The idea of choosing a European festival is a notoriously difficult one for British music-lovers. Most of you have probably heard the names of most of them while not having a clue which to choose, especially when headline artists touring a new album will most likely be topping the bill at most of these events.
Benicassim in Spain might be too hot, Exit in Serbia too far. I'd love to say that when settling on Roskilde Festival in Denmark I chose it for the location, the line-up and a multitude of other reasons. That's not the case though. My friend won tickets on Twitter. Sorry everyone!
What is lovely, however, is that it was definitely the weekend of the year so far and Roskilde will more than likely be getting a returning Brit as a paying customer in 2013. A bill topped by Bruce Springsteen, The Cure, Jack White and Bjork made for a brilliant weekend, with something on the line-up for all tastes.
The Shins opened up the Arena stage, and the Festival as a whole, with a typically understated hour-long set which grooved and swayed the weekend into life before The Cure blew it to pieces later on at the main Orange Stage. Robert Smith and co played from 9 until well gone midnight, at the stroke of which Smith who quipped "you can sing this one now" before breaking into 'Friday I'm In Love'. The set ended perfectly with 'Boys Don't Cry', even though a 10-minute version of 'Born In The USA' was joked about onstage. The fact that I didn't notice the excruciating pain in my feet from standing in the same spot for four hours until I had to hobble back to my tent following the performance shows how well The Cure kept the audience's attention. A great show to start things off.
After witnessing a rapturously received set by Gossip on the main stage, I saw The Vaccines tear the Odeon tent a new one. Songs from new album 'Come Of Age' went down extremely well, but, as expected, the main crowd reaction was reserved for set closer 'Norgaard' after Justin Young introduced it as "a song about a Danish girl". To follow The Vaccines, a band who want to be The Vaccines. I've never got Spector, and this performance affirmed my doubts. Fred MacPherson's onstage chat was woefully uncomfortable to listen to, and it was accentuated as they had an hour's stage time to fill, when, as MacPherson tweeted after the show, the longest they had ever played for before this was 42 minutes. A silly booking, and one which probably wouldn't even have worked had they played for half that time; the songs were poor and lacking imagination. One laugh from the set came from the overly exuberant Danish stage announcer who said Spector "could well be legends of the current British Britpop scene by the end of this year." Hmm. I don't know about you, but for me there are few things in music as wonderful as seeing 60,000 people in a field jumping up and down to 'Seven Nation Army'. Yeah we've all heard that song far too many times, but it was a fantastic spectacle, and ended what was a really great headline set by Jack White. White Stripes favourites were interspersed with Blunderbuss tracks, yet didn't hold the set together as many believed would be the case with White's solo shows. He looked accomplished and ready to play the 90-minute set he delivered here at any festival in the world, with probably the best backing band I've ever witnessed in tow. Be prepared to see Jack White at the top of many more festival bills in 2013.
Saturday was Refused day for me, and they duly delivered the set of the weekend after I'd been disappointed by both Dry The River and First Aid Kit earlier in the afternoon. "Before we split up, we played punk clubs to 40 people. We went away for 16 years, come back, and just look at you all!" exclaimed frontman Dennis Lyxzen, looking out at the 10,000 strong crowd in the Arena tent. It's a wonder a period of inaction and a subsequent reformation can drum up such a level of new support for a band. I use myself as a case in point: I was a mere 3 years old when they bit the dust in '96. 'New Noise' and 'Summerholidays vs. Punkroutine' incited the most brutal crowd of the weekend (and yeah, Machine Head played the next day). There was no end to the brilliance that evening, with a mammoth 3-hour plus set from Bruce Springsteen following this. The Roots, who had played the Orange Stage earlier in the day, were brought on to play 'The E Street Shuffle', and The Boss ended on a cover of The Beatles' 'Twist & Shout'. The endless energy with which the 62 year-old bounds around the stage and down amongst the crowd is constantly astonishing to watch, and the choruses of every single one of the 26 songs he performed were being sung back at him by the end by people who may have only been vaguely aware of his repertoire of tunes before the festival. It was a brilliantly welcoming affair and an utter triumph.
The last day of the festival felt like a wind down, with only a slightly flat performance from Friendly Fires and another great performance on Alabama Shakes' road to domination this summer before Bjork's headline set. She was, as you would expect, batshit mental. Dressed like a Lord Of The Rings villain, she delivered a wild set based largely on latest record Biophilia, and ended magnificently on 'Declare Independence'.
So, that was Roskilde 2012. A stellar line-up of bands and lovely, accommodating festival staff and fellow punters made for quite a first European festival experience. A level of security and crowd organization also exists here far beyond that of UK Festivals, in which the front pit empties after every band and you queue up under a sign of the artist you want to see, and get let into the pit around 15 minutes before they play. This means there's no disgruntled Bjork die-hard moaning and groaning their way through your favourite band's sub-headline set just so they can be at the front for her. It's quite brilliant, and it would be a delight to see it introduced everywhere. I guess one Euro festival only sticks out over the rest when you've actually been to it. See you in Denmark next summer?
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As the festival itself doesn't begin until 9:30pm, there's an ocean of time to explore the city of Braga during the day - and it's clear, blue skies all the way and a shorts-wearing 25 degrees. I feel smug having Googled 'Braga + weather' mere minutes before leaving a cold and wet London, thus able to cram in my summer gear. [read more]