Enlarge Photo by Moritz "Mumpi" Künster

Sodom Pull Out of Steelfest After Fan Backlash Over NSBM Bands on Bill

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German thrash metallers Sodom have pulled out of the 2022 iteration of the Finnish festival Steelfest.

Upon the festival’s initial announcement, fans on social media decried Sodom’s participation on the bill, which includes several bands with direct or indirect ties to NSBM. Sodom pushed back against those criticisms in a series of posts, citing “freedom of expression” and wondering aloud if other “politically correct bands” on the bill would also be targeted, but they finally bowed to pressure and canceled their appearance on September 3, adding that the decision was made “solely on the basis of our own conviction.”

The backlash began when Sodom promoted their appearance at next year’s Steelfest in a post published on August 29 (since hidden from public view by the band). The presence on the bill of bands with noted past NSBM connections such as Graveland, Inquisition, Destroyer 666 and others led Sodom’s own fans to lash out in the comments:

Sodom’s next statement on the issue came on September 1, in which they pushed back against their detractors, attempting to distance themselves from any NSBM bands or “political views” while claiming they stand for “freedom of expression for everyone.” While they said they would speak with the festival’s organizers about the issue and “form our own judgment,” they added that they wouldn’t “let that talk us to death,” a reference to being bullied by the internet into being told what to do. That statement reads in full:

“Hey pals! To get it right up front. Once again, we distance ourselves from bands that abuse their musical platform to express their political views, whether right or left, to the outside world. But we stand for freedom of expression for everyone and we won’t let that talk us to death. When the Steelfest promoter booked the show with us at the end of 2019, these supporting acts and the billing were not even up for discussion. So we have a valid guest performance contract. We are currently clarifying the legal situation. We generally perform on behalf of ourselves and our fans and not for the other bands.

“The politically correct bands, whatever that means, are in the majority at Steelfest. Will they all cancel their performance? We will definitely talk to the organizer again about this situation and will form our own judgment.

“We can’t always please everyone and we don’t want that at all, but if we have to bow to some kind of political pressure every time, then we artists/musicians can soon quit our jobs. And after 40 years in this exciting business, I don’t need any instructions about what to do or not.

“We have a strong fan base in Finland and many are happy to see Sodom again receiving a special setlist exclusively. After this long dry spell, we are of course happy to be playing in Finland again. This is our job, our passion. That’s what we are living for. We won’t let that talk us to death either and decide for ourselves. We will of course keep you up to date on the current state of affairs.

“But don’t forget…Sodom stands for freedom, peace, justice and democracy. And that’s all that counts. Cheers ,)/”

On September 2, Sodom shared a lengthy statement written by Steelfest, in which the festival’s main organizer repeatedly referred to “social pressure” from “extremist groups” attempting to “sabotage” the festival, attempting to defend his attempts to host a “diverse” bill free of any one political association. Nevertheless, the statement warned that cancelations in the coming days should be expected. That statement reads:

“We have been contacted by some (not all) artist agencies/managements, these agencies represent some of the bands which should perform in Steelfest 2022.

“NOTE! So we havent talked with BANDS straight about this issue below. We do not know what all band`s or its member (related to these agencies) think about this situation.

“These 2-3 agencies had mainly one message. Steelfest should re-consider its lineup “or”.

“As I have asked from these 2-3 agencies “I understand completely your point of view, and would like to hear your opinion on which bands in particular you feel are the problematic” we got two lists of bands, some of the agencies didn’t reply.

“So, we got different lists which included totally 12 different bands what Steelfest should “reconsider”. 12 bands I should “reconsider/cancel” and then maybe more lists to come.

“Steelfest can not negotiate or let “third party” effect/decide, which band can play or not in Steelfest or any our events. Also, realized that I am guilty of creating a way too controversial mix to handle for these agencies. This genre is just money to them.

“So, we have to stop this. We cannot be tied to this kind of conversation and controlled by any “third party” and we cannot allways check from agencies or etc. and their “professionals”, or measure any kind of social pressure might some artist receive, which band is ok to play in Steelfest or not.

“As we “cut” this conversation it means that we will have cancellations to come for Steelfest 2022.

“Social media pressure specially on parts of world is strong and as one wise guy said to me “it all goes nuclear, no one will want to be in the blast zone with you”. We are staying and we know may of you are staying with us. Never ending support of Steelfest audience, volunteers, artists, staff and support of local community etc. etc.

“Again we do not have accusations towards the bands, for some of them this is their job, agencies decide big part of that and in the end its all about money and social pressure. We do know that many do not want to cancel but thay have a lot of pressure from many sides.

“Steelfest have made it extremely clear in the past that we reject any political movements or racist ideologies that people want to portray our artistic creations as parts of.

“We are and will be targeted as we will not pick a side as all sides are equally repulsive, nor will we ever apologize for our past, present and future artistic choices.

***

“The performers at a typical music festival are mostly chosen based on their popularity. A popular artist draws more audience in, thus increasing the profit margin for the festival organization. This will often lead into a situation where a typical music festival chooses only risk-free and typical artists year after year, causing everyone to lose in the long run.

“Steelfest, however, is not your typical music festival.

“When we started Steelfest in 2012, we wanted to bring more choice and diversity to the metal festival audience as a fan and a music lover myself. To bring forth and support bands I personally liked or bands that had caught my interest, and simultaneously to offer a meaningful choice among the then-stagnated Finnish metal festival field. As Steelfest has kept growing steadily for the past nine years, I believe this has been a good and welcomed decision.

“I consider myself being a creative person, and I think Steelfest as one of the vents I channel my creativity into. Like a painter sees the empty canvas in before him, I always think what new thoughts, feelings and possible discussion the artist roster of each festival year could also bring besides their music.

“Whenever choosing the artists, I always want to dive deep beneath the surface, and sometimes the results aren’t beatiful or easily digested. The content may feel controversial, tearing or even infuriating to some, especially for them who are not willing to comprehend any deeper meanings behind it or share the same possible interpretations.

“Nevertheless, it is impossible to imagine me personally sharing the same vision or even understanding it with each of the tens and hundreds of artists I have been working with during the last nine years. The artists, who have always been selected solely due to their art despite of my personal worldviews.

“As Steelfest is purely a music festival, it has been confusing at times to see how much discussion and debate it has caused in a non-musical discourse. Not surprisingly, during the years we have received our own share of controversial feedback from the both extreme sides of the political field. The criticism towards such issues as artist roster and artists’ personal lives has reached us at times, but we also haven’t avoided getting threats from people who think that artists from certain nationalities or artists having a certain skin color shouldn’t be allowed to perform. The latter example may sounds baffling to some, but among all this it is a good reminder that Steelfest has never been about catering to certain extremist groups but always about musical aesthetics.

“Some of these extremist groups, however, seem to imply that by pressuring, accusing and even sabotaging the festival will finally bring a consensus on who is allowed to perform at the stage. When a band shares the same stage with an ”artista non grata”, they are condemned for ”accepting the artist’s views” by some twisted logic, and are carrying this eternal stigma from then on. And at the end, we are facing a situation where the only acceptable artists are the ones who are approved by these extremist groups- until the criteria changes and the rope gets a bit tighter, of course.

“It would be intellectually rather lazy to just state that ”by not booking controversial artists you avoid all the criticism and threats”. I understand perfectly well that some of the performers at Steelfest may have caused irritation, anger and even sheer hate based on how they have expressed their personal thoughts. Yet, I don’t believe that by only booking bands based on their approval from certain groups would bring us a sustainable festival or musical diversity.

“A Finnish politician once brought up the concept about ”art based on well-being” in opposite to ill-being, and expressed her concerns on it’s absurdity as a possible societal demand. I would kindly ask the opposers of Steelfest to think for a second what that would mean in a democratic society and how we would live in a dystopia where the purpose of art is to be solely odourless, flavourless and perfectly safe.

Reactions on social media were once again swift, heated and abundant:

Just a few minutes after sharing Steelfest’s post, Sodom added the following of their own, essentially announcing their withdrawal from the fest without specifically saying so:

“We will of course try to return to Finland as soon as possible, hopefully under better circumstances and with a little more poisitive vibes and party atmosphere. Until then, all the best and stay healthy ,)/”

And then, one day later, on September 3, Sodom made it clear they were pulling out of the festival:

“We would like to announce that we are canceling our appearance at Steelfest in Finland. We made this decision solely on the basis of our own conviction. Have a nice one…cheers!”

While many of the band’s fans applauded their decision to pull out, some were disappointed it took them so long to come to that conclusion, and others were straight-up disappointed:

Sodom have not commented on Steelfest since the September 3 post above, and the festival has not issued any statements since their September 2 post above.

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