It’s still early in the festival, but having a gentle way of easing into the day is still welcome. Julia Jacklin kicks things off at noon, and there’s a surprisingly large crowd assembled for her that early in the day. The Australian artist’s take on Americana is soothing and lilting, equal parts naive and clear. Her countrified warmth and twangy vocal would make her an ideal opener for Angel Olsen. And if nothing else, she made worked the weird strain out of the Strokes’ “Someday” and turned it into a sweet, wistful song.
Prompted by the large red circle backdrop, people are asking if Solange is from Japan, which means that they don’t know the one detail about Solange that I thought was a given (she’s Beyoncé’s sister, FYI). Solange’s set ranges from soulful R&B to Whitney Houston-style pop songs, and it’s choreographed from beginning to end in a subtle Hal Hartley kind of way. Even the backing band are in on it. The moment when she lets go of the choreography is during “F.U.B.U.,” when she walks into the pit and sings directly to an audience member. The woman hugs Solange and bursts into tears. It’s a really beautiful moment that melted at least one icy heart.
At the Orange stage, The XX inaugurate the first first salvo in the bout of downpours promised for the next two days. Despite the weather, and being mostly known for their rather mopey, minimal take on RnB, and the trio manage an upbeat set replete with earnest crowd-work and popstar shapes from bassist Oliver Sims. Jamie xx lurks in the background doing what a friend informs me is some top-notch mixing, although I can’t say I’m a fan of any of his drum samples. Any interest and warmth comes from the chumminess of Oliver and Romy, and from the familiarity of the tunes. They might all sound the same but a field during a downpour is not a place for subtlety. The trademark vulnerability embedded in XX lyrics – spinning collective tales of falling shyly in love and feeling cripplingly insecure about it – was enhanced by the onstage confession from Romy Madley that she was dumped at Roskilde Festival at age 16: “But everything happens for a reason, right? And now I’m here with you, and you are way more fun than she was.” Judging by the cheers and the veritable sea of dancing, it seems the feeling was mutual.
It’s the focus on ambient sounds that threatens to derail Nicholas Jaar’s set at the Apollo stage. A beatless ten minutes of baritone saxophone and feedback is not most people’s idea of prime festival fodder. Scheduled for the late-night 12:30 slot on a rainy evening at the festival’s furthest (and uncovered) stage, the performance from Chilean-American producer was expected to be a “drop-in” affair. However the throngs who stayed were generously rewarded with a slow build that escalated into a dense, satisfying performance that lingered for hours afterward.
The rain has stopped, but it has also stopped people from queuing. It’s only as Nas takes the stage that people start to pack in. It’s 1:30am and chilly and Nas does not seem to give a shit about any of that; he’s here to do this thing. From the word go, he’s zipping around the stage, giving lessons on old school hip-hop, and declaring that Beethoven is hip-hop. I’m surrounded by white boys trying to mimic the way he waves his arm to the beat while I dance the way aging indie rock kids dance (i.e. bobbing my head as a full-body movement). Our photographer, Morten, commented that he worried watching Nas would make him want to do pushups, as Illmatic is one of his go-to workout albums. I get it. I wonder why I never thought of that before.
I walk away from his set around the time he started leading the crowd in a tribute chant to the recently departed Prodigy. Somewhere around the foodcourt the bass from Nas gives way to a fuzziness and dead thump of kick drum.
The last time the Jesus and Mary Chain took to the Roskilde stage was 19 years ago, and the Scottish shoegaze legends proved that they could deliver tracks from their genre-defining album Psychocandy with the same lush charm as when they were first recorded 30 years ago. Guitarist William Reid ensured the show – which traversed a fair stretch of JAMC’s decade-spanning repertoire rather than tossing in a few classics among their comeback content was, quite literally, painfully loud. This reviewer had to retreat beyond Roskilde’s Arena tent for the sake of her eardrums – a roaring sound that felt somehow amplified by the fact that the band members themselves were obscured by heavy-duty smoke effects for the majority of the show. Perhaps, one cynically wonders, to obscure the passage of time.
But unlike many of the anniversary tours restoring the 80s and 90s britpop heyday to festival stages since the 2010s, Jesus and Mary Chain have nothing to hide – the indie rockers owned their past glories and proved the old hits still endure.
Words by Charlie Cassarino, Lena Rutkowski, and Amanda Farah
Solange photo by Betina Garcia
Julia Jacklin photo by Morten Aargaard Krogh
The first day of Roskilde Festival is always a bit strange. Assuming your festival experience begins with the music and not the week before, it’s a lot of getting settled. Getting wristbands, finding a camping spot, the various food stalls are finding their rhythm.
The train out is crowded, no surprise there. A group of four girls who looks to be about twenty take the two free spaces in my cluster of four with two standing next to them rather than find free seats away from their friends. I find this unwillingness to split up strange given they are going to spend four days in close quarters and massive amounts of predicted mud. Based on the number of sugary alcoholic drinks they consume on the half-hour train ride, I also assume they’ll come to tearful blows at some point as well.
I’ve given myself an hour and 45 minutes from when I arrive at Roskilde Station to collect my wristband, drop off my bag, and get to the first band I want to see, Warpaint. Apparently I am bad at math. I queue for an hour to get my wristband, not something I’ve had to do in previous years, but maybe my timing was better then. A man who has been left to watch all of his friends’ camping gear shouts, “You’ve stolen my life!” if you want an idea of the mood.
Certain precautions seen elsewhere in Europe have been taken in Roskilde as well, again not surprising. You would hope that a festival attended by 75,000 people would worry about security, but Danes think of themselves as immune to these things and it makes people chatter. I just notice that more entry points are closed off and I’ve got to walk a longer way around to get where I need to be. I don’t have time to check in my bag, which holds my raincoat (to safeguard against the impending meteorological apocalypse) and my laptop. Instead I queue again to get onto the festival grounds so I can rush to see Warpaint.
But first I need to be patted down, my bag needs to be searched, both ineffectively since I’ve had New York security at gigs look more carefully for bottled water for decades at this point. Security seems more affronted by how much I have in my bag rather than what’s in it.
“You should travel lighter, it would be easier,” the man checking my bag informs me, and I know the look I give him is not a kind one.
It’s a small miracle that I only miss the first five minutes of Warpaint’s set. More than anything I want to see Stella Mozgawa, the drummer who’s played on a bunch of records I’ve loved in the last few years. There’s a surety to her movements that is both reassuring and slightly threatening, like she could either pull the world together and split it apart depending on her mood on a given day.
Warpaint as a whole are great. They’re high energy and really trying to work the crowd. I’d always thought of their music as leaning more towards goth — not in a Peter Murphy sense, but with dense guitars and vocal harmonies that are both sweet and a little sinister. I’m a little surprised when they sell themselves as a danceable band, but I buy it. The programming, the beats, it all works, and though I’m not sure into the early on-set hedonism physically hitting me from ever angle, I am into this energy.
I wonder if part of this early sense of abandon has to do with the constant whispers of “enjoy it while you can.” It’s supposed to rain. All anyone will talk about is how it’s going to rain. I’ve received text messages from family back home who have read articles — presumably in English — about how it’s going to rain and we’ll all be washed away. Not yet though. Now the weather is chilly, windy, and dust is blowing over shoes and into eyes.
There is a large crowd at Pavilion for Kevin Morby, unsurprising since he sold out his show at Jazzhouse last year. The setting is wildly different, as are the acoustics, but he definitely rises to the occasion. His set, mostly taken from his new album, City Music, is noisier than his recordings.
Probably most noteworthy is that he lets his guitarist, Meg Duffy, steal his thunder. Think George Harrison on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” — that’s tough to compete with in your own backing band. The crowd is happy; they are clapping along to all different songs, dancing when dancing doesn’t really seem appropriate. Someone is blowing bubbles and it’s weirdly endearing. The band seem happy too and. despite the cold fog blowing off the stage, the atmosphere is very warm.
The mass of people walking away from the stage provide human barriers to all of the dust blowing around, but there’s still no escaping it. It gets in your mouth without you realizing it and dries you out despite the cool weather. But we’ve escaped the first day without mud.
It seems remarkable that in a 20+ year career Spoon has somehow never played in Copenhagen before, but they swore that their show at Amager Bio was their first here. It’s a shame that it’s a crowd thinned by he early-to-Roskilde set, but there is dedication in the audience — though it’s the band’s first time here, many have seen them before, and some have traveled a good distance to be at this show.
Indie rock as a genre has often supported a lack of professionalism as staying true to one’s roots. Spoon have somehow never seemed conflicted about moral integrity and turning out quality work. They have regularly turned out solid albums (for independent labels Merge and Matador), toured on solid if not flashy performances. It makes trying to pinpoint the exact appeal of Spoon is an interesting exercise.
They have energy, but it’s not over-the-top; during an instrumental interlude, most of the band leaves the stage while a keyboardist plays a Low-inspired piece and frontman Britt Daniel lies prostrate on the drum riser. They have presence, but they shroud themselves in lowlight. They have charm, but they aren’t especially chatty (though they were apparently quite taken with Tivoli).
They are a well-rehearsed band, which has a potential to stifle spontaneity but works wonderfully to their advantage as they are able to seamlessly work in an extended intro to “I Turn My Camera On” when the second guitar shorts out. But there’s something to be said for a band that has been around for 20 years who are as interested in what they’re doing now as what they were doing five, 10, or 15 years ago. Roughly half the set comes from their two most recent albums, Hot Thoughts and 2014’s They Want My Soul. Of course we want to hear the songs that were licensed into oblivion, but we want to hear them as living things that fit in with the new and not as relics of the past.
It’s one of the reasons why Spoon still feel current, why they don’t read as a ‘90s or ‘00s band. And that they’re low-key, unassuming, work horses instead of show ponies, is an angle that use to their advantage.
It’s a little surprising that, after the breakaway success of her fourth album last year, Mistki should still be confined to Vega’s Ideal Bar. But as we discovered when we caught up with her at Loppen last September, Mitski thrives in an intimate environment. It might be a little facile recycle that phrase to refer to her music as well, but it’s true, Mitski Miyawaki’s work is based on being close-up and unadorned.
Fragility is sacrificed for the same of directness in this live setting. Every hit of the drum is an unashamed whack that jolts the audience, every new guitar riff piles more effects into the mix, and the bass amp is rattling madly. Mitski herself looks impassively into the audience throughout this, which for the most part adds to the emotional weight of her lyrics by refraining from really piling it on.
Besides, there are enough people in the front row, hands on hearts, singing along to songs “Francis Forever” and “Your Best American Girl”. There is an undeniable emo element to all this but it has none of the whininess or self-loathing, and there is an undercurrent of humour everywhere in her work. Album-opener “Happy” is a particularly good example of this, a very plain but vivid story that wickedly winks to the audience with it’s punning “I felt Happy / come inside of me.”
Towards the end of a set that seems to speed up to breakneck speed towards the end, the songs compressing more and more, there is a definite tension in the room. Your bog-standard shouty twat manages to tick off the entire audience with his inanities, and although Mitski manages to deflect this, there is a tinge of revenge in the level of distortion she piles on for her final trio of solo songs.
There was a time when being the cool kids from East London would have gotten a band some mileage, but that time was at least a decade ago. Thank goodness that the Kills, as they continue to soldier on, have long since given up on that schtick.
If anything, the energy of the pair is the standout of their show at Store Vega. They manage to take up a lot of space as only two people, and Alison Mosshart in particular doesn’t stop moving for a hot minute. She’s forever throwing her body around and flinging her hair in a way that would have put the entire grunge era to shame. In between songs, she paces around in circles like a caged animal as though she needs to keep herself moving so she can physically launch her body into the next one.
Jamie Hince seems content to let her be the visual focus and spends the set is a continuation of guitar licks and swapped instruments. There are a few occasions where a song could have ended earlier, without Hince’s extended riffing after the rest of the band cut out, but these bleeds help prevent the dead air that would have ensued with their otherwise non-existent chatter.
The focus of the evening is on tracks from their latest album, last year’s Ash & Ice, and the enthusiasm for the new songs is as real as for the older tunes (even if pre-recorded strings for “Siberian Nights” just don’t have the same impact live). Though the album has it’s mellower moments, the live set was picked to be straight high energy. “Echo Home,” one of the more subdued new songs, ends up being much more energetic live thanks to a more pronounced backbeat provided by the backing band.
It’s this relentless energy, and the pleasure the band seems to take in their own music, that makes the evening so unexpectedly fun. It’s nice to see Hince and Mosshart crack smiles, and to see moments of genuine affection between the two of them. It’s a glimpse into the future for jaded indie rock kids everywhere: Careful or you may start enjoying yourselves.
The evening begins with three of us buying t-shirts. Normally you’d wait till the end of the night to buy one, maybe as a sign of appreciation in the afterglow of a gig. But expectations are high and Gnod’s t-shirts just happen to be particularly good. Mine features a morose black and white portrait and urges “Trepanation for the National Health”, whereas my companions opt for the more timely “JUST SAY NO TO THE PSYCHO RIGHT-WING CAPITALIST FASCIST INDUSTRIAL DEATH MACHINE”. Perfect for their visit to Scotland in an election week.
It might not be the most pithy album title, but JUST SAY NO TO THE PSYCHO RIGHT-WING CAPITALIST FASCIST INDUSTRIAL DEATH MACHINE (I’m just copy-pasting it now to piss you off) truly delivers the brutality and urgency it promises. With this release Gnod have downplayed their more psychedelic and meandering side in favour of bloody-minded noise.
Things start noisily enough with opener Mai Mai Mai, whose violent take on ambient electronics recalls a Dario Argento-influenced Vatican Shadow. Gnod on the other hand have no time for atmospherics. With two bassists and a particularly heroic drummer providing the real power behind the punch, the Mancunian collective tear through their new material with no pause and no respite. Album opener “Bodies for Money” has even the most subdued in the audience on the edge of mutiny, with its jurassic riff of descending chords.
Even in their new bare-boned incarnation, Gnod still manage to evoke their more psychedelic and cosmic influences, arriving there through sheer repetition. In the final minutes of closer “Stick in the Wheel”, one guitarist becomes so involved in the beat that he abandons his instrument and just starts jumping up and down on stage. You could probably find something symbolic in that, but the only take you really need to leave with is that Gnod are so good live that they end up mesmerising themselves.