It’s hard to know if the human is built for four days at this level of festival-going. Day and night after day and night, Roskilde served up some seriously good music and in such an atmosphere (and the fortunate great weather) that you don’t want any day to end. All other Roskilde festivals we’ve been to ended on Sunday but this year the festival has moved back a day leaving Saturday as the closing day, and also leaving Saturday night as a big one instead of the Sundays of old where you scarpered after the main act.
The festival also prides itself on engaging beyond the music. As previously mentioned there is community engagement out in the campsites and on-site everything from recycling to food is considered. Many amazing food establishments have set up here including Michelin star Thai food from Kiin Kiin, which had one of the longer lines but an €8 dinner from them was well worth the wait.
Their art zone too is so far beyond the washing-machine-pyramid nonsense of other festivals. Maser created an area last year and this year there are some beautiful structures to escape the festival in/on and, our favourite, The Human Library. You show up during the day and look through the catalogue of human books – people that frequently end up stigmatised or prejudiced for various reasons. You can decide to check out a ‘book’ if available and so you end up having 30 mins to talk to a muslim woman, a stripper, a wheelchair-bound man; all manner of people, etc. who form this library and are available there on site. It’s a stunning way of getting one-on-one answers to questions you might never normally ask.
We leave the library for the comfort of Warm Graves, a Leipzig trio who we discovered on the official festival Spotify playlist. 1pm is an early start on the fourth day but the sun is keeping us awake anyhow, so, fed and well-watered we slip into echoey pop cast in many shades of grey. It’s a dark but nicely paced start to things and while the singer strains too much to shout-sing live, this is not the case on record. They close with ‘Rouleaux’ and it rises into a pounding peak with the keys player standing up on his stool and the drummer attempting to puncture his skins. It brings us out in a grin and we air drum our way out of the tent when it’s all over.
Girl Band show no mercy to the delicate when they bring the noise to Pavillion in the hot mid-afternoon. The tent slowly gets busier, Dara Kiely’s droll delivery and screaming and tearing at his shirt just sucking them in. Discordant on the surface over more complex beats, it’s tough to keep focussed on it at this hour and we require a few momentary trips out into the air for some mental space. They make it somewhat more comfortable via ‘Lawman’ and we happily leave it there with some time to cruise by Whomadewho’s huge show in the Arena tent – an array of searchlights across the stage and the in-tent atmosphere is fairly electric. When Danes get a chance to play a festival they probably all grew up with they always seem to bring an extra wallop to their shows, so it’s always a pleasure to watch these ‘local’ bands and the reactions they get.
There’s a sizeable crowd out to see the sizeable Nicki Minaj sing and touch herself in equal measure. A white cloth-covered riser pushes the four dancers and Minaj to the front – almost like their space on the stage was an afterthought. With the musicians almost hidden, back, up and above them, it’s a stage show that looks like they’re playing in front of the gear of the next act. Assuming Minaj was singing live, her voice was in great form but she has none of the connection of Florence or Pharrell, instead relying on attitude rather than stagecraft which just doesn’t carry today.
To more humble situations we continue over to just one man, an array of pianos and a pair of shorts. Nils Frahm is uber polite and promises to bring us a beefier set to suit the setting. The also-polite crowd could have sat through much more of his down-the-rabbit-hole piano solo work but boosted electronic versions of his work is stuff to get lost in and his final descent to cutting loose at the grand piano is a perfect whirlpool to throw the heart and mind into.
We’re tormented that we won’t have time to get to see Clark on the yet-to-visit Apollo stage out in the campsite but the big gun is rolling on stage soon. Last year we had the Stones so a Beatle makes perfect sense to peak this year’s festival. Thus Sir Paul McCartney takes to the stage with ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ to begin what would be a 39-song epic performance.
We watch the beginning from afar, seated with drink in hand but as it hits ‘The Long and Winding Road’ we have to get closer, working our way to a group of friends in the middle of the field. It’s certainly thrilling seeing him perform Beatles songs with a band at the top of their game – as you’d expect – and it turns even better when he sings ‘Blackbird’ alone and the floor beneath him rises up. As he ascends, a digital waterfall flows down the sides of the square risen section. The theme and melody of the song make it almost anthemic and the place is silent. His between-song banter is amusing and somewhat cheesy, yet uncloaked in any pomp that one of the planet’s longest serving genuine pop stars could possibly carry.
There’s a beautiful intro about his relationship with John Lennon before ‘Here Today’. ‘Lady Madonna’, ‘Eleanor Rigby’, ‘Something’ (“let’s hear it for George!”) and on we go as it gets dark and our group of friends are all together for the first time in the whole festival. People are fetching drinks from the bars and returning laden. ‘Band on the Run’, ‘Back in the U.S.S.R.’ (cue brilliant Kremlin anecdotes), then ‘Let it Be’. Affecting from any angle, it takes us back to learning it in primary school. And then, as we’re in our wistful reverie, “When you were young and your heart was an open book…”. This is the one WE want. Focussed on the stage, just a few lights on the band under the night sky and “say live and let… die” BOOM – the stage explodes in a ball of fire. BOOM. Side stage next. BOOM. BOOM. Stage again. And then, when the song breaks proper, every firework in Europe fires from high over the speakers, a borealis of pop and fizz. And calm for that bit. And then it happens all over again. Like a hundred funfairs distilled into three minutes for a kid raised on Sean Connery Bond films whose first single was ‘Pipes of Peace’ and it makes for a tattoo’d moment on the back of four days of long-form festival joy.
And no better a cigarette after such explosions as ‘Hey Jude’. You and your pals, all together in a field with 80,000 others and a Beatle. We sing our fking lungs out.
This rush of new energy can be given a home in a few various tents still running. We walk on air to the Arena stage to see Africa Express run through an endless supply of musicians, on-the-spot collaborations and Damon Albarn appearing and reappearing. First Aid Kit are on as we arrive, and Trentemøller brings a killer song to life on stage. Albarn is treating the stage like the best smoky musicians-after-hours hang-out club. There’s some interesting stuff popping up but because it’s so sprawling we feel our one hour there is enough. Especially when our watch tells us that though our own Kodaline are closing the Avalon stage, we would make our first foray to the campsite’s Apollo stage to close our year with Jamie XX.
The stage was a glorified inflatable pumpkin in years before but this year it’s a huge, gleaming cube of light, with a mirrorball beaming out across the arena. The space is bracketed in bars and food stands and we have some restorative pizza while watching from afar. Many electronic acts rebuild their tracks live to almost imperceptible differences but Mr. Smith is weaving all sorts of electronic strands throughout. Tracks from his new album get slowly interspersed with other music and nothing ever quite lands on its recorded sound. It’s live remixing of a sort, but in it you can follow the threads of tracks in and out and in again and it’s captivating.
In this technically off-site bastion, the atmosphere amongst the final hours of the festival is amazing. People are swapping cigarettes for the last of the beers (well, the bars are still open as it nears 4am). People you pass one or twice each Roskilde are now chatting to you and dragging you by the hand deeper into the crowd to meet their friends. Then in the balmy air with a brand new instant crew, a thread with Romy XX’s voice on it flicks in and out and when it eventually turns into ‘Loud Places’ it feels like we’ve been crop dusted in MDMA. No finer 4am-in-a-festival-field song has been released this year. Bass in the ribcage. Palms to the stars and that one cigarette you allow yourself a year hanging from your mouth, and, by coincidence, a fireworks show behind us from the main stage as Danish rapper Suspekt finishes. Despite all the stimulants it’s this moment of community and music that’s the finest in the world. Jamie XX is grinning and we’re embracing in the fields. It’s even bigger than what Roskilde call their ‘Orange Feeling’. McCartney would surely approve. It’s probably love.
Exhausted, we have to cross the site to get home. At the same time Damon Albarn is being escorted off stage. Who could blame him not wanting to leave Roskilde? We pass our regular bar, Stauning, and as we prepare to pass, a vision of an Irishman we know appears at the bar and so it is that yes, there IS time for one more. We sit and dissect and laugh about the days and the moment we’re in. The sun comes up and with cocktails STILL emerging from behind the 5am bar, we pop on the sunglasses and make that final 200m walk to home with all the colour and the spin filling our heads.
Paul McCartney photographed for State by Jakob Bekker-Hansen.