Roskilde Festival

Roskilde Festival Review: Kelly Lee Owens, Kings of Convenience, July 2

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“We’re going to go on a journey. Are you ready for a journey?”

So said Kelly Lee Owens at one point during her Saturday night performance and the Welsh electronic musician’s set was indeed a fantastic musical journey, a journey wherein the crowd willingly followed Owens wherever she wanted to take us, sometimes heading in more experimental directions and sometimes veering into full-on dance floor filler territory.

And while Owens’s set may have been the final full set I saw on the last day of Roskilde as I ended things off a bit early (four days of festival-going can take its toll on a body), it was a satisfying end to a day long musical journey that encompassed everything from the Tuareg desert blues of Imarhan to the absolutely crushing heaviness of Old Man Gloom to the gentle folk-pop sounds of Kings of Convenience.

While music festivals can be great fun and a great way for audiences to see a wide variety of artists over the course of a few days, it’s also fair to say that they’re not always the ideal setting for artists who are often playing to crowds that are not necessarily there to see them. Kings of Convenience faced this very dilemma as the Norwegian duo played to a somewhat chatty crowd for their afternoon set at the Arena stage and in response, the band took it more or less in stride with a fairly mature and realistic response to the situation

“We noticed there’s a lot of talking in this tent,” said Erlend Øye, “and that’s fine. You paid your ticket and you’re having fun. But this next song is a very quiet one.” He then gave the audience a choice of whether to skip it and, to their credit, the crowd cheered in favour of them playing it. A good thing too, as that song, “Love Is The Only Thing”, ended up being a highlight of their set. After all, as fans of the band know, and as Eirik Glambek Bøe noted at one point in their set, quiet is the new loud.

Roskilde Festival Review: The Smile, Clarissa Connelly, Richard Dawson & Circle, Fatoumata Diawara, Mitski, July 1

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While the third day of Roskilde was surely the least promising in terms of the weather forecast, there was still a lot to look forward to in terms of the music programming, most notably a performance by The Smile, the new project from Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood alongside Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner.

“We are a new band called The Smile” said Thom Yorke by way of introduction, noting that they have one album out and were currently working on another “because that’s what you do.” The band played a set full of songs off of their debut A Light For Attracting Attention that really displayed their talents. Yorke and Greenwood played a number of different instruments throughout their set, switching between guitar, bass and electronics, while Skinner mostly stuck to the drumkit. There was even a harp onstage that Greenwood played at one point.

Overall, the band seemed to be enjoying themselves on stage, with Yorke especially playing to the crowd, egging them on for a bit more applause here and there, and dedicating a song to those just on the outside of the tent – he joked that if they weren’t able to come in from the rain, they might as well get another beer. Or maybe a burger. It seems that this new project may have revitalized Yorke and Greenwood a bit … which also might suggest that the wait for a new Radiohead album might be a while still. In the meantime, The Smile are a pretty fantastic live outfit in their own right and well worth seeing if you get a chance. After their show had ended, one fellow walking behind me put it best: “Wow. Wow wow wow wow wow.” Wow indeed.

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I had a few other ‘wow’ moments earlier in the day in the form of Clarissa Connelly, Richard Dawson & Circle and Fatoumata Diawara. Connelly put on a mesmerising performance of her strange yet beautiful music, which brought to mind Bjork, Kate Bush, and Joanna Newsom. Following Connelly on the Pavilion stage that afternoon, Dawson & Circle’s prog rock meets folk with a dash of heavy metal couldn’t have been more different from Connelly’s sound but shared the same spirit of musical adventurousness. And Diawara’s mainstage set was a blast of pure joy that brought some metaphorical sunshine to a somewhat rainy day.

While The Smile put on a great show and many of the most compelling performances of the day for me were from relatively new discoveries, of the acts I had already seen live on previous occasions, Mitski ended up delivering one of the best performances of the day. For the first part of her set, she made no real concession to the fact that she was playing at a festival, no “how’s it going, Roskilde” or any other such crowd work – just her usual performance, assured and rather theatrical. Pretty much staying in character the whole time as she posed dramatically, Mitski put on a performance with a capital P that was absolutely compelling. Then, roughly 30 minutes in, she finally addressed the crowd, introducing herself before asking the entire crowd, “What’s your name?” And then, with all the introductions out of the way, she kicked things up a notch, launching immediately into “Townie” and “Your Best American Girl” and then keeping the energy at that same level for the remainder of her show. A totally satisfying set.

Roskilde Festival Review: Moor Mother, Irreversible Entanglements, Kacey Musgraves, Megan Thee Stallion, Dua Lipa, Phoebe Bridgers, June 30

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During his early afternoon set on the second day of Roskilde, English rapper Sam Wise was definitely feeling the appreciation of the crowd. “This is what im talking about! Good music and good people” he said, and really, those words are as good an encapsulation as any of what Roskilde is all about.

As far as the ‘good people’ part of that equation goes, it was not uncommon to hear the performers comment over the course of the festival’s four days on how great the crowds were. And as for the music, I can’t think of too many festivals with as solid and varied a lineup as Roskilde. After all, it’s not just any festival that can open up the day with an early morning set of ragas and end end things off with a late night set from a power violence/grindcore band, but that’s exactly what Roskilde’s programmers had scheduled for us on the second day of the festival. There’s room at Roskilde for everything, from the massive pop stars like Dua Lipa and Megan Thee Stallion to more esoteric fare. And on this day, great moments were to be found at either end of this musical spectrum.

The standout performer of the day for me personally was Moor Mother, who appeared not once but twice on the lineup, first as part of jazz combo Irreversible Entanglements and later on in the evening as a solo performer. And both sets were compelling and powerful.

Taking to the stage alongside her bandmates, Moor Mother delivered some impassioned spoken word over the frenetic and experimental jazz instrumentals provided by her Irreversible Entanglements comrades. While they may be a jazz band, there was a real punk rock energy to their set. Incredible stuff. Following that, Moor Mother returned to the Gloria stage later that evening for a solo set that was different than her set with the band earlier but no less intense and no less compelling. At multiple times during her set, she went down to perform amongst the crowd, bringing her message more directly to the people.

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While smaller scale shows like the ones at the Gloria stage often make for the most unique and memorable moments at Roskilde, the bigger moments on the festival’s Orange stage can be just as memorable. Texan country/pop singer Kacey Musgraves put on an entertaining show to open up the main stage for the day, delivering a set full of songs from throughout her career that made for the perfect soundtrack to a sunny day.

While tracks like “Cherry Blossom”, “Butterflies”, “Space Cowboy” and “Rainbow” stood out as highlights, some of the most memorable moments came in the form of a pair of cover songs. A lovely version of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling In Love” had the whole crowd singing along while the follow up to that song, a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams”, kept the “Kacey-oke” moment going, with actual karaoke-style lyrics scrolling across the big screen as she and her band played. Following the Elvis cover/mass singalong, Musgraves expressed he appreciation for the crowd. “If y’all arent careful you’re gonna make me want to move out of America … America sucks. And you can tell ‘em i said that.”

Also commenting on the state of The States was Phoebe Bridgers, who took a moment to call out her “mess of a country” and also mentioned some abortion funds that people could donate to if they felt like doing something. “We may need aome help from outside” she added.

Bridgers put on a great show, drawing mostly on songs from her latest, Punisher. She did, however, throw a bit of a curveball, delivering a solo version of her boygenius tune “Me & My Dog” once she realized she had some extra time as her set was drawing to a close. “I saw a sign for this song, which rarely gets requested,” she said. “So I’m gonna do it.” Following that, she ended off her set with “I Know The End” which culminated in the crowd joining her in the cathartic scream at the end.

While Roskilde may be all about the good music and good people that Sam Wise referred to earlier, sometimes it also just feels right to end your night off with a good scream.

Roskilde Festival Review: Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Daniel Romano’s Outfit, Fontaines DC, Drew Sycamore, June 29

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Picture it: Roskilde, 2019. The Cure are on stage closing out that year’s edition of the Roskilde festival, a festival that I first experienced back in 2011. I was charmed that year by the festival’s setting, its musically adventurous lineup encompassing a myriad of genres, and just its general cool vibe, which Roskilde attendees have come to know as the orange feeling (named for the trademark orange hue if its main stage). And so I decided I needed to return, coming back again in 2012, 2014 and 2019. But after that 2019 edition, it seemed unlikely I’d return.

This is not to say I was dissatisfied with Roskilde 2019. On the contrary – it was as good as ever. Rather, as I stood in that field on the festival site, watching Robert Smith and co. run through a brilliant version of “Pictures of You”, I thought “this is a good note to go out on.” After all, there’s plenty of other places to see and plenty of other music festivals out there too. Then 2020 happened. And 2021. And let’s be real, 2022 has been no picnic either. During a good chunk of that time, live music wasn’t really an option at all. And so, with the summer 2022 season upon us and Roskilde finally making its return to the festival landscape after three years away (and for its 50th edition, no less), all of a sudden I’m like John Wick – yeah, I’m thinking I’m back.

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Also back was Robert Plant, making his return to the festival after the previous edition and touring behind Raise The Roof, his latest collaboration with Alison Krauss. “Three years later,” he said. “Same stage, same tent. With great new friends.” Plant and Krauss put on an incredible performance on the Arena Stage that was one of the most memorable of the night.

Another highlight of the first night of the festival was Daniel Romano’s Outfit, one of the few Canadian acts on the bill this year. And though I may have chosen to take in their set in part because I wanted to support the “home team,” I stuck around for the whole thing because Romano and his outfit are a tight band who put on a hell of a show.

Earlier in the day, Dublin’s Fontaines DC got things started on the Avalon stage. Like Plant, Fontaines DC are also a repeat offender from the 2019 lineup, and in the time since that show, they have only improved as a live unit and put on an impressive show on this occasion in support of the recently released Skinty Fia.

A name that was new to me, but clearly not new to the many fans who flocked to the Orange stage for her mainstage opening set, Danish pop singer Drew Sycamore also delivered a high energy show that would definitely help to set the mood for the days to come.