t was a muggy day, sometime in the early noughties that this scribe found themselves polarised into lifelessness at the hands of a Slipknot film clip. It was a magical time: between glossy shots of regrettable boy bands and pop songs that remain bangers to this day, Channel [V] types were unafraid to drop hastily-edited shorts as fuzzy in contrast as they were fucked up in content. Such footage left my younger self sprinting out of the living room because what burned into my sheltered retinas downright terrified me. I think it was the “Wait And Bleed” video that did the trick – that shot of a maggot crawling into Paul Gray’s nostril still incites nightmares – the gory exorbitance that wouldn’t last a second in today’s world where only wholesome images may grace primetime television… Y’know, like gratuitous sex.
Of course, it wasn’t just on TV that Slipknot spurred conservative hell – their live shows at the time were slanderous, hour-long exertions of brutish violence and carnal catharsis; for every riotous “Get the fuck up!!!” that Corey Taylor grated, there was a steel bat whipped into Shawn “Clown” Crahan’s face. Don’t even get us started on the infamous bird jar. The world was in shock – religious groups staged protests outside of the arenas they commanded night in and night out; festival moshes were so notorious they became fodder food for 60 Minutes segments; teen angst reigned and security suffered, and, 20 years since ignition, that fire still rages uncontrollably. Aside from an obvious stretch in setlist choices, the only major calling cards to set the live shows of ’06 and ’16 apart are the million-dollar production value and widespread wet dreams for pyromaniacs.
“Human nature is a beautiful thing,” muses Crahan, reflecting on how Slipknot concerts have grown alongside their legacy. “We’re all getting older, and we’re recognising that we’re all getting older. We kind of stormed the world back then, y’know? We took the world on, and it was very violent – physically and mentally – and we did it for a long time… We earned our right to exist. Songs have evolved, our brains have evolved, we as people have evolved and our live show has evolved. I like to look at it as ‘the real dream’ – I feel that, at this point, Slipknot can be here for as long as we wish for it to be here. Y’know, when I was growing up, I would go to see a band called The Graves, and I would never ask myself about the politics of The Graves – whether they were getting older, or if this album was good or that album was bad – I just wanted to go and see the band that I loved. I feel like [Slipknot is] finally in that area now, because of our hard work and the determination behind our love for what we do… Our passion!
“So, here we are, 20 years later, still rocking out and having fun – still living the dream. And we’re having as much fun as I think the fans are, so we want to keep that going for as long as we possibly can.”
It hasn’t been too long between drinks for Slipknot and Australia: the ninesome wrapped themselves tightly in the arms of our loving festival circuit last year, sending Soundwave to the grave with some of the biggest, loudest and most vicious spectacles the now-slain event had ever seen. Though they’d become somewhat of a festival staple whenever the opportunity to hit our shores arose, the end of this month will see Slipknot lay waste to some of the country’s biggest arenas on their first local headline tour in eight (!!!) years.
“The thing that’s really great about this upcoming Australian tour is that we are no longer in the festival situation,” Crahan remarks. “We are now in an intimate situation where it’s us saying, ‘Hello! We’re going to be performing here – if you like us, you come.’ It’s just going to be us and our family, y’know? That in itself is a remarkable thing, because it’s so rare for us to be doing it in Australia. It’s been festival after festival – from Soundwave to the Big Day Out – and we’ve lived our whole career there through them, so this is going to be a really fantastic thing. This tour is going to be a little bit scaled down, which only makes it more violent, more energetic and more ‘out there’ for the kids like you. It’s going to be exactly what everyone wants it to be.”
Slipknot’s last headline jaunt across Australia went down in 2008 – it was two months after they’d released the middling All Hope Is Gone, which fans could truly belt every lyric out to when the band returned for their first whack at a Soundwave four years later. The Sydney set of that run was the first time this shit-scared toddler saw the horror unfold up close: I was 15, and metal seemed nothing short of fucked for me. Friends dragged my skeptic arse down the mainstage steps and smushed me into what seemed like a quiet section of the cluttered stadium grounds. The set opened on “(sic)”, and, as any seasoned Slipknot fan would have warned had they known I was oblivious, all hell unfolded. It took until Taylor bellowed, “I can handle anything!” for an elbow to meet my jaw. I couldn’t handle it. Baby’s first metal show was a bust.
“What’s great about a festival situation is that it’s all other people’s problems,” Crahan chuckles, reminiscing on those sepia-toned Soundwave days. “When a promotor calls up and says, ‘Hi, I want y’all on this festival,’ there’s a guarantee – basically, our people do the business and then we just come – but when you’re doing what we’re about to do, it’s a lot more hands on for us. It’s a lot more work, which we love, but it’s always made sense to us to go in and just jam with all of our friends at those festivals.
“It’s very difficult to get down to Australia, so y’know, when you do get there, you want to hit as many people as possible – one way to do that is to hit people at festivals! That way, most of your own fans go, but a lot of people who don’t know you are there as well. You get two for your money: someone goes to see Lamb Of God, and now they’re a Slipknot fan. And on the flipside as well, kids will come out to a festival to see Slipknot, they see Lamb Of God, and now a Slipknot fan is a Lamb Of God fan. That’s what we’re all trying to do – I mean, hard rock is a culture and a family, and while we’re all different, we all have to co-exist with each other. It’s nice to be in that festival situation because you can spread the disease a lot quicker… Like group sex.”
When it does come to festival shows, the general consensus is that Slipknot will, without question, headline. When the sun had set and their show-stopping Soundwave ’15 stage came to life, punters were greeted with a maniacal overdose of fire, fury and theatrical delirium, the setup of which so meticulous and gaudy it could bring even the most pretentious Broadway stage designer to their knees. It definitely isn’t anything all too suited for the 2pm slot, and at the helm of Slipknot’s live production is none other than Crahan himself – the carousel drum kits, tiered risers and regular digital disturbances are all products of his rabid mind, and the only thing bigger than his visions are the flames that spew from all angles with every passing breakdown.
But although from our perspective the eye candy comes together with unfathomable ease, Crahan is quick to bite that “Slipknot is a pain in the ass to reinvent or try to do anything with.”
“The show that I want to make cannot even be made; it’s not humanly possible – or legal – to make the show that I want.” Mapping out how each element of Slipknot’s thousand-tier composition will fit into a mold is “a very, very difficult thing to do because there’s so many rules,” Crahan explains. “There’s semis, crew members and set carts, and there’s only so much space on the stage itself. To make a show in general is so difficult because when I want to put ramps on a stage, they have to be housed by a semi, and if I go to Europe, they have to be in a sea container that’s going to be slow-boated. And then I have to worry that the forklifts in Europe are going to be as new as the ones in the United States – if I go to Bogotá in Columbia, South America, I have to hope that they even have forklifts! Designing a show in general, I’m told ‘no’ more than I’m told ‘yes’. It takes a long time to make all of the puzzle pieces fit; for the culture to combine into an exciting experience.
“If we could only play in Vegas – if the world would come to us – they could see what we really want to create.”
Fed up with the boundaries that suffocate their creativity, Crahan and co. spent a decent chunk of 2012 curating their own twisted circus of metal and mayhem: Knotfest. The inaugural two-day event kicked off in Wisconsin and their native Iowa, teaming Slipknot’s lethality and that of ten other bands with thrill rides, graffiti walls, burlesque dancers, circus performers, a Slipknot museum, junkyard car drum circles, and, yes, more fire. Since then, the festival has expanded both in visionary scope – it’s worth noting that the 2014 edition almost had an “official smell” (literal burning camel shit) but authorities jumped on that quicker than Corey Taylor on a texting fan – and geography, the band adding Mexico and Japan to an expanding string of US states.
As for us Down Under, surely an outback Knotfest is an inevitability. Australian maggots have been relentless in their outcries, and with Soundwave rotting in its shallow grave and the UNIFY Gathering a stunning proof of concept, there’s really no argument as to why Slipknot shouldn’t bring the festival to our shores. And, shock and awe, Crahan agrees. “It’s most definitely on the schedule to try and do,” he says. “I think most people need to understand that the reason it hasn’t happened yet is because Knotfest is a destination spot – it’s not a tour, and we don’t want it to be a tour. There’s difficulties in making tours work – we know because we’ve been on a million of them. We’ve been on a million festival tours and that kind of stuff, too, and we’ve seen the business behind the business and the art behind the art – Knotfest isn’t any of that, it’s a destination spot.
“Knotfest isn’t just a bunch of great bands, it’s a philosophy. It’s not just, ‘Hey, let’s call it Knotfest, bring a bunch of bands out and have a festival!’ We bring a museum, we bring rides, we bring your local scenario – whatever’s happening locally, we bring it in and make it a part of our own vision. It might take a minute, but I can guarantee that we want to [bring Knotfest to Australia], and that we will do everything in our power to make it a reality. There’s more a chance of it happening than not, I can promise you that!”
The future of Slipknot is looking bright. Their head-turning 2014 opus, .5: The Gray Chapter, is quickly approaching its third birthday, and with no touring plans for 2017 laid out, fans can expect a follow-up to bleed through sooner rather than later. “We’re gonna finish this dozen last shows and then we’re gonna take a little break,” Crahan says. “Corey is going to go out and do Stone Sour – we support that, because everybody needs to fulfil their inner dreams of other colours, tempos and temperatures – but some of us in Slipknot are going to start writing right away. The reason for that is… I’m tired of the way things are. I’m tired of being told when to write, how to write, when to tour, where to tour, what’s this, what’s that – I’m sick of it. I’m an artist! I’m a musician and a performer, and I want to get together with my friends a lot earlier to work on a great piece.”
“The piece that’s about to be written is going to be one that’s written over several years – maybe one year, maybe two – but whatever it is, we’re going to start immediately. Jim Root and I have already been talking – we’re going to start setting studios up everywhere and go live an experience. Everybody in the band is going to join us at the times that they can. We’re going to build something. We have an idea – I don’t want to share that with you right now, but I can tell you that I would love for it to be highly artistic and conceptual.”
This, of course, mirrors statements that Crahan made last year, where he told BBC Radio 1 that Slipknot’s next studio outing could be a double-album epic in the vein of Pink Floyd’s The Wall. “I’d love it if we could do a double album,” he said at the time. “Just… Interludes… Have a concept, [and] maybe make a movie.” But don’t freak out just yet – Slipknot have no (current) plans to drop a fuckton of acid, grow their hair into mops and churn jangly Britpop out on disco vinyl. “We do not try to reinvent the wheel that Slipknot is,” Crahan makes no hesitation to stress.
“It rolls just fine,” he says. “It rolls over the likes of you and the rest of the world, so we’re not going to change that. However, we have some ideas of what we would like to try at this stage in our careers, and a lot of that involves taking the bull by the horns and doing some things that we have not done.”
One of those things came at the end of last month, where, to wrap the Mexico leg of this year’s Knotfest, the band celebrated 15 years of their troubled Iowa record with a full playthrough from cover to cover. “That was something brand new for Slipknot,” Crahan boasts jovially, “and I believe that it’s a first step towards some of the most beautiful things that we have ever done as a band. I’m very excited about the future – if we can play an album from its beginning to its end without any problems or anything happening… That’s exciting! That’s the kind of thing that’s in the future [for Slipknot]: things like performing the Iowa album, and guys in the band writing much earlier rather than later; really encompassing an idea and bringing it to fruition over a long period of time.
“My goal is to let a year escape me and say, ‘I need more time’ because I’m onto something big!”
Slipknot are touring Australia throughout October – click on the poster for more details!