by Henrik Gustafsson aka DJ Finnjävel for Bush Radio’s “The Wrong Rock Show“
Morjens and greetings from the annual Roskilde Festival in Denmark!
The first Roskilde Festival took place in 1971, in June-July 2017 the Wrong Rock Show’s and Finland’s DJ Finnjävel visited the festival for the 20th time. You might already have heard my musical report from Roskilde (including all the artists discussed here and much more), broadcast on Bush Radio 17 July 2017 – if not, look for it on Mixcloud where it will be uploaded at some point.
Musically, the festival was (as always, I might add) a gigantic global goody bag. Here on the BushBlog, I will spotlight a handful of African and Asian artists – and the inevitable Finns… Other aspects of the festival are covered towards the end of this entry.
It all started in West Africa…
The first concert I saw from start to finish at the Roskilde Festival this year was by Alsarah & The Nubatones. Slightly embarrassingly, they were presented as “West African retro pop”. Alsarah, or should I say Sarah Mohamed Abunama-Elgadi, was born in Khartoum, and the last time I checked, Sudan was still situated in East Africa.
In 1990, Alsarah was eight and had to leave Sudan for Yemen: her parents were human rights activists and people opposing dictator Omar al-Bashir had started to “disappear”. The family, including Alsarah’s sister Nahid, couldn’t stay long in Yemen, either, as the civil conflict forced them to leave in 1994. Alsarah thus arrived in the United States aged 12, in 2004 she moved to New York City where she’s still living. The Nubatones came together in 2010, and rather recently Nahid also joined the band, who made their Roskilde debut this year.
And a fine show it was! Half-jokingly, Alsarah told us the ancient Nubians actually invented everything from pyramids to mathematics, “we taught that to your Roman friends”. Then she continued: “And the Moomins. I know many of you out there won’t agree with it as we’re right here in Moominland, but the little Moomins really are Nubian…”
Wait a minute. Was I hearing things or did she really say that? Everybody knows the Moomins are Swedish speaking Finns, just like yours truly…
Some 20 years ago, the Finnish music media started labelling all the MC5/Stooges inspired garage revivalist bands that flourished at the time up north “Scandinavian action rock”. Many of these were lame wannabe copies of the real thing, but Sweden’s The Hellacopters were the kings of the genre. The band called it a day in 2008, only to return for two live shows last year, in order to celebrate their debut album from 1996, Supershitty to the Max! Playing together again was apparently fun, because The Hellacopters are booked for eight more shows in 2017, one of them at Roskilde Festival.
The original bass player quit after last year’s comeback concerts and has now been replaced by Finland’s Sami Yaffa, possibly a familiar name to the Wrong Rock Show listeners, since he is or has been a member of the revamped New York Dolls, Hanoi Rocks, Mad Juana and Michael Monroe’s current band (where also The Hellacopters’ guitarist Dregen played 2011-2014), to name but a few. Despite this slight change in the lineup, The Hellacopters sounded exactly like they did back in the good old days. It remains to be seen if the band will stay reactivated after the last show of this batch in August.
Denmark’s Afenginn released their sixth album, Opus, earlier this year. It’s basically an ambitious composition in four “movements”, just like a classical symphony, with the addition of Scandinavian and other folk references and featuring the female Glas Vocal Ensemble, who bring along their passion for Bulgarian choral music. In Roskilde, the seven-piece Afenginn performed the whole of Opus as an extended 20+ orchestra of strings and winds and Glas. The Pavilion stage (with a capacity of about 2,000) was bursting at the seams during the show, as Afenginn’s magnum opus ranges from dreamy moments to thunderous eruptions. Oh, and by the way: Afenginn’s Copenhagen-based band leader Kim Rafael Nyberg is actually originally a Swedish speaking Finn, just like yours truly and the Moomins…
As we were approaching midnight on Friday evening, Foo Fighters had already been playing for a couple of hours in front of probably more than 50,000 fans. Frankly, I couldn’t have cared less about what was going on by the Orange stage, as I was standing in line outside Gloria, the festival’s only indoor stage with a capacity of about 1,000 people. The only South African band at this year’s Roskilde Festival, BCUC, were scheduled to start at a quarter past midnight.
While the festival guide mentioned “ancestral trance-funk” and “vigorous vocals that from time to time sound like manic priests”. But would “Afro-psychedelic funk music from the rainbow nation” attract people in the middle of the night – people, who were wet and tired and cold after 24 hours of rain? After all, BCUC are not a household name in Scandinavia.
I needn’t have worried. Even before BCUC climbed the stage, Gloria was getting crowded. And once the concert commenced, it immediately became clear that we were in for a rare treat. Occasionally, I am overcome by hubris and imagine I have already seen and heard everything and will thus not even raise an eyebrow, no matter what band I may encounter. Luckily, there are still acts like BCUC out there, reminding me there are things going on in the world of music I really haven’t got the faintest idea about.
I had simply never experienced anything quite like BCUC live before. It was intense beyond anything my words can ever convey to you. The relentless drumming (two bass drums, congas, percussion…) was almost literally mind-blowing. I rarely sense any danger in rock bands anymore, but BCUC’s lead vocalist “Jovi” seemed so convincingly aggressive that it was downright scary at times. (Let me add that right after the show, he was the kindest man imaginable.)
I wasn’t the only one to be blown away by BCUC in Roskilde. Towards the end of their set, the band pulled me up on the stage for a short impromptu photo session. Probably because of this, the following day I was stopped by a number of people in the festival crowd. They all recognised me from the night before, and they all said the same thing: BCUC was the most astonishing show they had seen so far at the festival. Some even thought the steaming one-hour gig had been almost too much to handle, without a second of respite from their audio assault.
From Indian serenity to Finnish metal psychedelia
BCUC finished my festival Friday in knockout style, but luckily an uplifting experience was waiting for me as soon as I woke up.
A mere 12 hours after BCUC took over Gloria, the duo of Indian slide guitar master Debashish Bhattacharya and tabla player Gurdain Singh Rayatt began their sublime concert at the very same stage. It was still raining outside, but the good-humoured slide virtuoso didn’t mind: “July is the monsoon month, after all”. And then he started playing rain ragas on his beautiful self-built 22-string Hindustani slide guitar called chaturangui. “This is not music you hear every day here in Denmark.” Spot on, Debashish.
The Gloria Saturday may have started in a somewhat traditional Asian manner, but there would once again be an abrupt change of mood before the night was over. No less than three Finnish psychedelic underground metal bands (PH/Mr Peter Hayden Band, Oranssi Pazuzu and Atomikylä) were booked to finish this year’s festival at the Gloria stage, promising to take us towards Hell and outer space, lifting off at 22:30. The ride might have been too heavy for some people, because at 2 in the morning, while the last band of the batch were still playing, only the die-hard headbangers seemed to have not left the building.
A sold out festival means millions to charity
This year’s Roskilde Festival was completely sold out (just like in 2016), which means millions of Danish Krone (DKK) will be donated to charity, as the festival always donates all profits to social and cultural charities. Last year’s profits were 17.4 million DKK. Think about it for a minute: you buy your festival ticket, then spend four days or maybe even a week eating and drinking in the fields of Denmark – and all this contributes to the profit. Since 1972, more than 320 million DKK (approximately 43 million EUR) has been donated to humanitarian and cultural projects benefiting children and young people around the world.
Up until 11 August, the audience could nominate projects or organisations to receive a part of the donated profit. This year, the festival had a focus on cultural equality (ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality) and the nominations must also reflect that. Furthermore, a nominated project or organisation must seek “a socially responsible and sustainable development of society by means of involving young citizens”.
Only about 60 people get paid for their festival work (mainly with management, administration, communication and booking), while approximately 32,000 volunteers organise the “Festival City” with its more than 130,000 inhabitants. Experts have studied the festival organisation, and they came up with the flattering description “the art of the impossible”.
Let’s talk about Art (Art who?)
Apart from 180 musical acts, the audience can also expect to bump into numerous other art forms while moving around the festival area in Roskilde. The curator group is looking for art that will create dialogue and be interactive, humorous and moving. This year, the arts theme Human/Non-human was an extension of the festival’s overall focus on cultural equality, including also animals and plants besides humans. Projects were developed to investigate the relationship between art, the festival area as nature and the people it interacts with.
In 2015 and 2016, the Graffiti Zone was the place to go to check out graffiti. This year, there was no specific zone, instead the graffiti was spread all over the festival area. Graffiti artists from at least 15 different countries were working in Roskilde in 2017.
The epicentre for art at Roskilde Festival is the Art Zone, located between the main Orange stage and Gloria. All art pictures are taken in the Art Zone.
Man cannot live on beer alone
With more than a million meals served at about 120 food stands, leftovers simply cannot be avoided. In 2017, Roskilde Festival collaborated for the fourth time with “The Round Table” organisation, collecting food waste and making it into meals to be distributed to e.g. shelters, centres for the mentally ill and asylum centres. In 2016, almost 35 tonnes of surplus food was distributed to the marginalised in more than 75 different recipient places; that equals 120,000 meals for people on the edge of society.
Roskilde’s strategy to be a sustainable festival is also seen in the tableware used: all plates, cutlery and mugs are produced from biodegradable materials. In 2017, at least 90% of the food served at the festival had to be organic. All food stands must also have a vegetarian dish on the menu, a requirement the meat eating Danes might find surprising. I could list a whole bunch of food vendors, whose obligatory veggie meal felt almost inedible in its bottomless tastelessness, but I prefer to leave you with a couple of culinary highlights instead. Mikuna is a vegan restaurant in Århus, Denmark, and if they are selling their heavenly burgers next year, too, I might consider eating nothing else all festival. Except for chocolate rum balls, of course.