Congratulations to our two Gibson Sonisphere Rocks contest winners, Steve Johnston and Sian Robertson.

We invited budding rock reporters and photographers to send examples of their best work and the winners were selected to photograph and write about this year’s amazing Sonisphere festival, one of the U.K.’s biggest rock festivals. Check out their work below:

The Gibson Glamor Treatment at Sonisphere Festival 2011
By Sian Robertson

Photos by winning photographer Steve Johnston

Friday, July 8

Previously playing host to the world’s most famous and legendary of artists, including Queen, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, the Knebworth grounds have become accustomed to the famous. Sonisphere 2011 promised to follow suit, welcoming headliners Metallica, Biffy Clyro and Slipknot amongst others to deafen the inhabitants of Hertfordshire.

Parked outside the media center was the Gibson Tour Bus, with an almost magnetic field that drew in the artists and press alike. As glamorous as buses go, the Gibson Tour Bus did not disappoint, constantly welcoming important people over its threshold. Leather seats, a widescreen TV and an interview area were all complemented by the proud picture displays of Gibson’s most famous customers that adorned the walls like a “who’s who” of rock music.

Inside one of Knebworth’s barns, the nation’s press had taken over. Having spilled out of the Gibson Tour Bus, those working at Sonisphere seemed to endlessly hover around the area. Desks were laden with seating placements for Rock Sound, Scuzz and Kerrang!

Blissfully unaware of the hubbub of the media area, the atmosphere in the main arena was moving at a slower pace. It was outlined with festival vendors cruelly tempting punters with the scent of fish and chips that seemed to permanently hang in the air. The ground was raised in places, which enabled a panoramic view of the site. You could pick out those in fancy-dress from miles away, distinguished easily through the sea of black that moved in tides towards the main stages.

During the course of the day the crowd were able to witness The Big Four on the Apollo main stage – Anthrax, Megadeth and Slayer playing first to a frenzied crowd of longhaired metal fans. Later on in the day we saw lead singer of Anthrax, Joey Belladonna, speed walking through the media area, stopping only to sign an album sleeve of a fan that pressed hard for the privilege. Belladonna had soon gone, leaving only a wisp of his long, black locks behind.

In the build up to the headliners, we headed back to the media area, where we were confronted by a small, but tightly packed crowd surrounding a lorry. All eyes and camera lenses were directed to the back of the lorry where a black curtain was the only thing that separated Metallica’s band practice from the fans and press. Minutes before the band were due on stage, the sound emitting from the lorry had stopped, and the band members made their way from the lorry to the main stage. There was little or no cheer as they left, just awe and a continuous flashing of cameras.

On stage, colored lights bounced off the face of James Hetfield and coated the audience in a green glow. As the lights went down, the audience appeared serene, with their heads silhouetted and swaying to a golden-colored sky. At the sound of “Seek and Destroy”’s riff, the crowd blew up into rapturous applause. Though they weren’t needed, fireworks heightened the finale to the thrash metal experience.

Saturday, July 9

Day two and the weather had taken a turn for the worse. With a good chunk of the festivalgoers not prepared to stand outside in the relentless rain, the Bohemia tent was bombarded as a refuge from the English weather. Bulging and humming with unremitting noise, the tent was packed out with damp bodies sandwiched together, all chanting for Jackass star Steve-O. The security guards had attempted to prevent any more from entering, but the swarm of people outside the tent became increasingly frustrated and were surging forward, hurling abuse at those who guarded the entrance. As Steve-O began his comedy routine, the crowd’s laughter echoed around the huge blue tent merging with the smell of hot bodies. Members of the audience strained to see Steve-O breathing fireballs while flipping off a high part of the stage and drinking from a glass with his feet. Fans clung to the poles that contoured the tent in order to get a better look at the stunts.

Again, the crowd showed their appreciation for Steve-O by chanting his name. To this, he responded by asking them not to chant for him, but instead for friend and fellow Jackass star, Ryan Dunn. With even more zest, the crowd responded and continued to chant the late Dunn’s name till the end of Steve-O’s performance as they were herded out of the tent like cattle.

As though the rain had managed to multiply the amount of festival attendees, all performances throughout the day had a solid set of admirers. During Gallows’ set, front man Frank Carter decided to make use of this and challenged the audience to create a monstrous circle pit for song “In the Belly of a Shark.” Generated by the furious drumming of Lee Barratt, Carter’s intensity was mirrored by an audience gripped by the spectacle of Gallows’ performance. They were followed by Sum 41, whose sheer popularity had managed to transform the main arena into a pit of nodding heads, floating above a then undetectable field.

Headliners Biffy Clyro began their set just as the sun was setting; the atmosphere around the main arena was relaxed, as fans emulated frontman Simon Neil’s thick Scottish accent in a collective sing-along. Having started out with an emphatic performance of “The Captain,” the atmosphere gained momentum in time with the streamers that gushed from the stage in a fountain-like fashion, and draped over the heads in the front rows. For poignancy, the song “Machines” saw Neil abandoned by his bandmates and perform with only an acoustic guitar, encircled by an oversized chandelier.

Although they may have felt apprehensive about facing a multitude of metal fans, Biffy Clyro’s hits were heavy enough to satisfy the moshers in the audience, who formed circle pits wherever they could. After thanking the audience for being so welcoming to the band, Neil introduced Slayer’s “Raining Blood” into their set list. After dipping into some metal, Biffy performed crowd pleasers, “Mountains” and “Many of Horror” at the end of the night along with thousands of other “would-be” Biffy members.

Sunday, July 10

The unpredictable weather kicked in and pummeled the tents, in which many were roasting, with yet another shower. On the way to the media area, the wet mud acted as a powerful adhesive, making its best attempt to incarcerate everyone’s rubber boots.

Surpassing even the Gibson Tour Bus, I was awarded the privilege of entering the artist area to sit-in on some of Sonisphere TV’s filmed interviews. After finding a spot between Motörheads dressing rooms and the artists’ bar area, Bjorn Gelotte (guitarist from Swedish metal band In Flames), sat himself next to the interviewer after placing his Carlsberg beer not too far from reach. With a finely grown beard, dark features and dark clothing, Gelotte appeared to be everything you might expect from a metal guitarist originating from Gothenburg.

Shortly after, I was joined in the back of the Gibson Tour Bus by Joel O’Keefe and Justin Street; lead singer and bassist from Australian rock band, Airbourne. In the plush leather surroundings of the interview area on the Gibson Tour Bus, O’Keefe and Street joked with each other as the Sonisphere TV team prepared themselves for a lively interview. With his hair in dangling in front of his face, O’Keefe told Sonisphere TV anecdotes of barbecue fires and onstage antics in France, where they had just come from. Pulling their best rock faces, O’Keefe and Street finished their interview by introducing viewers to Sonisphere TV with the line, “Keep Rocking.”

Later on stage, the energy from frontman O’Keefe trickled even to the far reaches of the audience. Spontaneous wrestling matches broke out, and some serious air guitar – unbeknownst to the band. After he encouraged the crowd to get on each other’s shoulders, O’Keefe did some climbing of his own and amazed the audience by reaching the very top of the Saturn stage. On the way back down it was difficult to decipher whether he had genuinely slipped, or had acted this out for entertainment purposes, either way, health and safety were not best pleased when the frontman dangled from the top of the stage with only one arm clung to the scaffolding.

The ruthless rain kept beating down through Saturn stage’s headliner Bill Bailey’s set. At first greeting the audience in what appeared to be a Bill Bailey mask, he tore this off and revealed that it was indeed Bill Bailey to a ripple of appreciation. Toward the end of his set, Bailey informed the audience that they had made history as this was the biggest crowd for a comedy act yet. A Metallica tribute performed on a number of car horns ended his performance.

Noises generated from the Apollo main stage where Slipknot were set to play in a matter of minutes. A red glow engulfed the audience and coupled with the strange noises, attracted herds of fans as though their feet were drifting over in a trance. Lead singer Corey Taylor addressed the crowd in a series of loving abuse (“You crazy English [expletive]!) and they burst into screams of heavy metal. Showering the audience in intimidating noise, Jim Root’s guitar could have been on fire with the fast-paced screeching it had released all evening. Ending the weekend on a heavy metal high, Taylor told the audience after an emotional tour, this was a night for positivity. The crowd roared in agreement and just carried on moshing.

Photo Credit: Steve Johnston