Thursday 18th July 2024,
The Black Planet

Report: Roadburn 2023 – Day 4

Elsa Marques 23/06/2023 Festivals, Reports Comments Off on Report: Roadburn 2023 – Day 4
Report: Roadburn 2023 – Day 4

Marco Manzi continues his Roadburn 2023 report. Read all the details regarding his experience on the festival final day, which took place on Sunday 23.4

The last day of a (good) festival always leaves a bittersweet taste in your mouth, knowing well that while you still get to enjoy for a while longer, everything will end sooner than you know.

Finally I made it to the famous Q&A panel with Walter and Becky, where a lot of light has been shed upon several issues leading up to this year’s edition. The harsh criticism towards this year’s line-up and the festival direction, and what will the festival bring in the future. It’s always a pleasure to hear Walter’s insights about the work behind the scenes of Roadburn, as he is always very open about the festival and personal struggles (i.e his eye condition, as it could be read in a recent interview ahead of the event).

In short, the organizers have been facing a lot of challenges due to the rising financial costs and higher fees. This seriously crippled their original vision, to the extent that they were seriously considering to cancel Roadburn 2023. Bands that were planned to take part were unable to do so, either due to the post-covid challenges of touring, or simply because it had became financially unaffordable. By autumn 2022, when the tickets came on sale, there were only a handful of confirmations. “Adjust or die” became the new mantra, thus the decision to refocus on the underground and on the emerging and upcoming talents. Basically, the next concept able to fulfill the festival’s vision of redefining heaviness, while pushing the musical boundaries even further.

The collaboration with Rocket Recordings also allowed to fulfill these criteria. As mentioned by Walter, the idea was not to retrospective focus on the 25 years of the label, but on the most promising artists that will bring the label into the future (possibly into another 25 years). This new perspective raised criticism from many aficionados who have been visiting Roadburn since the early days. Many felt – and feel – that the festival does not reflect anymore their taste as much as it once used to. We all know how harsh people can be on the internet, and clearly this has been weighting on the mind of someone who has dedicated so many years to create something beautiful. Much passion and hard work has been poured into making one of the best festivals in Europe (as proven by the Best Small Festival award won at the European Festival Awards 2022), but this sort of feedback can lead the most dedicated organizers to considering “why bother”.

 

This waves within the community, has been in my opinion the fruit of the close-mindedness of a small part of the festival goers. I somehow get it, change can be scary, especially when heading into uncharted territory. Nonetheless, the outcome of the 2023’s edition and the response during the festival – and after it – has been incredibly positive from everyone who took part in it. I for one am glad that this is the direction the festival has taken, even if it was a “guided” choice in terms of survival. We should expect more of this in the future, and it might take a few years to fully readjust, but there is proof that incredibly good performances by really talented artists are still to be expected. And more importantly, the sense of community around the festival grounds has perhaps been felt even more strongly than before.

After these considerations and reflections about past, future and present of Roadburn, this year there was again no time to check the Roadburn exhibition. It would be great if it could open earlier in the day, so one could visit it first thing, before starting all the ensuing festival “madness”.

After trying out the vegan food court on the back of the church opposite to 013, it was time to head to The Terminal stage for the first band of the day. To be precise it’s another commissioned performance, a collaboration between Elizabeth Colour Wheel and Ethan Lee McCarthy (Primitive Man, Spiritual Poison). Having been captivated by both ECW’s show on Friday and the Spiritual Poison gig of last year (sadly I missed it this edition), I was quite excited about this gig and I can gladly say it was even more powerful and intense than the earlier show. These guys really have an overwhelming energy and can take you by hand into their bizarre musical world made of a mishmash of different genres. I would have happily had even a third gig, or a fourth one… let’s make Elizabeth Colour Wheel the new Thou! (Half-jokingly still secretly disappointed there was no Thou secret show)

Elizabeth Colour Wheel and Ethan Lee McCarthy

On the way towards Imperial Triumphant I managed to slip into the Next Stage for the first few minutes of The Sonic Dawn. While, I didn’t witness enough to give a proper judgment on their show, I got a glimpse at the psychedelic trippiness of these Danish rockers. With a journey back in time of some 60 years (the 60’s where around 60 years ago, imagine that!).

The Sonic Dawn

The avant-garde blackened death metallers Imperial Triumphant set a totally different tone when performing their latest “Spirit of Ecstasy” – for the first time and in its entirety. What I find peculiar is how much appeal the band had to the youngest members of the audience, doting masks and the overall atmosphere more akin to a family-friendly show than to a traditional extreme metal audience. That’s the beauty of music. The extravagantly decadent trio still mentioned the appearance of guest musicians and champagne, of which I have seen none.

Imperial Triumphant

Then again, after a short while, I was already on my way to more obscure discoveries in the form of Ossaert, at The Terminal. Coming from the city of Zwolle in the Nord-east of The Netherlands, this young band, project of the guitarist/vocalist of Shagor, turned out to be pretty convincing. Their blasphemous ritual rooted in traditional black metal, with aggressive – almost suffocating – blast beats and sharp guitar riffs only to be interrupted by occasional church-like chanting. Black robes, corpsepaint and inverted crosses – this was maybe the most “trve” among the extreme acts performing this year.

Ossaert

To the opposite side of the spectrum it was time for The Golden Grass, performing on the Next Stage with their groovy heavy rock. The Newyorker trio, featuring drummer/vocalist Adam Kriney – placed in the front of the stage – placed ample smiles on their crowd’s faces with their vintage rock, psychedelic visuals and contagious positive vibes.

Providing a well fitting mood (high note and good feeling) to the audience on this Sunday afternoon/last festival day. Notably, most of the set was focused on the freshly released “Life Is Much Stranger”. Fresh is also their sound – which is not necessarily a given.

The Golden Grass

Coming next and with a certain dose of expectations, Big Brave showed everyone what they are made of on the big stage. This was a clear upgrade after their show as last year’s festival opening band at The Terminal. The band – in the middle of their European tour – played their seventh and newest record “Nature Morte”, performing as a foursome instead of a trio. The richness and solemnity of their sound, heavy bass and distorted riff, as well as the distinctive lamenting vocals really make Big Brave something that is enjoyed to the fullest live. Has to be mentioned, that this year’s show absolutely outdid their already great performance last year.

Big Brave

Mostly bouncing back and forth from The Terminal to the main venue’s two stages today (The Engine Room stage was already closed yesterday), I sneaked into Wayfarer’s gig. The show was a two-parts special set. Divided into a retrospective on the bands’ “western black metal” and a collection of new material. Which, for the excitement of their fans, it was debuting here at Roadburn. I have been a bit skeptical about this “Americanization” far-west style, but I understand how this could appeal to many. The audience at this performance seemed to dig it quite intensely.

Wayfarer

However, in the spirit of trying to fit in bits and pieces of all kinds of artists and genres over this weekend, it was time to run back to 013 for Canadian folk dream pop Nicole Dollanganger. The artist, who previously had a secret show of her own, felt like quite the oddball even in this year’s Roadburn line-up. Her gothic-doll-like style, guiding the audience through the tales with her soft vocals in a white frilly dress. While her biggest fans were watching in awe, the act clearly sparked the curiosity amongst the rest of the audience.

Nicole Dollanganger

The beauty of this festival is the ability to wonder from Wayfarer to this, to Zola Jesus – travelling through this wide musical spectrum in just over an hour. The connecting theme – as it is throughout Roadburn – is the band’s uniqueness factors, that often become genre-defining. Zola Jesus was really something! Although ,I still very much prefer her solo set, which for me was one of the biggest surprises from this festival!
In this European exclusive appearance, the new iteration of the band, lead by Nika Roza Danilova, took only a moment to conquer the audience filling 013. The songs from her latest “Arkhon” are even more evocative and rich in emotions when experienced live. The talent of Nika as a performer, which alternated between two microphones before sitting at the piano mid-show, was already evident to anyone who has seen her live before – at Roadburn or otherwise.
The introspective nature of the latest material comes forth and pervades the atmosphere in the hall, and if it wasn’t still early in the evening, this would be a perfect note to end the festival with.

Zola Jesus

Time to switch venues for Mamaleek, who replaced Këkht Aräkh in the festival’s line-up, and brought their experimental music. Ranging from black metal to noise rock, post-punk and at times even jazzy elements. This unconventional, masked ensemble stoop up to the occasion and to the task bestowed upon them. They provided a show that was equally confusing as it was appealing, just like their musical offer.

Mamaleek

What stood up even more – talking about saving the best for last – was the Danish Afsky. Creation of Ole Pedersen Luk, this atmospheric black metal project immediately overwhelmed the crowd with an outstanding gig. The reaction was visibly insane compared to many of the other shows, or perhaps many people really felt they could truly let themselves go at this point. Nonetheless, this was without any doubt my favorite black metal performance of a weekend filled with extreme music. Although, I still would have loved to see Shagor and Deathless Void. The melancholic feel and melodies coupled with fast, violent beats accompanying the raucous vocals clearly stroke a chord. This is yet another band to add to my playlist for the weeks to come.

Afsky

Deafkids performance was almost over when I found my way back to 013 – where I spent the last few hours of the festival. Aside from “winning the fluffiest hair contest” by a large margin, the Brazilian act was showing their mastery of hypnotic beats, reverb, and noisy psychedelia mixed with Latin American and African sounds. A sample of this mastery had been delivered earlier in the weekend, during their collaboration show with Duma.

Deafkids

The latter would also perform later, in the least secret of the secret shows (more on that later). The residence artist, Oiseaux-Tempête, had the last official show on the main stage. Playing both “From Somewhere Invisible” and “What On Earth (Que Diable)”, joined on stage by Radwan Ghazi Moumneh (Jerusalem In My Heart) who was involved in the recordings of their former record. Having seen them earlier this weekend – and not being overly familiar with this ensemble – I didn’t quite know what to expect but that it would be good regardless. My expectations were not betrayed, with a set that reached new heights in experimentation and truly showed why these guys were chosen for this edition. Showing they are part of an evolving collective of musicians, that continuously challenge themselves to push their music further and further with each release – as they so clearly demonstrated in these shows.

Oiseaux-Tempête

Last year I couldn’t see Duma’s performance because by that time not even a needle could have fit in the venue anymore, so it was a relief when this time I could easily find my way to the front. Not even announced in the festival app – or at least the show never appeared on my phone – literally everyone by now knew this was happening. Like last year’s “Thou Sabbath” show were Thou played Black Sabbath covers, this quickly transformed into a raging party for the last Roadburners to be around. The adrenaline levels went up when the duo got re-united on stage and the vocalist started jumping around. While inciting the fans who were moshing to these erupting bursts of energy created by the Kenyan combo. A symbol of redefining music in the true spirit of Roadburn, the raw intensity of this show was insane, and the result was almost cathartic. This allowed the audience to leave with a good feeling – and a visible amount of sweat – concluding the festival on a very high note.

Duma

Aside from this final gig, this year I consciously largely ignored the various secret shows. After all, there was so much to discover already in the conventional schedule (not to mention all the various side-events – including a theatrical dance performance! – and off-road program). It’s always difficult to choose where to be and what to sacrifice in order to follow other performances throughout the weekend. I attempted to get a little taste of everything, and only partially succeeded. To return to the buffet analogy of the first day, the secret is to make sure you stack things on your plate in such a way you can fit as much as possible. But plates and stomach have a finite capacity. Nonetheless, once we have digested everything, knowing that the menu will provide something intriguing and able to satisfy even the most difficult of palates, one will be eager to get back.

The personal highlights of today were in random order: Duma, Zola Jesus, Big Brave, Afsky, Elizabeth Colour Wheel with Ethan Lee McCarthy (but again there were so many more interesting artists to see).

This might not have been the Roadburn many people would expect, but it was the Roadburn we didn’t know we needed: a proper journey of discovery through bands that have been adding something new and fresh with their music and will continue to push their – and our – boundaries in the coming years.

I said it before and I repeat that I am excited to see where this will lead to in regard to the future of this festival, which – as Walter himself put it – appears to really have “found a new lease on life”. Despite not being sold out for the first time in nearly two decades, the audience response was really positive, with only kind words to be heard from the people who joined the event. I think this new chapter is going to provide new interesting opportunities, and it’s very important to see the level of support from the Roadburners community. In a time when many festivals are struggling for their very existence – Roadburn is no exception – the festivals need its fans more than ever. Clearly the fans wants to have more Roadburn editions and this creates the need for mutual support and greater sense of community and bonding that was observed this year. I am confident the path to the future will be, at least, as exciting and entertaining as it has been up til now. I for one would like to enjoy that ride.

This year there were no curators for the festival – due to the aforementioned difficulties in being able to bring their vision properly to life – but the residence artists did a splendid job. The various collaboration shows and commissioned work, along with special sets, and even the more regular performances, as a whole, made this yet again a successful edition. The magic experience of attending a festival is a combination of discovering new exciting bands, enjoy the ones already close to your heart, connect with like-minded people, forget your troubles for a few days and feel part of something special. Roadburn does all of that and I’ll never stop mentioning how incredibly welcoming people are at this festival – the artists, the organizers, the volunteers, the fans, even the town folks of Tilburg, that for a few days a year seem to be united with the common goal to share something beautiful together.

As the 2023 edition of Roadburn came to a wrap, it was slowly time to leave this magical festival bubble of the past four days, perhaps a quick stop at the weirdo canyon saying goodbye to friends (old and new) and get back to everyday life. Since the race to find accommodation for 2024 already began during the weekend (and tickets are already on sale), I am sure many will be counting the days til next year edition. Maybe you are one of them too?

Tex and photos by Marco Manzi
Managing editor: Elsa Marques

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About The Author

Adopted the role of the zine Finnish emissary, and since my addition to the roster, I have been juggling the tasks of Editor-in-chief, Promoter and Manager of the zine social media pages. As part of the permanent staff of the zine, album reviews, video and written interviews, covering live shows (text, video and photography) have been also a strong contribution to the zine work. Besides the zine "hobbies" I am also a origami, music and travel enthusiastic. Academic background: Biology degree from the University of Coimbra (Portugal); Master of Science in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the Center of Neurosciences & Faculty of Science and Technology (Portugal); PhD degree from the Medical Faculty, University of Helsinki (Finland).

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