While the four days of Denmark’s largest music festival were in action just outside Roskilde town, the Phoenix Park concerts in Dublin were also taking place with their well documented violence, disorder and tragedy. In Roskilde too there was tragedy – a young Swedish guy died in a drug-related incident plus there was an assault on a woman inside the media/guest village, which thankfully wasn’t as serious as it might had been had no-one been nearby. In citing these incidents it should be pointed out than no large scale gathering like this can expect to always escape from these things happening – and Roskilde is 80,000 people staying for four days of music, or in the case of early arrivals at the campsites, over a week. Yet what is it about Roskilde that is different on the ground from rock festivals in Ireland? Simply, the atmosphere.
Roskilde is also a rite-of-passage for many of the youth of Denmark but yet I have yet to see one, in six years of the festival, stagger about mindless drunk in the afternoon. I’ve never seen a fight either, and this feeling that courses through every element and area of this festival has even been tagged the ‘orange feeling’ after the colour of the main stage. Is it simply the attitude of the Scandinavians that keep this amazing vibe afloat – and could the Irish not emulate a feeling like this with a festival run in the same way? You might not bet the house on it, but it is worth thinking about in the outdoor live music debate.
So this year the buzz at being back on-site is heightened by Django Django opening one of the small stages. Losing all shyness they showed at some earlier gigs they drew more and more bodies into the Pavilion tent towards the oversized tambourine and the infectuous, summery beats. By three songs in they are already heroic and you feel like if they played for four days straight you could just not get bored. Floating on this helium hit over to the biggest tent to see The Shins we’re thrown from extrovert dancing to introvert musicianship. The tent is close to it’s crazy 15,000 capacity but it’s a more studied mood here. This is the slot over the last few years where Arcade Fire tore the place apart as the rains fell and Band Of Horses, completely bowled over at a full tent singing every word of ‘Is There A Ghost’, played one of the best festival gigs ever – but this year The Shins require complete absorption. On a sunny opening afternoon it was hard to commit from the back of the tent.
A last minute dash gets us into the pit for tonight’s headliners The Cure. It’s still daylight when the smudged Robert Smith appears and even those of us with a passing interest in the gig are drawn in by song after song of the classics, Smiths voice still like scaffolding around a fragile emotional state. It wasn’t for any pyrotechnics on stage or his (non-)banter we stayed, but it just grounded the feet on the spot to be reminded of their vast and essential output by the actual band themselves playing their best-of, metres away in the same field as us. It was enough to forget trying to see over the tall scandos, watch the band on the big screen and drift away as ‘Just Like Heaven’ slipped into ‘Edge of the Deep Green Sea’ and memories all came out for a slow dance.
On the inflatable Apollo tent, oddly positioned out in the campsites, Modeselektor were whipping up a frenzy with moshpits appearing like little whirlpools and then circles of people forming improv voodoo rituals around bottles which peaked as the drop came and ended up in mass pile-ons. The polar opposite was happening in the beautiful mini Gloria tent where Perfume Genius’ brittle love stories were being spun out. The stage spreads out in an organic pattern each side and serves as a massive projection as well as an encompassing visual. Watching Mike Hadreas play is like watching a live heart transplant and it’s easy to forget to breathe. Any seated artists on this stage sit too low down but it’s easy to move in close. As delicate as the songs are, there must be a way for Hadreas to put flesh of the bare-bones. It’s difficult to describe but there just seems too much air in proceedings and while the songs can captivate it needs a performance tied down more for them to truly succeed in doing this, especially at a festival. Repeating the last bars of the all-to-short ‘Hood’ won’t quite suffice. When done right he could have ignited the tent when he drops “…I tick like a bomb”.
While The Cure are still playing their three-hour set on the main stage the most perfect teeth in showbiz, Janelle Monáe, has moved from a packed daytime small-tent slot last year to the huge Arena tent and has every one of the 15,000 under her power. It’s the same ‘show’ she’s been putting on for years, but it’s hard to fault something so well crafted, so full of energy and warmth. Everyone is down on the ground and up again as per her orders, and are using all their fresh festival energy to lose it for ‘Cold War’. Best legal high ever.
So what do you get when you cross Danish band Mew with A-ha and Coldplay? Bodybuilder/superhero skin suits, silver antler helmets and prosthetic penises apparently. Members of all these bands presented themselves as Apparatjik with no costume-shop unraided in the aims of an entertaining closing first night. Most of the music leaned towards Mew’s angular pop/rock oddness and the smoke and mirrors only briefly distracted from music you often had to be patient with, though there was a relatively good turn out soaking it up. Certainly fun to watch, it did became more like a pimped-up episode of teletubbies and the music taking twists and turns that were easily distracting. Eventually the still-open bars and thirsty friends won us over and we didn’t make it as far as the confetti-filled finalé. Where were Django Django when you needed them again?
Photos by Jakob Bekker-Hansen