Wacken Open Air 2015

Every summer, the residents of Wacken, a small German town in the district of Steinburg, in Schleswig-Holstein, located about 70 km from Hamburg, prepare their vast agricultural fields to accommodate the Wacken Open Air (W: O: A), the biggest metal festival in the world! 2015 was the year of the 26th edition of this mega event, which attracts a large crowd of “Metalheads”, not only in the three days of concerts from July 30 to August 1, but also in the three days before the event, when fans occupy the area with tents and vehicles of all kinds.

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The bull skull – the symbol of Wacken Open Air (W:O:A)

Since 2002, the event has sold out every year, and for this year’s event, the 75,000 available tickets sold in just 12 hours. This was an incredible record, and one that suggests the status achieved by this event. Even for the 2016 edition, the organizers already have a full house, selling all the tickets in just two days after the conclusion of the W: O: A 2015. And to think that the first edition in 1990 was attended by six bands and 800 spectators …


See you in Wacken – Rain or Shine! (Foto: Federica Galli)

The main motto of the Wacken Open Air is “Faster: Harder: Louder”, but definitely the most popular phrase is “See you in Wacken – Rain or Shine”, derived from the abundance of rains that flood the fields of Wacken, creating a giant quagmire. In 2014 the weather was kind to the hard rock fans, however this year’s edition took place in a more “traditional” way, with a lot of rain fall before and during the event. There was a small improvement in weather on Friday and Saturday, yet the amazing thing is that the people in the audience simply did not care, and fully enjoyed the event even when plastered up to the ankles in mud.

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The infield with the two main stages and part of the Wacken Center two hours after opening

The festival area is huge, more than 220 hectares. It consists of an area for concerts with two main stages in the infield (Stage Black and True Metal Stage), positioned side by side, and a further 6 smaller stages. This year a total of over 150 groups have performed on these eight stages. There are also various areas for entertainment, with activities that go far beyond a heavy metal festival, and also an extended camping area. In the 26 years it has been running, Wacken has grown more and more, to the point that the historic concert area, called “die Kuhle” (an old gravel pit), which originally played host to the whole of the whole event, is now occupied entirely by the production and artist areas.

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Control room – Security Center – Wacken Open Air 2015

In this article we wanted to focus on the most important aspect of a festival of its kind, which involves tens of thousands of spectators; The security. The technology for this task has been entrusted to the German company Riedel Communications, who provided not only all the technical equipment, but also the staff to manage the video surveillance, communications intercoms and a large amount of radios for security and production.


Infotainment working area

We arrived just as doors opened to the public, in a “multitasking” space, with a map of the entire installation. This space is also used for the storing of empty flycases, fiber coils, cables, connectors and other materials. Here we meet Lutz Rathmann, Deputy Head of Global Events at Riedel, who gives us all the necessary information to better understand how the security is managed at the Wacken Open Air Festival on a technical level.

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Lutz Rathmann – Deputy Head Global Events @ Riedel

ZioGiorgio.com: What do the services carried out by Riedel at Wacken Open Air 2015 consist of?

Lutz Rathmann: Riedel plays a very important role with regards to security, because with MediorNet, IP/Intercom, we cover about 90% of the security, excluding the security people working outside. We are the backbone of communication for all security applications. Particularly in these weather conditions it becomes extremely important to monitor the nearly 80,000 people trying to access different areas of the festival. The security at Wacken is taken very seriously. In our centre, all communications converge, including the security radio messages, but also police conversations.

ZioGiorgio.com: How is the system configured?

Lutz Rathmann: We created two big rings with MediorNet, carrying an IP network, which is connected to 26 high definition dome video cameras, 360° controllable and with zoom, which are then connected via intercom with the authorities, the central security and production. They also carry video signals at various points of the location, for information regarding emergency messages or security, which are displayed on the video walls. We also have a small video production and we provide canned messages, which can be launched from the production areas in case of an emergency, activated with a simple push of a button, which can send the evacuation and security messages based on the type and extent of the emergency. We also built an Artist intercom system and via Tetranet [= Tetra digital trunked radio network solution, ed], we have about 680 Motorola radios in use and can provide up to 64 group calls to everybody.

ZioGiorgio.com: Why Tetra, and why so many group calls?

Lutz Rathmann: The underlying reason is always safety. We wanted to make it possible to reach all the devices in one shot, without having to talk through different channels, and this is achieved at its best with the digital radio transmission.

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Red light – on stage alarm connected to an intercom panel

ZioGiorgio.com: Do you have connections to the stages too?

Lutz Rathmann: Of course. But in addition to the radios we gave to the stage managers, we also provided a wired microphone unit. We discovered that as long as the music keeps playing, people do not move and unfortunately there have been two serious accidents in the past. To prevent the risk of the stage manager not hearing the radio call, a clearly visible red light alarm has been installed on stage, which is connected to one of our Artist intercom panels. This makes it very clear when there is a call. When you lower the volume immediately, it’s even easier to hear the safety messages on the PA system.


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The “RaiBa Turm”, the tower where the antennas for the digital Tetra radio system are installed

ZioGiorgio.com: What products do you use for the Tetra system?

Lutz Rathmann: We are using four Base Stations from the Danish company DAMM. This system is then integrated with one of our products, Juggler, which allows communication between the wired intercom system (Artist Digital Matrix) and the radio system (Tetra) and vice versa. In the case of the issue we mentioned previously, the stage manager would then have the ability to communicate directly from his intercom panel with his crew, without having to use his walkie talkie.

ZioGiorgio.com: How many people did you bring to Wacken and how are these operators distributed in the production area?

Lutz Rathmann: The Riedel team at Wacken consists of 20 persons. We built an operation center with containers. In the larger of these we placed the MediorNet and Intercom surveillance, along with another person who takes care of the cameras, located in the security centre. In another container called “radio room”, you can find my colleague Tim Herbrig ready for all eventualities, such as changing a radio or providing a new device. Although we carry out a very accurately pre-event plan, we still receive lots of information on site.

ZioGiorgio.com: It’s already the sixth year that Riedel has been responsible for managing the technical aspect of security at Wacken. I assume that with the festival growing every year, this means that every year you bring more material and new technologies?

Lutz Rathmann: We did not bring much more material compared to last year, but for the past couple of years we have taken care of some new requirements. For example, this year we tested a tracking feature in the camping area. Being a vast space, we installed Motorola MTM radios on four security cars, which constantly send their location via GPS.
In the security centre there is a dispatch operator, who can display the location of these cars on a dedicated map. Previously we had problems locating security units in the field, with even the units themselves sometimes being unable to describe their location. Yesterday afternoon, if I hadn’t had my cell phone, I could have found myself struggling to find my way out of the camping area. So I find this “tracking” concept to be a very good idea, which in theory could be applied to all radios, because the devices that we use here already have GPS. Knowing at all times where the individual elements of security are, has many advantages and would help to coordinate the security personnel even better. I think the organisation will love this idea and I am sure that next year there will be more devices with this feature.


Fiber cable – Neutrik Connector

ZioGiorgio.com: Did you install the fiber too?

Lutz Rathmann: It’s a hybrid situation. We have some distribution points, where the fiber is installed permanently, but in five weeks many areas will once again become simple agricultural fields. It means that we must remove everything and that every year you have to re-bury a series of hollow tubes to pull the fiber through. Two weeks ago one of the two project leaders, Simon Kurzen, proceeded to dig the trenches for additional tubes that were used.


Postazione Artist

In the next container we found “Wacken Mission Control,” jokingly named by Lutz Rathmann. From here, almost everything is controlled: the crowd management, evacuation plans and the MediorNet installation. This place is also the operational heart of the intercom system, with the Artist digital matrix system and the DAMM cells control. The communications can be recorded and, in the case of an emergency, all at once, with the same ability applying to video streams of video surveillance cameras, which could be of use to the police or for insurance issues. These recordings are stored until they’re no longer useful to anyone. Above the Artist working areas there are monitors installed, where the operator can follow what is displayed on the video wall of the events, for further content control.

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Karsten “Kasi” Heyn – Project Head

Although access is given to all features from all locations, the space that is occupied by the two project heads Simon Kurzen and Karsten “Kasi” Heyn are focused more on the MediorNet system. They are responsible for the whole security project at Wacken, and their daily work is divided into two shifts. On the monitors you’ll find MediorNet frames displayed, the two Metron Core Routers and their respective performance. The monitoring in general is a very important aspect for the team of Riedel, who prefer to solve as many possible problems in advance. All devices are monitored via SNMP, meaning it’s possible to control all parameters of the unit in use, including the operation of various sensors, e.g. the residual energy in the buffer batteries inside the racks. Everything here is very complex and sophisticated, where mistakes are not allowed.

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The core of the whole security system

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Two of the CCTV video cameras installed in the infield, beside the FOH position

If you look at the picture above, from the right, you will find 24 MediorNet frames and two MetroN Routers, with an impressive amount of patch cables.

The second rack contains the heart of the technology that runs the circuit of the video security cameras (CCTV), working with a Next Level system with three gateways, two dedicated to the recording of video streams (one is owned by Wacken for legal reasons, the other of Riedel for a redundant recording) and the third which makes the signals available to the decoders that are deployed in the working stations of the operators. These decoders can be connected to monitors and joysticks to control the video cameras and see the video material. Video data is stored in a one terabyte network storage facility. Two MediorNet switchers guarantee a transparent processing of the entire IP network.

The third rack is dedicated to the video walls and the management of evacuation messages, including a video switching system. In case of emergency it is possible to interrupt the video signal by Artist, excluding the infotainment material to generate video images from the Rasperry Pis. Each video wall with evacuation functions has a Rasperry Pi, configured with graphic material for emergencies, and triggered audio files, which means for example, if I press the button “bad weather”, there are automatically messages aired for that type of emergency.
The fourth rack, which seems the most simple-looking and clean, contains the advanced Artist technology, three units of 64 frames and two Jugglers for interfacing with the Tetra system.

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Tim Herbrig – radio room control

In container 1, the “radio room”, we also talked with Tim Herbrig, who normally covers the position of sales manager for Riedel, but at Wacken deals with Motorola radios and the management of the channels.

ZioGiorgio.com:When did you start the preparations for Wacken 2015?

Tim Herbrig: Two and half weeks before the festival we started programming about 680 two-way radios, then distributed these to the operators of the various sectors.

ZioGiorgio.com: Besides this what do you do in this operating space?

Tim Herbrig: The channel management. As you can see, right now we have 56 active channels. In the Wacken tower, the old Raiffeisenturm, The tetra units are positioned, and on the tower there are mounted antennas that provide coverage within a radius of about 8 km around the tower. In a list that is prepared before the event, the radios are assigned to the groups belonging to the various operating segments. Each radio transceiver has its own individual number, under which it can be contacted with a single call, if it is not set for a group call. In the list the unit is registered with which device it is allowed to talk to , and which operating segments.
From here we can also monitor the Tetra cell, to see how many communications are running, how many devices are logged in, figure out how many communications are still possible, if and when you need to increase performance, or to understand if it’s better to bring more facilities to next years event.

We can also see if a radio has a flaw, or perhaps exclude someone who is sitting on the PTT switch [Press To Talk], or by contacting people who may be on the wrong channel. For these functions we connected the system to our Artist DAMM panel, which allows you to control each channel and to act quickly if someone has a problem.



ZioGiorgio.com: I can imagine that with 680 radios in use, priority management is important?

Tim Herbrig: I would say it is fundamental. When you have so many groups and operators, it’s impossible to give the opportunity for single calls to everybody, otherwise nobody would use the group calls anymore, and this is not possible. We must limit ourselves a bit and keep an eye on the exploitation of the Tetra cell. It makes no sense to provide the single call option to an operating segment that uses 6 radios, doing only three calls during the whole day.

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Andreas Pater – Head of Rental Innovations

We also had the opportunity to speak briefly with Andreas Pater, who leads the Rental Innovations division at Riedel Connections.

ZioGiorgio.com: What does a Head of Rental Innovations do?

Andreas Pater: It’s a new position that deals with the development of new ideas for the service department of Riedel, and optimizing the relationship with the customer to be more efficient in regards of his requests, trying to propose innovative solutions that can be experimented with and integrated after a certain period of time. It means we can grow together and improve both the requests and services. In this respect, Wacken is a perfect example of such a position being needed.

ZioGiorgio.it: What are the benefits of being producer and service provider at the same time?

Andreas Pater: I think one of the biggest advantages is that we can test our products in the field. We are practically our own beta testers and the experiences that we collect during services like these are very precious, even for the development of new products. This is then reflected on the sales speech, thanks to the great credibility that the products reach in the broadcast world or in the security sector, because they are very reliable. The best way to understand what a customer needs, is to visit him and see what happens in the field, so this time I’m going from one festival to another to see if and where we can improve.

ZioGiorgio.com: Wacken is special for you, right?

Andreas Pater: It is very special, because the passion and enthusiasm you can find in this festival is also perceived between operators and employees. Wacken is very professional. Here you can feel a more relaxed vibe than at other festivals. They all help and work well together, trying to find synergies with other sectors that provide services, and trying to improve the situation for the customer, as well as for our work processes. This spirit is also found in other festivals, but here you can feel it in a special way. Everyone loves Wacken, because it makes you feel a part of this kind of “village fair”, that has grown so much in recent years.


Wacken – Heavy Metal Town (foto: Federica Galli)

ZioGiorgio.com can’t do anything else but confirm this testimony of great affection. Wacken festival is actually somewhat different from the others. Seeing the local residents, mostly farmers, who actively participate in the organisation of an event of this type is incredible, as well as the dedication of the public, who after spending three days with their feet in the mud, in a few hours purchase the entirety of the tickets for next years event. The difference is apparent even in smaller elements, such as the free distribution of drinking water in branded bags, or the possibility of taking up to three litres of fluid to the concerts area (Rock am Ring for example only allowing one litre). Of course, Wacken is a business, but you have the feeling that it is a bit less commercial than other festivals. It seems a bit like being part of a big family. The same happens in the production offices. Everyone is very focused and professional, but you do not perceive the tension that characterises other backstage areas we’ve experienced. Riedel has a very close-knit team, all are very knowledgeable and everyone, in addition to his work, is able to cover other roles. The machines they control are very sophisticated, but the people are down to earth. They’re always available, and very “easy going”. They carry out their difficult tasks, tasks full of responsibility, with great serenity and safety, a key condition when you talk about security.

mucca Wacken

Faster : Harder : Louder – 26 years Wacken Open Air

We want to give you a a final testimony to understand the spirit that pervades at the Wacken Open Air. On Wednesday evening, the day before the beginning of the concerts, there was a difficult period in terms of security, with major traffic problems because of the high amount of rainfall. It created an incredible traffic jam, with long lines of cars, almost 20 km long. With a little tactical message from the headquarters, it was recommended to the metalheads that they stop at the point where they were currently at, and sleep there, in the car, or at least go back to the nearest town and use the bus connection. Anyone would have expected a cry of protest and complaints, or mass requests for ticket refunds, but instead they got messages through facebook that said “No problem, don’t you worry, somehow we will make it, see you tomorrow!”

See you in Wacken – Rain or Shine!

Info: www.riedel.net
Info: www.wacken.com

Guido Block
ZioGiorgio Team
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