Published on September 19th, 2012 | by Setsu Uzume0
Metal Female Voices Fest’s 10th Anniversary
Heavy metal. Speed metal. Death metal. No matter what the style, metal music calls up images of ruthless drums, screaming guitar and roaring voices. From the union of gothic and symphonic metal comes a new kind of music, setting the power and frenzy of metal against the elegance of an operatic soprano. This gorgeous alchemy of power and beauty has led to a new genre with its own fan base: female-fronted metal. This year, fans from around the world will once again come together for the 10th anniversary of the Metal Female Voices Fest (FMVF) at the Oktoberhallen in Weize, Belgium from October 20-21.
Some of my personal favorites, including Lacuna Coil, Battlelore and Visions of Atlantis have played at MFVF in the past. To see all these kick-ass women in one place, fans fly in from all over Europe, the US, South America, Australia, China, Japan and even Africa. It’s held in October on purpose, giving fans one last thing to look forward to after the summer festival season is over.
I spoke with Val (surnames omitted), one of the MFVF’s promotion and communications staff members, to learn more about how this fabulous event came to be.
“It was a risk,” Val said. “We were trying to build something new in the metal scene. We didn’t expect it would have so much success from the very beginning.”
She went on to explain that over the years, more and more female-fronted bands had appeared on the scene, and a growing group of fans began to follow that sub-genre. Numerous and distinct enough that each band has earned its own place in the world of metal, the festival serves as a confirmation that powerful women with powerful voices do have a place in this predominantly male music scene.
“We’re so proud to have built this festival with our own hands and made it grow year after year,” Val said. “The Fest is self-financed, with no subsidiaries or sponsors to help it.”
When I asked her about challenges, they were the same as any other music festival: the bands are different every year; sometimes traffic is an issue because the schedule is very tight; and the staff worries about whether or not they’ll get enough people to attend the following year because the festival relies entirely on ticket and merchandise sales for funding.
But due to the festival’s rise in popularity, it has also begun to face more positive challenges. For example, co-founder and promoter Phil (surname omitted by request) has a lot of trouble deciding who to keep and who to cut.
“The selections are getting more and more difficult as we receive tons of CDs each year,” Phil said. “We take the time to listen to each band, but we can’t, unfortunately, take them all.”
The festival is still open to new artists, however.
“Sometimes fairly new bands catch our attention and we give them a chance to perform,” Phil said. “Each year you’re guaranteed to discover newcomers.”
The number one favorite band of the staff? Dutch band Epica, which, according to Val, the festival was basically built around. And for good reason: Epica’s front woman is the gorgeous, flaming red-haired Simone Simons, whose haunting voice will send electric tingles down your spine.
“Epica is very popular in that part of the world, and the fans always request them,” Val said. “You could say that Epica was partially how the festival began in 2002, so there will always be a special place for them at the festival.”
These bands span musical sub-genres, from heavy metal and thrash metal to gothic, neo and folk metal. The only common thread is a woman’s voice rising above it all — and the utter devotion of their fans.
For despite troubles that similar festivals have had, MFVF is only gaining momentum. Groups like Leaves Eyes, Skeptical Minds, Delain, Autumn and Xandria come back year after year to find a devoted fan base in the wake of personal hardships and scandals. For example, in 2003 Nightwish performed with Tarja Turunen as their lead singer. Two years later, she had a rough and very public separation from Nightwish, but returned in 2008 and 2009 as a solo artist and even won the “Best & Beautiful Voice” award that year.
“Most of the bands that come want to come back every year because they get so much love from the fans,” Val said.
MFVF’s success could also be due to its effort to keep attendees happy, offering plenty of opportunity for fans to interact through online forums, contests and voting for their favorite bands. Awards are given out for the best album, best video, best MFVF performance and best promo artwork. There are even opportunities for up-and-coming artists and professionals to get involved, such as volunteering for Orpheus/HDloc to film the festival or to enter your own in the fan-video competition.
Truly, the festival’s heart (and growth) lies in the vibrant communities that it continues to create. This year, MFVF will cultivate a new community with Eve’s Apple, an international gathering of professional, female singers. At the core of Eve’s Apple is a desire to bring together and promote women’s work in the music world, support new female-fronted bands and offer advice for navigating the industry. Fifteen of their members will perform as duos and trios in a never-before-seen acoustic performance before the festival begins on October 19th.
Sadly for those of us living across the Atlantic, festivals like MFVF in the US are sorely lacking despite female metal’s popularity abroad. From 2007-2009, Flight of the Valkyries brought female-fronted bands together in St. Paul, Minn., and then relocated to Baltimore, Md. for their performances in 2010-2011. Not much else on the scale of MFVF has happened.
But fear not, for in the event you can’t make it out to Belgium this year, several amazing female-fronted bands are coming to San Francisco and other cities in the US. Watch out for Garbage and Nightwish, (with opening by Kamelot) in September and October. Epica will also be touring the US in October and November.
For more information about the festival, visit the Metal Female Voices Fest website at www.metalfemalevoicesfest.be or watch the Youtube Trailer. Fans can find news and updates on their favorite singers by visiting web sites like www.femalemetal.com and www.ravenheartmusic.com.