Roskilde. This is the post I’ve been both awaiting and dreading. How could I possibly describe an experience like this? The only other time I can remember being at such a loss for words was…Brazilian Carnaval.
There have truly been few experiences in my life which could compare to Carnaval – but within moments of passing through the entrance to Roskilde, I knew that this would be one of them. I’d just spent four solid days on a bike; I was sweaty, sore, and exhausted. But the scene that unfolded in front of me made me want to do nothing but party.
And the festival hadn’t even started. This was just the preparty.
The Roskilde Festival is like a city. A huge, sprawling city – of tents, stages, buildings, pools, amphitheaters, raves, and concerts as far as the eye can see. It’s a fenced-in world of its own, where none of the usual laws apply – no quiet hours, no rules of conduct, no holds barred.
Inside the festival gates, alcohol, drugs, music and hedonism rule supreme. At first you can’t believe what you see, but after a few days and nights living in the twilight zone, the sight of people walking around in outrageous costumes – or in nothing at all – seems inexplicably normal.
Never before have I experienced a place where you truly have no idea what awaits around the next corner. It maybe a soundstage with 10,000 people. It maybe a couple having sex in a kiddie pool. It maybe a group of 40-year-olds chugging beer out of severed mannequin legs. Or it maybe a dozen guys running relay races dressed as ninja turtles. You just don’t know.
Arriving straight off the road on our bikes, we spent the first two hours searching for a place to setup camp…and watching in awe the insanity that engulfed us.
“I told you so,” Peder said. “And it’s like this 24 hours a day. 6am, 6pm, it doesn’t matter – for the next five days the party doesn’t stop. Ever.”
This is going to be one hell of a week.
After “waking up” on Wednesday morning (I put that in quotes because I never really slept – the music around my tent never stopped, even when the sun was high in the sky and I felt like a sardine in a boiler) I flipped through the festival program. Oh my God, is it ever extensive. It would literally be impossible to do it all. No, to do half.
Just one of the stages has a capacity of over 60,000 people – the next biggest with 12,000 and the next three with 5,000 each. They all run simultaneously.
The temporary city they build for just one week of the year is divided into two main sections: the festival area and the camping area. The festival area is where all the official events take place. It’s got a movie theater, a skate park, a lake for fishing and a beach for swimming. There’s a massive food pavilion, a net cafe, a pharmacy and a hospital.
And let’s not forget the countless odd and artistic contraptions. There’s a giant hamster wheel for people, a man-powered swimming pool, musical chairs that actually play music, and a “silent disco” – a glass cube where everyone inside wears a set of wireless headphones. To the people inside it’s a party, but to those on the outside it’s silent.
But of course the real driving force behind Roskilde will always be its music. Since the festival began in 1971 countless international megastars began their careers on one of these coveted stages.
And perhaps that’s little surprise, as the festival continues to boast names like Alice in Chains, Jack Johnson, Motorhead, Muse, Prodigy, and even Prince.
There are 137 acts in total, spread over the festival’s six gargantuan stages. And those are just the official acts. This doesn’t include the hundreds more independent DJ’s, spinning from morning till night throughout every corner of the grounds.
The camping area, on the other hand, is a bit of a misnomer. One might expect it to be little more than a living quarters – a place to pitch your tent and relax outside of the core festival area.
That couldn’t be farther from the truth. If I were designing the map, I probably would’ve called it “the insanity area.”
When I first arrived at Roskilde, what I believed to be the entirety of the festival was in fact only the camping area. Divided into six different “neighborhoods,” all packed completely to the brim with tents, nearly everything here is brought in, setup, and maintained by the festival-goers themselves.
So many people live here that at times you can barely walk without navigating around a dozen other creative and unusual domiciles. The creativity – and scope – truly is remarkable.
People bring truckfulls of equipment, building their own portable nightclubs powered by piles and piles of car batteries. Lasers and spotlights and deep rumbling bass – normally reserved for the highest tech venues – emanate from every midnight campfire.
Some of the tents could almost be called cities of their own; so huge that crowds of adults can comfortably stand within. Ever been to a kegger in a tent? I have.
Many of the camps are painstakingly designed around a creative or entertaining theme. One group of engineers, for instance, built a fully functional windmill to charge their batteries and musical instruments.
Another, thought up by an improv band, was “musical kitchen:” A curious wanderer picks a recipe from their cookbook and the camp’s bandmembers perform it in song.
There’s so much to see and do throughout each neighborhood that you scarcely know where to begin; they’re so vast that you could easily spend an hour just walking from one to another. Remember the silent disco I mentioned above? We never even saw it.
With so many tents and people and activities around, you maybe wondering, “How do you avoid getting lost?”
The answer is simple. You don’t. And that’s half the fun of Roskilde.
Wandering around aimlessly, you never know what you’ll find. Maybe someone will suddenly burst into your path on an oiled-up slip n’ slide, or maybe you’ll be invited to join a blindfolded relay race. In the festival area, you might be surprised how often you’ll happen upon a live performance by a group you’ve never even heard of – who manages to blow your mind with their skill.
I’ll never forget when Peder and I walked into a tent where Moderat was performing. It felt like we passed through a solid wall of bass, shaking us right to our bones; I’ve never felt anything quite like it. And when the rumbling subsided and the lights dimmed, our senses were again overwhelmed by the deafening screams of 10,000 people – marking the start of a world-class set of electronic beats.
And should you ever find the need to regroup with your friends, it’s usually as simple as turning your eyes skyward. Camps mark their spots with two-storey flags – flags, of course, referring to anything that flies on a pole. An image of Charles Bronsen, an inflatable sex doll, a hand-knitted Homer Simpson, a stuffed alien shagging a cow. I’ve seen them all.
You might also wonder, with all this incomprehensible craziness going on around you, is there anything about Roskilde that actually stands out? Is it all just one big jumble, or is there something I found to be most memorable?
Without the slightest hesitation, yes.
The one thing that really set this festival apart from any other, that made it feel unlike any event I’ve ever been to – from Awa Odori in Japan to Carnaval in Brazil to Queen’s Day in Amsterdam – were the people.
There’s a sense of camaraderie among the attendees that’s just impossible to describe. Wherever you go, everyone smiles and says hello. They invite you into their tent for a chat and a beer. Or they simply shout out, “Happy Festival!”
Never before have I met so many people who, in a matter of moments, treat you like a genuine friend. At Roskilde, somehow, everyone is your friend. It’s really quite remarkable.
Perhaps you find it hard to believe that with over 100,000 people roaming about, any sense of individuality or intimacy could possibly exist. I don’t know what to say other than “somehow, it does.” Although you may indeed never see your new friends again, the time you spend with a fellow “Roskildian” feels almost like time spent with family.
By far and away, without a shadow of a doubt, the incredible friendliness of the people were what truly made Roskilde one of the best – if not the best – festival I’ve ever attended.
Roskilde is a music festival. It’s a college party. It’s an art show. It’s an orgy. It’s a sporting event. It’s a rave. It’s Halloween. It’s a camping trip. It’s a week-long celebration of love, freedom, fun, and friendship.
But above everything else, Roskilde is the experience of a lifetime – something you have to take part in to believe.
As hard as I may try, Roskilde is something that simply cannot be captured by photos or put into words.
…But if I did have to choose just one word to describe this most indescribable of events, there’s only one that comes to mind.