At Hellfest, the attraction isn't just in the surreal lineup, the insane sets, the amazing setting, the kids getting an irreproachable eduction, or even the complete lack of conversation about boring music like Autechre and Arno Schmidt—it's also in the style. Style all the time and everywhere, style for me and you, and, above all, back patches in the hundreds, the thousands, the tens of thousands, the tens of tens of thousands. A fundamental piece of the metal lifestyle, the patch vest is more than a simple piece of clothing: It's a piece of armor, a talisman, a rallying point, a beacon in the night.
This year, our photographer Melchior Ferradou-Tersen tracked down the most amazing vests and back patches at Hellfest. We then submitted them for commentary from our panel of five experts: Lelo Jimmy Batista (editor in chief of Noisey France), Guillaume Gwardeath (Noisey France's chief patch-themed contributor), Marc and Mathieu (of the band Cobra), Raymond Ov Tod (of leading metal reissue label Triumph Ov Dead), and Marine ND (editor in chief of Retard Magazine (that translates to Delay in English), who provided the actual style input).
Lelo: Solid vest. It shows a really knowledgeable, elevated aesthetic without coming across as too calculated. There's a good central patch as the base, a Slaytanic Wehrmacht patch to cover the vintage angle, a Master patch for street cred, and a Venom patch because no vest is complete without a Venom patch (or Mercyful Fate). On the other hand, I have no idea what to think about the Heineken patch.
Marc: I hate these superimposed patches. A beautiful vest is the work of careful calculation that allows for a harmonious juxtaposition of different sizes and shapes WITHOUT PUTTING THEM ON TOP OF EACH OTHER.
Lelo: Normally I'd have to hate this vest because it's way too messy, but the history behind it is clearly cool. If you look closely, you can see tons of old patches (Destruction, Megadeth, Dark Angel) covered by more recent stuff like Midnight. So either this guy is a metalhead whose tastes span different eras or he's taken his older brother's vest and is slowly working to erase its legacy. Either way, I have the utmost respect for him.
Mathieu: I see another message in this that's way simpler: "I've moved on from black metal to thrash."
Marc: Here we've gone completely in the opposite direction: These patches aren't superimposed, they're floating in space. It's too bad because the choice of groups suggests a certain taste for order and discipline.
Lelo: At first glance, this is a real old-school patchhead: a vest without sleeves, no group that's not considered a certified classic, perfect Iron Maiden symmetry, triangular AC/DC layout. On the other hand, I'm seeing this thing with the festival wristbands more and more, and I'm not quite sure if I'm into it.
Gwardeath: At first I thought he was really walking around with a picture of his vinyl collection on his back.
Mathieu: I think it's superb. It feels like this guy is orderly and doing what he wants. My only issue is the Marilyn Manson patch.
Lelo: This one isn't exactly the best-looking, but it's probably my favorite. The choice of back patch is central to any vest, and here, even if it's placed a tiny bit too high, the fact that it has an illustration that's both original and super reverent toward an on-point group means the whole thing operates at 400 percent.
Marc: As Lelo said, the cornerstone of any vest, the must fundamental element, is the back patch. If you don't have a back patch, your vest doesn't hold up. It's just like that. This vest just looks like a piece of patchwork. Really, I don't understand why, in a setting as rigid as metal, there aren't stricter rules on this point.
Mathieu: Don't be so categorical. I think we're just looking at a patch lover who doesn't like back patches. I think this guy also doesn't like denim [Ed. note: Mathieu then offered an extended pun on the difference between cotton and denim that can be summed up by this Wikipedia article]. He didn't manage to cover up all the cotton, but it's still a good approach. One time I ran across some guys who had done the same thing on their pants and jeans at an In Solitude concert in Luynes.
Gwardeath: The Human Captcha. This guy's ready to hit the putt-putt course.
Marc: He's abused cut out patches. Doesn't he know they're supposed to be used sparingly, either as a centerpiece or at the top of the vest? This vest is not easy on the eyes, and putting it with those abominable shorts makes it even more of an eyesore. Nonetheless, it deserves an honorable mention for the patch that says "Never Stop The Madness."
Marc: What is it that would push a young man to add—we should note the light superimposition—a Led Zeppelin patch next to a back patch that says "Anti-cosmic Metal of Death"?
Raymond Ov Tod: This is the jacket of an obsessive who's never gotten over the death of Chuck Schuldiner in 2001 and who no doubt commemorates his passing every December 13 with tears in his eyes. Points for this guy's total submission to the Floridian artist's undeniable body of work, the profusion of logos, and the choice of back patch (an album that's far from unanimously loved by fans). Negative points for the second group logo without the gory elements, especially in the highly visible spot below the neck. Oh yeah, and for the patch of The Sound Of Perseverance. Was that really necessary?
Marc: This wins the prize for the worst layout. Really. The patch jacket is, in my eyes, more than a mark of allegiance or recognition. It's a way of showing your devotion toward many different idols. A T-shirt, for example, only lets you show your love for one group at a time. You can maybe go up to two groups if you also wear a hat. With the jacket, you can essentially wear multiple hats and show your love for Led Zeppelin and Watain. But here, what's the point? This is going too far in your love of a band.
Mathieu: It's still worth noting that there's an interesting development here: the patch on the side.
Lelo: This guy lives his metal in a casual, relaxed way. He has a well-placed, instantly identifiable back patch. Led Zeppelin and Motörhead for a base, Sacred Reich and the Misfits for eclecticism, Voivod to show you he's underground, and Mötley Crüe and Lynyrd Skynyrd to remind you that, in spite of everything else, he's still capable of pulling his dick out after three beers. This guy could become friends with anyone on earth in less than four minutes.
Marine ND: All of this pleases me 100 percent—the huge curly ponytail, the "don't fuck with me" earring, and the fact that he's sewed everything on a sleeveless LEATHER vest instead of a denim one. The perfect alignment of his patches gives the ensemble a "trophy collection" aspect. You can feel the work, the sweat, the suffering from all these concerts. Absolute class.
Lelo: Now this I love. Here's this guy with his horn, his Extreme back patch, his completely incoherent set of patches (Def Leppard / Hammerfall / Overkill / Queensrÿche), but the fuck if you're going to knock this guy. He's put his balls on the table, and all the better if that bothers you.
Marc: With an ass like that, I'm not sure why this guy is wasting his time in the general indifference of Hellfest when he would be causing an uproar in Calvi or Marrakesh.
Raymond Ov Tod: He loves too many groups, and you can feel it. Too cowardly in his choices, unable to choose between Hellhammer and Airbourne, between Manilla Road and Guns N' Roses, he's going too much for consensus. In the end, his vest looks like one of those middle school desks where every student has carved in his or her favorite band name without paying any attention to the previous inscriptions. Another big mistake? The awesome Omen back patch with patches sewed on top of it! Never do this! Never! Don't cross the streams!
Marc: Here, I have some problems with the stitches. I've always had a lot of respect for people who had this type of vest because I imagined them sewing on each patch. Hard rockers don't need to master backstitching or needlework, but this is a real hack job.
Mathieu: Now this guy, it's clear, doesn't move outside the extreme kvlt scene. He didn't even see the shadow of the mainstage.
Marine: I'm skeptical of this guy. I appreciate the choice to go with a horizontal layout and the patches in blocks, but the ponytail and the belt give me some serious doubts. I don't know. His vest makes me want to respect him, but his hairdo hides and ruins everything. Save this for later, guys: No girl wants to be with a guy with the same hair as her insane eighth grade tennis teacher.
Marc: Disqualified. This is a patch poncho.
Lelo: At first I thought he had a towel draped over his shoulders, but I guess not. I saw a few patch towels in the 90s, but that was in Germany. The Germans are always better organized than us.
Marc: Goddammit, we're not at a techno festival!
Gwardeath: Power in the void. The real presence of death. The wound of war, reinforced by the guy's actual military gear. He's not wearing a bullet belt because that would remind him too much of work.
All photos by Melchior Ferradou-Tersen.
Lelo Jimmy Batista is the editor in chief of Noisey France. He wore a patch vest circa 1990 (with a back patch of Sepultura's Beneath The Remains). He's on Twitter - @lelojbatista
Guillaume Gwardeath is a patch unto himself. He's on Twitter - @gwardeath
In high school, Marine ND ironed a Metallica patch onto her backpack with one strap. She's on Twitter - @RETARDMAGAZINE
Raymond Ov Tod runs the label Triumph Ov Death. He just edited 45 stacks of demos from the French death metal group Mutilated. He's always here for you, but he's not on Twitter.
Marc and Mathieu are part of Cobra, the best band in the universe.
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