Roskilde Festival first came to my attention back in 2000, and for all the wrong reasons. Sadly 9 festival goers lost their lives due to a crush at the front of the stage as Pearl Jam performed. Although this is my first time at Denmark's premier league festival, it's influence is all around from the multiple 'pits' towards the stages (which use a queue system with traffic lights) to strictly manage the numbers and flow of people allowed into these areas; all the way to warnings in the guide as to which bands will likely have 'moshing' and excited fans. Any form of crowd movement is very closely monitored by twitchy stewards. Water is handed out (whether you need or want it). Regular announcements on screen about looking after one another and to act responsibly punctuate each set. I don't blame the organisers for taking such approaches as nobody wants a repeat of the tragedy that occurred.
So now that is out of the way we can get down to the business of what Roskilde is all about, albeit with one caveat. Reviews are subjective and this festival is viewed through the eyes of someone who has been festivalling for well over 25 years and has somewhat calmed down a bit since the heady days of youth. My first impression as I make my way through the site is the scores of young people who can barely walk, who are totally inebriated. Nothing new there you may say, but I don't think I have ever witnessed in such high numbers the amount of seriously incapably drunk people (and this is at 2pm). There is a lot of partying going on (especially so I hear on the campsites), so much so that this is what I imagine 'spring break' to be in the United States. Whilst it is an eye-opener, I don't see or sense any trouble. Everyone seems to be in good spirits and ready to let go.
Which leads me on of course to the music, which for many is a backdrop to the drinking and partying. As mentioned if you want to get near the front on the main stage (Orange Stage) you must form a queue hours in advance of the artist you want to see. This has it's plusses as there is no pushing/shoving to get 'down the front' and is a manageable form of crowd control. You can sit in sectioned off parts of the field to wait to enter for your particular favourite artist. What is particularly good is that after each performance the various 'pits' are emptied and those in the queue for the next artist get their turn down the front. It certainly eliminates 'bed-blockers' who set up camp on the barrier all day.
As this is a Danish festival, there are many home-grown artists on the line up, of which I will get to later. First up are thrash metal veterans Slayer who (excuse the pun) thrash out their set. To be honest each song sounded pretty much alike (to the untrained metal ear) but I can and do appreciate how much frenetic energy they had on-stage. After some restorative work on my hearing, it was time for a wander (which at times was better done with your eyes closed) as I have never seen so much rubbish strewn across a festival site, and worse was the sheer number of men (and some women) urinating EVERYWHERE!...there are plenty of urinals so there really is no excuse!.....everywhere I looked (including facing me) were various appendages staring back at me. Because of this, the stale stench of urine permeates the air.
It's even worse at the Avalon stage where we rocked up to catch Aussie singer/songwriter Courtney Barnett. Keen to get a good view in the impressive Avalon tent, we made our way to the barrier only to be greeted either side of the stage with open urinals and more men doing their business! Obviously the smell was overpowering and poor old Courtney never imagined travelling all the way to Denmark to play in a toilet!
Thankfully the smell was soon forgotten when Courtney unleashed a one hour and fifteen minute master class in how to rock out! Joined by two others for her live performances, this threesome make a lot of noise, but also some lovely rich harmonies. As expected a raucous 'Pedestrian At Best' garnered the largest response from the swelling crowd.
At the Drive-In showed their hand back in the arena tent with their incredible 'take no prisoners' approach to gigging. They effortlessly tore through their spiky one hour set to mass approval. Another notable performance was from headliner's Red Hot Chili Peppers who must have delivered the most underwhelming set ever from a band in their position. The words lacklustre, incoherent, bland, and bored spring to mind. Despite the band playing a festival friendly set taking us though their hits, it was like watching paint dry. These boys could learn a thing or two from Courtney Barnett. Despite a considerable body of work, they felt the need to pad out the set by various 'jamming sessions'. Lead singer Anthony Kiedis lacked any charisma and barely spoke, perhaps he was too busy looking down throughout reading his lyric sheets on the floor.
Thankfully (and surprisingly) the following day it fell to House of Pain the banish memories of the previous night's headliners. They simply had a verve and swagger about them that was infectious. They were tight on-stage with plenty of crowd inter-action and perhaps most importantly. Looked like they wanted to be there. Throw in an inspired cover of' Fulsome Prison' (Johnny Cash) and of course the mighty 'Jump Around' mixed with the sun coming out and you have the perfect late afternoon aperitif.
Grimes, brought some pop glamour and shimmer to the arena stage, ordained with dancers she knows how to work the crowd. P J Harvey got off to a somewhat shaky start with the first 15 mins taken up by her more recent folky offerings and I was worried that despite the vast numbers inside and outside the tent, this could be a very public 'fail' on Polly's part. However as the set progressed we got more of the electric indie pop we first fell in love with. There is no doubt she is an artist who wants to explore and grow, something to be admired. But it's the material from the 90's and 2000's that fares better.
Chvrches electronica seems a perfect fit just before the midnight hour, with moody dark beats, loops and of course the angelic vocals of lead singer Lauren Mayberry. They bring a sophistication to proceedings. Its 12.30 am before the beast that is Tenacious D take to the main stage. At this point (and used to the bigger bands coming on-stage at 10pm, my feet and legs are telling me to go to bed) – however I persevere to see their novelty act. I wish I hadn't as I quickly lost interest in their comedy rock. Most of the crowd however seemed to lap it all up, and again at least they appeared to want to be there.
A new day dawns, and this is (for me at least) the big one with some serious heavy hitters on the line-up. The only problem is that between two of the bands I desperately want to see is something like a 3 hour gap, with little of interest on the other stages in between. Part of the problem is the programming, or long changeover times. The main stage does not open until 5pm, and for example Danish superstar MØ is on at 10pm with LCD Soundsystem on at 1am. There are long gaps between bands so at times you're left with not many alternatives. So back to my final day and after a good wander round the site and chilling inside the excellent Gloria shed/stage with lots of retro comfy sofa's to rest my festi weary legs upon it's finally time for The Last Shadow Puppets, whom I find vastly superior to the 'Monkeys'. They make full use of the main stage with panache and flamboyance. Again the sun comes out and it's a perfect festival moment.
On to Manchester legends New Order over in the smaller Arena stage. Thankfully I arrived early to book a space as thousands were left outside having to peer in. It's been 20 years since I last saw them, and they were never better. It was hit after hit after hit, Bernard Sumner (vocals) actually sounded good live as they effortlessly mixed old – 'Temptation',' Your Silent Face', 'True Faith' with new material 'Tutti Frutti' and 'Plastic'. It was a very quick hour and fifteen minutes and ended poignantly with 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' as their encore. Elation is the only word to describe how I felt during and after, all warm and fuzzy inside.
I wonder how LCD Soundsystem (in 3 hours' time) will top this. It is noticeably colder tonight and as I look at my watch at 10.30 there is still another 2 and a half hour wait and it's not gonna get any warmer. I take the opportunity to check out MØ on the main stage. It is packed here and a crowning moment for her, we did have some trouble seeing her from the side elevation due to the area being so flat and the stage relatively low. I could not (for most of it) even see the whole of the screens either side of the stage (perhaps the price for being 5'6). She was pleasant enough.
Finally at 1am its LCD Soundsystem time and they do not disappoint. Yes the crowd is thinner, and the air a lot colder but they were sublime. It was thrilling to see them and for me the only justifiable main stage headliners of the whole festival and a wonderful way to bid farewell to a festival of highs and lows. Don't get me wrong, there is much to admire about Roskilde, perhaps not enough though to make a return.
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