How do you even start reviewing a festival that happened over 2 months ago? I suppose by apologising to the organisers Walter and Becky for not writing this any sooner. But what can I say? This was my 4th straight Roadburn and it was an even more intense experience than the previous ones I had attended, and I needed time to let everything sink in. A lot more time than usual. And then the day job got in the way. Doing nothing but marking exam papers and course assessments for a whole month doesn’t put your head in the right space of mind to write about that very special place called Roadburn. And then came along the family holiday in Tavira, Portugal, where I now sit, pool-side in the sun, writing these words. There you go, perhaps not the intro you’d expect from a festival review, but some words I felt that needed to be written before continuing with the important part, namely the music.
So, what about the music then? Based on my Spotify play history from the last 2 months-and-a-bit my personal Roadburn can easily be summarised by these names: Anna Von Hausswolff, GOLD, Daughters, Have A Nice Life, and Louise Lemón. Though as I’m reading Joe Thompson’s book Sleevenotes at the moment (him from Hey Colossus and Henry Blacker), a lot of Hey Colossus and Riot Season-related records have been added to that playlist.
Interestingly, I wasn’t even planning on seeing Have A Nice Life, and Louise Lemón when I was planning my personal Roadburn line-up, but as I said after previous Roadburn festivals, you can plan what you want, but you most likely end up seeing other bands/acts anyway, depending on your mood of the moment, the queues to get in the venue (which sadly made me miss A.A. Williams this year), or the company you’re with. And the beauty of Roadburn is that this really doesn’t matter as the quality of the bands and artists that are playing are all deserve your full attention, at least 99% of them.
But for me the performance of Roadburn 2019 was head-above-shoulders Anna Von Hausswolff, who completely levelled the 013’s Main Stage as part of Tomas Lindberg‘s curation, with one of the most full-on, mesmerising, heaviest sets of the festival. Heavy without being “heavy”, her set ticked all the boxes, from great sound and light show to a perfect performance by Anna and her excellent band. It was especially brilliant to see her have so much fun on stage, dancing behind her keyboard clearly having the time of her life. Afterwards I overheard someone say that her set was “heavier than Sunn O)))”, which is a great illustration of the impression she left behind in Tilburg. For me the set that probably reached the same level of heaviness, but being more “heavy” in the traditional sense, was SUMAC’s devastating wall of noise, which resulted in a full hour of glorious heavy sludge and a work out of the neck muscles.
Another personal highlight came from GOLD, who used their opening slot at Het Patronaat on the Friday to launch their latest album Why Aren’t You Laughing?. Singer Milena Eva soon had the audience under her spell with a very strong vocal performance, whilst the band was pounding away tightly to deliver a memorable Roadburn performance. Their album has been on near repeat on my playlists ever since that mid-afternoon Friday. Go get in now if you haven’t got your paws on it yet.
Roadburn wouldn’t be Roadburn if it wouldn’t attempt something big and risky on the Main Stage, and this year that box was definitely ticket by Tom G. Warrior’s Triptykon, who collaborated with the Metropole Orkest to perform Celtic Frost’s unfinished Requiem. The Main Stage at the 013 is huge, probably one of the biggest concert stages I’ve ever seen, but it looked tiny with a full band and orchestra taking up every square metre available. Their performance was simply something else, and one of the many moments at this year’s Roadburn where a musical performance left me speechless and emotional. It was an odd gig and one where the position of where you were watching the spectacle probably played an important part, with people at the front complaining afterwards that the sound wasn’t great, but from where I was standing, more towards the back of the room, it sounded splendid. Hopefully this will get a special Roadburn Records release sometime soon!
What started last year with some “secret sets” played at the Ladybird Skatepark, this year it was used a lot more as an extra stage, and I hope this is going to be a regular feature in many Roadburn festivals to come. Because I’ve seen some of the best live performances of this year’s festival at this skatepark. Young up-and-coming black metal duo Doodswens giving a brilliant demonstration as to why they should definitely come back next year Mythic Sunship played a brilliant set of heavy psychedelic rock and Bismuth made the park’s foundations rumble and shake with their heavy, slow doom. My favourite performance at the skate park came from Canada’s Vile Creature, who already played a devastating set at Het Patronaat on the opening day of the festival, this time again bringing in a huge crowd appreciating their fantastic brand of sludgey doom, being fully supportive of the band’s left-wing political, anti-sexist and pro-equality statements. Yes, I do realise I missed the biggest spectacle of them all at the skate park, namely Thou playing their Misfits covers set, and also Lingua Ignota who, from what I’ve heard, played a hugely emotional set. But sadly, you simply can’t see everything at Roadburn. Except when you’re Walter, who somehow always seems to be everywhere. I’m sure there’s some underground tunnel system in Tilburg connecting all the venues that only Walter knows off.
Doodswens played on the day where Het Patronaat had a full day line-up of local-ish black metal bands performing. Which turned out to be a very emotional affair as Dodecahedron’s former frontman Michiel Eikenaar sadly passed away the day before after losing his long battle with cancer. So, it was a sad day for fans of black metal and underground music in general, but it didn’t prevent the bands on the line-up to play some of their most intense and powerful sets. Especially Terzij de Horde’s set was furiously good, tight as fuck and extremely impressive. I didn’t manage to watch many bands at Het Patronaat that day, but caught the first half of Witte Wieven‘s set, which was great and a worthy opener of the stage that day. The “grand finale” called Maalstroom was a black metal collaborative spectacle on a very different level. At least, that’s what I’ve been told.
One of the “OMG, where have I been??” experiences came early on the Sunday when I decided to watch Have A Nice Life play their album Deathconsciousness in full. Am I ashamed to admit I had never listened to this album, or the band, before this Roadburn set? Probably. But the experience of seeing them live on stage made me realise I missed out an essential piece in my musical education, as their performance was spot-on perfect, sincere and full of emotion. The addition of a live VJ on stage who produced some amazing “real-life” digital art with his joystick simply added to the perfection of this show. It was simply astounding and unforgettable, and yes, Deathconsciousness has been on heavy rotation since.
Another huge performance on the Sunday came from noise rockers Daughters, and especially their frontman Alexis Marshall, who was all over the place. Both Alexis and the rest of the band put down an immense performance, which visually was something else. Another performer who was all over the place, from the stage to the mosh pit, whilst crowd surfing to the back of the room, was Louis Jucker from Swiss hardcore collective Coilguns. I’ve been following this band for a while now, and seeing them live is always so much fun, they always play on an extreme tight set with a huge audience participation (not always voluntarily!), mainly because Louis pulling the majority of the crowd into the mosh pit whilst taking as many mobile phones as possible in the process.
This year Roadburn invited the UK underground DIY label Holy Roar Records over to present a full day’s worth of bands on their roster at the Hall of Fame stage. Being a long-time fan of this label and their bands, I was looking forward to seeing as many of this line-up as I could, but with the Hall of Fame being the smallest venue at Roadburn, this would take some effort. And as mentioned earlier, some bad timing (not blaming bumping into the Conjurer guys and chatting too long at all) made me miss A.A. Williams, and later on also Conjurer because of the never-ending queues. But I did manage to see Svalbard and Pijn ripping the stage a new one. The bands that Holy Roar presented to the Roadburn crowd that day (also including grinders Secret Cutter), just goes to show how varied the label’s roster is and how well their roster fits in at a festival like Roadburn.
A performance I definitely want to highlight is the one Louise Lemón delivered on the stage of the Green Room on Saturday night. The majority of the Roadburn crowd was most likely at Sleep or Dodecahedron when Louise played, but the couple of hundred burners that were in the Green Room that night definitely witnessed a very mesmerising set, which contained a lot of darker pop songs, including a mid-set outfit change and again a very good band, with one of the tightest drummers of the festival. Thought the drummer-of-the-festival award probably goes to Kenny Grohowski from Imperial Triumphant, who played some extreme technical and fast drumming, all whilst wearing a mask and heavy stage clothing. He must have seated the most of all musicians this year at Roadburn. Imperial Triumphant’s set was impressive and very powerful, even more so as it was Roadburn’s last ever performance at Het Patronaat, as this amazing venue won’t be part of future Roadburn festivals.
So, here it is. My (very delayed) thoughts on Roadburn 2019. I’m sure a lot of people reading this will have something to say about this, like “You didn’t see Sleep??”, or “How could you not have seen Cave In and Old Man Gloom??”. Beforehand these names were definitely on my “must see” list, but for various reasons, it didn’t happen. More than ever I suppose I followed my mood and my heart to determine what I was going to see, and I think I’ve had my best Roadburn to date. I’ve stopped seeing a few songs here and a few songs there, just to be able to say I’ve seen x number of bands, as to me Roadburn is about the full set experience, which simply means you’ll have to make choices. Sometimes those choices are made a bit easier knowing that you’ll see some bands in the near future, like for example Thou, who’s playing in a small venue in Edinburgh this month, probably creating an atmosphere and experience outweighing the big stage experience at Roadburn. But in other causes it means you’ll miss some “big names” or smaller up-and-coming talented bands. Either way, Roadburn is always a blast. It’s a home away from home. It’s a second family.