Headless Hetfield

Of Pixels and Noise.


James Hetfield playing the guitar on stage

A pixelated picture. Full of noise. Literally drowning in a sea of heads and shoulders, I’m not tall enough. Not tall enough to see the stage, over the thousands of people standing in front of me.

So I watch the giant screens placed on each side if the stage, only getting the upper half. For a few seconds, I tiptoe, lift my phone above my head and get a peek at the full stage. There are tiny musicians on it.

I do not normally take pictures during gigs. My phone’s camera is not suited for it and I like enjoying the live show, unmediated. Most of the time, I manage to sneak in close enough from the stage so that I can have a direct view on the musicians.

Not tonight, not at this show. The first time Metallica is playing at Hellfest has drawn a proper packed crowd and even I can’t find a way towards the stage.

Dare I confess that I’m not the biggest fan of the Four Horsemen?
I think I grew up purposely avoiding  listening to Metallica – along with Slipknot, Cradle of Filth, Guns N’ Roses, Black Sabbath. Name your mainstream metal band and replace it with a prog band or some other underground music. Although, to be fair, my list was quite random because I did listen to System of a Down. Let’s put that on the contradictions of a teenager.

When I started to learn the electric guitar, I came to appreciate the appeal of those riffs. Also, because my teacher is an absolute fan of the band, so I made an effort to be nice. For my 30, I resolved to listen to the Black album: it was its 30 birthday too that same year, so I kind of had no choice there.

Back to that Metallica gig.

Lost in the crowd, I could hear the loud mix of Enter Sandman starting the show. Getting into the music, though, was a tricky thing. Noise in the sound. I could hear a dozen little sounds around me, comments, coughs. I could see next to nothing of what was happening far away. The proximity of the crowd was overwhelming.

I could feel the bodies of people around me – packed bodies, smelling of tobacco and beer, all a little too close. I could feel and hear their excitement too, more than my own. So for a moment, I tried to hear the music through the mediation of that crowd around me, vibrating at their emotions, shivering through their skins instead of being tickled by visual and auditive cues.

In front of me, big dark heads were filling up the stage like dead pixels. Hetfield’s body kept being cut in pieces on the giant screens. Sometimes I could see the body of his electric guitar, sometimes
it was his hair, or his hand that was playing the strings, but never him: a constellation of pieces cut from framed video captures of his body moving on the stage, as if objectified.

At some point, I raised my phone over my head and took a noisy picture. A flash of light erased the head of Hetfield right at that moment. The photograph is not clean and is not pretty. One could hardly guess who this is on stage.

It’s awfully flawed, which precisely make it a good capture of my concert experience that day. Contrary to livestream concerts with glitches in the video stream, the disruption was not purely computerized, technical: it was made of flesh and bones. Other bodies, not bandwidth or CPU overload, pixelated my experience.

Metallica on the main stage at Hellfest


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