Here's a dirty little secret for you - I've never actually been to Hellfest. Yes, there are countless reasons why I should have gone at least once, and no, I don't really have any legitimate excuse except for "I didn't feel like it." Fests are nothing new and I went to quite a few before I just stopped being interested in marathon shows with poor ventilation and sketchy bathrooms.
As children of the modern age, however, we now have a multimedia substitute for actually being there in person - DVD technology.
Helfest 2002 on DVD is a little of everything - it's part documentary, part music video, and part hardcore video fanzine. The 2-disc set consists of live footage, interviews, an extensive post-show man-on-the-street segment with kids leaving the show, audio commentary by a few bands on their Hellfest performances, and some bonus clips.
First, the live footage: it is awesome. Clear shots, multiple camera angles and excellent editing make this some of the most watchable live footage I've ever seen for hardcore-related bands. The sound is good, too - not perfect but again, very listenable and clear enough to hear lots of details. All of this comes together nicely within the back-to-back fashion in which the performance clips appear - you get to watch cool live performance after cool live performance and if you don't like the band you're watching, another one will be on the screen in 3 minutes.
27 bands appear on the live footage, but the real standouts for this DVD are The Promise, Shai Hulud, Every Time I Die, Bane and the indomitable Hatebreed. These performances, each in their own way, had that special something that make them stand out from the rest.
The band interviews: these are more funny than informative. A lot of talk about hardcore, about the gathering that was Helfest 2002. The interviews are a fun chance to catch some of your favorite hardcore heroes off guard, as many of them reveal what true dorks they are in real life. This is all very endearing though, and really turns the DVD experience into something warm and reaffirming for those who watch with any sort of reverence for hardcore, no matter how crappy we might think parts of it are.
Mike Ski sits down to talk with Jerry Only from the Misfits (without makeup) for a few minutes, and it rules. For so many reasons, it is just awesome to see that kind of connection between today's hardcore kids and their roots. Even with questionable audio, this interview is a defining moment for Helfest 2002 because it reveals a continuity and legacy of Hardcore, and makes the DVD itself a new chapter in the overall story of Punk Rock.
The post-show man-on-the-street segment is excellent. You'll see cameos by some of your favorite scenesters, as well as a really interesting segment focusing on show-goers making their sweaty and exhausted exit from the event. Some truly quotable comments make this segment highly entertaining.
The band commentary: this is like when you watch a movie on DVD and you can listen to the director or the actors talk about the movie as it's going along. Here, the bands offer their thoughts while watching themselves rock out. Only a handful of bands among the 27 on the DVD did this, and unfortunately none of them are very compelling.
Also included are the teaser and trailer used to promote the Helfest 2002 DVD itself. I can watch the trailer over and over again and still find it awesome.
Finally, there is the audio commentary of the film as a whole. It consists of a group of Hellfest-related people who all know one another very well. making commentary about the performances. Complete with a sampler providing intermittent sound effects, the commentary comes across as a digitally-enhanced group of friends hanging out and watching the DVD they were all involved in making. At some points it drags, at some other points it is hilarious (such as the commentators eating pretzels during Found Dead Hanging's set), and at some points its just downright mean. It's pretty watchable/listenable as far as commentary goes, and if you stick it out you will get the occasional reward. There's even some Ugly American shit in there. Classy.
Overall, Helfest 2002 is very complete. The combination of high-quality footage, smart editing and compelling subject matter make it easy to digest for just about anyone, and a total treasure trove for the truly hardcore. Because it does such an accurate job of capturing many elements of both the spectacle and spirit of the hardcore festival, Helfest 2002 feels like a classic - at times, it is reminiscent of classic punk documentaries like D.O.A. and Another State of Mind. Sometimes it's even a little bit of Heavy Metal Parking Lot.
What's missing is really what's missing from hardcore in general: women and props to the bands no one has heard of.
Of course, you can't expect to sell a DVD featuring obscure bands. Also, the big bands are largely the reason an event like Helfest 2002 can happen. But it would have been nice to see a brief segment dedicated to the small bands that way outnumbered the bands that made the cut.
As far as women - well, we know that hardcore is a boys' club, and Helfest 2002 is no exception. The few women on this DVD appear in a stark contrast to the sausage party that usually fills out the screen, and the scene, and that speaks for itself.
Hellfest 2002 is a real accomplishment. It is entertaining, informative and engaging while remaining tasteful throughout. It has a sense of humor as well as a sense of honor and never fails to capture at least one raw and true element of what goes into the bands and shows that have grown from the seeds of what was once simply called "punk rock." It reveals a lot about the people and ideas that comprise "the scene" - maybe more than it intended.