Vegan metalheads go to the Extreme

by Aaron Krall

Special To The Japan Times

A little-known part of the music scene will be celebrated next week at Tokyo’s Asakusa Kurawood venue, far from the candy-pop quirk of Harajuku. Obscene Extreme Festival (OEF) promises to be confrontational and dark and — yes, the capital letters are insisted upon — “UNLEASH HELL.”

The festival was the idea of Curby Extreme (born Miloslav Urbanec), who simply wanted to celebrate his 25th birthday in his native Czech Republic by providing an enormous party for his friends across Europe that took the form of a music festival devoted to extreme underground styles. Naturally, a festival devoted to genres such as thrash, death metal and grindcore — subcultures with a fan base too small to be considered profitable by sponsors for mainstream events — was intended as a one-time affair, as lack of interest and logistical headaches were predicted to be stifling. However, OEF’s particular qualities and Curby’s determination have seen it last 15 years and spread to four continents.

Writing from his home in the tiny Czech village of Bukova, one hour’s drive from the festival’s birthplace in Trutnov, Curby talks about nightmarish logistical challenges even after a decade-and-a-half of practice. However, he has overcome bureaucratic apathy in Indonesia, the first stop of OEF Asia, as well as crooked law enforcement and machete-wielding promoters at OEF America’s first festival in Mexico.

“The festival in Indonesia was really hard to organize,” he says. “I had too many fights for what turned out to be nothing. No one believed in anyone there, just no confidence at all. And Mexico was insane! The day of the show the natives called us to tell us they never got the money that we had paid to the sheriff. Apparently the guy just disappeared with the money, so they told us we had to either give them the money we owed or else discuss the issue with their machetes.”

It’s assumed that machetes and threats of dismemberment will not be an issue here in Japan (though it’s hard to deny how metal that would be).

It’s a bit odd that this year is the first that Japan will host Obscene Extreme, given that so many of the stars of the festival — bands such as Sete Star Sept, Coffins, Abigail and Butcher ABC — got their start in Japan, where the underground metal scene continues to flourish. Ryosuke Kiyasu, drummer for the Tokyo-based grindcore band Sete Star Sept, is expecting big things from OEF and, considering that Sete Star Sept already played Deathfest in Maryland and Chaos in Texas, as well as Obscene Extreme Australia and Obscene Extreme Europe last year, he likely knows what he’s talking about.

“Those other festivals had some extreme bands, but almost all the bands at OEF are extreme underground styles,” Kiyasu says. “It’s the biggest festival that focuses on styles such as grindcore. I’m so happy it finally came to Japan. It’s my hope that the noisecore scene is able to grow because of OEF.”

Fans may come for the outrageous grindcore and metal, but Curby says they’ll stay for the delectable vegan cuisine.

“It’s really something special,” he says. “We have only vegan/vegetarian food at the festival.” Finding vegan food in Japan can be trying at the best of times, but Curby says the perks don’t stop there and points out the festival’s Kinder Grinder corner, where kids can play together, and the event’s charity component for Doctors Without Borders.

“Usually, you come one year because you’re curious, then you stay with us forever because you can feel the difference between OEF and the other metal festivals,” Curby says. “Believe it or not, in 15 years we’ve never even had a single fight at the festival. These guys are all die-hard fans.”

The fact that OEF has very few sponsors and remains funded almost entirely by ticket sales seems a testament to Curby’s dedication.

“Fans are the most important sponsor for us. I believe even if the ticket price were doubled we would have almost the same size audience. It’s because OEF is very special and our fans understand that it all depends on them, our future, as well as a good festival next year.”

Obscene Extreme Festival takes place at Asakusa Kurawood in Taito-ku, Tokyo, from Feb. 28 to March 2. Both single and two-day tickets are available (5:30 p.m. start on Feb. 28; ¥3,700 in advance; 03-5827-1234). For details, visit