Every Roskilde Festival includes the weather debate. Ideal weather for a festival isn’t as straightforward as it might seem. Clear skies and sunshine quickly give way to sunburn while the dry air leads to the phenomenon known as the “piss cloud” (if you don’t know what we mean, spare your imagination).
The second day at Roskilde Festival is damp and chilly. We haven’t reached mud pit conditions, but it’s still made us grateful for every set that’s under a tent. Sharon van Etten starts off Thursday for us on the Avalon Stage. It’s been a while since we’ve seen Sharon van Etten, and in that time she’s become a fucking rock star. The band she’s assembled to play her latest album, Remind Me Tomorrow, has her performing more as a vocalist and less as a guitarist (and not at all behind keys). She spends much of the set stalking the stage and channeling Patti Smith energy; she is completely transformed from the indie rocker we saw a few years ago. Also transformed is the reception of“Every Time the Sun Comes Up,” which in the past few years has become her signature song and an out-of-left-field hit that echoes back to her from the audience. There’s also a subtle difference in how Sharon projects herself when she plays solo. Past the midway point in her set, the band clears out and she takes a seat behind her piano. She take several minutes to talk about the state of the world, her desire to be optimistic for the sake of her young son, and to explain the the cover she wants to play is still relevant, despite being written in the 80s. Her soulful rendition of Sinead O’Connor’s “Black Boys on Mopeds” is an early highlight for the festival.
Julien Baker exudes a different kind of confidence, perhaps better described as fortitude. She is alone on stage for much of her set at Pavilion, or accompanied by a violinist. She is also competing with the noise bleed from a Norwegian electronic duo on the Apollo Stage, but seems completely unfazed by it.
Julien is suffering from being in the wrong space. Her guitar is warmly reverberant and delicate. Every time she wants to test the intensity of her vocals, she sings off mic, which remarkably still carries through the audience and over the sub bass from the next stage. At one point, someone tells her to turn up the volume and she says, “I’m just here to deliver the message,” which is southern US speak for “shut the fuck up.” The truth is, she could blow everyone away with volume, with intensity, but she saves it for the outro of her penultimate song, “Turn Out the Lights.” And that moment is incredible swelling of beauty and emotion when it arrives. But the main takeaway from her performance is that we want to see her play again in literally any other setting.
Before we reach the madness of a headline set at Orange Stage it’s always tempting to spend some time in a more intimate setting. Tirzah’s unique brand of minimalistic rnb would seem to fit the bill just right, her 2018 debut Devotion having the soothing touch you crave for after a while in the bustle of a festival. But it was not to be: unknown to us (and presumably whoever booked her for the small confines of Gloria stage) she is a huge draw, the queue to get in stretching around the block even after the concert has begun. So we have to grudgingly tramp back to the damp fields in the heart of Roskilde Festival to await the headliner.
Orange Stage is home turf for Mø, her rightful place. To emphasize this, she begins her set among the audience, standing on the barriers in a long flowing cape that becomes a banner as she runs through the crowd up to the stage. Mixing pop expansiveness with the grounded-ness of her more DIY roots, Mø has spent the last six years building her way up from her festival debut of Roskilde Rising, move up the stages to get here, with nothing more to conquer. Which just means there is all the more reason to party. The high-pitched samples of “Kamikaze” cut right through the sheets of rain, calling the stragglers over to the head of the festival. Before too long she’s already bounded out into the crowd again, leaning back into the front rows with the joyful nonchalance of a private karaoke party with friends.
Pausing for breath in the rain-swept centre of Orange Stage field, Mø recounts her trip to see the Spice Girls reunion. Closeness to the audience is something she takes very literally, and you can sense that much of her energy comes from this empathy for what it feels like to see your favourite pop stars in a huge crowd. It is also a teaser for a reimagined cover of “Say You’ll Be There”, accompanied by her childhood friend Josefine Struckmann Pedersen and Jada, who promises to be the heir apparent of the Danish pop queen. By the end of the set confetti is falling, flames are bursting from below, and Mø can’t help but keep repeating the drop of the very appropriately titled “Final Song”.
After a performance like that, we can’t help but get more excited for the Scandinavian left-field pop godmother, Robyn, the next evening.