Top 11 Things I Learned at Denmark’s 2018 ROSKILDE FESTIVAL

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I’m half Danish. I’ve been to Copenhagen 30+ times, even lived and went to school there. My family’s there, Christania – the druggie, hippie anarchist haven – is there, my favourite hotdogs are there. I met the Manic Street Preachers there and partied with classical violinist Nigel Kennedy there.

And yet, in a lifetime of going back “home” (my last visit was earlier this month), I have never been to their famed, non-profit, volunteer-run mega music festival, Roskilde Festival. I’ve been to festivals in CalgaryAustin, PortlandMontreal, London, Liverpool, Reading, Hasselt (Belgium), Reykjavik,  Barcelona, and a boat to Mexico among many others, but in my second home country, in a town located 40 minutes by train from my heart in Copenhagen? Nope, not yet been. But his year, and a visit home, offered the chance to change that. Let’s do it!

At least, let’s do it for a day. We didn’t pack out and spend the full week in the dustbowl. We’re too old, too chronically ill, too booked-in-with-family to spend a week being gross, so we picked our day (Friday, July 7) wisely and went to check things out. Here’s what I learned.

11. People piss everywhere. Men, women, children. The first thing you notice when you get through the gates is people peeing on everything in full sight. The art wall, the tent wall, the food stall wall, next to the stage. Sure, they’ve got toilets in portables that are available – and they were clean, too! And yep, they have urinals everywhere also – including urinal troughs actually stage left of the stage within a music tent. If you’re a guy, you can piss while watching the Descendents! We saw it happen, you guys (see below). Note to Roskilde: what does this tell you? You need more toilets. The lines were fairly long.

10. The festival does good things. And they’ve got great food stalls – like, lots of it. Gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, burgers, donair, Chinese, Thai, organic pølser (hot dogs), porchetta and poutine (WTF?). You wan’ choice? You got choice. When I ordered my gluten-free burger and joked with the guy that I wanted the gluten-free and my partner wanted the “normal one”, he looked dead me and said “ACK. You’re normal, too.” Love! And each of the stalls’ profits go to support a local Danish club, sport team or other deserving group. Nice!

In fact, the festival’s donated more than 43 million Euros to national and global cultural, humanitarian and non-profit groups since its inception in 1971. They’ve even got onsite recycling depots where you can drop off bottles and plastic and get tickets in exchange for cash. I saw some very entrepreneurial kids making a lot of trips to the recycling depot, which is great. Also, Roskilde is a cash-free festival, too – you either pay by credit card or the festival’s pre-loaded “debit” card. It’s handy. I’d still like to see Roskilde aiming towards parity for female acts, like Iceland Airwaves does, but at least it’s making an impact elsewhere.

9. It’s huge. Size-wise, it welcomes hundreds and thousands of people. It’s about the same size (160-200,000 across the duration) as Pukkelpop in Belgium and Primavera in Spain, and it feels it, too. The map of the site makes it look small, but it’s like a huge city. The reason we missed David Byrne is because I literally couldn’t walk that far across the site, sorry David. And you may ask yourself, how do I work this? But you don’t. You don’t work this and instead you rest up for later. Pesky chronic pain.

8. But Roskilde is family friendly. Sure, every festival has its fair share of drunks (with English festival go-ers being the absolute worst), but the Danes are pro drinkers. So, it’s do-able for families. We actually met this hipster crew – mom, dad, two teenage daughters, on the train, who’d been coming to and fro’ from Copenhagen each night.  Dad gave me his own recommendations, nicely summarized on a program he designed for his frirends. He was spot on with his tips, too. He told me about Danish band The Minds of 99 – who were really good! – and I nudged him towards Young Fathers.

7. Alien Boinking Cow is my hero. For nearly 20 (!!!!) years, there’s been a group of guys who’ve brought their blow-up alien-cow-fucker on a pole to the festival and have been making people and bands from the stage laugh ever since. We first got to meet these legends during an incredibly unlikely Fleet Foxes set. Hilarious.

6. It’s relatively easy to get there (and back) from Copenhagen. This year, the festival even opened up a train station right at the festival site. Now, you still had to queue forever for trains and it meant that we had to leave a little too early (missing Massive Attack, whose change in set times meant we’d likely miss the trains, which was GUTTING to me), but the Danish transit board made it so that the night trains after 1am ran directly to Copenhagen main station. Contrast that with English festivals, where I’ve seen “engineering works” planned for the tracks the weekend of festivals, and I’d say that everywhere else is one step ahead.

5. People clean up after themselves at the campsites – they have to. Sure, mega festivals leave mega crap. Everywhere. Want to camp in the Leave No Trace campsite? You have to stay after the festival’s end and ensure that you, well, Leave No Trace. All the campsites were like that. You. Have. To. Clean. Up.

4. Expect a lot of dirt. Now, this goes for every festival. But “Roskilde is either dry, dusty and windy, or wet and muddy,” said my second-cousin Mads. There’s nothing in between. We got the former, and I’m still dealing with the bronchitis from likely swallowing a field’s worth of dust. Bring goggles and maybe a bandana for the windier moments.

3. Stefflon Don’s booty was amazing. Flanked by a handful of equally beautiful dancers, this awesome grime/R&B rapper from my old haunt in Hackney, London, put on one of our fave and most rump shakin’ sets of the day. Feminist, silly, sings about her pussy and men’s ding-a-lings and does it with a great panache and a fair dose of rad Jamaican dancehall, Stefflon was aces.

2. Nick Cave is still God. Within a song or three, he was into the audience, and complaining, with a laugh, about “hey that’s workplace harassment.” It seems Roskilde must have grabbed his ass, or something. I mean, I’ve done it myself. And he’s always incredibly, reliably amazing. And violinist/guitarist Warren Ellis is, too. The setlist was stupid good. His performance of  Jesus Alone intensely compelling…then Magneto, Do You Love Me?, From Her to Eternity, Loverman, Red Right Hand, Into My Arms, Girl In Amber, Tupelo, Jubilee Street, The Weeping Song, Stagger Lee and Push the Sky Away. Perfect. Just perfect. Since David Bowie isn’t coming back any time soon, I am happy content myself with Nick Cave, a man I was honoured to have met two months ago, in Boston. That’s right, I met Nick Cave.

1. Young Fathers still rule everything around me. And they should rule everything around you, too. In a time where I’m uninspired and seeking out musicians who make me believe again, Scotland’s Young Fathers remain the most exciting, most unique and most drastically amazing live act around. I’ve been seeing them since 2015, did a photoshoot with them in 2016 and been keeping up with singer Alloyisus Massaquoi online ever since (including the day after Roskilde). They leave it ALL on the stage, walking off bereft of life force, having thrown down their rock/rap/dub/r&B/alternative “stuffs” with such energy that you look around everyone’s gobsmacked, sweaty and dancing, nodding and fired up. Get up! Come here and do the right thing. We did, we picked the right night to come to Roskilde Festival and I’m grateful for any chance to see this exceptional band.

Tusind tak, Roskilde, a thousand thanks. You were a stinking, dusty, exhausting mess, but I’m glad I met you. \m/

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