Kill-Town Death Fest: Death uber alles

Kill-town Death Fest

At the beginning of September there are again good reasons for a visit to the Venice of the North: In Copenhagen’s Pumpehuset the KTDF offers four days of pure Death Metal, an old-school set of Swedish masters Grave included.

Of course Copenhagen’s Kill-Town Death Fest is not the only festival in the world, not even the only brilliant one. Due to respect I won’t do any name dropping here, but there are numerous of festivals with a more diverse line up (ugh!), festivals where beer costs only one Euro each (you’ll regret that later), festivals with funny costumes (why is it always the full figured, hairy guys who stand by their bodies?) and those with the big, classy names and shit (eek!). But having been to like a gazillion festivals there’s only been one barbaric die-hard fuck frenzy: the Kill-Town Massacre at Pumpehuset, located in the very center of the Danish capital.

But what makes the festival so special? Well, Metal boulevard media likes to ask stars (i.e. Corey Taylor) which record they would hand out to an alien to explain metal music, and rarely but sometimes they choose wisely, like “Kill ‘em All” or “Hell Awaits”. If I had to explain anybody – alien or not – what the Kill-Town Death Fest sounds like I would rather ask to imagine being trapped in a horror movie, say “Nightmare on Elm Street”. Remember the scene when the kids always step into Freddy’s house when they dream, and out of nothing Freddy comes raging after them? Well, the Kill-Town Death Fest is something like that. And boy, you gonna love it when you sniff Freddy’s rotten breath along your cheek and he starts to fingerfuck your warm and throbbing innards. As soon as you enter the Pumpehuset’s deathly playgrounds you are literally living the dream of all the lyrics you have been listening to since years, from “Scream Bloody Gore” to “Butchered At Birth”, from “Pieces” to “Severed Survival”, and from “Slowly We Rot” to “Necroticism” and “Hacked Up For Barbecue”. For four days you step into one of these sick and twisted Hieronymus Bosch paintings and are welcomed to hell: If you attend the festival, it’s somehow like in the Pungent Stench lyrics to „Happy Re-Birthday“ – only that you come out born dead.

But let’s let Daniel Abecassis, booker of Kill-Town and thus head to the blood court, have his say. After all, he’s judge, jury and executioner all in one.

Let’s start it plain and simple: Why Death Metal, why does it rule above all and everything?

I’ve been into death metal since the early 90’ies where I grew up with the first and second generation bands from the so-called “golden era”. I witnessed the greatness of death metal in the first half of the 90’ies and also its downfall in the second half of the 90’ies whereafter I lost interest for well over a decade. In the late 00’s I noticed a resurrection of the old sound and that sparked the idea for Kill-Town Death Fest.

If somebody would approach you and ask you for the best introduction into Death Metal, which album would you hand out to him?

There are so many good ones – both contemporary and classics, so that’s a hard one. Also death metal are so many different things so there would be different albums for different sub-genres that sticks out as defining and worth enhancing. Albums which has inspired me a lot that I think personally are very important are Autopsy’s “Mental Funeral”, Bolt Thrower’s “Realm of Chaos”, Carcass’ “Symphonies of Sickness”, Death’s “Scream Bloody Gore”, Incantation’s “Onwards to Golgatha”, Obituary’s “Slowly we Rot” and Paradise Lost’s “Lost Paradise”.

Old people, as the saying goes, tend to point out what was better “back in the day”. I think we all agree on the fact that the classics will remain classics, but there are still classics to be written. Is there something that really was better back in the day?

Musically death metal has come a long way since back then. It’s hard to find a “modern classic”, but there are bands today perfecting the art of death metal, so most of the time I’m focussed on the contemporary releases instead of listening to the classics.

No matter how fanatical you are, it is impossible to keep an eye on the whole market today. From what sources do you draw, how is your market observation going?

The KTDF is mainly focussed on the so-called “old-school” death metal along with doom/death and funeral doom to have a specific focus. There are a lot of bands out there, but we tend to follow a few labels and their signings as main guidelines for our bookings. In general we are music nerds and spend many hours searching out new demos and keep an eye on bands around the globe. Some scenes spout out tons of great bands and sometimes a band pops out of nowhere. I also do see a lot of bands live across Europe while touring with Killtown Bookings and often bands send me their demos etc, so I can keep up with what’s going on around the world.

As you mentioned before you grew up with old school Death Metal, being educated from both the Floridian and Swedish school. Whilst those two countries were dominant in the early days we nowadays have a strong scene almost in every part of the world. Do you see – or hear – certain country-specific characteristics, though? Is there any “unique” sound still, like the Swedish fuzz for example?

I think that Finland has one of the strongest scenes of Europe at the moment. There are great bands from many countries such as Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Germany, France, Italy, UK and Greece to name a few. USA is one of the countries in the last 5 to 10 years that has really risen again and has spouted out a ton of new great bands with the own style and sound. The Norwegian and the French have a very unique approach to their music, but in general I think each country has certain characteristics.

My home country Austria was never a big spot on the map. Do you have any reference points with it though?

Pungent Stench was a band I listened quite a bit to when I was younger. Nowadays I don’t think there are many good bands coming out of Austria – no offense …

None taken. That’s pretty much true.
Growing digitalisation ruined “insular writing”, I think. How do you see modern technology in this down-to-earth genre – both production-wise as presentation-wise?

I prefer the old analogue sound to the modern digital sound. I don’t mind a good production, but I don’t like when things are overproduced. I think its fine to use new technology in recording, but you should avoid things like triggers and programs like Pro-Tools etc. that makes your music sound like a streamlined clean machine … Death metal in my opinion should be raw, dirty and heavy.

Do physical formats still have a relevance today?

Yes indeed they do. I was never really a CD guy, but I like all the physical formats being it vinyl, CD or cassettes. I think that online streaming is a great way to discover new music and I use Bandcamp, Spotify and YouTube a lot in my work, but when I find bands and albums or EP’s I really like, I always buy it on vinyl or cassette and listen to it at home.

Tapes, Eps and Lps, CDs or Streaming: What format do you prefer?

As mentioned above I use most of these medias in my daily routines, but I definitely prefer vinyl and I’m an avid vinyl collector for almost 30 years now.

In the early days of Death Metal 7-inches were the ne plus ultra. In the music industry today the trend is moving away from the album to the hit single, even more than ever. Even though our scene is not radio-hit-centred: Do you think the future of Death Metal is a focus on EPs again, like Cryptopsy are doing with their “Tome”-series for example?

I doubt it to be honest. Like you said death metal is not focused on singles and hit songs, but very much about a specific sound, atmosphere or vibe that you can only get through a full album, in my opinion.

Aside from the music itself, the visual presentation is of huge importance. Whilst for a few bands it works perfectly (i.e. Blood Incantation), I kinda feel pretty bored with this “kvlt” no-lights or singular-lights appearance, that became too popular over the last few years. Your point of view? What makes a performance memorable for you?

I think a good death metal show is all about the energy of the performance itself. You can add to it by having good lights, hazer machine, a cool backdrop etc., but I don’t like when it becomes too theatrical or overdone. I like it simple.

We all know that genres like Power Metal and Black Metal live from the image. How important is the image in Death Metal?

I think death metal has always been the most down-to-earth of the metal genres and for me that’s a huge part of the charm about it. I think its cool with long hair – really long hair, leather jackets, patches, bullet belts, band shirts etc but I don’t think its too important how you look as long as you are actively participating and supporting your local scene whether that being in a band or going to all the shows.

When bands release albums the “inner arrangement”, when which song comes, is very important. When you announced the billing of the KTDF you revealed a band every day – does this also follow some “red path”?

To be honest it’s pretty random – I just wake up and think about which band to announce that day. There is a little bit of logic to it though, cause the idea by starting the presale and the first announcement the same day, was for the festival to sell the tickets on the smaller bands – which we succeeded with in 2018, but this year it really backfired when all the tickets got sold out the first day – just because of the name of the fest and by the prospect of it selling out. Now we have seen a huge amount of tickets for sale in the last weeks, indicating that people just bought the tickets to secure one instead of because of the bands etc. Next year we will definitely announce all the bands before the presale starts.

This year’s focus is again on North America (and Canada). By what criteria (aside from their homecountry) do you book bands? What is a “must”, what a “must not”?

As mentioned earlier we book primarily bands who plays “old-school” death metal and doom/death and funeral doom. We try to avoid technical death metal, melodic death metal, brutal/slam death metal and generally modern sounding death metal. We do have some bands who are more technical oriented such as Blood Incantation you mentioned earlier and then it’s more about the vibe, the sound, the song writing and the general expression that we book after.

Today, there are not only numerous bands, but also numerous festivals – from big to small, from genre specific to widespread, from cheap countries to expensive ones. In your point of view, what’s the USP for Killtown?

I think our niche is that we do a festival that is very genre-specific and that we try to select the bands that are the best of the contemporary scenes. We don’t save on the budget, so we can get a varied line-up consisting of a broad range of bands from all around the world. Where a lot of festivals spend all their budgets on headliners, we have always focussed on good quality mid-section bands with recent releases on good labels – not old bands who hasn’t put out a good record in years.

How difficult is it – also aside from KTDF – to have bands like this playing in Denmark and also having an audience big enough? After all, Copenhagen is not Sweden or Norway – countries where the music is pretty popular and in some cases also government-funded?

Denmark doesn’t have a very strong scene unfortunately. When I do shows here with really good bands, turnouts are usually way smaller compared to the rest of Europe. But the KTDF could basically be anywhere in the world, because people travel here from everywhere making it very international. There is no way this festival would work out solely from national attendance.

Last year was my first visit to Killtown and my only criticism would be the bad lighting at the merchandise in the small hall. What was the overall conclusion of your big comeback? Will there be any changes this year?

Thanks for the compliment! We will do something about the bad lighting in the merch room this year then! We were really happy with the outcome of the fest and with our collaboration with the venue, Pumpehuset. That’s also why we have decided to have the fest there once again this year. We had some complaints about the sound and light on the stages, so we have talked more in depth with the venue about their technicians being more in tune with the bands and style of music that’s being presented at the KTDF.

Also, the small hall was sometimes crowded like shit …

The smaller stage fills up because it has a smaller capacity compared to how many tickets we sell. Not much we can do about that I’m afraid.

Talking about changes: You’ve been sold out last year, this year you even sold out in a couple of hours, like you mentioned before. Now there have been some talks about moving to a bigger venue in 2020, with some pros and cons. Now for what I have noticed all discussion boils down to one question: How big can you go to remain “underground” still?

I’m glad you are bringing this issue up, cause that’s one of the main dilemmas this fest is facing. We have to some degree outgrown ourselves. I’m sure we could sell a lot more tickets, if that was what it was about, but it isn’t and never was. For us it’s all about the atmosphere and the vibe. A lot of people liked the old venue better because it was way more underground –  and I liked it a lot too, but we had to move away from there and then Pumpehuset is probably the most perfect option for us both for the physical layout of the place and the vibe we can attain there. We will not grow bigger next year, we will urge people only to buy a ticket if they actually plan on attending. This year was pretty silly with all the tickets being put up for sale for various reasons.

You have a small outside location at Pumpehuset which you used for the afternoon slots in 2018. Did you ever think of going open-air overall?

That has never been a thought. I prefer indoor festivals myself and just the idea of the workload with building up, cleaning up and taking down an outdoor festival gives me a headache … Kudos to people who organizes outdoor festivals, but I prefer to spend my time on booking and creative processes, not on digging sewage and finding solutions for trash and running water.

Do you think we face a new Death Metal-hype after a recession in the noughties?

It goes up and down all the time – back in 2010 when we started there was a huge uprising of great bands from Scandinavia and as mentioned earlier nowadays there is a lot coming out of north America. Luckily death metal is not so much about trends in my book – it’s a constant and I think it will remain a genre with relevance for many many years to come.

Four days of Death Metal is not just a blessing, but (depending on age, routine and drinking pace) also exhausting: What is your tip to survive a festival that presents “just killer, no filler”?

That’s a really good question. My best advice would be to check up on all the bands and make a list over the bands that are priorities, the ones that you are curious about and the ones you can skip. If you don’t have time for that we will hand out a printed programme with descriptions of all the bands, so then I would take a minute to sit down and read up on the bands, cause as you mention we strife to not book any bad bands (laughs).

Not only last year, but every year the billing was above average – the KTDF even shut down when you feared you couldn’t provide a billing worth it. If you look back all over the years as a festival and concert booker: Is there any band you’re trying to get a hand on but it simply doesn’t work out for some reason, your Achilles’ heel one might say?

There are a few – most of them aren’t playing anymore, but then I keep on writing them every year and sometimes it works out, like last year with Runemagick. First show after 14 years! I have a long list of bands that I would love to see playing the fest and maybe one day it will happen – who knows – at least I’m going to keep on trying.

Some festivals do feature special appearances, like having a band playing an album in full. Your point of view?

I like stuff like that – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. We have experimented a little with that too and this year for example we have Profetus performing their new album in its entirety for the first time. Normally we are more focussed on the acts themselves and make a big effort to find bands that have never been exposed to the European crowd before for example.

As far as I noticed your audience is pretty international. Do you have any tips what to do in Copenhagen aside from the usual touristy spots and the festival itself? The Warpigs, for example, was a highlight that got me through day three of the festival. As well as a friend of mine taught me, that death metal is all about „skulls, Satan and cake“, as he put it when dragging me to the Dessertdragens Kageværksted closeby.

Indeed it is very international – people are traveling here from all across the globe. Tips on what to do here during the fest? Well it depends what you are into of course, but if you are into beer I would suggest going to Fermentoren in Vesterbro. If you want to go to a bar after the shows at the KTDF I would suggest Lygtens Kro in Nordvest: Great people, great music, drinks and party. If you are into record shopping I would recommend Extremely Rotten in Amar, Mephisto in Vesterbro, Vinyltrolden in Frederiksberg and Beat-Bop (Michael Denner) in the inner city. If you are into seeing stuff I would recommend the cisterns in Frederiksberg, the wooden trolls of Vestegnen and National Museum in the inner city.

The Kill-Town Death Fest starts on the 5th of September and runs for four days at Copenhagen’s Pumpehuset. You find the full line-up at this link. Aside from 40 bands on three stages you’ll have DJs, a metal market and a horror cinema where they show „Tenebre“ by Dario Argento and „Hellraiser“ by Clive Barker. Stay up to date on Facebook.