Roadburn festival has been on my radar for a few years now but for one reason an another, I haven’t actually made it over there to join the festivities. 2018 was the year it finally happened so this is, in no particular order, my Roadburn.
A fairly early flight (via Eindhoven) meant that I was in Tilburg by lunchtime, checked into the hostel where I was staying and at the festival venue in no time. Strolling down ‘Weirdo Canyon’ I immediately spotted my pal Simon. In some contexts, Simon’s looks might make him stand out; bald head, great big bushy beard, extensive ink-age; but at Roadburn he rather blends in, so I was quite impressed that I managed to spot him so easily.
A cold drink and a catch up was followed by a stroll around to the main 013 venue to see what was what and as the Het Patronaat venue opposite had no queue, we went in and managed to catch a bit of a Q&A session with members of the Norwegian collaborative project, Hugsjá.
They talked about the development of an extended work exploring the origins, people, nature and folklore of Norway, and it’s relationships with the land and the sea and I ended up the next day seeing some of this work performed.
It consisted of songs or ‘movements’ in an extended storytelling of the first people to populate the land that became Norway, the importance of the sea, the ancient shipping routes and the harbours. The performers used familiar instruments like drums, guitar and violin, but also animal horns and a lyre. This work was very absorbing and I was glad to have caught at least some of it, although the lure of other artists (more of which later) proved too strong for me to remain for the entire piece.
This year’s festival had an ‘east meets west’ theme with the Artists in Residence, Earthless, from San Diego, colliding with Japanese bands on the Guruguru Brain record label, and with Damo Suzuki. I was very keen to see the ‘Japanese Psych Experience’ bands; Minami Deutsch, Kikagaku Moyo and Dhidalah, and also the incomparable Damo, so I made a particular point of getting to the venues where they were playing well in advance. I was very glad that I did because it meant that I was able to get great views of the performances and not be squashed into a corner or totally unable to get into the venue. The Green Room, in particular, is one of those venues that looks empty for ages and then, all of a sudden, you can’t get in the door. It looked like plenty of my fellow festival-goers were as keen as I was to see these bands so the venues were very full.
So, Minami Deutsch, a great favourite of mine. I’ve seen them a few times, the first time at Liverpool Psych Fest, but don’t tire of their rather louche krautrock rhythms. They’re a great demonstration of how good it can be when you play exactly the same musical motif over and over again for about 5-10 minutes straight. If the motif is good to start with, 10 minutes of it is awesome. Judging by the crowd’s reaction to this, I was not the only one who approved. And you can actually dance to them 😀
Kikagaku Moyo, who I’d only previously seen at PXYK, also channel some of the kraut-y grooves, but in, perhaps a less single minded fashion. They mix up the rhythms more often and have a strong Indian slant to their psych music, including a sitar, played guitar-style. Their upbeat set built to quite a party party big-finish. A lot of fun.
Dhidalah struck me at first as a bit more prog. Now, my prog tolerance is pretty low so I was pretty glad that they didn’t drift off too far down the noodle path but pulled out a strong, driven psych set, a bit darker and harder-edged than the other two bands and definitely got me onside. I’d like to see them again soon.
Damo Suzuki, famously an ex-member of Can, was the lure that tore me away from Hugsjá. Damo played two sets over the festival, the first in the Koepelhal with Earthless, and the sitar player from Kikagaku Moyo and the second in the Green Room with Minami Deutsch. Both of these sets pleased me greatly. With Earthless, the set began rather slowly, meandering and building, with Damo’s familiar ‘Waken to the Night’ refrain, basically a long long extended psych work-out, gradually growing into an absolute bit of a beast. The long run out had me actually thinking that someone was going to have to come on stage with a big long comedy hook and drag the drummer off-stage physically. The audience loved it.
Damo‘s second audience, in the packed Green Room , was equally thrilled with his ultra-krautrock set with Minami Deutsch. I’d gone into the room and adopted the position on the balcony super-early in order to get a good spot because this was one of my absolute dream pairings. I wasn’t disappointed. Again the set started out quite mellow, with a long lead in, but ended in krautrock wig-out heaven. Damo and the guys from Minami Deutsch seemed made to be together. My dying wish is for these two Damo sets to be released as ‘Live at Roadburn’ records so that I can own them forever.
There was more east meets west action later on with an actual ‘East Meets West’ psych jam featuring Earthless and Kikagaku Moyo. Beginning with just two players on stage, Earthless’ Isaiah Mitchell on guitar and Kikagaku Moyo’s Ryu Kurosawa, who were joined by other players, one by one, two by two until the stage was filled with musicians and the main hall at 013 was filled with the sounds of (what appeared to be) a semi-improvised jam involving guitars, basses, various kinds of drums, sitar, shaky-tappy-things and a gong! A big gong!
Who else? The Heads! There was me, down the front, bopping away to loud heavy psych whilst nudie sex films played in the background. Aye me! In any case, this largely instrumental set was good and heavy and a lot of fun, even if the background blow-jobs were a little distracting at times. Honestly, I didn’t know where to look!
I remarked afterwards that one of the things that I kinda like about The Heads is the way they get on, RRRRROOOOCCCCCKKKK!!!!! and get off. No messing. There was some proper happy-bopping during this set (Simon was up on the balcony and remarked that it was one of the sets that didn’t just involve the audience in ‘head nodding’ but in full on dancing).
With Godflesh I had a bit of a dilemma because of schedule clashes so I only saw a bit of the set. It sounded pretty typically Godflesh; loud, intense, crushing but also quite sparse. No frills. In fact the only frill on stage was Justin’s new (to me) long-ish hair!
My disappointment at missing most of their Roadburn set was offset by the fact that they’re playing at Raw Power next month, so I won’t be going without for long.
Godspeed you! Black Emperor played in the main room of 013 and I went in after The Heads had finished. This is a big room but it was packed to the gills, especially so after The Heads’ packed crowd piled in. I managed to find a spot high up on the top balcony where I could see and also, eventually, sit down on the step. From my eyrie I was able to allow Godspeed’s somewhat melancholic winds swirl around me. Dark music in a dark room to people dressed almost exclusively in black.
I was only able to see a bit of Boris‘ set because of their proximity to The Heads, but I do enjoy their sense of theatre and the intensity of their performance. They use silence to put their audience on edge because we know what’s coming after. Noise.
So, there were some specific bands that I was very keen to see but in between those I was quite happy to meander into this venue or that and just see what I could see. It’s a fairly relaxed sort of a festival so it’s pretty easy to chill out in between bursts of frantic activity. One of the gigs I wandered into was Sólveig Matthildur.
Playing solo with electronic music and vocals, this felt like quite an intimate show; a lone performer, a small venue with a low stage and the personal revelations between songs – a song written as a piece of coursework, judged critically and given a low grade but nevertheless feeling special to the writer. I’d be happy to see more of this artist.
Thaw are Polish black metal. I’m not particularly a black metal fan but I don’t mind a bit here and there and I did quite enjoy this. All that darkness in the middle of a bright sunny afternoon. One of the songs was even a sort of black metal duet, with the different voices expressing different parts of the song. Lovely. Talking of black metal, I also caught a bit of מזמור :: MIZMOR which was fun.
More generally, I just really enjoyed the festival. The venues are very nice, although sometimes a bit difficult to get into if there’s a popular band playing. Strategic planning is the key if there’s a band you particularly want to see. The new venues a short distance from the main 013 site were good, and I really liked the little warehouse/railway-sidings area they were in.
It’s a bit of a mare to find accommodation and it’s not particularly cheap, you can basically wave your money goodbye, but it’s pretty easy to have a good time and Tilburg is a nice town with decent shops and cafes, and a lovely ice cream shop. The Roadburn crowd is generally pretty chill so it’s not a stressy or aggressive festival and, although there is all day drinking, it doesn’t descend into the kind of rollocking, drunken vomit-fest that we see with so many festivals.
So that’s pretty much my Roadburn. Not very doom-y, not very black metal-y and just two days this year before I went off looking for Roman stuff, but there are already plans afoot for next year, together with an expanded crew. There’s even talk of camping
Oh yeah, Roadburn socks 😀