UPDATE 20/07/2021: Organisers have announced that Blacken Open Air 2021 will no longer be taking place at the previously confirmed dates. The following statement was posted to social media informing ticket holds of the rescheduled dates:
We are absolutely gutted to have to announce that Blacken 2021 is being postponed. It is impossible to proceed as planned with all the current border closures. This hurts on multiple levels. We will be back with new dates to announce as soon as possible. All tickets will be transferred over to the new dates. Please be patient as our small team deal with inquiries. Thank you so much to all the crew, artists, media, volunteers and you the fans for believing in what we do. Blacken will return!
ORIGINAL: Drive around 90 kilometres east from Alice Springs and you’ll find the N’Dhala Gorge. An ancient valley, the cultural significance of the site can’t be overstated, not just to its traditional landowners – the Eastern Arrernte people known as Irlwentye – but to all human beings. The area is a cultural treasury, featuring almost 6,000 rock drawings originating all the way back to over 10,000 years ago.
It’s about as dead centre as Australia’s dead centre gets. At night, it almost feels as though even the stars haven’t changed in 10,000 years, and you very well could be standing within arms reach of Earth’s earliest humans. It’s a place of overwhelming magic.
It’s also a scene in which boutique destination metal festival Blacken Open Air takes place. It’s not just the location that makes Blacken a rare breed, but the involvement of the traditional landowners and the considerable effort undertaken to make the experience as spiritual, educational, and fulfilling for ticket holders as possible.
This week marks the announcement of the festival’s full artist line-up, but as we would learn speaking with Pirate, festival head and founder of Alice Springs label Black Wreath, this is an event that transcends mere entertainment.
There seems to be so much interest in Blacken Open Air this year. I’d love to know what you’ve noticed from your perspective since the roll-out began.
It all starts with the bands. Bands will come and play here and they’ve gone back home and talked about it. Every year we get more and more applications from bands. This year, we really stepped it up to a whole new level, in terms of the profile of the bands that we’re bringing in, and the number of bands that we’re bringing in.
It’s a really good representation of where the Australian scene’s at the moment. I think people are busting at the same time to get out and perform, and go out and support music events. We’ve sold way more tickets interstate than we have in previous years.
There are so many elements, events, attractions, and curiosities aside from the live music element to Blacken Open Air. How do you piece it all together?
We put a lot of attention to the smaller of what we’re doing. I think the experience is inspired a lot by, obviously, the Australian metal community, and seeing that there was a gap there for these sorts of events. But also, a big influencer was the big European festivals, like MetalDays, where the location is so vital to the identity of the event.
So, we went over there a couple of years back and we’ve been to Wacken, been to MetalDays and gone around and just promoted Blacken overseas. But we’re just getting a vibe for what makes everything unique and what makes them stand out, what makes them different. And yeah, we just figured that we’ve got such a cool, proactive, community in Australia. We’re all separated by massive distances, so we’ll never have the scenes that they have over in Europe and America. And the capacity to have a million fucking people or whatever rocking up. But like any other small community, we’ve managed to pull together and create something unique and bigger than its individual parts. And so I guess we’re just trying to expand that out on a national level and really try to bring the whole metal community together.
What does the location of the ancient N’Dhala Gorge add to the metal festival experience?
The ranges behind the stage become an extension of a stage and there are no boundaries between the space and the way the music is filling it up. The riffs become tangible there; they have weight to them and then it becomes the soundtrack to that space. It becomes multi-sensory. You’re not just sitting there and feeling the reverberations through your body, you’re having your whole spirit uplifted by the experience of taking in that beauty, taking in the stars, taking in the artwork around you, and the people.
Even the rocks out there, everything has life force in it. There’s so much history in that place and I took one of the traditional owners out, Kathleen Kemarre Wallace. She just blew my mind with the story of that land.
Four different stories that travel through that piece of the country, it’s a really significant place. The Seven Sisters travelled through there. I’m not going to tell too much of the story, I’ll leave her to share that with people at Blacken. It’s a really significant site, with a lot of history and a really powerful energy.
You’ve gone to considerable effort to make sure that the traditional landowners are involved in the festival. Why was it important for you to bring them into the discussions and to make the Eastern Arrernte people a crucial part of this?
It’s just been a really organic relationship. It really started when I met the Southeast Desert Metal guys, back in 2012. And we actually met there, on that grounds, at Ross River. Inteye-Arrkwe, it’s called, which means the place of many caves. And those caves are directly related to the Seven Sisters and the way they travelled to the sky and became the stars in that location.
Chris Wallace, who’s the singer/songwriter in that band is also a cultural lawman. And he sings the songs for that country. Some of the young fellows from Eastern Arrernte will come out and perform and dance, when we go out to that country. They’ve made me an adopted family member.
Kathleen Kemarre Wallace, who is one of the traditional owners for that area, she’s become my aunty. She’s just absolutely incredible to know. I take her out to the festival site and she just blows my mind every time. I just can’t speak highly enough of the time that I spend with her.
She’ll be out onsite. She’ll be sharing the story of the place. And we’re really privileged to have her come out.
Blacken Open Air 2021
Friday, 30th July to Monday, 2nd August
N’Dhala Gorge, Northern Territory
Tickets: Blacken Open Air
Blacken Open Air 2021 Full Line Up
Thy Art Is Murder
Amyl and The Sniffers
Southeast Desert Metal
Claim The Throne
Mountain Wizard Death Cult
Descend To Acheron
The Neptune Power Federation
The Holy Dimes
R U N