Rockstadt Extreme Festival 2023
|Event:||Rockstadt Extreme Fest 2023|
Rockstadt Extreme Fest 2023 by RaduP (554)
I have a bit of an on and off relationship with Rockstadt Extreme Festival, especially when compared with other festivals in Romania that I have attended as many editions as possible, like ArtMania or Dark Bombastic Evening. Not always affording the expenses and the vacation days, plus how inconvenient and exhausting it can get, it was Rockstadt that has previously been the one festival I would drop out of the possible options. I first attended in 2015, went yearly for a while, missed out in 2018 (even if I'll forever regret missing Converge), and went again in 2019, and at that time I also got media creds (but not photo ones, admittedly understandably so), and then 2020 rolled around and we all know what happened. The 2022 edition, though somewhat comparable to this year's, was ultimately one I also dropped, even if names like Blind Guardian and Lamb Of God were pretty enticing.
But then the massive size of the 2023 edition felt like something I could no longer miss. It was still a pretty late decision, hence why I got my accommodation in Brasov rather than in Rasnov, but I finally formulated a plan with a group of friends to go to Bucharest for the Depeche Mode concert, then to Sibiu for ArtMania, and finally to Brasov for Rockstadt Extreme Fest, and that came after I already went solo to Cluj for Electric Castle for the first time after hoping but not really committing to go. The days prior to the festival was full of the festival's page promoting tourist attractions from around the festival, like Bran Castle (which we visited after the festival), which was a pretty nice thing for a festival that got visitors from all over the world to do.
Due to the sheer size of the festival, I'm not gonna write a writeup about each of the bands, partly because that would take forever, and partly because I'm not sure how to uniquely describe each band, especially the ones I wasn't really into. Instead I'll go day by day and try to merge it all into one big day writeup.
Day 1 (Wednesday)
How it was supposed to be:
How it really went down:
There were some transport problems that lead to Heart Of A Coward being delayed to another day, and Angstskrig no longer performing. Instead the day started with Hate Campaign a bit later, and moving along according to plan with Villagers Of Ioannina City.
This being the first day, a lot of it was to be relegated to getting used to how the festival was being set up (more on that later), putting money on the festival card, checking merch, and figuring out what's worth eating or drinking. But most importantly, figuring out how this new tent stage was gonna work out, and how being in the photo pit at Rockstadt Extreme Festival would be like. Or at least that's what the plan would've been like if heavy rains didn't start right as we arrived to Rasnov by train. We were clever enough to buy raincoats beforehand, so at least we were a bit more protected than the rest of the people that got off that train, but at some point the gathered water reached a couple of centimeters in the area where we took a small break. Climbing up to the festival area on that very familiar narrow road saw it almost turning into a river, which meant no chances of getting home with dry socks.
The rains were less intense once we reached the actual festival, but it was nice having a tent stage like the festival used to have in its early days. With the first part of the day always having bands just on this stage worked really well that day, and the fact that a band as significant as Eyehategod would be playing on the smallest of the three stages of a festival only goes to show how huge the entire thing was. Speaking of Eyehategod, they were my favorite set from the small stage on this day, not only because they were my most anticipated, but because it seems that the energy they had was more fit for the more personal feeling small stage. Having already seen Villagers Of Ioannina city, and not caring about the other two bands definitely helped.
Moving to the bigger stage, bands like Employed To Serve and Sacred Reich were comfortably in the "nice to see since I'm already here" here, where the excitement is more moderate but you enjoy your time anyway. Ironically two of the bands I was most excited about were ones I had already seen, more than twice even, namely The Ocean and Heilung, the latter especially because of how their visual show is one of the best I've ever seen and I'm thankful every time I see it, and even more thankful getting to capture it in photos. The Ocean were the most enjoyable soundwise, because they were the only ones where I actively noticed how good they sounded. Dropkick Murphys were a weird but welcome choice for a headliner of a metal festival, but the mosh pits I saw for them pretty much guarantee that they were very fit to be here anyway. That's the kind of band that in retrospect I regret a lot not sticking more in the front, but I was a bit anxious about getting to Soulfly's photo pit in time to be able to finish the photos as soon as possible, so I can also leave as soon as possible. Having a hotel in Brasov and never having taken the scheduled bus meant that I would rather be unnecessarily early to the station. I was unnecessarily early, and I could've seen more of both Dropkick Murphys and Soulfly.
Despite not really planning for it, this was the day where I got to see all the sets.
Top three of the day: The Ocean, Heilung, and Eyehategod.
Day 2 (Thursday)
How it was supposed to be:
How it really went down:
Deicide's instruments didn't arrive due to an airport issue, and rather than play with other bands' instruments like every other band would, they cancelled the show. Triptykon was moved from the small stage closer to Deicide's spot on a big stage.
I arrived pretty early since one of my friends wanted to see Dora Gaitanovici (another pretty weird choice for a metal festival), but I forgot the photo pass necklace thingie at the hotel, and I wouldn't be allowed inside with my camera without it, so I had to rush an Uber back to another city, get that, rush another Uber to another city, and I still managed to catch a bit of Dora's set, albeit not from the photo pit. I did enjoy the rest of the small stage bands, even if this was the fourth time I would see Imperial Triumphant live. Spectral Wound and Imperial Triumphant were both immensely entertaining visually, both because of their presentation and their stage presence, whereas Caligula's Horse were a lot more chill comparatively, and I blame my "needing subtitles in real life" condition for missing out on the stereotypically Australian joke phrase that they made the entire audience shout and that seemed to be such a nice time for everybody.
Gutalax were the fun grind band of the festival, one that is no stranger to Rockstadt, and one where the crowd becomes as big a part of the entertainment as the band itself. Absurd pig squeels over grind riffs only get you so far, but getting the crowd to come in various costumes and throw toilet paper around to fit your "shitty" themes is quite an achievement. Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons shifted that energy towards something that was more of a "hell yeah" take on Motörhead, and since this was the closest I could ever get now to seeing Motörhead live, I enjoyed it, even if the vocalist didn't try to mimic Lemmy too much. The setlist spanned a bunch of songs old and new, even surprisingly a Hawkwind one.
It was pretty neat to hear stuff from the new Zeal & Ardor album live, and I expected to be less impressed with the band since I had already seen them, but they continue to come across as so intense and passionate. Triptykon were the one band I was most exited about in the whole festival, ever since seeing them at Roadburn playing their orchestral stuff, I've been aching for a set of regular material. Even if they didn't play that one song I love, the mix of Triptykon and Celtic Frost was pretty even, and the sound was absolutely crushing. To the point where I was actually really really glad that Deicide, a band I like much less comparatively, cancelled since I can't imagine how a band as massive as Triptykon would've sounded like on the small stage.
With such a powerful moment as Triptykon's set, it felt like it would be hard for anything else afterwards to come close. And what came next was Sleep Token, a band I already knew I didn't like, but it was worth it for the surreal experience of being in the photo pit before the show started, and hearing a swathe of teenagers screaming hysterically at every movement on the stage that might indicate the show starting, and getting to realize that I have now become the grumpy elder. Even worse since that set was caught between two of the day's best sets, as Hypocrisy came right after. I've seen them before at the same festival, they were a highlight then, and they remain a highlight now, even if soundwise they sounded a bit better the last time. With Triptykon moved, there was no small stage closer, meaning that night could end much quicker with Architects, a band whose last couple of albums have been a very steep downward spiral, so I could just do my photo duties and go home, which I did.
Top three of the day: Triptykon, Hypocrisy, and Zeal & Ardor.
Day 3 (Friday)
How it was supposed to be:
How it really went down:
Heart Of A Coward was moved here from when they were supposed to play on Monday, replacing Miara, but that's all after I arrived anyway.
I was thinking of arriving early because I thought that the "Infest" band that was announced was the classic grind band Infest instead of the Serbian death/thrash band, so I settled for arriving in time for Allochiria, who toured in my city a couple of months prior but I could finally see them on a stage with decent lights this time around. What was pretty surprising though was that the next few acts on the small stage were not metal, first the post-punk The Underground Youth and the post-rock Lost In Kiev, both of them being bands that are decently good in their own genre but they stood out here more because they were the only bands of their kind.
The rest of the day had only four bands that I hadn't seen live before: Midnight, who were even more rock n roll in real life, Lionheart, which were one of the better core bands of the festival, and Igorrr, who I was most excited about and still went above and beyond my expectations with how bonkers the sounds would be live. Out of the bands I already saw live, I don't regret seeing any of them again, but the spectrum ranges from Meshuggah who seemed strangely even more imposing now compared to their performance last year at ArtMania, to Mayhem, which had amazing stage presence, but the guitarists sounded like they haven't rehearsed the songs at all, so there was a fair amount of butchering of old material.
Top three of the day: Meshuggah, Igorrr, and Amorphis.
Day 4 (Saturday)
How it was supposed to be:
How it really went down:
We got news early on that Gaerea, one of the bands I was most excited to see, which I specifically didn't go to see when they played Eastern Europe because they would also play here; had issues at the Berlin airport therefore they wouldn't be able to make it. It was not announced for some reason, but everything before it seemed to have been moved a slot later.
With Gaerea's cancelling, we had no reason to hurry, so we instead planned to arrive in time for Discharge. I wasn't aware of the schedule moving everything one slot later, so I was surprised to see a band playing in Gaerea's time slot as we arrived. To my delight, it was Hierophant, which I would've been a bit bummed about missing, especially now getting to see that amazing stage presentation with the skull. Though that one cancellation reigned over the rest of the day, the small stage had a healthy dose of punk energy, but I can't deny that it was Discharge that really really won me over with how intense they still sound like, and it's not just because they got a younger vocalist, and it was definitely my favorite of this festival's punk/core bands.
That punk energy did continue with Agnostic Front, also one that seems not to dissipate with age, and other photographers have captured one of their guitarists performing from the crowd. Right before them, Hangman's Chair played, even if their sound wasn't really ideal, and I would've bet that they're the kind of band that would've landed on the small stage instead. But what really won me over about them was the swagger of the bassist and the "Viper You'll Cowards Don't Even Smoke Crack" shirt of one of the guitarists.
After a very punk start of the day, things would take a strong turn with two of the strongest back to back death metal sets in I Am Morbid (a sort of Morbid Angel A.D.), so I can take hearing "Maze Of Torment" and "God Of Emptiness" live off my bucket list; and Obituary, who I'm less fond of in the studio but they really had a strong impact, possibly because this is my first time seeing them live despite having plenty of opportunities at this very festival.
This was already a very satisfying day, and for most festivals, this would be enough to call it a day. Then came Perturbator. You know what, forget the punk and the death metal. This is what really remained engrained in my memory as far as the music went. And for a very minute detail: no photos were to be taken from the photo pit, which meant that to do my job I would have to fight my way to the front, in the middle of the action, and since I was there I stayed there instead of sitting comfortably in the back, so I was forced to engage with this set a lot more fully. Complete with someone who was filming and then complained that "this is not a concert" and a mosh pit right next to me. I know I said before that a specific set was so good that nothing afterwards really came close, but this time I really really mean it.
So, Avatar? The kind of band I wouldn't have expected to be this popular, so I was very surprised to see a shitload of teenagers in clown facepaint. Had one of the best lightning of all the shows. Musicwise not very special, but I'm glad all those teenagers got to see a band they really loved. But I was still recovering from how great Perturbator was. In Flames? Never liked them. One of the friends I was with really liked "Cloud Connected" and "Only For The Weak", so I empathized with that, but that's about it. I was still recovering from how great Perturbator was. Abbath? Barely played any Immortal tracks, and I was more into the idea of seeing and photographing the man rather than listening to his solo work live.
Generally, this is where I wish my night ended. But since it was Saturday and therefore the last opportunity we'd have for it, curiosity for the best of me and I proposed staying a bit later to catch the afterparty. One of my friends said yes, the other went home. My plan was to catch the bus that would come an hour later after our usual, but my already drunk friend wouldn't have any of that and decided to stay until the end of the party more than two hours later, and I couldn't go home because there was no way he'd be able to get home on his own. So I was stuck at a party very tired to the point where even looking at my phone's screen felt like too much effort, where the music was the equivalent of a 15 year old first discovering rock music (think Jet - "Are You Gonna Be My Girl" and Rage Against The Machine - "Killing In The Name"), where the only thing I could do was wait it out. Ugh.
Top three of the day: Perturbator, I Am Morbid, Discharge.
Day 5 (Sunday)
How it was supposed to be:
How it really went down:
No cancellations, but For The Wicked ran into technical problems halfway into their set, so they got another set rescheduled after Knocked Loose's.
After the disaster that was last night's afterparty, I was a bit happy that this would be the last day, not because I wouldn't have liked seeing more bands, but because at this point it was really taking a toll on my rest, and I felt like this was right about where I'd draw the limit. With me saying that, it's probably a surprise that I did come early enough to catch all bands, partially because our driver friend wouldn't drink any alcohol today since he'd drive all day the next day, and thus he drove us to the festival instead of taking public transport, but also because my other friend wanted to see them specifically. I mean, I guess it was nice to have one stoner band at the festival that wasn't as specific as Hangman's Chair or as retro as Kadavar.
The rest of the small stage was a bit of a mixed bag. Misþyrming were kvlt as can be, being so covered in blood and mud that I almost believe they stayed in the camping. Messa I had already seen three times before, and this time they really stretched the soundchecking time to end up with a shorter set that still didn't sound fantastic. Immolation were the small stage band that I really wish would've been on the main, from how strong their sound was without requiring the closer space that the small stage provided, to them being an act with such a history and legacy only to be followed by a random local metalcore band.
Stick To Your Guns' set was special not because of the band themselves, decent of a hardcore band as they are, but because the heavy rains that were predicted to last most of the day seemed to be concentrated just during their set and started right as we moved into the photo pit, something I managed to capture in some of the pics. Once the rain lightened up a bit, we moved into the crowd to be able to capture firsthand the mud moshing that was going on, so quite akin to the Perturbator set, circumstances forced me to engage with a set more deeply than just photo pit photos and moving in the back.
What followed were five sets of bands that I was looking forward to seeing, all of which felt grander and grander, something that definitely worked in tandem with the feeling that this was all coming to an end. Dying Fetus building upon Immolation's dive into brutality a few sets prior felt like the standard that all brutal death metal bands should strive for. Epica was one of my favorite bands in my symphonic metal phase from a decade ago, and seeing them live now made my inner teenager so happy, and also the only musician that my father asked if I photographed was Simone Simmons. Trivium was another kind of set where I was more enjoying my friend's enjoyment of their set, but a pretty large spanning setlist did prove to me why they're such a big name. Arch Enemy was another of those kind of bands where I'm not exactly excited about whatever new music they release, but seeing them live was on my bucket list anyway. And Alestorm? I saw them already at this festival a couple of years ago, and I haven't really enjoyed anything they put out since, so my experience with their set was starting with being very flabbergasted by the presence of a giant duck on the stage during Arch Enemy's set, to being very giddy during "Keelhauled", still enjoying things through the first couple of tracks, and reaching a sort of silliness saturation with their "Hangover" cover before having a silliness overdose when realizing that we were only halfway through their set. So kinda like their discography, their set was like a joke that felt less funny the more it went on.
To close off the festival, Knocked Loose were the only band, small stage or otherwise, to not have a photo pit or any barrier between the stage and the crowd. With the photographers taking pics from the crowd or from within the sound booth, and with plenty of attendees climbing and jumping from the stage, it was a very very wild experience. And I was most amazed because I didn't remember the vocals sounding really like that, but that only added to the absurdity of the experience. Regardless, the exhaustion of the past few days really settled in and I knew it was time to draw things to a close. I already knew I had no intention of attending the rescheduled set after Knocked Loose, so I just found anyone I needed to say goodbye to and wrapped things up.
Top three of the day: Dying Fetus, Trivium, Epica.
CONCLUSIONS AND SUCH
AS A PHOTOGRAPHER
A lot of me engaging with this festival came from the perspective of a photographer, with this being the largest festival I've ever gotten photo creds for, and it did show that this was a ceiling in terms of what I currently can do and that I would have to put more effort into becoming a better photographer if I want to reach the standard necessary for this.
Some of the challenges that I went through was this being three stages over more than twelve hours, some covered in a tent, some in the open, some in the night, some right under the sun, some with great lightning, some with a shitload of smoke, and also the biggest stage that I ever had to figure out a way to photograph the people on it. So very much variation in terms of what had to be photographed as opposed to a myriad of bands on the same indoors venue, which also meant that I also had to adapt the editing from set to set instead of going with the same template for everything. Hence why it seems like I arbitrarily made some of the sets black and white, because that's partly true. Some of them it is because the lightning made them look awful otherwise, some of them because being black and white actually fit them. This also meant that I had to spend a lot more time editing, and not only because of the sheer number of pics, meaning that the exhausting nature of the festival continued way after it was over, and I can't imagine how it would've been like if I also decided to shoot the crowd extensively.
Coming right after ArtMania I also realized I do not have the stocking space necessary on my laptop for this huge amount of photos. Which meant that I had to make some compromises and only shoot in jpg instead of storing any RAW files, and while I could select the photos for each set for ArtMania every next morning, I could not do that for Rockstadt, which meant that I had to delete some stuff from my laptop just to make sure I had enough space to store photos for all five days.
Thankfully, I bought an external hard drive specifically for photo storage, so I'll always have space to store pics after taking them, but I have to make sure I also have space on the camera's SD card to shoot in RAW as well. I was also wise enough to know beforehand that the WiFi transfer method wouldn't cut it so I also bought a card reader before the festival,
I ran into a lot of "picture looking good on the camera's small screen, but horrible on the laptop", and a lot of it is due to my Canon EOS 800D not really being a professional camera, so it is the point where I seriously have to invest into better hardware if I want to not keep making due with what I have.
For both ArtMania and Rockstadt, the big stages had much better lightning than the small stages, even if the bigger stage made it harder to frame the musicians with my current zoom. The small stage at REF being a tent with pretty uninteresting light meant that the backdrop to the photos would also be that gray roof over and over again, and it's one that's pretty unappealing. I don't want to blame the tent and its lightning for me taking shitty pics (and I'm sure some of the other photographers in the pit would've been able to take better pics there with my hardware), but it didn't make things any easier.
AS A CONCERTGOER
REF is a festival that gradually changed over the years, and with me missing some editions, that change can seem a bit sudden. It is a pretty different festival to the one I went to in 2015, where it felt like the Mecca of all the metalheads I talked with back then. I still met quite a couple of them, and it's ironic to "complain" about that when the number of people is probably larger than ever, but it felt like I met more acquaintances at ArtMania or Electric Castle. That coupled with how the layout of everything changed year to year and now the tables are no longer a place where you can watch the set lead to it not really feeling the same anymore.
There were a lot more tables this time around, meaning that every time we wanted to sit down, we would eventually find a place, even if we didn't have the entire table to ourselves. But that brings us to the small stage under the tent. It is placed in such a way that it covers the entire area between the food court where the tables are, and the festival area where the big stages are. Meaning that even if a screen was installed in between, you couldn't really hear the music on the big stages very well when sitting at the tables. And also that if you wanted to go from one area to the next, you would have to pass through the tent. So, when I wanted to leave after Soulfly I had to move through a packed tent to go to the only area where I could leave (I probably could've left from some other place as a photographer, but as a concertgoer the main entrance is your only option), which wasn't very pleasant. Most of the closers might not be as big as the actual big stage headliners, but they still always felt too big for that stage (except for Knocked Loose, which made the most of their small stage setting). I can't imagine what it would've been like if Triptykon actually played on that stage.
Rain wasn't as big of an issue as it was in previous editions, because there was a lot less portions of the floor that could turn into mud. It did rain, and I did get home with wet socks, but considering what happened at Wacken at the same time, I ain't complaining.
The food and drinks situation was the best it ever was at Rockstadt. The beer prices for the usual tap beer were even reduces at one point during the festival, and they were already less than 1.5$. The food was comparatively less cheap, but still affordable, and the selection and the quality was really extremely good by festival standards, from the crispy and hash browns I got in the festival, to the cheese langos I got in the parking lot huts. Being able to pay for all of these with a festival card is miles above the festival token that used to be a thing, and I hope I never get to see something like that again.
Toilets were not disgusting, maybe even pretty clean by festival standards. A very good respite during the awful afterparty.
The organization of public transport was a life saver, with there being a couple of new buses that went to Brasov at 2:30, 2:45 and 3:30, which one could use the general Brasov public transport tickets for. Most days we caught the first one with no issue, and just on Saturday our friend that left early couldn't get in the first one because it was too crowded (if any day would be crowded, it's Saturday), and he caught the next one easily. Meaning that it's more and more convenient to get accommodation in the 230.000 people big Brasov rather than trying for the 15.000 people big Rasnov. I didn't even come near the camping, but someone who stayed over there told me it was pretty decent by festival standards.
Something that I didn't like about the organization though was the lack of an app the same way that I've seen ArtMania or Roadburn use where one can get updates about lineups or other events in real time, including push notifications. It would've been very convenient to always have access to an up to date running order, especially with how many of them had to be changed each day due to cancellations and such. The festival did update using Facebook posts, but one would have to search for specific posts for information rather than having it be more centralized.
With how huge the festival was in terms of its lineup, it feels less necessary to go to big festivals abroad to get big bands all in one place. But even so it feels like the festival reached a sort of ceiling in terms of how much the citadel parking area that the festival placed its grounds on can host. Comparing it to something like Hellfest, there are still some acts that one might see at Hellfest but not at Rockstadt simply because of the amount of people that can reasonably attend the festival and its current grounds. That's a situation that still leaves 95% of the bands that can attend Hellfest as also possible Rockstadt bands.
This was also a festival that people often complained about the "Extreme" in its name not really living up to standard from as far back as them also including a local heavy metal band with Trooper. In the meantime the lineup opened up a lot more to stuff that wasn't extreme metal, and this edition felt like the gatekeeping has completely loosened up towards stuff that wasn't even metal. Multiple acts, sometimes back to back, weren't metal, like Heilung and Dropkick Murphys, or The Underground Youth and Lost In Kiev. A lot of variety came as a result of that, with a lot of the impact coming from some bands being the only of their kind at the festival. For example Gutalax might be lost among a sea of grind at Obscene Extreme but became that much more memorable as the silly grind band here. I kind of had to attend a bit of each (except for a few of the starting small stage bands) to be able to photograph them, but the huge variety meant that I could also just sit at the food court area whenever there was a set I didn't care much for, which must be even easier for normal concertgoers.
And finally, this is something that will be generally valid for this festival as long as it keeps taking place in this spot. The surrounding forest and citadel make for one hell of a view. The entire surrounding area has a lot of stuff to visit, which makes it perfectly explainable why the festival was posting about there on their Facebook page. Bran castle is a couple of cities away in the Rasnov direction. Brasov's old city center is gorgeous. The Cantacuzino and Peles castles are on the route from Brasov to Bucharest. The fortified churches from Hartan and Prejmer are also close by. Mountains are always within sight. Hard to find a more tourist friendly place in Romania.
With tickets and accommodation already in place, a lineup already looking good, time to look forward to the next edition.
Top three of the entire festival: Triptykon, Perturbator, and Igorrr.
||Written on 17.08.2023 by Doesn't matter that much to me if you agree with me, as long as you checked the album out.|
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