On this first report Marco Manzi focus on introducing the festival and on the first day of the festival, that took place on Thursday the 20th of April 2023.
From the moment the first announcements started to spread through the internet, it was clear that this year’s edition of Roadburn was going to be different. More of a journey of discovery than a succession of fan-favourites alternating on the different stages – often at overlapping times – during the 4-days gathering in Tilburg. Several weeks ahead of the festival I started the traditional listening of the official Roadburn playlist, taking notes of the most intriguing among the unfamiliar names, and based on that, along with the publication of the festival schedule, decide on what to do and where to be.
This ritual familiar to many, proved to be a much more difficult task because there were so many new intriguing acts, truly pushing the boundaries in a way or another. And on a personal level I think that’s what most – or at least quite many – Roadburners feel is the right direction to go. One of the best aspect of a festival of this size, is the opportunity to discover new music, maybe even new favorites, broaden your musical horizons, and mingle with like-minded folks who crave just about the same.
Of course no matter how much one plans, there are always last minute changes or additions, secret shows – which one can chose to ignore or run for it as if their lives depended on that – and this year the “Roadburness” spread all over the center of the town with “offroad” side- events, including discounts for Roadburners in different restaurants/cafes and so on, thus getting the local community even more involved.
Originally, this year plan’s was to have a more relaxed approach to the whole festival experience. Fully immersing into certain shows, while accepting that there is just too much going on and one cannot possibly be able to see everything properly. Due to some sudden personal turn of events occurring just before going to the festival, that plan was thrown entirely out of the window, and with everything in turmoil, my own state of mind required instead to distract myself as much as possible, leaving little room for thoughts other than anything Roadburn-related for at least the duration of the weekend.
That’s how suddenly I came up with a much more ambitious and detailed plan: get to taste as much as possible of as many of the shows I wanted to check out, and reserve more time of course for the personal highlights or in case something proved to be exceptionally good. Which I knew it would have happened sooner or later, given the variety of the soundscape offered this year.
So, with this in mind, and although missing the “warm-up” night on Wednesday with Poison Ruin, The Shits and Mai Mai Mai, similarly to how one would approach a buffet filled with new, exotic, and tasty-looking food – and after having some actual food on my arrival into town – I dived right into this 2023 edition with Yrre.
The Swiss band immediately sets the tone with their enveloping, dark tunes, as eerie as fascinating – especially in light of the fact that most of their offer comes from a movie soundtrack. The cinematic component certainly adds an extra layer, and who was early enough to see their show was in for a nice treat.
It was somewhat reassuring to see The Terminal already quite crowded with the first band of the Thursday, even thought the festival itself hadn’t been sold out for the first time in 18 years.
Still, there were some small inconveniences for the audience at the beginning, as during the entire day the venues were kept closed up to the next band’s showtime. As consequence long queues began forming immediately, creating some congestion as you can only fit so many people inside a finite space. Good thing this got sorted mid-way on Friday, when ultimately people were allowed to settle in long enough before a show to find their spot inside the different venues, on occasion filling them to or near capacity even before a concert began.
Speaking of, after a short wait came the time to explore the new and renovated Hall of Fame, with the Italian duo OvO having the honor to inaugurate the venue for this year’s festival. The band has been on a European tour with Body Void (which I will end up missing later during the day), and was thus already well-trained from many days on the road before this show – which went very much as expected. For a Roadburn first, the evolving noise sounds of the ever-experimenting duo was welcomed nicely by the audience, old and new fans alike, and the atmosphere was perfectly fitting.
All in all the festival had been off to a pretty nice start, and there was even time to check out a few minutes of Grift’s intimate acoustic performance on the Next Stage, before heading to the first show on the Main Stage of 013.
While it would have certainly be nice to catch the show in full (isn’t that often the case in this festival?), I was glad to make it still in time for the commissioned work by John Cxnnor, a creation of the Sejersen brothers (LLNN), “All My Future’s Past”. I was not entirely sure what to expect, and probably not many were, but man that was some really heavy and crazy experimentation of hardcore and dark electro industrial. For me that’s when I truly felt I started shifting gears and got more into the actual festival mood.
During their performance they were joined by different singers from the Danish scene: Mai (Meejah), Victor (LLNN, Telos, Eyes), Kim (MØL) and Andreas (Cabal), alternating themselves and adding an even more unique touch to this brilliant performance.
One thing I noticed, maybe even more than in the previous edition, or perhaps also because of the sudden need for human interaction, was how easy you could just start a casual conversation with a fellow stranger anywhere. At any time, in any of the venues or at the food stalls, or in the street going from place to place. That really struck me as incredible and amazing – made me feel truly welcome in this environment and belonging in the community.
A brief stunt to The Terminal for a glimpse of Predatory Void, featuring members of Amenra, Oathbreaker, Aborted and Cross Bringer to name a few, which performed their debut album “Seven Keys to the Discomfort of Being” in full. This was one of the very first shows of the band (and one to keep an eye on) and was followed by the first real discovery for me in this edition.
Judasz & Nahimana put up a closely intimate performance while playing their latest “Récits d’outre-monde” in the fitting Hall of Fame, which quickly filled up to the point it was hard to move around. Also, in my opinion, every respectable show should include an altar with a human skull! Jokes aside, the charismatic and enchanting vocals of their talented singer and the melodies created by the band as a whole with their instruments – including an hurdy-gurdy – made for a true change of pace. Also made me feel privileged to be able to witness such a live show, and their music definitely earned a spot in my recent playlist.
Judasz & Nahimana
The Finnish band EnPHin, latest iteration of the many faces of Peter Hayden’s musical journey, delivered a solid show with their latest – and first effort under the new monicker – “End Cut”. on another level compared to what I previously saw last year in Finland – as if they had been feeding from the energy of their Roadburn audience.
Eating and staying hydrated are two very important things especially when having a hectic festival schedule, so armed with a bottle of water and half a pizza I waltzed into the streets of Tilburg towards the Next Stage for Esben & The Witch. The British trio whose name is a call to the popular Danish fairytale, sets a dark tone and atmosphere, pervaded by their melodies and the beautiful vocals by singer/bass player Rachel Davies. This was the first time their latest effort “Hold Sacred” had been played live, and the vivid interest in the eyes of the fans was palpable.
Definitely a good change of pace that allowed to slow down a notch and catch some breath before the next thing.
Esben & The Witch
One of the shows that I was personally looking forward to the most on this first day was Julie Christmas on the main stage, and I have to say it absolutely met the expectations that were building up to the performance. The energy coming from the stage was purely contagious, affecting the entire audience in the main 013 hall.
For this special exclusive performance she was also joined by Cult of Luna’s Johannes Persson at the guitar, adding more talent to this already electrifying show. A few new songs have been thrown in the set and worked quite nicely as the artist mesmerized the audience with her ever- changing melodies while sporting an artsy dress with colored leds. We are thankful for this great show, and even more than she didn’t hurt herself or anyone running with those big scissors she was holding early in the gig.
It was hard to get into Crouch after such a treat, and in the end I only have been able to witness a few minutes of the Belgian sludgy band (two thirds made by Wiegedood’s drummer and vocalist/guitar player) before switching gears once again and sneaking into the Next Stage hall for White Boy Scream.
I was curious about how that would have played out and it turned out to be somewhat more intriguing than what I had in my mind after listening to a few songs beforehand. The mix between noise and classical sounds and the range of Micaela Tobin made this performance quite unique, in the niche of what already is a festival that keeps reinventing and expanding its boundaries, giving a very personal interpretation on the traditions and identity of the artist.
White Boy Scream
As it often happens, it was time for the first “bad” decision of the day, not to diminish in any way Deafheaven and their performance of “Sunbather” (marking also the 10th anniversary from its release), nor because at least from my position I was not entirely satisfied of how the band sounded like. Mostly because everyone, and I mean literally everyone I have met afterwards, or whose post or comment I read on social media, had spent so many good words for Bo Ningen, happening at the same time at The Terminal, that truly make me regret having missed that one. Again, you cannot have it all, right?
I parked myself near the Hall of Fame for the following 2 hours, to see in succession Spirit Possession and Antichrist Siege Machine. One of the aspects I wanted to focus more on this edition, at least as much as the schedule allowed, were the more extreme fringes of the line-up. This worked quite nicely except for Saturday (more on that on the Saturday review), and you can hardly get a more underground black metal feel than looking at the stage during Spirit Possession, with the duo lit up only by a couple of small red lights from below.
This very young band (formed in 2019) is pretty old-school not just in the look but in their artistic take on black metal, giving a haunting sense of rawness and frantic tempos with nods to the 90’s while not sounding like a copy or anything. In fact their music is quite captivating and before you realize you start being dragged into their rhythm.
Being already in the mood for more extreme metal, Antichrist Siege Machine literally swept the hall with their blasting wall of sound and vicious beats, ASM take on war metal is crushing to the bone (or the powder that remains as leftover afterwards), with obvious calls to Revenge, Blasphemy and the likes. With fans and curious really being wowed by the sheer intensity of the duo’s music, everything went so fast that I got the impression that their set was maybe even shorter than it was supposed to be (or did I only imagine it?).
As a side note: both the bands performed the following evening at the tiny Cul de Sac, I bet that made for very sweaty performances!
Antichrist Siege Machine
There was still time to try finding a spot in front of the Next Stage, where drone folk French trio France was mesmerizing their audience with their hypnotic riffs and peculiar playing style, the bass player Jeremie Sauvage and Yann Gourdon with his amplified hurdy-gurdy moving on stage as if dueling each other with their instruments from a distance.
Being late night, and after a long, hectic day, not to mention a whirlwind of emotions, it was hard for me to completely lose myself in this kind of music. This is the sort of set I would have most likely enjoyed much more earlier in the day, or with a less intense experience (including also the trip to town and drop off at the accommodation in the morning).
But then again, being the last band of the day, it also meant 1/4 of the festival was gone, and that I had survived more or less intact (there was still a 20 minutes cycling route in a combination of rain and wind to go through).
Personal highlights on Thursday where (not necessarily in this order): Julie Christmas, Antichrist Siege Machine, Judasz & Nahimana, as well as John Cxnnor.
Text and photos by Marco Manzi
Managing editor: Elsa Marques