Have your earplugs at the ready and put your day job put on hold, because the day we marked on our calendar 366 days ago has finally arrived. In the vibrant and ever-changing Dutch city of Tilburg, an influx of heavy music fans from all over the world are taking over the town as Roadburn Festival is ready to kick off. A couple of thousand people will spend their weekend sauntering between five magnificent stages, from the cushy cafes of Cul de Sac and Extase, to the wooden beams and stained glass windows of Het Patronaat and the two fabulous stages of music venue 013: the 3000-capacity monster main stage and it’s little quarter capacity brother The Green Room. Roadburn 2017, we are ready for you!
What becomes very clear this year, is that Roadburn has grown from a festival mostly for metal/stoner enthusiasts into an impressive artistic statement. Of course, it still lists exclusive names straight from the heart of heavy music, but it also grabs you by the scruff of your neck and hangs you just over the edge of your musical comfort zone to show you what’s going on there. 2017 Roadburn strikes the perfect balance between the acts who have shaped the scene and promising artists in the present. One of the most anticipated acts of the weekend was dälek, Roadburn’s first ever hip-hop act and, man, did we love it! Its dark sound and industrial influences made dälek a perfect fit at Roadburn and watching people in Pentagram and Neurosis shirts bobbing their heads along to the relaxed hip-hop beats, is a sight we’ll never forget.
The main man of this year’s festival was Baroness front man John Dyer Baizley, who not only curate the Main stage on Friday and Het Patronaat stage on Saturday, but also performed with his own band and brought silk-screened poster art exhibition Full Bleed to town. The exhibition, which was walking distance from the venues, showcased art from not only himself, but also Richey Beckett, Becky Cloonan and Marald van Haasteren amongst others.
As we’re admiring Marald’s incredible drawings, the artist himself pops up right next to us: “I’m sorry, I haven’t seen my family in days but if you have any questions whatsoever, I’m right over there,” he quips, before rushing off again. This informal vibe and blurry line between artists and visitors of the festival, is exactly what makes Roadburn so lovely to come home to every year. Baizley himself is a very busy man this festival, but this Sunday afternoon he’s casually lounging at the exhibit to a backdrop of his own posters and paintings. We gape at his amazingly intricate artwork and wonder how much a kidney would sell for at the black market these days (only half-kidding), as he animatedly chats with several fans and art enthusiasts who have popped by to check out the exhibition.
Also greeting us as we walk into Full Bleed, is the Jane Doe-face of Converge’s Jacob Bannon. His artistic presence isn’t only evident at the poster exhibition this year, but also during the first live performance of his solo project Wear Your Wounds. Half an hour in advance, his biggest fans had already flocked to Het Patronaat, easily recognizable by their Converge shirts and hoodies. Wear Your Wounds is at times intimate and powerful. It’s ambient and it’s noise. Het Patronaat feels way too vast for this music and it would have been incredible to see it in the safety of the smaller Green Room. However, the passion and sincerity put into this project are tangible and very, very captivating.
But Roadburn is known to be ridiculously good at creating unique moments everyone still talks about years later. The Sunday afternoon began with Temple OV BBV, a collaboration of artist-in-residence GNOD and Dutch psychedelic noise heroes Radar Men From The Moon, who invaded the stage with ten people (two drummers and four guitarists is a LOT for the brain to process) and brought about the most incredible psychedelic noise assault. Drow Elixir, the dark ambient side project of Wolves in the Throne Room, is pretty much the sound I imagine you’d hear if you’re sat in an ice cave all on your own in the middle of Antarctica and a glacier starts moving somewhere near you. It made me feel a little on edge and uncomfortable, but I was too captivated to leave the room. Legendary occult act Coven played for the first time on European soil and a packed main stage watched lady Jinx Dawson theatrically emerge from the coffin they had brought with them. Misþyrming, who played three sets at the festival last year, turned up for this year’s surprise gig at Cul de Sac. Well, I say “surprise” but it never really is, as half the festival manages to show up for the surprise gig at the teeny tiny venue every. single. year.
Waiting in line is something that unfortunately managed to infiltrate even Roadburn, as the 700-capacity stage of Het Patronaat really turned out to be way too small for some of the acts playing there. On one hand, it is exciting to see that the less ‘archetype heavy music’ acts such as dälek or Perturbator often had the longest lines, which means the Roadburn audience obviously digs the more experimental programming of the festival. On the other hand, it just plain sucks to miss out on something you’re really excited for. The lines for Disfear and Zeal & Ardor were unforgiving and I hope anyone who did get into that last one sucked up every last second of it because I’m heartbroken. That said, everyone who missed out on Oranssi Pazuzu last year because they were in the infamous queue got a second chance as the Finnish psychedelic black metal band took to the main stage and managed to fill and amaze it just as effortlessly as they had done at Het Patronaat.
As with every year, the line-up left us spoilt for choice. One evening we had to choose between the furiously loud black metal of Naðra, brooding vibes of Amenra, haunting voice of Chelsea Wolfe and the chaotic hardcore punk of Whores. Trying to see it all is simply – and frustratingly- impossible and no matter how confident we always circle almost everything on our timetable, choices have to be made. What doesn’t make it any easier, is that one of the greatest things to do at this festival is just hang out. Nothing beats sitting in the sunshine and catching up with the incredible Roadburn family you only get to see once a year. In Dutch they call that gezellig. And Roadburn is extremely gezellig.
WORDS BY CÉLINE HUIZER
PHOTOS BY SUSANNE A. MAATHUIS