“Are you going to Roskilde this year?” As summer approaches in Denmark, this question is as common in daily life as a piece of rye bread is for lunch. With approximately 130,000 attendees and most of them Danish, Roskilde Festival attracts an astounding proportion of people relative to Denmark’s tiny population of 5 million.
Any young, festival-suited Dane will tell you, “Roskilde festival is the best time of the year.” Danes, unlike Americans, rarely use superlatives so this is an exceptional statement to hear from any Dane much less every young one you encounter. I went to my first Roskilde festival in 2015 and let me tell you, it really was the best time of the year. I went the subsequent year and continued the tradition this year attending my third consecutive Roskilde Festival.
The first day of the festival is synonymous with chaos. Hordes of youth line up—rain or shine (probably rain since this is Denmark)—for hours, often since the previous night in order to run through the gates of the festival site when they open in order to stake a piece of ground for everyone in their camp.
The camps and camp culture are nearly as integral if not a more integral part of the Roskilde experience as the music is. Always comprised of some grouping of friends, Roskilde might be their yearly reunion or the carrying out of a long-held tradition. Some camps take themselves more seriously than others bringing and setting up speakers to throw nightly parties, particularly throughout the “warm-up days.” The festival in its entirety takes up 8 days. The first 4 days are warm-up days consisting of partying within and around camps, catching up with old friends as well as making some new ones, and performances on the Rising Stage and Countdown stage which are reserved for up-and-coming, local Nordic acts.
The last 4 days of the festival are termed the “music days” reserved for the more established acts, formal activities around Roskilde’s goals of sustainability and their yearly focal points (this year it was Cultural Equality) as well as gourmet food stands.
This breakdown, as well as the abundance of experiences, is all-encompassing not only easily filling up the 8 days but drawing you in so that you want to stay all 8 days.
This draw is reflected in the festival-goers steadfast commitment to the festival. On the 6th day of the festival this year, rain poured down creating a lake of mud as well as drowning many a tent. Responses to these wet circumstances included embracing the friendlier-than-normal attitude of Roskilde-going-Danes and finding elsewhere to “sleep,” the excessive use of duct tape, or simply framing the situation in a positive manner. Two of my friends had holes in their rubber boots: one of them commented that “having one wet foot isn’t that bad” while the other noted that “the water seeps into them, but if it’s just mud, it’s fine.”
Deeming certain acts part of the Roskilde experience gives them a certain temptation they might not have otherwise had.
Thus the more open and curious audience pairs well with the plethora of new, often unheard talent widening fan-bases and horizons. You could take in a stadium-like experience with headliners on the Orange Stage like the Lumineers and Arcade Fire. You could be a part of the unstoppable, rising success of The xx and Halsey. You could support a younger artist like Sigrid or be part of the future witnessing Nordic talents—like Fugleflugten—standing before their first large stage.
There is something special about the Roskilde Festival experience that makes it a unique festival experience. Maybe it is that the festival is nonprofit and possibly about a bit more than just money. Maybe it the Danish summer’s twilight beautifully and nearly perpetually dimmed over the festival site. Maybe it is the fact that you can both see a big name as well as your own friends in the same line-up. There is a universal camaraderie and good energy flowing throughout, around, and about Roskilde. I have no idea where it came from or how it originated, but it is impossible to avoid its warm embrace.
After immensely enjoying the likes of Arcade Fire, Moderat/Modeselektor, and a good pizza, we made our way back home to Copenhagen in early hours of Sunday morning. We stopped at 7-11 because of my insistence that we must end the night with Coca-Cola and chocolate milk. With our hiking bags, tents, and generally muddy/dirty demeanor in tow, early-risers we encountered had no doubt where we were coming from. Without fail, each one asked us with a smile, “Did you have a nice Roskilde?”