Roskilde has two phases. We have the warm-up phase, lasting from Sunday until Wednesday. A chaotic sequence of alternating parties, made by the people of various themed camps, who throw themselves into competition with their DIY sound systems. Then we have the big attraction that draws in the rest of the demographic: a weekend of hugely diverse music, art installations and food workshops. This Scandinavian pilgrimage destination, where dense rye bread is a staple food for survival on a budget, 'SKOL!' echoes round every corner, and people will react with mixtures of bemusement and wonderment if you greet them in English, comes across as a blend of our right of passage days at Reading/Leeds, with a miniature Glastonbury. I decided to acquaint my self with it as a punter, staying with a group of mostly Danish regulars of the festival and seeing what makes their camping culture so special.
The area I stayed in, 'Clean Out Loud', lay in the south west corner of the festival site. "It's great this year that we're getting to stay in the quieter, cleaner part of the campsite!", one of my hosts assured me as we set up on Wednesday afternoon. The irony of that statement hassled me for many days to come. Case and point: Ever heard a song by D-Devils called '6th Gate'? If not, then pray it doesn't enter your life the way it entered mine, which was at 6am nearly every morning, with a scary techno synth attack and a bass voice that commands, "Pick up your weapons... And dance with the Devil!!..." Clean Out Loud is a camp that goes on a constant cycle of horrors like this, where you wake up with masses of rubbish around you and anti-morning music forcing you out of your tent. A relief comes to this cycle though, when more and more people get up for their breakfast of tinned fish and mayonnaise on rye slices, and a routine carnival style cleanup begins where a rubbish truck slowly makes its way around the small avenues, followed by a cheering unofficial trash samba band, who toss their collected waste onto the back of it. There's a faint collective effort here that I've never seen in UK camps before; a bit of responsibility with a sense of fun that's not too forced.
Aside from the appeal of each year's lineup of music, it's this 'spirit' that made me see what brings different generations to Roskilde each year. Most of the people I stayed with were having their fifth or sixth year in a row at this festival. As the weekend approached, and the rest of the general public were arriving, I would notice more and more often parents coming to visit their kids and their kids' friends around Clean Out Loud, looking surprisingly okay as they were surrounded by empty beer cans, beer bongs and giant phallus drawings all over some of the many white gazebos set up in the area. It was like an episode of Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents that had gone wrong for the sheer lack of awkwardness.
I would not be focussing this review so much on the camping side of Roskilde though if it were just about kids drinking loads and liberal attitudes between them and their parents. There is some order to all of this, and an aspect in that comes from the tradition of Beer Bowling. Drinking games, are of course nothing to get shocked over. If there is any amazement in this case, then it comes from how seriously the campers take it (I had to make a very solemn apology for knocking over someone's unopened can while passing through a game that was in play). If Denmark wishes to progress in more international sports events, then I thoroughly recommend that they start a world cup for this game, and as I seemed to do rather well for my first go at it, I would be more than willing to captain the England squad.
If we're really going to speak seriously about the 'Roskilde spirit' however, one great unique feature that brings the party-goers back each year to spend the whole week would be the DIY sound systems that blare out many different genres from each unit of each campsite, for some of the day, and all of the night. For the first two days, I yearned for the quiet. On the third day, I bid good riddance to it, as I walked in zig-zags amongst the tents, hearing the music change from techno, to hip-hop, to '80s electro-pop, school disco, motown, and hits from bands on the festival lineup. Visually, the spectacle of these home-built speakers never dulls. They are all mini-clubs that are displayed with pride by their engineers, covered in ornaments that relate to the themes of their camps, and they coax you over to each of their corners to join their open parties. Some of these speakers are mobile, with mounted platforms that can be ridden on, and some go as far as to have paddling pools attached. Anything to make the name of the associated camp stick in your mind and go looking for them again next year. The only group who's name stuck in mind this year of course had to have the lovingly crass name, 'Camp Fat Fuck', who at least deserve a special mention for modifying their speakers to run from a solar panel. And, I don't know who he was, but there's a special place in my heart for the lone man I spotted, passed out in front of his own speaker tower, playing 'I Will Follow Him' by Little Peggy March. It really is the effort that the people dedicate to these rogue PAs that gives Roskilde an excitement and attraction that you'll struggle to find elsewhere, especially when you wonder into Dream City, a very special camping area where groups are encouraged to submit proposals to build their own shacks to be used for workshops, and even more parties. As a result, it houses a mini village that comprises amongst other things, a church, a saloon bar and even a Sauron tower.
The Beer Bowling really did ruin me for the afternoon though. After getting cocky I took on a third game, could take no more and had a passing out of my own in my tent for an hour. It would have been longer than an hour if I hadn't made a personal commitment of running over to FoodJam. I have never eaten better at any other festival thanks to this brilliant cooking initiative. Run by the group, Madkulturen and subsidised by the Danish Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, FoodJam is a kitchen where for a fiver you are given access to a massive larder that includes organic vegetables and fresh seafood. With a group of either friends of strangers you are given the time to cook the components of a meal together, or separate meals entirely, and you enjoy a glorious feast at the end of it. Whether you're a serious cook or a culinary cretin, there are volunteers there to look after you every step of the way. FoodJam saved me in so many ways for this festival. Please tell me if something like this happens at UK festivals, because I want in.
The above paragraphs display what I think gives a big commercial festival tremendous character and atmosphere, but here's a top five list of the acts that made the music unmissable as well:
5. Dengue Dengue Dengue!
By far my most beloved discovery of the festival. After what I found to be a rather boring, sparse Saturday evening mostly spent on my own, I moped over to the Apollo stage and reached the middle of Dengue Dengue Dengue!'s set of psychedelic dance and digital cumbia. Cumbia is a genre that I have thought for a while is unjustly overlooked as something to dance to. Now, I was finally hearing it in this revived form that has become a huge hit in parts of South America, and it had found its way to me straight from Peru. I don't usually dance on my own, but this time I did not hold back.
4. Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder made us all into a gigantic choir. That's really all I can say to convey my elation at his performance. I was in Stevie Wonder's choir. That's one off the bucket list.
3. Lykke Li
Roskilde's own daily paper, Orange Press, put out an interview with Lykke Li on the day of her show, where she stated that she both hated and was in love with being on stage. This left us readers with ambiguous nerves. Which way would she go? Disconnection, or engagement with her audience? Generally the feedback from others was the former. She at least got through to me though, as I was taken aback by her rendition of 'Never Gonna Love Again', and had my heart melted. She sounded beautiful, whether or not she hated that stage.
2. Damon Albarn
In stark contrast to another performer's perceived disconnection, Damon Albarn wooed the entire crowd when performing songs from his solo album, Everyday Robots. He has a magical glee on stage that can't really be found on record. He threw us a few treats as well by playing 'Out Of Time' on piano, and getting Kano and De La Soul on for some Gorillaz numbers. I would have forgiven him for leaving past favourites from his more popular outfits out of the set list, but then again, this was really damn fun.
1. Future Islands/Trentemøller
Future Islands know how to drum up some euphoria, or at least Samuel T. Herring does at the front. He rarely stopped staring intensely down at us, or unclenched his fist, and it was so infectious that the urge to jump and and down, and scream, never left us. Roskilde has a strict anti-crowd surfing policy, to which he said, "We don't give a shit. Crowd surf all you want!" One guy tried, and failed. The sentiment was still there though. We rushed out of the Avalon tent on a huge natural high, over to the Orange Stage to catch Trentemøller's last few songs. By this point he had a full band on stage, which was evidently much to the disappointment of many Danes. There were expectations of this national hero to make the stage area into one gigantic club, as he had done before, rather than performing as a more typical band. Maybe it was just me being an outsider of sorts, but I saw past this and enjoyed this ensemble for following the last phenomenon that I went nuts to with yet another solid, euphoric set.
On Sunday morning, I had made another personal commitment to get up and attend an event that I knew would be very special to me. I expected that this would be relatively easy, as I would surely be awoken once again by "Pick up your weapons... AND DANCE WITH THE DEVIL!!..." What came on instead was bitter sweet. It was a live recording of a slow, soft blues guitar solo, possibly Peter Green... I could have very happily slept in to this... but no... I had to get up... I forced myself up, zombie-walked to the main festival site, downed a big cup of coffee, then entered the dark, intimate, comforting confines of the Gloría stage. This was where Sing-Along: Pete Seeger And Beyond was taking place. Led by the Danish producer, Frederick Thaae, myself and a group of other willing wannabe folk singers sang together through a list of simple, endearing, hopeful songs by the legendary Pete Seeger and his contemporaries, including 'If I Had A Hammer', 'Turn, Turn, Turn' and 'We Shall Overcome'. It was one of the warmest, loveliest communal events imaginable. I returned to camp with a spring in my step, saw my Danish companions rising to brush their teeth and eat their breakfast, and bellowed, "Good morning everybody! How are we all on this last glorious day of the festival?!" They all looked up and grinned.