Roskilde: a festival about more than music

by Steven Brewer

When picking the right festival, most people would agree that the music line-up tops their list of priorities.

Other things to consider might include the weather and even the type of people likely to attend. As the former is always a gamble over British summertime, and having so much enjoyed the sunshine of Barcelona’s Primavera Festival the previous year, my friends and I opted to head again for sunnier skies. Roskilde Festival, the Scandinavian equivalent of Glastonbury and seemingly a rite of passage for many young Danes, ticked all of the aforementioned boxes for us.

Little did I know that at Roskilde, the list of priorities I held so sacred would be flipped on its head. I thought it more than a little curious that the festival started on a Saturday and the majority of established live acts did not begin until the following Wednesday. While two of my friends chose not to arrive until the music fully commenced, my other friend and I plunged ahead to experience the festival in its prolonged entirety.

What I discovered was this: although the lineup was perfectly tailored to my wishes, this was a festival less about the live music and much more about the experience as a whole.

Upon arriving at the festival, several hours before the gates officially opened, we were herded into a waiting area along with a sea of other expectant festival goers. The sun was high and anticipations ran higher still. In the space of a few hours, our pen already resembled a festival site whence the frivolities had been raging for several days. This was our first taste of what was to come.

When the gates finally opened, a grand stampede started up all at once as though the crowd were pursued by angry Bulls. The festival goers were divided into groups of ‘runners’, who were armed only with tents and would sprint ahead to procure a camping spot, while the ‘pack mules’ kept hold of the group’s heavy baggage and crawled their way to the designated campsite. Unfortunately, being the novices we were, we belonged to neither category.

Our first attempts to lay down our marker proved fruitless, what with the ‘runners’ saving areas for their cohorts. It wasn’t until we spotted a bare patch of grass next to a group of younger ‘runners’, who were too polite to chase us off, that we could hurriedly begin unfurling our tent. They tacitly allowed us to set up camp, some half a mile away from where we originally intended.

Over the next few days, we discovered why Roskilde is so famed for its sense of community and atmosphere. The neighbourly group of Danes we had camped with invited us to share their gazebo and drink their beer. They introduced us to various drinking games, a favourite of which was beer bowling. The object was to use your ball to knock over your opponent’s beer, or ‘skittle’, which, if struck, would have to be drank whole by the owner. No matter the game, there was one constant: it revolved around drinking. If we suggested a word game, they would devise a way for a drinking element to be shoe-horned in. The drug culture did not seem to be as prevalent at Roskilde as it would be at a British festival, unless of course you happened to be watching Wiz Khalifa a few days later. However, these Europeans definitely knew how to drink.

Throughout the festival, there were various events taking place at all hours. One camp boasted its own skate park while another played host to mud wrestling and beatbox competitions. There was even the traditional naked marathon, which passed us by (not literally, thankfully).

As the days subsided and turned to night, campsites would compete to pull in the crowds of drunken youths looking for the next party. Having wheeled in huge monoliths of sound systems at the start of the festival, these campsites scattered all around would battle it out for dominion over Roskilde, at least until the real live acts began. A bad song choice or two could lose you your crowd forever, whereas a competent DJ, speakers hooked up to car batteries and attractive women dancing atop of them might see revellers flocking to your location until sunrise.

It would feel like only a matter of minutes between your grateful head hitting the pillow and the sounds of German techno blaring from somewhere nearby. Evidently it was time to get up and start drinking again.

By the Wednesday, as the real acts were just beginning, for some, the festival was fading fast. Seemingly the buildup and the camping itself was the big draw for a lot of the attendees. If you had told me beforehand that people would be leaving a music festival before ever having seen a band, I would have laughed at the idea. Now, partly, I understood it.

We spent the next few days soaking up as many bands as we could, a little saddened that our days of lounging around the campsite with our new friends had come to an end. Every time we returned to camp, it seemed another person had departed for home. We stayed for several days’ worth of music but, when the rain hit on the penultimate day, decided to emulate our Danish brethren by leaving early. We chose to forego the likes of LCD Soundsystem and Miike Snow to explore nearby Copenhagen. I am sure, in a strange way, Roskilde Festival would have approved.

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