This article originally appeared on VICE Belgium.
The mullet is no joke. That's the message I'm getting from the majority of people at the 2019 Festival de la Coupe Mulet – which organisers claim is Europe's largest festival dedicated solely to the infamous haircut. Most fans see the hairstyle as a serious act of rebellion against uniformity, and they have gathered here in the city of Boussu in western Belgium to celebrate it.
The original plan was for 30-odd friends to meet up, hang out and smoke weed in an open field. But everything changed when the teaser for the mullet-themed get together went viral. "When that happens, there are two things you can do," says Sarah Sleiman, one of the 25 organisers. "You can cancel the event, or do whatever it takes to make it a success. We decided to do the latter."
That's how 1,500 business-in-the-front-party-at-the-back enthusiasts ended up in a park, appreciating each other's mullets.
Sleiman has offered to show me around. Together, we run into six members of the Gustave Brass Band, who all met when they were studying to become bio-engineers. The mullet, they say, is a visual representation of their wider personal ambitions, and how they plan to fight back against what society expects of them.
"With this hairdo, you show that you don't care about how you look," one of the band members explains. "A mullet is an island of freedom in an ocean of conformity. Our ultimate goal is to escape the system as it currently stands… and move in the direction of small scale farming."
The 1980s were the mullet's golden years, with icons like David Bowie and Andre Agassi rocking the hairstyle. But things have changed. "It's no longer a popular style," says one of the hairdressers at the Cut Shop salon, which has been set up to give free haircuts to inspired festival-goers who want to try a mullet on for the first time. "We were afraid that not many people would have the guts," Sleiman tells me. "But we were wrong – the queue at the front of our salon is out of control."
Later, I talk to Mathias and Johannes, who only decided to get their mullets last week. "We both had long hair – but when we heard about the festival we cut the top part off," says Johannes, before admitting that the "mullet is only a phase". Next week, the boys plan to cut off all their hair and donate it to the breast cancer charity Think Pink.
The real star of the day is Gauthier Istin – "Michel Mullet" to his friends – of the band BB Michels. Looking like a full-on Viking, Istin competes in the "Most Beautiful Mullet Competition" – easily beating the other 32 contenders in the long mullets category. The prize: a statue of the virgin Mary. Why? Apparently it has something to do with mullets being holy here.
Istin started growing out his impressive ginger mullet a year ago. "For me, discrediting yourself by way of your own looks is the ultimate form of freedom," he tells me. "Plus, it's a great way to connect with other people. If someone starts talking to me, we immediately have something fun to chat about."
When it's time for BB Michels to perform, Michel Mullet makes his way towards the stage on an old moped. The crowd go wild as he dances around stage and screams into the mic. Istin is eventually joined on stage by Agathe – a professional gymnast who shoots fireworks out of her leather bra. She then runs around the stage scaring the audience with an S&M whip, a gun and a chainsaw.
While Istin takes out his harmonica to treat us to some country and hard rock, a man in a Mexican wrestling mask and tight white underpants shows off his best dance moves while slurping from a bottle of whiskey and spitting the booze into the audience. All this should seem odd, but for some reason, looking at around at the sea of mullets, it makes perfect sense.
Scroll down to see more photos from the mullet festival.