Hellfest / ‘If No One Else Will Do It, I Will’

Hellfest. There isn’t a hard-rocker, Metal head, death scream howler, hardcore chaser, mosh pit drawler, or heavy beer drinker who doesn’t know the name. One of the world’s largest, most notorious festivals in the heavy music scene returns this summer to France. But this year, there will be something new. For the first time, a grassroots band will be playing on the Hellstage.

Words: Monty Sewell

However, this is no happy fluke. No Sleep Till Hellfest launched this year under the creation, management, and care of Hellfest project manager Nabila Slama. The competition saw over two hundred applicants and fifteen lucky chosen ones to play in the heats, which resulted in one semi-final and one crowned winner. Manic Aggression was the band in question and will be the first-ever group to cross the channel in light of this new competition.

After the initial three days, MetalTalk was lucky enough to sit down with Slama to discuss her brainchild, the struggles she had in bringing it to fruition, and her love and hope for the vast number of talented up-and-comers bringing their levels of head-banging wrath to the industry.

While many names involved in the upper echelons of the music industry might turn a slight blind eye to the unsigned scene, Slama is one whose passion for this side of the scene is unwavering. “I had first asked Hellfest to allow me to do this years ago, and it kept not happening. Then, this year, they said yes, you can go ahead. I was so happy. I didn’t care about how I was going to do it. I just wanted to.”

No Sleep Till Hellfest - Camden Assembly, London - 25 March 2024. Photo:
Organisers of No Sleep Till Hellfest announce the winners – Camden Assembly, London – 25 March 2024. Photo: Steve Ritchie/MetalTalk

In an industry with increasingly little financial or opportunist support offered for bands on the cusp of a breakthrough, Slama recognises this almost indoctrinated status quo. “You need to pass it on to the new generation. The industry is tough. It is like, if you aren’t in a specific type of band or you don’t have the money for it, then no one will take care of you.

“But there is such great talent around, and they need all the help and support they can get. They need a push. So if you are like me and you have twenty years of experience and you can be the person to help them, that is what you have to do. That is why I decided to put No Sleep Till Hellfest on.”

We saw an astronomical level of talent from the three days of initial heats. “It was really crazy,” Slama said, “we had two hundred and seventy-one bands who sent in applications, and to select just fifteen was so hard. Then to have to judge and select one band a day from that to one put through to the semi-finals? It was a nightmare for me. They were all so fucking talented.”

Personally, I don’t know how she did it. Each day brought its own surreal feeling of hunger within the music performed. “Honestly, I wanted to grab them all and put them all through. I was so proud of all of them. If I could, I would have allowed all the bands to come to Hellfest. But how would that work? Split twenty minutes between them where they all play a minute or so each?” 

In a competition like this, where the prize is so high, there was nothing but love between the bands and support for each entry. Slama and her team had curated such an open space for the bands. Each interview was filled with nothing but good works for the occasion.

“It was a very good atmosphere, and everyone was so grateful, but I was the one who wanted to thank them. When I sent out the first call for applicants to the UK, I kept thinking, ‘No one is going to apply.’ But like I said, we had two hundred and seventy applicants. It was crazy, crazy good.”

Winners of No Sleep Till Hellfest 2024 Manic Aggression - Camden Assembly, London - 27 March 2024.
Winners of No Sleep Till Hellfest 2024 Manic Aggression – Camden Assembly, London – 27 March 2024. Photo: Ryan Hildrew/MetalTalk

There must have been a massive sense of pride and relief for someone who had created and nurtured the event from start to finish. “All the bands were so nice, and they were all so happy to be there every day. I wanted to cry every day because they all came and were so excited to be involved.” 

The success and eager response to the competition has not gone unseen. “I will do it next year, too. We will keep it going because this is what we should be doing. All of us are in good positions in the music industry.”

If you are a band looking to get on the Hellfest stage (I mean, who isn’t?), keep your eyes peeled for next year’s application openings. And let me tell you, if you can get the organisers of Hellfest moshing (shoutout to winners Manic Aggression) you are in for a big shot.

Speaking about the longevity of No Sleep Till Hellest, Slama said, “I mean, I was not expecting this response. When I wanted to do this, I didn’t even think about how many people would come or how I would judge the competition. I just wanted to get these bands up on that stage and give them all a chance to play Hellfest.”

“But of course, I will keep going next year and bring it back.”

Even now, Hellfest feels ages away, but the months are beginning to drop off, and the run-up to one of the world’s biggest festivals feels ripe and ready. “It will be great to have a sort of fresh blood platform at Hellfest. I have been working there for fourteen years, and this is the first time we will do anything like this. But I want things like No Sleep Till Hellfest to be what we represent.

“It has to be all about the bands. They are fighting every day. Sometimes, they don’t get paid or even get food at a gig. They get treated like shit. We want to let those bands know we are there for them and to bring them somewhere. An artist is an artist. They put their life on it, and we should not use that. We should help them and push them as much as we can.”

MetalTalk's Monty with No Sleep Till Hellfest creator and organiser, Nabila Slama
MetalTalk’s Monty with No Sleep Till Hellfest creator and organiser, Nabila Slama

With such an acclaimed festival as Hellfest backing this—now ongoing—competition, do you think it will inspire similar things to pop up? “Yeah, definitely. This is what it is all about. So many people and musicians just need to express themselves. Putting their music out there on so that the industry and music lovers can take notice.

“But music is all about that. You can express whatever you are. Doing that through music is beautiful. So that is what I expect, and I hope the industry does more for these bands. And if they don’t, I will.”

With fuel and fire, No Sleep Till Hellfest came and conquered. Speaking with Nabila Slama was a refreshing moment of total and complete empowerment for the scene that we know and love so well. The competition will return next year, but it has already developed into something more. With voices like Slama’s being heard, the industry is opening up in a way that will allow true, unforeseen talent to shine without the necessity of knowing a name or wild financial provisions.

No Sleep Till Hellfest, we will see you next year.

Sleeve Notes

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