Roskilde Festival

Roskilde Festival Review: Stella Donnelly, Sharon Van Etten, Søren Huss, Testament, July 4

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“Thank you for coming in here,” said Stella Donnelly at the outset of her early afternoon set on the Gloria Stage. “I was not expecting this many people and now I’m shitting my pants.”

While she may have been surprised and perhaps a bit intimidated by a larger crowd than expected, she ended up putting on a fantastic show regardless. In fact, her set ended up being the most memorable show out of the entire day’s lineup. Donnelly came across as charming and funny, both in her lyrics and her stage banter, while also dealing with serious issues in her songs. Highlights of her set included”You Owe Me,” “Boys Will Be Boys,” “Old Man” and “Seasons Greetings,” described by her as a song about spending Christmas Eve with racists. “Never done that intro before,” she added, wondering if it was perhaps a bit too harsh before ultimately deciding it was a “short and sweet” summation of the song. She ended things off by bringing her bandmates up to the front of the stage to sing along with her as she played a cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.” “I’ve got a special treat for you Roskilde,” she noted. “I’m gonna play it in tune. Didn’t do it at Glastonbury. Fuck ’em.”

It’s not always the case that the first act up for the day ends up being the best thing you see all day, but it absolutely happened for me with Donnelly’s set on the most intimate stage at Roskilde. As it turns out, the intimate vibe and personal songwriting of Donnelly’s show set the tone for the day, with most of the best sets I saw coming from performers who could be classified as singer-songwriters.

Immediately after Donnelly, I wandered over to the Arena Stage to take in a set from Søren Huss, a well regarded Danish singer-songwriter best known for his time fronting ’90s Danish rock band Saybia. Of course, the fact that he sings in Danish and all his stage banter was in Danish meant I didn’t understand a damn word he said, but one doesn’t need to understand the language to appreciate the songcraft.

Speaking of good songs, Sharon Van Etten’s got more than her fair share of those in her repertoire and she played a good number of them, from earlier numbers like “One Day” to newer songs like “Seventeen” and “Comeback Kid” off of her latest Remind Me Tomorrow. The most memorable moment in her set however, came in the form of someone else’s song – a cover of Sinead O’Connor’s “Black Boys On Mopeds” that, as Van Etten pointed out, is sadly all too relevant today decades after it was first released.


Of course my day wasn’t devoted entirely to singer-songwriters and one of the other highlights of the day came from the heavier end of the musical spectrum in the form of Testament’s thrash metal (not to be confused with Donnelly’s debut EP Thrush Metal). The Bay area thrashers ran through a fun set full of tracks from throughout their career, including “Practice What You Preach,” “Electric Crown” and “Low,” which, according to vocalist Chuck Billy, may have made its European live debut at this show. Since the band was playing on the 4th Of July, they played in front of a version of their logo that incorporated an American flag to acknowledge their country’s birthday. That wasn’t the only birthday being acknowledged during their show though – Billy also led the crowd in singing Happy Birthday to the band’s tour manager Nick.

And while we’re on the topic of birthdays, here’s a gift for everyone, even if it’s not your birthday: a video of Stella Donnelly’s “Beware Of The Dogs” recorded live at Roskilde. Enjoy!

Roskilde Festival Review: Bob Dylan, Christine and the Queens, Hatari, Fontaines DC, Jpegmafia, Ulver, July 3

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Not every festival has its own overarching theme, but Roskilde does, and the theme of this year’s Roskilde Festival (its 49th edition) was solidarity.

Inspired by young people around the world fighting to make the world a better place while also hearkening back to Roskilde’s origins in the ’70s youth movement, the Danish festival demonstrated that it’s about more than just a big party (though it is absolutely about that as well). This was reflected in the festival’s programming through the booking of several socially conscious artists such as Petrol Girls, Lankum, and Stella Donnelly and speakers like activist Saffiyah Khan as well as in the festival’s donations to various organizations such as Freemuse and Popkollo (selected as this year’s “orange donation” by Swedish rapper Silvana Imam who played the Orange stage on the first night of the fest).

In the words of spokeswoman Christina Bilde, “Roskilde Festival is a journey that lasts for eight days, a journey that can set you free and take you new places. We’re creating a space together where you can open up in a different way. The people you experience art or a talk with and the atmosphere you’re in, it’s something that combines to let you be inspired. You might not change your everyday life drastically afterwards, but if you’ve taken part actively, I believe that it inspires you to do things differently.”

That notion of bringing people together to share ideas and see things in new ways was evident in Christine And The Queens’ fantastic, energetic performance on the Arena stage with Chris speaking to the crowd about her shows being a safe space for anyone to be whoever they want to be. She later mentioned how it’s a safe space for her as well and that she often uses drama to become who she wants to be during the introduction to “iT.” That theme of reinventing yourself and being whoever you want to be is a recurring one in Christine and The Queens’ work and it occurred to me that in a way, it’s something Chris has in common with another of the evening’s headliners – Bob Dylan.

I’m certainly not the first to say that Bob Dylan’s live shows in recent years can be a bit of a hit or miss affair, but the thing is, Bob Dylan has always been about subverting expectations. It’s been that way since he went electric at Newport and as Martin Scorsese’s recent Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story made clear, Dylan does what pleases him rather than just giving the audience what they want.

And while the experience of playing “name that tune” as the man croaks and growls his way through drastically revamped versions of the classics continues to be fairly standard for a Dylan concert, Dylan’s band is top notch and the constant tinkering with arrangements can sometimes yield great results, with “Simple Twist Of Fate”, “Love Sick” and “Gotta Serve Somebody” standing out as particular highlights. Another highlight came when Dylan got up from behind his piano at the end of “Gotta Serve Somebody”, danced a sort of jig for a second, then posed like some kind of weird Elvis. It was kind of amazing. Having seen both great and well, not so great shows from Dylan, I went in with no expectations and the show turned out to be quite enjoyable. And judging by the smile on Dylan’s place, he seemed to be enjoying himself too. I’d wager that the always enthusiastic crowd at Roskilde probably played some part in his mood.


Perhaps the most unique and memorable performance of the first night though came from Iceland’s Hatari, an S&M themed industrial band who have their hearts set on destroying capitalism and who were somehow the unlikely entry for their homeland in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. Not too many bands take to the stage following a pre-recorded manifesto, but then again. there’s not too many anti-capitalist, S&M-themed industrial bands out there. There probably only needs to be the one – Hatari have that area covered and they do what they do quite well.

Other impressive performances on this evening came from acts across various genres who illustrated the diversity within the festival’s lineup. From the Fall-esque post-punk of Fontaines DC and the confrontational hip hop of Jpegmafia to the ever evolving Ulver (who have now morphed into some mutant form of electro-pop far from their black metal origins), each of them take a different approach to their music, but like Bob Dylan, Hatari, and Christine And The Queens, they all understand the importance of image and attitude in cultivating a certain mood in their live show.

Roskilde Review Day 4: Nasum, H2O, Santigold, July 8, Denmark

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At one point during Machine Head’s mainstage set, frontman Rob Flynn complimented Roskilde for it’s diversity and inclusiveness, noting how all kinds of genres come together and everyone supports everyone else. He commented on how the first time they played there, the band went on right before Willie Nelson. He seemed especially impressed that Willie watched their whole set and said that they, in turn watched his.  Because he’s Willie Nelson. “That’s the power of music,” said Flynn, and it really is true. Roskilde is the kind of festival where anything goes, where toddlers and grandparents enjoy a Refused show or some teenagers take in a set by Ars Nova, a vocal ensemble dedicated to the music of composers like Philip Glass and Steve Reich. Music is just music at Roskilde, regardless of genre divisions. That dedication to diversity meant that on the final day of the festival, I took in a bit of everything, from the choral music of Ars Nova to the swampy New Orleans funk of Dr. John to Bjork (Bjork is her own genre) to the extreme metal of resurrected grindcore legends Nasum.

The Swedes lost their vocalist Mieszko Talarcyk in the tsunami of 2004, making a true reunion impossible, and in the words of Nasum’s remaining members, it wasn’t really a reunion at all. “You thought Nasum was dead? We are. This is not resurrection. It’s farewell, for good.” So said the band in a statement announcing their farewell tour/celebration of what would have been their 20th anniversary. ‘Nuff said.  With Rotten Sound  vocalist Keijo Ninimaa taking Talarcyk’s place, the band was ready to say goodbye to their fans and apparently enjoying themselves immensely in the process. You can’t really tell from the photo above, but their guitarist is quite possibly the happiest guy in metal. He looked so excited and stoked to be playing. When he wasn’t grinning from ear to ear, he was making metal faces, licking his guitar, lifting his guitar in the air triumphantly, and often spitting in the air then trying (and always failing) to catch it in his mouth. The rest of the band was no less intense as they blew through their songs at a breakneck pace with incredible passion. I know the Refused reunion was way more heavily hyped and it’s obviously not a competition, but for the record, as much as I enjoyed Refused, as far as reunited Swedes making heavy music go, Nasum were better.

Also passionate about their music were ’90s NYHC survivors H2O, who offered up a set of catchy. positive, melodic hardcore. Echoing Rob Flynn`s comments, singer Toby Moore was preaching the power of how music, specifically hardcore in his case, can have a huge impact on the course of one’s life.  “Because of this music, I haven`t had any drugs or alcohol for 42 years. I haven’t eaten meat since 1988.” They then launched into “What Happened,” a lament for the state of punk today. A totally high energy set.

Also high energy and ridiculously fun was Santigold‘s set on the Arena Stage. This woman knows how to put on one hell of a show. Since Ricky`s already written at length about the greatness of her shows in the past, I won’t go into great detail on the specifics but based on the descriptions of those shows, it was business as usual for Santigold. Maybe even better. Santigold is an assured performer, her backup band is great, and her backup singers/dancers were, well, great. They kind of reminded me in some way of the S1W guys who used to appear onstage with Public Enemy. They somehow kept a straight face no matter how crazy their dance moves. Speaking of dance moves, the most memorable moment in Santigold’s set almost became it’s downfall. When she invited the”best dancers” in the crowd to come onstage, the obliging security crew just kept letting more and more people through. 

“Guys, no more,” she pleaded as more and more bodies flooded the stage. That said, once they did get onstage, they had some pretty impressive moves and Santi was totally feeding off their energy and really stepping up her game in response. “I remember you guys now,” she said, recalling when she played Roskilde a couple of years ago and echoed a sentiment repeated by a number of performers throughout the course of the festival – that this crowd is one of the best crowds they’ve ever played to. I know a lot of the time, they’re just saying that, but at Roskilde, I get the feeling that they’re not just saying that.

Roskilde Review Day 3: Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Refused, July 7, Denmark

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Refused are fucking dead. Or rather, they were. They’re not anymore. So … living dead, I guess? If so, they’re more like the fast moving aggressive walkers of 28 Days Later than any Romero style zombies. The reunited Swedes were playing as part of Roskilde’s stacked Saturday lineup, sharing the bill with such other notables as Dry The River, Alison Krauss and Union Station, M83 and Bon Iver. I didn’t see all of those acts, but I saw quite a few.

Of course, the biggest and most anticipated act of the night was Bruce Springsteen, who put an an absolutely incredible show from start to finish. It was easily among the best shows I have ever seen. 

“We came a long way tonight to ask you just one question tonight. Can you feel the spirit?” This question was posed to the audience by way of introducing “Spirit In The Night,” but really it was a recurring theme throughout the night and a call to arms of sorts for the audience. Bruce wants you to feel the spirit. And on this night, the good people of Denmark felt that spirit. All night. 

In some ways, Bruce was like a preacher on this evening, testifying before the crowd. The band were so good and played so many classics, but its telling that even the new songs felt like classics. “Death To My Hometown” and “Jack Of All Trades” in particular went over well with the crowd, their political messages seemingly striking a chord. One of the (many) highlights of the set was when The Roots joined him onstage for a version of “The E Street Shuffle.”

“The Roots were amazing,” said Springsteen as he brought them out on stage. It`s true. They were amazing. The E Street Band was amazing. Put them together onstage and it`s absolutely a joy to watch. 

It may seem like I`m gushing here, but as I said, Bruce wants you to feel the spirit. And over the course of their roughly three hour set, that spirit was felt. So many in the audience were worked up into an emotional frenzy. Bruce can do that to you. When the band stopped cold for a moment of silence during “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” after the line “And the big man joined the band” while images of departed E Streeter Clarence Clemons flooded the screen, I will admit to getting a little bit choked up. Bruce can do that to you. He can build you up emotionally just to break you down again. In the best way possible though. Of course he`ll build you up again by playing a cover of “Twist and Shout” to end things off. If Bruce Springsteen ever became a full on cult leader, I would totally join.

Speaking of cults, a cult of personality has grown around the aforementioned Swedish hardcore troupe in the years since Refused broke up, which is one of the reasons why the band decided to reunite. Singer Dennis Lyxzén commented on the fact that they were now playing to much larger crowds than they did when they were a “real band” and that the reunion came about as a sort of gift to those fans who kept the band’s legend going over the years. Before launching into “Rather Be Dead,” he commented on whether the songs still held up, noting that “the lyrics mean more now than they ever did because the world is a more fucked up place.” He later wondered aloud, “Who wants to see a bunch of 40 year old guys play in tight pants and singing about revolution?  But I guess you do.”  We do, Dennis, we do.