A Roadburner’s dialogue, Part 2 : What are you seeing today ?

Alex: In the first part of this conversation, we talked about how Roadburn builds a community that goes beyond the music festival itself on a very practical level ; fostering their online community, setting up the ground for newcomers and solo wanderers, and providing a platform for the underground to reveal itself.

A very important word about how all this happens was thrown in : ‘organically’. The increasingly diverse crowd that unites here primarily comes on the ground of common appetites for music and art – not necessarily common “taste” as there’s a lot of different styles to play with, but really an interest for emotionally intense, varied musical experiences. Curiosity and sharing is key for attendees and artists alike, which results in a 100% guaranteed and natural way to connect to ANYONE here ; asking the simplest question.

“So, what’s your plan for today ? Do you have an absolute must-see ?”

E: Asking that question is a must. These people are so into Litvrgy, they must have some interesting takes on what’s good, no? See what path they have charted for themselves through the festival, and they’ll let you in on little secrets that will blast your brain. You told me to make time for Oiseaux-Tempête: I did, and I discovered something wonderful I previously had no idea existed. I sure hope I returned the favour by turning your head towards something good!

A: You did ! Ironically you convinced me to give KEN mode a try, even though you initially only had a moderate interest in them. I myself thought they were cool enough on record but I hadn’t given them that much attention. Dare I say that experiencing them live did bounce my teeth off ? One song and I told myself “holy guacamole, I need to get back to their disco”.

E: Indeed, I was pretty ambivalent about them, as I had it in my mind that they were one of those standard-issue noise Metal bands. You know what I’m talking about: lots of Melvins, bits of Prong, a dash of Shellac. I went in just because they were there, and the alternative was to stare at the wall of my B&B a little while longer, and BLAM! Riffs that could level cities, attitude for days.

They were a stark reminder of the #1 rule: if you spot a lull in the schedule, get your ass inside the nearest room. Treasures await!

Look at that happy face. KEN Mode @ Roadburn 2023 – picture by Peter Troest

A: You also helped me solve one of the many cruel band clashes ; the one between Bell Witch and Ashenspire. It’s a very typical festival dilemma : one legendary band making a rare apparition or a fresh young band carving something new, although Roadburn tends to add some extra difficulty by making the big sets even more exclusive. There’s not many festivals willing to grant 80+ minutes on their mainstage for a freaking Funeral Doom gig averaging at 1 riff every 12 minutes, along with the special visual show !

You’re more of a Bell Witch fan than I am but despite all of these considerations, you had a word about Ashenspire that convinced me to stick with them Scots…

E: That was a hard one for me: I adore Bell Witch. I’ve lost count of the people who stared at me with a “Really?” on their face when I mention the fact that I must’ve listened to Mirror Reaper some 50 times since it came out.

A: Wait a minute. That’s not possible, by my calculations 50 times Mirror Reaper must be around a hundred and three years long.

E: Their surprise announcement, in direct conflict with Ashenspire, put me at a crossroads: hide under the blanket of known comforts, or look for the pleasures of the new? A whole-ass new Bell Witch album was so strong a siren call, but the Scots represent such a shakeup of the Metal world that it could be measured on the Richter scale: I just had to see them.

Was it worth it? Holy shit, yes. I mean, if the entirety of Roadburn could be squeezed into one band, it would sound and look like Ashenspire.

A: Pretty much yeah ; tight and technical, but also super spontaneous ! And the sexyphone player could have shaken the whole crowd just by himself.

Yes, I did mean SEXYphone player. Ashenspire @ Roadburn 2023. Photo by Paul Verhagen

A: Aside the stuff that you ‘expect’ before the festival, like Ashenspire who were already perceived as one of the rising new things in Metal, Roadburn also offers an especially high potential for off-the-charts discoveries : did you see White Boy Scream by any chance ?

I only heard about her when she was announced on the bill, briefly checked her music out, and I went there expecting modern operatic singing with keyboards and some electronics. You know, smooth and artsy.

Boy, was I unprepared ! She does not “just” sings beautifully with a clearly trained lyrical background ; she does things with her voice, plays with whispers and throat sounds, she’s always between ‘beautiful’ and ‘unsettling’. And then the noise walls start and HOLY SHIT.

Floating in the void, mercilessly drilling your body to a fixed point in time and space : White Boy Scream. Picture by Niels Vinck

You know the sensation when the bass resonates through your whole body, right ? Not the kind of “free headbanging” body heaviness we Metalheads are used to. I was literally chained to the air, feet drilled to the ground, locked in on her slow rhythms and crescendos. It was really a sensory and emotional shock – the kind of moment where I really get the whole “Redefining Heaviness” thing. Certainly one of the most impacting concerts for me this year .

And this kind of discoveries tend to compound here ; I was chatting with a friend at the Hall of Fame – probably my favourite spot to hang out during Roadburn, you can get kvlt gigs, beers, amazing coffee and plenty of sitting space. Anyway I told them about White Boy Scream, so they took me to Paradox the next day for the jam set between her and the Dutch Jazz trio Under the Surface. Next thing I know, I was vibing to a strange atmospheric folky jazz with those two heavenly voices playing around with each other. In the midst of a – technically ? – “Metal” festival. That was simply lovely.

Under The Surface at Paradox @ Roadburn 2023. Picture by Guus van der Aa

This is actually one very specific aspect of Roadburn : how they set up these exclusive collab sets between bands… Which eventually turn into new bands on their own.

A flamboyant example is the Waste of Space Orchestra, the fusion between Dark Buddha Rising and Oranssi Pazuzu from the 2019 edition, but the White Boy Scream + Under The Surface collab falls into that category as well : stuff you will ONLY see happen at Roadburn. The latter is not likely to result in an album release though, more of a unique, once-and-it’s-gone experience. For the 2023 edition I’d wager the biggest example of a new “Roadburn-created band” would be Trounce. I had no idea what they sounded like at the time as I didn’t see them. But everyone seems to be going NUTS about them ever since !

E: Ah, Trounce! The black goo that comes out if you put Coilguns and the rest of your records collection into a juicer. A crusty, solemn beast, full of apocalyptic chants, d-beat blitzkriegs and funeral-ish Doom slowdowns, beholden to no specific genre but still totally cohesive from start to end. That album cannot come out soon enough, at least to help me solidify the malformed sonic memory that lives in my head: I cannot remember the songs, but I can fully recall the vibe, and I want more of it.

T R O U N C E. If you missed this so far, well… Stop it.

This idea of commissioning projects is what really propelled Roadburn to a whole new level, especially as it came when so many festivals were starting to take notes from Walter’s operation. And it’s such a simple idea – “make new music, y’all!” – but its value cannot be understated. First of all, I think the whole scene greatly benefits from adopting a more collaborative approach: so many excellent projects have come out in the last few years within the greater Roadburn sphere, but without the festival’s direct intervention (think of Conjurer/Pijn, John Cxnnor/The Devil’s Trade, Wolvennest’s “Her True Nature”, that massive Thou/Mizmor LP or the big Metallica/Lou Reed coll…err…scratch that). I see that as a sign of a real shift in perspective within the Metal realm, the barriers coming down to reveal endless fields of creative possibilities.

Secondly, this allowed some specific artists, ones in which the festival believes, to get the exact space and resources to develop some of their most ambitious efforts. This was the case for Jo Quail, or the amazing Tom G. Warrior Requiem concert from back in 2019, with the festival literally offering him both the input and the means to complete a work that he had started 30 years before. Certainly I’m no enthusiast of the old concept of patronage but, on the other hand, isn’t it cool that somebody has the underground lifers’ back?

And here we go back to one of the festival’s great pleasures: most of time, you have no clue of that the final result of those collaborations will sound like. A general idea, maybe, but the exact thing? You could make an educated guess of what Waste of Space Orchestra will end up being, but that was…something else. And, listen: I like my comfort foods well enough. I wouldn’t want to live without Obituary giving me EXACTLY what I expect from them. But Metal is a wild beast, capable of infinite evolutionary swerves, but also prone to stagnation. All possible avenues to avert inertia should be explored, and smashing bands together as if they were wrestling action figures is a fabulous way to open up new paths.

Read more :

A Roadburner’s Dialogue, Part 3 : What is Roadburn ?

Third and last post of this series, where we reflect on what Roadburn means on personal level… And what Roadburn can mean in the broader sense.

A Roadburner’s dialogue, Part 1 : the sense of Community

Six months after the latest Roadburn edition, Elia and Alex take on a reflection about why this festival stands out among all others.