Roadburn Festival 2019
Roadburn Festival has become Europe’s leading underground festival for heavy music of all types. Unrestricted by genre, the Roadburn line up regularly champions scene-defining bands and pioneers alongside up and coming artists who blur the boundaries effortlessly. Despite it’s well regarded reputation and broad critical acclaim, Roadburn remains something of a boutique festival, and very much underground in ethos but with seriously big league production values.
Wednesday (April 10th)
I Arrived in Tilburg from Porto at just before 3 pm. Met Walter (Hoeijmakers) and we had a nice chat and I gave him some CD’s of some of my releases with my and other bands. He was in a good mood after being really sick last week and spending five days in bed. Phew…
Roadburn has never been so early as this and it has gone much colder in the next days. Sunny and around 10 °C but down to 0 °C at night. Definitely a lot colder than last year.
Anyway, the free bands started that day at the Green Room instead of the Cul De sac. I think this was a good idea. 800 people room, instead of 120… People that were around seemed to be in a great mood. I saw a lot of the same people as years before, because Roadburn is just something that you do every year, just like Christmas but much better! I looked forward to see Temple Fang, ex-Death Alley guy and some from Mühr.
We ate at the Ribs place and the food was excellent. They no longer take cash so I had to pay with my card and get paid back by Anders and Ann-Karin as they had left theirs in the room. Not a lot of people were there when we arrived. Temple Fang were to hit the stage so we grabbed a beer and headed up to the balcony. I had a chat with JJ from the Obelisk.
Temple Fang opened with a long spacey track. The bass player (ex-Death Alley) took over the lead vocal duties and laid down that early Motörhead Rickenbacker sound. The sound was diverse with 70’s vibe and some cool guitar parts. They really rocked out on the last number. You can still hear this is a young band that needs to get some more hours of playing under their belt but we enjoyed it.
Great Grief, a hardcore band from Iceland, were next followed by Scottish thrash metal band Hellripper. After talking with some old friends (Kai from Norway, Richard and some of the local psych heads, Zach from Joy), … we headed to a Belgian craft beer bar on Telegraphstraat, not too far away. Cozy place with great beer. I had three draft ones. Transmission, a great IPA, Iron Dice (War Pigs, CPH) and Gatekeeper, a porter. All were excellent.
Headed home at 12 for some sleep.
Thursday (April 11th)
Roadburn was about to begin. Sherpa was my first band that day in the Church and then I went to the main hall for Myrkur and hoped to catch the end of Crippled Black Phoenix. Bismuth was also playing. These were four of the bands I really wanted to see but they all played overlapping, so hard choices had to be made…
The Sherpa concert was a great way to start the festival. Mellow but with some heavy dynamics at times. The bass player was very unique and used a fretless bass with an E-bow a lot on the songs and played some odd rhythms. They just played their new album from start to finish. It was much heavier live. It was a pity that we barely heard the left handed lead guitar player who made all the atmospheric stuff. This was a problem for the rest of the day for many bands, too much bass and drums and too little guitar. Overall it was a great concert.
From Denmark I got to listen a band led by female multi-instrumentalist, Myrkur. Wow. What a cool band. Two female backing singers, mandolin, guitar, violin (Stefan from Garmarna), cello and floor tom. Some of it reminded me a lot of Garmarna, the old Swedish folk band, who I saw and interviewed a couple of times. Amazing selection of old Nordic songs and her own. I really loved this.
After they finished I walked as fast as I could over to the Koepelhal to catch the last hour or so of Crippled Black Phoenix. It was a big band with three guitars, bass, drums and piano and synth player. They were in full flight and very much Pink Floyd inspired. They ended the show with a 25 minutes long version of “Echoes”. That was pretty cool except towards the end they went into a strange song, old song from 1962 called “Telstar” (thanks Anders) and then back into “Echoes”. It was a pity that the lead guitar player playing all the Gilmour parts was so low in the mix. It would have been 50% better if he was not so buried in the sound. Amazing how the sound guys just think the drums and bass are what is important? These lead parts make the song. Not just that it’s heavy.
I went to the rib place and had a quick dinner. That was excellent.
Then I went and checked out some of Molasses, new Devil’s Blood-Astrosoniq, Death Alley member group which I listened to two songs but I was just not drawn into it. Female singer was powerful and charismatic but the music was not doing it for me. It was heavy and dark and just a bit strange. People seemed to dig it.
Anders had recommended Lingua Ignota, solo female artists. This was something different. She set up on the floor in the middle of the Green room. I was on the balcony but luckily, I just had a tiny spot where I could reach over and take a few pics and see her through the grating. She had a small keyboard, a bunch of effects pedals and just set up a few lights on the floor so you could see her. There was a very depressing movie on the screen of someone driving on a road while there is a huge forest fire going on and the forest, houses are all burning up. Depressing as I have lived through this recently. Anyway, she was super intense and surprised everyone when she broke into the old country song, “Jolie”. Wow. Powerful stuff. I dug it.
I just managed to get into the Church to see the Danish metal band, Slægt (means Slaughter). It was crowded and pretty warm, considering it was cold outside. Anyway, they came out looking like metal warriors and ready to rock the place. Young guys with a great energy but the sound was terrible. The worst I had heard at the festival. There was no definition in the guitar sound at all. Just a loud roar. Could not make out the riffs clearly at all. You could headbang along and they had good energy but I gave them three songs to get the sound right and they didn’t so I had to leave. I was willing to hear more but not with that bad sound.
I walked into the Main hall just as Hexvessel had finished their first song, I guess. Hall was pretty full and they had amazing visuals as they did last time. They played quite a bit of acoustic music with 12 and 6 string guitars, keyboard, drum corner with gong’s (never saw him even hit the big one, and the small ones he did use, you could barely hear it). The songs were beautiful, passionate, and he had a very cool voice. I think the audience liked it quite a lot and I also got sucked into it like last time, although these new songs came across even a bit more mainstream. I enjoyed the set.
“All the psychedelic stoner freaks were there.”
After this I ran straight over to catch Mythic Sunship at the skate park. All the psychedelic stoner freaks were there. We all were together at all these shows. The same 40 or so of us that never miss any of the psych or stoner stuff. Funny. I got right up in the front with my friends, Anders, Mikael, Gustav, Miguel, etc. It was time to rock. Although the sound was terrible in this place but it was manageable if you were up front. They just kicked our ass with super cool songs and great guitar solos and a real energy and groove. Blew me away totally. This was my favourite show so far that day. I had to leave after 4 songs though as I needed to catch and see the entire Heilung show from start to finish.
Heilung, what can I say. It was totally spellbinding. It is hard to describe what it is. It is mainly just human voices and drums but used in a very unique way. Some say it is very militaristic but I did not take it that way. There is something very primal about it and very powerful. It is just one of those things you have to experience. I was blown away. Wow… never seen anything like it. They did have some pre-recorded drones and deep bass but mostly everything was drums and voice and very intense. Amazing.
I could have run over and tried to catch the end of Midnight at Koepelhal but I just decided it was time to rest so I went into the backstage area in the basement and just sat on a bench and had a Pepsi. I had already seen almost six hours of music with only one short break! Hardly anyone was around so I could write in my diary. Bliss Signal was making a lot of noise in the green room but I needed a rest.
Mono with the Jo Quail Quartet were next on the main stage and this was a big set up and they started a few minutes behind schedule but what an amazing and impressive sound. The music was very beautiful, sorrowful, and emotional and then would explode into a heavy crazy world and die back down. Sometimes with grand piano but the string quartet added a different element. It was emotional and very powerful but each song ended up in the same place usually so it became a bit predictable. Very cool show.
I managed to catch about 20 minutes of Pharmakon and felt like I came into a place where you could hear the sounds of someone having a very bad LSD trip. The room was packed and the audience was totally captivated by this strange reverberating sound and this woman, singing, yelling, screaming to the darkest endless void, where all creatures die as your insides are crushed by the howling vortex of love and death and then you explode into particles of nothingness and are dead. That was the show.
I was pretty much done by now but all my friends were going to see the Crypt Trip. I went back down backstage and the Crypt Trip guys were warming up their voices and guitar and totally psyched to play. Zach from Joy was there and we chatted. Ryan, the lead singer and guitar player, I had met him back when he was playing bass with Wo Fat on one tour. Nice people.
Anyway, I managed to stay awake and had a great rocking time. We startup right in the middle up front but all you could hear was the bass player, so I moved back in the room and then you got the guitar from the PA as the stage amps, the bass was way too loud and everyone in front could pretty much only hear bass and drums, no guitar.
They rocked the place for about an hour. A good southern vibe sneaked into their music but Ryan used more effects for his psychedelic guitar solos. Then their friend Christian Ellis came out on 2nd guitar and they played stuff that could be like the Outlaws. It was a solid set but one where they play all the songs 3-4 minutes long with no risks taken, just straight like the record. Great way to end the night. Fun stuff.
Friday (April 12th)
Three shows with Seven That Spells that day. It has been many years since I met Niko and seen him play. It is a great band. Lots of overlaps including Mythic Sunship on at the same time as Triptykon playing the Requiem. This was a must see as it only happened that one time. Grails are on same time as Gösta Berlings Saga, Black Bombaim and Peter Brötzmann overlap with At the Gates. Lots of interesting bands again today. I was tied so I hang out till Seven that Spells at 3 pm. The band Gold was on at 2 pm in the church. This was some pretty emotional heavy stuff when I heard it on the net. Throane were also on early playing their entire Rite of the Torch album.
Seven That Spells were back at Roadburn after about 10 years and they haven’t played live much of the last years. I spoke with Niko and the band backstage before the show and they were excited to play. First time ever to play sober! It had been quite some years since I saw them last and they are still as intense as they were. Amazing drummer and bass player. The 2nd guitar player also played some synths and he and the bass player did some really great vocals as well. Niko played a few far out solos, inspired by Acid Mothers Temple. Cool and powerful set.
Anyway, the place was pretty full. They started with the record Aum and played it from start to finish. It was some pretty heavy stuff and the drummer was awesome. A lot of unusual riffs, groove, ‘kraut’, just a very creative mix. I was totally sucked in. I left just before the end and just in time to see the entire Triptykon & Metropole Orkestra play a new piece of music called Requiem. This was based on some old Celtic Frost ideas and tracks from the 80’s but now completed into a unique 40 minute piece of music.
This was an amazing and very moving piece of music with lots of female voice, lead and choir (four young girls) plus a full metal band with two guitars, bass and drums. It was a total of 24 people on stage including the conductor. Nice lighting, great sound after the first heavy part, where the orchestra was drowned out completely. Fantastic. Wow. Congrats to Roadburn and Tom Warrior for pulling this off. I ran into Tom later in the night and congratulated him.
Now it was back to Seven That Spells playing IO. Niko and the guys decided it was too boring to play straight and had started to have some beers and loosen up a bit and totally smashed the place during this 2nd album. Wow. It was insane and powerful and hypnotic. Phew…
No time to get to the church to see Deafkids & Petbrick, so over to the main stage for Anna Von Hausswolff. I heard great things about her but never heard or seen her. The room was pretty packed and from what I gathered she is a very popular artist. The music was very emotional. She stood in the fog behind a keyboard and had a haunting range of amazing voices and a powerful band. It was not really heavy metal, some sort of dramatic emotional rock, not pop at all. Hard to describe but quite powerful and captivating.
I did not get to see much before it was time for the third Seven that Spells record, Omega. This time, the band went for powerful hypnotizing and the drummer was given three short drum solos and an even a high hat solo. Amazing drummer. Powerful singing, rhythms, and dynamics. Niko, leader and lead guitar player held back though and was happy to let the others lead the way and drink some beers (I think he drank at least 6-7 during the set). Wow. Powerful stuff and a lot of like the Finnish band Circle at times during this set. Let’s hope they decide to play more live dates in the future.
Finally, I got a chance to sit down after almost 5 hours of continuous music to catch Grails on the main stage. I had seen them play a beautiful show way back here on the main stage but this was something different now. They used to play this beautiful post rock style stuff but now it was more heavy, dramatic and nearly space rock but sadly, they seem to cut all the songs short, just as I felt like they were going to go somewhere big, the songs all ended. Damn. I was really left wanting so much more… Very cool films they showed, some a bit disturbing.
I went down to the backstage to get some water and said hello to the Gösta Berlings Saga guys, whom I had known for quite some years. They were excited to play. They hit the stage at 20.20 and wow. They had two guitar players, one being Henrik Palm, who played on a few songs on the last album but was here for the full set. They had a stand in drummer, Jesper, since Alex, could not make it. Anyway, this was a very cool and diverse 75 minutes set. At times they played early 70’s Swedish prog meets King Crimson and other times, strange electronic stuff, where both the main guitar players and bass players were playing small keyboards. It almost became techno-like, and Henrik would play some cool guitar as well and throw in the Prophet 8 or Mellotron and you got something really unique. Captivating concert. I was blown away.
Now, I finally had a break to go out and get something to eat. I had not been outside the building in nearly 7 hours. I grabbed a half pizza and then back in to see At the Gates. The show opened with Jesper (Fontän) coming out and playing some lead guitar and then disappearing. The band came out and played an instrumental King Crimson track and then Tomas returned and they went full into heavy metal attack mode, very 80’s inspired. I did not see it but I saw that Matt Pike (Sleep) came out and helped the band play, the Tempter from Trouble later. Also, Anna von Hauswolff, helped them to perform a Philip Glass piece. Sounded like a very diverse and cool set.
For me the final act of the day was the Portuguese band, Black Bombaim featuring the free jazz saxophone player, Peter Brötzmann. I grabbed a Pepsi from back stage and briefly said hello to them in their backstage room. I had seen and met them before in Portugal. Super nice people. Told Peter that one of my old friends had played with him back in 1980 but he did not remember. Super nice.
Anyway, they hit the stage at 22:30 and played a little less than an hour. I think they played 5-6 long pieces. The sound was not very good at first as you could hardly hear the guitar and the sax was way too loud and dominant. If it had stayed like this most people would have left but thankfully they got it sounding pretty good. Anyway, the rhythm section was laying down some awesome grooves and this gave a lot of freedom for Peter and Ricardo to really play some spaced out stuff. I really felt like Ricardo was holding back and always giving the space to Peter and not playing enough until the last track and then he really let it go and played some amazing guitar. It was a great show.
My feet were killing me. I really wanted to see Loop with the guitar player from the Heads. Wow. This was going to be incredible, but I couldn’t stand anymore. My feet were really in pain. Should had brought my Birkenstocks. Big mistake. It was an amazing day and I saw 8 hours of music in eight and a half hours. Only 30 mins break. That was tough.
Saturday April 13th
Wow. Previous day was the psychedelic rock day for sure and on Saturday it got heavier: Sleep doing a 2 hour show at 21 pm. I hoped my feet would be OK or I could at least find more time to sit down. Being in the green room for 5 straight shows was tough.
Anders decided we should go see Temple Fang again at 13:30. I was a bit sceptical to start the day so early but I had not spent hardly anytime over at the other big hall and this was the time to go see the art exhibits, look at records, etc. so we went. Wow. I was so glad. I was right up in front with a lot of the Dutch regulars, JJ from the Obelisk, etc. Sound was amazing and the band played a more tight and killer grooving show. This is going to be a great band. All the best aspects of heavy 70’s rock, with nice dual guitar parts, cool and unique guitar riffs and two guys with good solid voices. They blew me away. Saw the last song of the set from the back with JJ and had some nice talks as we made our way out.
Picked up the Waste of Space Orchestra vinyl. All the coloured ones were sold out already or maybe they did not have them? Records were delayed due to a mispress.
Next up were many different groups, constellations of musicians from Gothenburg, Sweden, starting with Fontän. They were a trio of bass, guitar and a guy with a sampler, drum machine. The first song, the bass player played 12 string guitar and Jesper, the guitar player played this strange looking 3 string guitar over the programmed music. The next two songs were the best with some great bass playing and nice spacey lead guitar. I really liked this but it would have been even better with a real drummer. The next two tracks, were like house techno music with some nice bass and guitar parts but I did not like it much. I went to catch some of Wolvennest.
“Wolvennest totally blew me away.”
Wolvennest totally blew me away. I had no idea what to really expect. They had three guitar players, drums, bass, Shazzula, was doing some vocals, playing thermin and in control of the sampled sounds. They also had two male vocalists at the end of the show with powerful voices and use of effects. It was quite heavy and repetitive with wild films, very much a Ministry like vibe but done their own way. Awesome. Wish I had seen the whole show.
I had wanted to see Confusion Master but it was all the way back to Hall of Fame so I hung out and talked with some old friends and then went to see Henrik Palm. He is a young guitar player singer who is very much part of the Swedish underground rock scene. He plays or guests with lots of people, writes songs for their bands, etc. I am not sure who was in this band but it featured two guitars, bass, drums and a female keyboard player. She had the exact set up as they had for Gösta Berlings Saga. Anyway, they rocked the place. Sometimes it was very much like Farflung but without the guitar solos and spacey synths. Music was hard driving; punky, space and then they would do some more normal rock songs. A strange slow version of “Destroyer” by Twisted Sister was odd. They had a film of Judas Priest live from Nashville 1982 playing on the screen behind them. That was strange. Fun set.
Grabbed half a pizza and met a really nice guy whose girlfriend could not make it so he brought his mom! Wow. Not many mom’s would come and even fewer people would dare to even ask their mom. Anyway, she was doing OK and seemed to enjoy the event. Nice people from the UK.
The Exorcist GBG was a very strange project with Pertus, who I had played a bit with in First Band From Outer Space playing synths, a very intense bass player and drummer. All these guys would later play in Uran. This was like an intense version of Italian 70’s detective or porno film music. A bit funky, with some crazy intense synths. Petrus was having a lot of technical problems so the synths were not in sync with the band for the first part and one of the pods on his synth (Oberheim) was not working properly. It was a bit of a mess. The sound guy also was not paying attention and the first time he played the Moog and the Fender Rhodes there was no sound in the PA. Anyway, they really got going into some cool stuff once the groove and synths were more together. I liked it but he overused the same sounds on the Oberheim synth so it became a bit too much the same. Strange stuff.
“Think Bong meets the Japanese noise scene with crazy intense in your face electronics.”
Tried to check out a little bit of Cave In but it was not my kind of music. A bit indie rock, but heavy style. At least what I caught. Orchestra of Constant Distress was for the hardcore folks. I only saw 2 songs or so to rest up for the 2 hour Sleep show but it was a guitar, drums, bass and a guy with a table full of pedals. Think Bong meets the Japanese noise scene with crazy intense in your face electronics… It was fucking crazy and intense but too much for me. Audience seemed to be digging it. Wow.
Sleep. What can you say? The band that is the ultimate Black Sabbath 1972, Supernaut, riff worship band, just blew the place apart. Amazing and powerful sound, band was just on fire. I have never seen Pike so on top of the game and playing more solos. If he is going to play the acoustic guitar, he should practice a bit more. It comes across not very natural for him, a bit drunken! Anyway, mind blowing set and almost 2 hours. Incredible.
Uran was just one of the strangest things you could imagine and very intense. Three bass players, drummer, percussion player, 5 synth players and a guy with a microphone and a sort of vocoder like device. It was fucked up, strange, powerful and just down right bizarre. It all kind of had the same vibe and intensity, except a few moments. One synth was way louder than the others and this just fucked with your head. The nearly full house was not sure what to do so some down in the front just tried to mosh to it. A huge success. They could have had a better light show and some cool projections and it would have been even better. Crazy way to end the festival for all those with 3 day tickets. They played an extra 10 minutes which was cool as it was an early night ending at 00:40.
Sunday (April 14th)
It looked to be a bit quieter. Ha! We started the day early with the Q&A with Walter and the curator, Tomas from At the Gates, moderated by Jóse Carlos. This was excellent and he asked many good questions and then it opened for the audience. One thing you find out is just how much work and how many hours one has to put into pulling off a festival of this magnitude. Many disappointments with bands that you really reach out and want but just logistically you can’t make it happen. As for hints for next year, Walter said it was a completely blank slate and after some rest, he would start thinking about it and putting things in motion. One thing for sure, not everyone you might think is cut out to be a curator. It will take an enormous commitment of your time and energy and you will be forced to think about things and spend time making decisions about things you never thought of. A very honourable but not an easy job (and I guess poorly paid compared to the hours you will put in). Very interesting. Worth the time.
At 2 pm we went to see Lucy in Blue, a young band from Iceland, inspired by Astra, the Canterbury scene. They played very relaxed proggy stuff with some nice dual vocals, great keyboards and organ, from a very young looking kid. They had the whole package except the experience. They just released their debut album a few days ago. I did not manage to get it.
Fears Fall Burning was supposed to be really excellent but we had headed over the skate park and I had some time to chat with friends and Zach from Volcano/Joy/Pharlee. Walter and JJ from the Obelisk also showed up early and could just relax a bit.
I also had a bit of time to look at the amazing art that was displayed over at the Pit Stop area between the Hall of Fame and Koepelhal. Very cool stuff.
The Dutch band, Super Sonic Blues were going to do a set. They played last year as well and we really liked them. I spoke to the guitar player a few times. Super nice guys and they still sound good. This was a great set, really a killer sound from their amps, authentic 1973. Just some simple but excellent songs. They did one cover song but I did not recognize it. Fun set.
I caught a few songs by Daughters and that was intense. Not a band I would listen to at home. I was surprised, that even in bands like this a bit of psychedelic stuff is starting to creep into their psychic fabric.
I saw most of the Stuck in Motion set and the first part was great as they played this long proggy 15 mins song. Really nice organ playing, strong rhythm section and a unique singer who was also the guitar player. They played a little of over an hour and I enjoyed most of it but at some point, the bass player switched to guitar (and vice versa) for a few songs and then he went to organ and the organ player played bass and musically these songs were not that interesting. None of the guys were nearly as good at the second instrument as their first instrument. They played some better songs to close the set. I had mixed views but it was a nice 70’s bluesy rock sound. It was only the first song that I felt had a prog inspiration.
Thou on the main stage. Powerful, cool images and loud or at least for today, I thought so until Sleep played. Not sure what to think of these guys… hum????? The video was the first song from the concert. I heard their Misfits set the night before at the Skatepark and it was a killer.
This was only the 2nd sit down meal I had at Roadburn this year so unfortunately, did not see Marissa Nadler, who was on my must see list, did not see any of Old Man Gloom or Ulcerate either. I tried to see a bit of Bossk but Old Man Gloom had just let out and it was impossible. It sounded really good though.
Sleep. Survived the 2 hrs previous day. On Sunday, we got the entire new record and a lot more. It was much louder. I was dead center on the balcony with Zach and Travis. Powerful and so loud. I felt like my body was beaten up after the show. They opened with a bit of Mike just on his own and then the band came out and the opener was nearly 18 mins long. I am not sure what they played but it was stoned, heavy, riff worship… Incredibly powerful experience.
One thing that I am totally amazed about is that there are many different kinds of festivals you can see. I met a guy on the train to the airport, who had the most amazing Roadburn, yet, he only saw one or two of all the bands I described here. How can that be? They had a showcase for the label, Exile on Mainstream, a very cool label, and if you went to all those shows, it would have been very special from heavy to acoustic guitar music. I did not see any of the black metal but there was lot of it and incredible diversity of what is called Black Metal these days. They are far from all sounding like early Venom!
You always have to make hard choices at Roadburn. Now in retrospect, I really wish I had seen more of the amazing female artists. There were more women than ever at Roadburn, both as fans and playing. A lot of talent out there. Pity I did not get to see these expressive people like Emma Ruth Rundle, Louise Lemón (one of Walter’s favorites this year), and Marissa Nadler. I did catch a bit of Anna Von Hausswolff.
Amazing Roadburn and so totally different from last year. I look forward to see what they come up with and be part of it once again. A total and complete artist success (as well as commercial as it has sold out months in advance). Congrats to all involved.
Sleep, Gösta Berlings Saga, Wolvennest, Temple Fang, Triptykon, Heilung, Mythic Sunship, 7 That Spells (2nd set), Sherpa.
– Scott Heller