there and list past festivals and be like, ‘that was sick! That was awesome!’ Or ‘what was I thinking? That was not a good idea.’ We all have winner winner chicken dinners, we also have some that’s like ‘oh that was not a good idea.’
Tickets are available for the New England Metal and Hardcore Festival here.
Photo: Jeremy Saffer