France’s Hellfest has responded to government pressure to remove Down from the festival’s 2016 bill because of Philip Anselmo’s controversial Dimebash 2016 actions. Faced with the potential loss of a €20,000 ($22,400 U.S. dollars) grant if they don’t kick Down off the bill, Hellfest has responded to French government officials with the words, “Keep your grant.”

Anselmo was the recipient of tremendous backlash from fans and metalheads alike after throwing up a Nazi salute and yelling “White power!” after performing at Dimebash 2016. Due to Anselmo’s actions, Down was dropped from the Netherlands’ FortaRock festival by the event’s own volition. Hellfest, however, has refused to take the same action.

French senator and President of the General Council of the Vendée, Bruno Retailleau, spoke out against Hellfest showcasing a performance from Down. According to Hellfest president Ben Barbaud, however, this is just another chapter of French government’s disapproval of the longtime extreme music festival.

Barbaud addressed various groups and politicians in an open letter. Though he condemns Anselmo’s behavior, Barbaud defends Hellfest’s decision to retain Down as a featured artist:

Dear Mme Garnier, Mr Retailleau, President of the Cultural Commission and President of the Regional Council of Pays de la Loire respectively.

It has taken you barely more than two months to elaborate your famous pretext used to cancel the 10 year long, historical partnership between the Pays de la Loire region and the HELLFEST festival; the biggest modern music festival in France, which I represent.

No, Madame Garnier you have had no intention of meeting with me, despite my many requests since your appointment, in December 2015, to the regional council. An appointment had indeed been arranged, but only with your “assistant.” I consider this proof of your lack of consideration for our festival, just recently voted best French festival for the second year in a row. Today we were informed of a sudden change to this appointment; finally you will be present. To what do we owe this honour of your presence so suddenly? Is it out of necessity to defend your stance, given your recent media outpourings.

I have read with great interest your recent communiqués to date. Statements published on social media networks to your 5000 followers. I would hasten to reply under the same form but before the scrutiny of our 300 000 followers.
I would glady have given you answers had you had the courtesy to contact me before throwing opprobrium onto an event which has never had the slightest incident to mention. An event for which the majority of the Loire’s inhabitants, national media and Prefecture have nothing but praise for its organisation and harmonious atmosphere. For I have learned of your “demand to exclude the group DOWN from our festival” via the press – a strange way to communicate with an organisation that is a so-called partner.

I will endeavour to give you my version of events, and by beginning with the facts your real intentions against our festival will come to light. Unlike you, I have no reason to hide my intentions, and I have no reason to lie to the electorate since I am not standing for office. To be honest, I am disgusted by politics, like many of my fellow citizens. It is my passion for my work and music that obliges me to write to you; regrettably, as I would have greatly preferred it were otherwise.
You received on February 2, an email from the collective “Provocs Hellfest ça suffit” (a collective renowned for their fierce opposition to our festival) informing you of an incident in the USA. You would see the artist Philip Anselmo, whom you had never heard of 72h previous, giving a Hitler salute and shouting “White power.”

We, like you, and I speak on behalf of the heavy metal music community, denounce this inexcusable effusion. Nevertheless, you deliberately omit to mention that this man has made multiple, public apologies, and has sworn that he is not anti-Semitic nor does he have hateful feelings towards any creed or kin. Moreover, we know this person and consider ourselves responsible and able enough to justify his presence among the many guests at our festival. This is in no way an act of complacency with regard to inappropriateness, as you have insinuated, for the festival that I head is, and never will be, a platform for racist or hateful rhetoric. This person committed a grave error that he regrets sincerely, it would be fallacious to consider him as someone he is not. I could send you a long list of artists known for pushing the boundaries of provocation under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Rock ‘n’ roll has always had its excesses that only its fans and connoisseurs can understand and forgive. David Bowie in his time, Sid Vicious, I could go on… Philip Anselmo has acted, I grant you, on this occasion as an imbecile. He is a provocative and fiery artist like many born out of Rock ‘n’ roll, but an artist that I would defend because I am certain that he does not belong among those who are hate-filled and spread nauseating ideas… Admit it, though, this does not interest you, only the pretext by which to please your electorate through cutting your ties to our event. Must I remind you that you have continually voted against supporting our cause (financially and morally) for the past 10 years in the opposition government? To hear you say that since your election, your regional council has never “withdrawn support for the festival nor even threatened to,” is but another of many political machinations designed to beguile the electorate in the Loire of your real intentions.

This festival has been such a successful adventure and example of human success. It has eradicated much prejudice against a stigmatized and caricatured public, too often wrongly judged as violent, occultist, even satanic. You must doubtlessly belong to those few remaining persons to realize this fact. This is as much a pity as it is worrying as the people in the Loire have put their trust in you to deliver a policy of cultural diversity in the Pays de la Loire region. This dynamic region should rejoice and be proud to see a group of passionate youngsters succeed in creating such a successful venture in rural France! We have created 15 full-time jobs, 500 part-time and temporary contracts in an unpredictable cultural sector! We have generated more than €5m of revenue for the Nantais wine industry and have been a formidable communication tool for tourism in a lesser known area!
I dare to hope that as a taxpayer in the Loire and Vendée, that my colleagues and cultural peers will not have to face the same wrath of your moralising convictions which, to me, are a barrier to freedom and cultural creativity. It is one of the few remaining cultural jewels in our economic crown that France can be proud of.

Throughout its existence, the festival has remained apolitical, yet we are not and have never been fooled by your intentions. An interview in December 2015 on the television channel France 3 confirmed our concerns. You replied in the interview: “Hellfest? I don’t like it…” “Have you ever been to Hellfest?” “No, because I don’t like it.”

Easy to see that you would have a hard time convincing many inhabitants that your main priority was to strengthen the partnership with our event, which you see as satanic and violent.
So, allow me to reiterate: keep your grant. We who love extreme music have no moral lessons to learn from politicians who have never taken the time to come, see and understand our event for themselves and then try to impose a code of conduct. Wouldn’t you agree that it is the organisers and festival-goers to decide what is good and proper for our event of which you know nothing? Wouldn’t it be better as elected officials to concentrate on the real problems that eat away at our society rather than to vent your anger on a festival and community of music lovers who, for 3 days, celebrate their passion in peace and harmony; and that almost the entire population of Clisson praises for their respect, politeness and kindness?

Madame Garnier, Monsieur Retailleau, you are going the wrong way and I am sad to have to say it, but your political tactics cannot mask the reality of the situation: you simply had to find a pretext with which to put an end to our partnership. One matter of concern on our side, we have been prepared for this since your election. HELLFEST is, and will always remain apolitical, pacifistic, and independent. A festival organised BY fans FOR fans that will never cease to make heard the music you deem so diabolical and unsavoury, contrary to all those who have the chance to come and hear it.
I challenge you to find but one person who has attended our event who is able to prove that our festival incites racial or religious hatred. You would not find a single one, Madame and Monsieur elected officials, once again you are fighting the wrong fight.

Madame Garnier, I am aware of your candidacy for the mandate to the city of Nantes; a place dear to my heart, a town of cultural richness I am so proud. I urge you to rethink your position for I would find it hard to bear living (and many Nantais too) in a Nantes with “selective culture.”

May our extinguished grant go to help other dynamic, innovative and creative cultural associations that dare to dream and know when to push the limits of political correctness… BORN TO LOSE, LIVE TO WIN, LONG LIVE ROCK’N’ROLL!

Ben Barbaud
President of the association HELLFEST PRODUCTIONS

Ps. Forgiveness and understanding are not only Christian virtues. Those of us passionate about HELLFEST and extreme music are also people capable of debating and accepting differences of opinion. The doors of our “festival of hell” are always open to you, and I remain convinced that our hundreds of thousands of fans would be delighted to show you to what extent our event is just love and fraternity!

Hellfest will take place June 17-19 with Rammstein, Black Sabbath and Twisted Sister headlining the main stage. For all your Hellfest info, click here.

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