After three years of waiting and longing, finally there will be an in person Roadburn Festival again. While the 2021 online edition Roadburn Redux, was in itself, innovative and the best digital festival I’ve seen set up during the dark days of the pandemic, nothing beats being physically shaken by bass heavy music and hugging friends from all over the world you only see once a year.
I started with the pre party, this year it finally got an official name and will be known as The Spark. It’s traditionally the place early burners come together to hang out, say hello and watch a few bands. As I myself was hosting some lodgers this year, a common thing to do for the local community, I ran a little late and missed a few of the bands. Luckily, I caught an end bit of Radarmen from the Moon, who were also playing several sets on the festival proper. One of the better hypnotic, danceable bands from the area, they fit the ending of a festival a little better than the start in my opinion.
They were followed by Maggot Heart, a Berlin outfit that consists of two ex-members of Grave Pleasures and makes some excellent psych infused hard rock. Vocalist Linnéa Olsson is definitely a badass woman and can hold her own very well in the guitar and drum whirlwind with her husky voice. Very recognisable is also the tom infused drumming style of Uno Brunionson. All excellent musicians that set the tone for the rest of the fest really: musically performances were mostly flawless.
Finally, sparking off Roadburn were Amsterdam outfit Temple Fang, who make grimey old school psych rock with a nice amount of hard rock in the core to ground the guitar noodles. The band has an excellent groove and consists of very experienced members. So even though they were a last minute replacement, they slotted right in and were solidly at home on what was formerly known as the Green Room, this year dubbed the next stage.
On Thursday the festival proper started, though not quite as early as the following days, I do make my way to the venue in time as the first act on the main stage is the Bismuth + Vile Creature commissioned piece A Hymn Of Loss And Hope that is a holdover from the 2020 lineup that got canceled. The Trans Atlantic cooperation refreshed their set in all might before the festival proper, and though some rust can be detected in the early mournful guitar tones, the dual screams of Bismuth’s Tanya Byrne and Vile Creature’s KW remind of the demon army screams on the latest Doom soundtrack. This combined with primal drums, thundering bass and lugging guitar riffs creates a wonderfully visceral experience of music I have sorely missed in the dark day of the pandemic. Feeling the notes through my body and being is an experience I relished. A fragile, piano and clean vocals interlude in the middle where the wavers in Tanya’s voice add to the emotion rather than detract adds variety before plunging back into the thrashing seas of heavy. A beautiful piece that has thankfully been recorded and saved for posterity.
After this monolithic set I do feel a need to decompress and hang out with some friends, before Messa take the stage. After all, Roadburn is more than the music and at its core is a community that has not seen one another for nearly three long years. The joy of the pleasant sunny weather and the reunion with friends can easily distract one from the bands, especially with the several stages spread out more around Tilburg. As I’m outside I pick up on the fact that Maggot Heart are playing a secret set in the Skatepark, and decide to go there with my friends after catching some of Messa.
Messa makes a gritty, heavy old school type Doom Metal with clean alto vocals over the beats, excellently played and remarkably danceable and uptempo at times. The vocals remind a little of Farida’s in the Devil’s Blood. The sultry addition of saxophone adds an extra layer of mystery, depth and dark seduction to the entire thing. It hearkens back a little to the dark jazz of Bohren and the club of gore, until the guitars and vocals take over. Not your usual Doom, but definitely an excellent find. After a number of songs I hurry my way to the Skatepark, near the Terminal and The Engine Room venue.
In the more DIY setting of the Skatepark somehow Maggot Heart come across even better and more rock and roll than they did the previous evening on the Next stage. The room is pleasantly full and the gritty thundering rock comes across excellently. Especially vocalist Linnéa Olsson seems well in her element in this more simple setting. The crowd also seems to respond more strongly, where Wednesday evening a lot of people were busy getting reacquainted, this mid afternoon many enjoy the performance fully, some even wagering a few dance moves on feet not yet wearied by several days of trudging and standing at a festival.
After this little party we make our way back to catch Sólstafir playing Svatir Sandar in full, the album that hearkened their breakthrough. This album contained the gorgeous “Fjara”, their first hit, which is still played regularly by the band. Other songs of the much heavier album however have slowly faded out of the setlists as the band took a more polished path in their musical explorations. So it is a treat to see the band return to these riffy, grittier works, accompanied by videos from Icelandic films to set the tone. Having seen Sólstafir perform when this album was still fresh, the growth of the band as a unit, performers and in their craft is evident, and a joy to behold. We shall assume that light tech is a little rusty after two years of no gigs, or just not used to the 013’s massive array of lights, but the sometimes odd lighting can’t spoil the experience for those who love the Icelandic band playing.
Not feeling like doing the trek back and forth between the 013 and Choochoo alley another time (a walk deceptively long with construction and busy road crossings in the way.) I decide to grab myself some grub and wait to see Russian Circles.The band never disappoints and so again we are swirled up into beautiful landscapes of heavy post-Rock and fantastic music. A band to close your eyes by and drift away, through the pictures they paint, though that may be dangerous at this time. After their set I know I should be heading home, but the allure and lure of the after party is too great, and dancing shall commence, finally, after two years we dance again at Roadburn.
The Friday started with a wander in the sun towards the Terminal, where Primitive Man were playing. Sadly, lines were still a thing this year, and the band was loud enough to hear from just outside the door, so instead of waiting to get in, I decided to wander the merch area and listen a bit there before calmly figuring out what to catch next. Outside another line has formed as Severeant is about to start in the Hall of Fame, this year a temporary hut outside the actual Skatepark and Hall of Fame that’s going through renovations.
Final Light, the title of the commissioned collaboration between Pertubator’s James Kent and Cult of Luna’s Johannes Persson proves that in order to have a lot of impact one does not need a bassist or a lot of members on stage. A bass synth sound that begs the use of the term BWAAHM, and reminds me of the synths used in disaster movie trailers but better, plastered us all to the walls of the 013 main room, while layers of landscapey guitar and higher synth twirled around each other. Double drummers punctuate the heaving swirling mass, as Persson’s vocals gravely scream in anger and strobes occasionally blind us. The swirling writhing black and white visuals perfectly accompanying the mesmerizing force of nature of a piece. Definitely one of my personal highlights.
Shaken thoroughly to my core I felt the need for something a little gentler than Wiegedood, though they are a band I do quite enjoy. Instead, I went to see Slift in the Terminal. A French psychedelic rock band I didn’t know yet, who don’t exactly play sets or albums or songs, but instead improvise and see where the flow of the music, the rhythmic, hypnotic layers of guitar, bass and drums take them. With visualizers and impeccable groove, the band actually were a joy, though at some point the concentric circles of psych did become a tad repetitive to me, unable to get in that hypnotic spot required for a set like this.
After some well needed time socializing in the sun with a drink, I head to GGGOLDDD, a band who over the decade I’ve known of them have grown immensely. Where at first something always felt a little awkward or not quite right with them. With their latest album This Shame Should Not Be Mine which was a commissioned work for Roadburn in 2021, it became clear that the band had found its place. And that place is a place of pain and power, where any shells and niceties are ripped off. The latest album is based on traumatic and violating personal experience of singer Eva, and with this she reclaims her power. The set is emotional, and flawlessly performed, the impact profound as you face with pure honesty the aftermath of breaches of trust so profound, but which those who have breached trust as such rarely think about. For someone with her own traumatic past, the set however impacted so hard, I could not finish it. I am glad she has reclaimed the power stolen from her, and can tell the world her scars and show her strength. I applaud Roadburn for giving those experiences a stage and facilitating reclaiming that power. I however was not strong enough to face it fully.
After taking some time to recover from the immense impact of the GGGOLDDD set, it’s time to go see Alcest play Écailles de Lune (Prophecy Productions), a favorite of mine. The dreamy, ethereal yet dark and cold music drifted through the blue toned lighting, invoking the sea and moon even stronger. The visceral screams somehow soothing in the posty guitars and black metal tremeloes. The band have matured and polished since 2010 when this album was first released, but prove they still have the same magical quality that drew people to them back then.
This year secret gigs are big, and though I am not one to hang out on my phone or download an app for fear of missing out, others seem to greatly enjoy keeping an eye on gigs announced a few hours before they are on. Where in previous years this was a once or twice per festival, or once a day thing, this year they seem to have an entire program they keep hidden until the last second. Sadly most of these passed me by, though the Thou set on the main stage was so clearly going to be a thing, even I knew about it. In reality Thou ended up playing a secret set every day, which soon became a meme in the Roadburners group on ye olde facebook.
This Friday they were joined on the mainstage by Mizmor to play a mournful set. A slow, sorrowful but beautiful buildup to a wall of bass, guitars and screams like we are used to from the juggernauts. There isn’t much I can say except that I’m very glad this was done, and the bands were present to give us some surprise slowmotion shakedowns, slow, mournful aggression and a sea of sound to drown in, with remarkable delicate beauty woven through it.
The final band of the night for me was an unknown, Sum or R, who definitely deserved more than the half full room they were playing to. Esoteric and occult vibes are strong with the band, whose music is rhythmic, hypnotic and somewhat psychedelic. Drum driven with visceral, confusing vocals and screams inducing a sense of beautiful madness. It reminded me of an odd combination almost of Om and Wolvennest and was definitely a captivating band to end on this Friday night.
WORDS BY SUSANNE A. MAATHUIS
PHOTOS BY DANTE TORRIERI/USELESS REBEL