Does Roadburn still need an introduction? Is there really somebody on this planet who has not heard of this unique festival that has not only pushed boundaries but has succeeded in maintaining its own character? My first edition was in 2006 with psychedelic legends Hawkwind, goa grandmeisters Ozric Tentacles and totally rad dude Brant Bjork. Discovering Roadburn then was like a revelation. A celebration of music, passion, originality and heavy music. This was the real deal, not some overcommercial happening where you’re constantly being reminded of which bank, which soda company and which beer manufacturer have sponsored the whole thing. No, Roadburn was about the art and nothing else. It was then that I decided to come back to Tilburg as often as possible. Granted I’ve missed a few editions and this year was, I think, my seventh edition or so. I could look it up but I came with a throat inflammation and the paracetamol is making me lazy. Still worth it, even if it feels like I’m coughing up my lungs. What I’ve always found striking striking about the festival is how it has expanded in such a short time. While the festival in 2006 was still just one day in the 013, in 2017 the entire festival lasts four days over two stages in the 013, Patronaat, Cul de Sac, Extase along with an art exhibition in the nearby NS16 and screenings in the V39 across the 013. And that is even without talking about the music. Although it started out as a stoner festival, the festival over the years has welcomed Goblin, Current 93, Mono, Napalm Death, Enslaved, Cocaine Piss, Diamanda Galas and Opeth. Not bad, right?
Like tradition my friends and I skip the pre-party on wednesday and leave thursday noon after breakfast. We set up our tents and open up a fresh pack of rolling tobacco and a few cans of beer before we decide to check the bands. The first band we saw, was Wolves in the Throne Room. It has been a while since I’ve heard from this band and they’ve made some “interesting” keyboard based music that was “interestly” received. Nevertheless on the big stage in the 013, it was the black metal WitTR and they were good. Afterwards, we figured it was time to hit the smoking room to find out what we are going to see next… A lot of people seemed to like Coven and sure why not? Call us philistines but we were not impressed by it. Maybe back in the sixties it sounded dangerous, ominous and exciting but today… Meh. At best it sounded a bit like Ghost, at worst as a thousand other blues bands with a fuzz-pedal. Dälek was announced as the first ever hip hop act at Roadburn (although a Danish mate said that it’s really harsh industrial with rap) and we were curious to see it. Along with about half of Roadburn who were already doing the queue for the Patronaat. We didn’t even bother and went to the Extase to see The Devil and the Almighty Blues. This was my first time in the Extase and although it was tiny and packed, it definitely wasn’t without its charm. The sound was okay but to get the really good sound you have to be able to stand in the middle. About The Devil and the Mighty Blues, I didn’t know one note from them and judging by the name I was already mentally preparing myself for a shitload of overdone Chicago blues licks a
la Muddy Waters. Luckily for me, it sounded more like early Queens of the Stone Age. Tight, almost mechanical, heavy grooves. One half of a Deafheaven song and a smoking break later, we were ready for Bongzilla. The music is about as subtle as the name: huge amps turned to 11, hairy fuzzes and big ass drums. Is there anything else to say? Other than time for a big smoking break? Seen that we didn’t feel partied out yet, we hit up one of the after parties where Belgian DJ duo Goe vur in den Otto (Antwerpian dialect for “Good for in the car”) were basically spinning overplayed classic rock songs and trying to hard to start up a party. Since this is exactly what our regular bar (SAAS!) does, we decided to leave it at that for today and have a smoke and a beer in the tent.
Day two started off where day one ended. Smoke, beer and then back to the 013. Straight to Magma. I actually saw a part of them two years ago but didn’t really had the stomach to sit out their entire set. Too weird, too technical, too difficult. This year I actually stayed but their hypertechnical pieces laid heavy on the stomach. The thing with Magma is that it isn’t progressive rock but jazz/rock fusion. I however am a simple man. If I want to listen to rock, I listen to rock and if I want to listen to jazz, I’ll listen to jazz. From technical point of view, yes, this might have awesome and mindblowing but holy fuck, man, an hour long set of them is tiring. The rest of the day we pretty much camped in front of the main stage with the exception of a smoking break. Which meant that we saw Oathbreaker ripping the main stage apart. They came highly recommended through some musicians that I know and I can understand why. It was heavy, had a lot of variation and the singer had an incredible stage presence. Afterwards smoking break. Then Chelsea Wolfe. I always had her pigeonholed as a folk drone singer like Rose Kemp but Wolfe was more eclectic with hints and stints of industrial which added a new colour to the musical palette. Since AmenRa has a big sound, we felt that we needed to have a big smoking break before they’d hit the stage A show of AmenRa is a bit like the movies by the D’Ardennes Brothers. It’s basically the same thing over and over again but what a fuckin’ trick it is! There are a lot of bands who are trying to sound like the apocalypse but AmenRa is one of the few bands who can pull it off. Baroness was the one band I wanted to see and that had nothing to do with the music, otherwise I would have gone to the more interesting soul inspired black metal of Zeal & Ardor. The first time I was going to see Baroness, they had that terrible car accident. Show cancelled. The second time was right after the terrorist attacks of 22/3 and the city wasn’t deemed safe yet. Again, show cancelled. Third time was the charm and especially at Roadburn. No accidents, no sandbox deathcult idiots to stop them this time! Back to business however, Baroness was good but after the meteorite crash that was AmenRa it sounded a bit tame. At this point we attempted to break away from our plan and get into the Patronaat to see synth wave band Perturbator but again the queue was impossible. From that point on we started joking that the Patronaat had moved to Bielefeld (check the link if the joke is lost on you).
So, no Perturbator synthwave but yes Integrity old school thrash and hardcore punk! Perhaps it didn’t quite fit with the rest of the bands on the main stage but honestly it felt good to end the day with something uptempo. This time we didn’t bother with the afterparty and went straight back to our tents. Day three started out with a dilemma; Icelandic black metallers Misþyrming had been added to the bill in the Cul de Sac but would be playing at more or less the same time as The Bug vs Dylan Carson of Earth on the main stage. Since we were too late to get into the Cul de Sac we decided to sit in front of the main stage again. Granted, I had seen Misþyrming the year before and was most impressed by their ultra harsh black metal but I was more curious about Carson’s collaboration with trip hop producer The Bug. I quite liked the stuff that they had released earlier and thought it would be funny to see The Bug who has publicly admitted that he hates metal in general, play at Roadburn. It was weird to have a trip hop artist and a single guitar player on the stage but it worked! It was perfect coming down music. Relax but still loud, dynamic and original enough to hold your attention. Oranssi Pazuzu was brilliant: funeral doom, psychedelic and stoner all mixed into one explosive cocktail. This was definitely one of the first highlights of the day. We hadn’t been to the Green Room yet so why not check out Ahab? Because Ahab was flat out boring and their sound sucked. A mash of tones bleeding into each other. I skipped it and tried to see the last bits of Memoriam whom on the other hand were AWESOME! The band we were looking forward to the most however was My Dying Bride and at Roadburn they were superbe. They played “Turn Loose the Swans” in almost its entirety and the sound was crisp. The band’s performance itself as always was almost flawless. Just one tiny mistake from singer Ian that he gracefully laughed away. We might have missed Perturbator but no way in hell that we would miss Carpenter Brut! And we made the right call. Carpenter Brut was the one band that blew us away. It was the party to end all parties (or at least the party of the day). Everything was spot on. The band was tighter than a 30 year old anime fan, the projections of terrible 80’s horror movies fitted perfectly with the soundtrack like music and it was fast and loud! An orgy of nostalgia and bad taste! Only downside: I was slightly disappointed that the band didn’t have aviators at the merch. And around this point I felt that my throat was starting to act up and I did feel a bit dull...
Day four arrives and I’m coming down with a very bad cough, a sore throat. Everything in front of me is happening through a haze and I drink enough to fill a bathtub. The best thing to do right now is get a bottle of water and sleep it off in the tent before packing and heading home but I am a stubborn man and Roadburn tickets are expensive so fuck health, it’s time for music! Off to the main stage! Temple OV BBV is about the biggest band I’ve seen so far. I counted nine people on the stage and they produce a massive wall of sound that seems to bounce from wall to wall and I love it. It’s mesmerising and heavy. Compare it to an electric drill that is going off in slow motion in your brain and you’re almost there. There are other bands playing afterwards but the only thing that I feel like doing is stumble to
the bar, get a 7-up and walk back to my spot in front of the main stage. Due to my throat that feels like the inside has been coated with vindaloo, I drink it too quickly and start burping and coughing uncontrollably. This is not going well. Speaking of not going well. Pallbearer almost put me to sleep. I’m feeling like a wet cloth and the last thing that I want is this shapeless mush of a sound that does absolutely nothing to me. Where are the dynamics, the riffs, the tunes? The audience must feel the same way because the applause afterwards seems suspiciously quiet and the band silently makes way for Les Discrets. Luckily, Les Discrets is not as loud as Pallbearer but they have better songs with more variation. For some reason, I think of them as a mix of Mono with Gorillaz but that could have been the fever boiling my brain. At a rare moment of clarity I realised that it’d be idiotic (and not the fun kind) to stay the entire day at Roadburn, no matter how much I wanted to close the Cul de Sac. It was time to do the responsible thing and go back to the tent after Ulver. Ulver was hands down the best thing of the entire weekend or at least I think so. You might not like the new record “The Assassination of Julius Caesar”, a lot of people in fact didn’t like it and left the show because it wasn’t black metal, but nobody can deny that the band played an incredible tight show and had the best light show of the entire weekend. Although Ulver has never sold a lot of records, this was a show worthy of a million album selling band. Although I felt better, my brain was still fried by the fever and still wanted to catch a glimpse of Emma Ruth Bundle but her personal singer songwriter stuff didn’t feel right after the massive Ulver show and the overcrowded room was making me sick. That was when day four ended for along with Roadburn 2017. So there are a few things that I wish I hadn’t missed: Perturbator was one but also Zeal & Ardor, Slomatic and I missed almost all of the new Dutch black metal bands that were playing.
But to quickly wrap up this review because I am about to go to bed. Roadburn is unique. Not only because of its success but because of what it is and what it does. Heavy music has become business like anything else and thanks to social media, the magic is gone. We, the audience have a permanent backstage pass. We are being bombarded with studio reports, vlogs, gear rundowns and what not. Too many bands are fighting for our attention and in the process they forget to make music. There are a zillion acts active right now and and they are all copying each other. In this world where “being recognised” is the whole thing, Roadburn is all about substance. Walter Hoeijmakers, one of the founders of Roadburn and basically Mr. Roadburn, is a music connaisseur who immediately hears whether or not a band is phoning it in, if an artist actually has something worthwhile to say and he translates that into the bill for Roadburn. Going to Roadburn makes you enthusiastic about music again, it rekindles the love for heavy music again. I came to Roadburn as a bitter, burnt out man who thought he had heard it all. Copies of copies of Slayer, crossover metal being recycled again, the same overcompressed sounds that make every song about as exciting as the waiting room of the dentist. After a weekend in Tilburg, I feel energised again. Even more, the fact that the Roadburn crew were bold enough to
not just stick to the dark, far corners of the rock scene but to venture into the electronic side, has even made me optimistic about the future. Walter and his crew have pulled off one of the most difficult feats: Roadburn doesn’t have to follow any trends, it doesn’t have to be ahead of the curve. Instead it can play by its own rules and be free to follow its own spirit without having to please such and such niche audiences or staying “trve”.
And that is really why Roadburn is Roadburn, a one of a kind festival. I’m going back next year.