It’s been six years since Shawn ‘Clown’ Crahan first teased that Knotfest – Slipknot’s destination festival that’s part live metal sacrament, part “dark carnival experience” – would be making the trek to Australia. But he’s finally making good on his promise: next March, Knotfest will make landfall Down Under with not one but three editions, hitting Melbourne on Friday March 24, Sydney on Saturday and Brisbane on Sunday.
“Australians have been nothing but family to us from day one,” the Slipknot percussionist and de facto creative director tells NME. Some of the greatest memories in my life come from roaming around Australia – that’s why we try to get there on every album cycle. And Knotfest is dangerous, man… But that’s why we’re taking it Down Under right now. We’re here to burn down your brainwashed philosophy, you know? The bottom line is that the good people of where you’re from need this philosophy.
“That’s been our goal all along: to spread this philosophy and to share our ambition for a new art form… It’s world domination, one country at a time.”
In the spirit of delivering a unique experience, the line-up for Australia’s inaugural Knotfest is almost entirely comprised of international acts. Heavyweights like Megadeth, Trivium and Knocked Loose will bump shoulders with up-and-comers like Spiritbox and Bad Omens. There’ll be just four acts representing the local scene, but they’re not to be underestimated: billed right under Slipknot are Parkway Drive – the biggest metal band Australia’s ever birthed (and the cover stars of NME Australia’s September issue) – while the bill is rounded out by Northlane and two of the buzziest names on the circuit, Alpha Wolf and Void Of Vision.
“It’s a different style of festival,” says Void Of Vision frontman Jack Bergin, “and I think that’s what’s important about it. I’ve seen what it looks like overseas, and it’s all about the immersive experience and the visuals that suck you into that world. You see it in all the other music genres – like Splendour In The Grass and all those New Year’s festivals – but having that kind of experience in our world, it feels super special, and I think people will really appreciate the effort that goes into Knotfest down here.”
Knotfest’s local debut is a particularly big deal for the new generation of Australian metalheads. The country’s metal community was once in thrall to Soundwave, which Slipknot headlined twice before it was axed in 2015. Though Download filled the void in 2018 and 2019, there’s been no word of its return since COVID killed the 2020 edition.
But these festivals were incredibly special for burgeoning moshlords: “I remember Soundwave always fell on a Friday in Melbourne, so we’d have to wag school and hustle our way to get there,” Bergin reminisces. “I’d always see the smaller bands playing in the shed and think, ‘This is so fucking cool.’ It’s truly special to be a part of that culture and energy.”
“Where is the fine line between truth and lies? How ambitious can your life be? That’s what I want Slipknot to answer” – Clown
“I think Knotfest will be for [younger punters] what Soundwave was for us,” adds Alpha Wolf’s lead guitarist, Scottie Simpson. “And that’s just crazy – we always dreamed of playing festivals like that, and now we kind of are.”
Having played hundreds of them over the past 25 years, Clown knows more than most how formative music festivals can be. “It’s all about the blessing of music,” he says. Other festivals are “more about a gathering and a situation that’s occurring than it is a spiritual event. But when Knotfest comes together and all the Maggots come out, you know who you’re dealing with – you’re dealing with yourself. You look different, you act different, you like different things… And that’s the most beautiful part of it: you’re seeing another side of yourself.”
Knotfest began a decade ago, and has grown in a multitude of ways: collaborating with other festivals like Hellfest and Ozzy Osbourne’s Ozzfest, and expanding internationally to Japan, Mexico, Germany and more besides. But Knotfest is still in its infancy, Clown says. The endgame is a worldwide phenomenon that runs year-round and covers the entirety of Slipknot’s touring calendar. And as it continues to grow in scope, the band inch closer and closer to realising their vision for their ultimate live show: “A conveyor belt of humanity being devoured by the vibration of the music, all senses being pummelled at the same time.”
Clown wants Slipknot’s performance to become “a fight for your own ability to imagine” – complete immersion in the audiovisual chaos, not unlike a haunted house at a theme park. “You’re convinced that the fucked-up people in front of you are going to touch you,” Clown explains, “and the person you’re with is like, ‘It’s illegal to touch you! They can’t touch you!’ But you’re like, ‘That fucking thing is going to touch me!’ Your brain is just eating your soul. Your own thought process is being devoured by reality. Where is the fine line between truth and lies? How ambitious can your life be? That’s what I want Slipknot to answer.”
By breaking free of the limitations imposed on them by other festivals’ stage rigs and outlays, Slipknot have the unique freedom to let their imaginations run wild. Take, for instance, everything Knotfesters are able to experience away from the stages: a big-top circus, burlesque performers, pillars of fire, amusement rides and a dedicated Slipknot museum, amongst other mind-melting installations (a rep for Knotfest Australia tells NME they “are aiming to bring as much of the Knotfest International experience as possible”).
Clown concedes that his imagination is “a little bit out there”, but he’s nothing if not determined to bring his vision to life. “It’s going to grow into a full-on spiritual and immersive experience [that goes] well past the definition of a concert,” he vows. “That’s the ultimate Slipknot show, for me: everyone drowning in the dream.”
“That’s the ultimate Slipknot show, for me: everyone drowning in the dream” – Clown
It’s a dream that has enthralled plenty of other bands. When we interviewed Parkway Drive last month, frontman Winston McCall cited Slipknot as an influence on their own live show, which he described as a “visual depiction” of the narrative behind their recent seventh album, ‘Darker Still’.
“It’s pretty nuts,” he teased. “[Over] the five days of pre-production we did, I realised how much work we actually put into it. Because I was doing these 13-hour days, going from the setlist to the pyro cues, over to the room full of screens we had to create the visuals, meeting with the string section and working out all the other intermissions and stuff… Some days I’d just pick up a glue gun and start working on the costumes… By the end of it, we were like, ‘Fuck, this thing is huge!’ And these are some of the best shows I think we’ve ever played.”
Alpha Wolf, too, are keen to show off why they’ve become one of Australian metal’s favourite live bands. “The live show is always the first thing we think of when we’re writing a song,” Simpson says. “Our songs are like 50 times better live, in my opinion – they just make more sense when you’re watching us play them right in front of you.”
Likewise, Bergin asserts that Void Of Vision “definitely pride ourselves on the presentation of our live show, and how it all gets presented to the crowd – not only in terms of what we’re playing, but how we’re expressing it”. The cornerstone of their set will be their impending ‘Chronicles III’ record – which features the Pendulum– and Prodigy-inspired single ‘Hell Hell Hell’ – while almost every other band on the Knotfest line-up will also have new music to play.
Slipknot themselves dropped their seventh album, ‘The End, So Far’, in September. But Clown says they’ll stick to the classics: “At this point, there’s seven albums of hits, and the new guy, he’s the odd man out. I mean, what are you gonna do? Take ‘Spit It Out’ off the setlist? ‘Wait And Bleed’? Oh, I know – let’s get rid of ‘Surfacing’ so we can play ‘The Chapeltown Rag’… Exactly. You can’t do it.”
After 27 years, Slipknot have transcended the need to lean on new material to get their shows packed with Maggots. The band play by their rules and theirs alone, both musically and in however else they choose to share their one-of-a-kind artistry. Nowhere is this truer than at Knotfest, as Clown declares: “Slipknot is no longer a band. These aren’t concerts. These are days in my life, before I pass away, to remember that I brought the good people of this world together and took them on a journey.”