It’s that time of year again. On the 18th and 19th of April thousands will flock to Tilburg, the unassuming musical capital of the Netherlands, for this year’s incarnation of Roadburn Festival. Whilst a sizeable proportion of the festival’s attendees are regulars at the event, there are always plenty of newcomers too. Some have been planning on coming for years; others have been suckered by a particularly appealing line-up. Whatever one’s reason for attending Roadburn this year, if it’s your first time (or even your fifth) it’s understandable if you feel a little overwhelmed by the packed programme, the throngs of regulars, the beer token system, and the gradually increasing sense that your mind may have exploded by the time Sunday rolls around. This easy-to-follow seven-step guide is aimed at any Roadburn attendees who feel they could do with a little bit of guidance before arriving in Tilburg.
1 – PLAN YOUR FESTIVAL (BUT DON’T OVERPLAN)
Roadburn’s programme is pretty packed, more so than most similarly sized festivals. This means that you really do need to do some prep before you arrive in Tilburg if you’re to avoid feeling like a headless chicken for most of the weekend. If you’re unfamiliar with the line-up then make the most of the Roadburn website, which is way easier to navigate then 95% of festival websites, and get listening. Having said that, it’s important not to go to the other extreme and overplan your Roadburn. One of the great joys of the festival is that it doesn’t exclusively cater to one thing or the other. Leave some wiggle room in your programme so that you can explore the odd band you know next to nothing about. Don’t be that black metal fan that slavishly goes to watch every black metal band on the bill. Roadburn is partly about pushing outside your musical comfort zone, so be sure to check out sets by bands you wouldn’t necessarily go and see if they were playing at your local venue. You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised.
2 – GET YOUR BEARINGS
When you arrive in Tilburg, especially if it’s your first time, you really should spend a few minutes getting your bearings. The main hub of the festival is the 013 venue, which is home of both the main stage and the Green Room. Het Patronaat and Cul de Sac are within spitting distance, but two new additions – Koepelhal and Hall of Fame – are a five or so minute walk away. Some (like your author) will be familiar with these venues from the much missed Incubate Festival, but if you’re not sure where they are then don’t wait until that set you really want to see in one of them before working out where they are. Also be sure to get your bearings within 013. Know where the token machines are. Know that there’s tons of ways you can get into the main stage (including the balcony), and between the main stage and the Green Room.
3 – DON’T FORGET YOU’RE IN TILBURG, NOT IN A BIG FIELD IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE
One of the advantages of Roadburn is that, even if you are camping, you are still at a festival in the middle of a city rather than in a field somewhere away from civilisation. Much as the latter is appealing, the city location of Roadburn does mean that you can easily escape the festival environment from time to time. Be sure to have a hefty lunch somewhere in town at the start of each day (it will help with all the Leffe later). Go and have a nice cup of coffee in the morning. Visit some of the pubs near 013 – you’ll probably find myself and fellow Echoes and Dust scribe Owen Coggins in one of them a good portion of the time between bands – so that you don’t forget that in the real world beers can be paid for with money not tokens. Hell, maybe even go to the Museum De Pont one morning to take the edge of your doom hangover.
4 – SAVE (SOME) OF YOUR ENERGY… MAYBE EVEN SIT DOWN FROM TIME TO TIME
The redesign of 013 a couple of years back means that it’s easier than ever to spend some of your Roadburn sitting down, which is actually quite a big deal when you’re spending four days zooming about all over the place from one set to another. Unless the main stage is absolutely full to the rafters (which, to be honest, it rarely is) you’ll be able to catch some sets sitting on the large inclined steps at the back of the venue, or sitting near the edge of the balcony upstairs. If (like me) you find the idea of watching Godspeed whilst standing up faintly ridiculous then do make the most of this option.
5 – BE STRATEGIC (BUT ALSO CONSIDERATE)
As noted in the above point, the main stage at Roadburn is actually only occasionally completely full. The downside to this is that the other venues are smaller than the main stage, and inevitably there will be times when these other venues fill up (this tends to happen at Het Patronaat in particular). If there is a band you are absolutely desperate to see somewhere other than the main stage then it is worth considering being early so that you don’t miss out. Bell Witch’s two sets feel like prime candidates in that department this year so do be strategic in that sense. Having said that, do also be considerate. If you’re going to turn up early for something then don’t hang around near the entrance blocking space and giving the impression that the venue is fuller than it is. If you are set on seeing anything in Cul de Sac then be prepared to be committed as half the time there are bottle jams near the bar when the actual floor near the stage is half empty.
6 – HEADLINERS DON’T REALLY EXIST, SO DON’T ACT LIKE THEY DO
One of the strengths of Roadburn is that most bands play a similar length set, with the exception of a few of the big guns or acts that are doing sets of lengths tailored to (for example) their particularly mammoth song lengths or specific albums. Moreover, unlike most festivals, the headliners don’t all play last either. This is an important part of the ethos of the festival. With some possible (and rare) exceptions – for example when Neurosis did their special anniversary sets in 2016 – Roadburn is fundamentally not a festival that is focused on prioritising the biggest acts on the bill. Buy into that ethos. Support the smaller bands that are on at the same time as the bigger acts.
7 – MAKE THE MOST OF UNIQUE OPPORTUNITIES
The final point is a natural conclusion, and is explored in more detail here. One of the things that makes Roadburn special is that its global reputation means that, quite simply, you will have the opportunity to see things here that you would not get at any other festival in Europe (or maybe even the entire world). Whether it’s a band that is playing an album in full for the first time ever, a specially commissioned performance, a unique collaboration, something in the side prgramme, or the distinctive curated strand in the line-up, be sure to make the most of the unique opportunities that Roadburn offers.
See you in Tilburg.