Roskilde Festival 2019: The Report
Strap in for our rundown of the extensive, exciting and endlessly impressive Roskilde festival in Denmark
After two buses, one plane, two trains, another bus and some cursing by a Danish roadside, The Skinny touches down in Roskilde. It's a mid-sized town half an hour outside Copenhagen, famous for its Viking boat museum, gothic cathedral and – for one week a year – its gigantic, 130,000 capacity music festival.
Maryland’s Maggie Rogers (★★★★) kicks things into gear on the Avalon stage with an energetic set that brings to mind a young Florence and the Machine, while over in the arena 80s veterans Tears for Fears (★★★) cover Radiohead’s Creep alongside goth classics like Suffer the Children.
It’s another newcomer who is first to showcase the breadth of Roskilde though. The emo-rap assault of JPEGMAFIA (★★★★) sends all bar the hardest core of aggro bros to the bar for another beer; in the audience a man with a giant ginger beard bench presses another guy. It’s that kind of show. He’s not gonna take Travis Scott’s crown, but for a hint at what hip-hop will sound like in 2023 it’s a good insight, merging industrial angst with a warning: “Fuck Morrissey. And if you like Morrissey, fuck you too.”
On the main stage Bob Dylan (★★★) may be reluctant to play the hits but back in the Avalon tent, Catalonia’s Rosalía (★★★★★) is on the brink of becoming a global star. In a red leather coat trimmed with fur over a crop top and suspenders, she looks like one already. Backed by a sextet of dancers in white, she whips her ponytail fiercely as the crowd bellow her name. From Bon Iver-inspired AutoTune to samples of Justin Timberlake and a commanding Malamente, it’s both clear that her next record is a guaranteed smash and that the bar has been set for the weekend.
An hour later it’s time for a different diva as Cardi B (★★) hits the orange mainstage. After cancelling a recent headline slot at Primavera, there’s some question marks over her fitness to perform, especially in the wake of a strip club assault charge, but at the very least in a green glittery leotard and matching boots she, like Rosalía, looks the part. Sadly what follows is a somewhat confused set, with the Bronx star struggling to catch her breath. A fierce Drip sees her tip a bottle of water over her head, but the set feels disjointed and uneven and it’s not improved by a rambling turn at the mic that sees her mix up Denver and Denmark. She can summon flames and air horns for a DJ Khaled cover but it’s really only Bodak Yellow which catches light.
Thankfully there are no such problems for Christine and the Queens (★★★★) whose total stage command extends to both impeccable vocals on bangers like Tilted and Five Dollars, and a series of clever and emotive dance routines.
Day two starts with drizzle but the locals are early risers, packing Roskilde’s chill zone/art project, the Ambereum, as a DJ plays dubby electronics to people on beanbags while a girl dressed as a unicorn flosses.
Touring her excellent new record Remind Me Tomorrow, Sharon Van Etten (★★★) channels The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde and St. Vincent for brilliant versions of Seventeen and Jupiter 4 but her older material looks monochrome by comparison. A piano cover of Sinead O’Connor’s Black Boys on Mopeds nods to her influences but it’s not quite a killer performance. Across on the main field, Brazilian legend Jorge Ben Jor (★★★★) delivers a set of classics including the always upbeat A Minha Menina, but it’s time for a quick dash past the stalls (£117 lamb’s wool jumpers? Perfect for a festival) for Joey Purp (★★★★) whose youthful energy makes tracks like Morgan Freeman pop. Black-clad Chicago rap minimalism may seem idiosyncratic in rural Denmark but the crowd go wild regardless.
Sadly the first black mark for the schedulers comes for whoever put Julien Baker (★★) and her gentle guitar up against Lemaitre’s booming Norwegian electro house. The public vote with their feet and choose banging beats in the rain leaving a sombre Baker to rail against the Fourth of July to a small but loyal bunch. Far more energy can be found back at the Avalon stage where Neneh Cherry (★★★★) and Fatoumata Diawara (★★★★★) deliver two of the best sets of the weekend.
Cherry’s drum'n'bass meets trip-hop sound feels remarkably contemporary, bringing the Notting Hill Carnival to life and reminding everyone what a huge tune Buffalo Stance is, while the infectious energy of the heavily pregnant Diawara brings Malian music with a social conscience to the big stage. With a set that includes a tribute to Fela Kuti and a frankly astonishing take on Nina Simone’s Sinnerman, it’s impossible not to get swept along as she declares: “This is my Africa”. By the time the audience leap up for the final time, there’s so much whooping and cheering that her band have to return for a genuinely impromptu curtain call. Nina would be proud.
By contrast, perhaps the audience are a bit too well behaved for the seismic electro Jon Hopkins (★★★★) brings to the party, but aided by a pair of dancers and one bollock-naked man whose commitment to partying far exceeds the majority of his countrymen, it’s still a triumphant set. Finally self-proclaimed “boyband” Brockhampton (★★★★) flex out in shiny silver boiler suits. Like Odd Future, you suspect they'll become more notable for what their members go on to achieve individually but tracks like Boogie simply batter away any cynicism.
By Friday it’s time to explore the Roskilde campsite; a former mining site, it's split between “silent and clean” campsites and the more debauched areas nearer to the main arena. At the southern end there are a pair of lakes, perfect for chilling on the shore and soothing hangovers.
The first act The Skinny catches on a sunny third day is New Zealander Aldous Harding (★★★) whose stately, echoing chamber pop is more music for dusty libraries than summer days. British psych rock veterans Spiritualized (★★★★) are a better fit, channelling Pink Floyd, The Velvet Underground and gospel music into a sky-scraping set. Similarly Californian native Weyes Blood (★★★★) has just released her biggest record yet and her ambition is fully on show, covering The Beach Boys’ God Only Knows in a slick white suit.
Playing beneath a giant globe, Vampire Weekend (★★★★) have lost co-songwriter Rostam Batmanglij but gained an array of additional musicians to help on a surprisingly short set that draws from all four of their records. There are plenty of chirpy indie classics like A-Punk and Cousins but singer Ezra Koenig also delivers a side serving of existential angst, ending on Jerusalem, New York, Berlin with its references to the darkest days in human history.
Perched at the exact apex where exciting tips over into unlistenable you’ll find Black Midi (★★★★). Singer Geordie Greep flits around like a gothic impression of Mark E Smith while the music screams and grinds, accelerates and collapses. Don’t expect to see them in the charts anytime soon; do play their new record if you want to scare your nan.
For something a bit more nostalgic though, the Arena is the place to be. When the inevitable plague/nuclear war sees us all off Johnny Marr (★★★★) will still be playing mid-bill sets of solo material and select Smiths classics. Even if Morrissey has got harder to love, tracks like There is a Light That Never Goes Out are still touchstones and Marr delivers them with a winning sincerity. Following swiftly on his heels, dance veterans Underworld (★★★★) are equally adept at summoning the ghosts of raves past for one last fling. It’s an anachronistic sound in 2019 but Born Slippy with its festival-slaying 'lager, lager, lager' chant is still hard to beat.
Finally it’s time for Robyn (★★★★). On site this feels like the most anticipated set of the weekend and the Swedish star delivers. Tracks like Be Mine and the arms aloft closing trio of Dancing On My Own, Missing U and Call Your Girlfriend feel genuinely ecstatic, showing just why Robyn is the closest to a true heir to Abba Scandinavia has produced.
By day four, The Skinny have comfortably settled into life at Roskilde, though a few things continue to baffle. Denmark’s Scarlet Pleasure (★★) have attained the status of one of their nation’s biggest bands while never really making it abroad. On the basis of today’s mix of white boy hip-hop and seedy 80s pop, they should be on the same no-fly list as the Ebola virus.
Much better however is preternaturally talented South Londoner Flohio (★★★★). “What’s your lucky number? Mine is 16”, she tells a bemused but impressed crowd, before raging her way through tracks like Watchout over clattering synths. On the mainstage Janelle Monáe (★★★★★) stakes her claim to being the most exciting live act on the planet with a superstar’s performance that positions her somewhere between Beyoncé, Outkast and Michael Jackson.
But for larger-than-life personality, it’s hard to beat Lizzo (★★★★). As the Detroit-born singer takes to the stage, there are people literally running to get a better view. “We had to take a ferry to be here. I think I saw a mermaid”, she tells the audience before launching into a fun-packed set of positive anthems like Truth Hurts and Tempo. When she sings: “I just took a DNA test, turns out I'm 100% that bitch” the crowd explodes, while Juice’s flute solo, delivered by Lizzo with immense enthusiasm, triggers waves of hands across the festival site. With her upbeat, positive message and plenty of tongue pops and rolls, it’s no surprise she’s on the way to A-list status. With a final “Remember you can do anything bitch”, she’s off, every inch a star.
Finally it’s time for The Cure (★★★) whose herculean touring appetite and extensive songbook proves to be both a blessing and a curse. After a slow opening stretch, they hit a groove with Lovesong and Last Dance from their peerless 1989 album Disintegration but where an excellent green-lit version of A Forest should trigger a triumphal home run they hit a late set lull. A pop encore arrives eventually but by then the temperature has dropped and Robert Smith’s voice is noticeably worse for wear. It turns out you can have too much of a good thing.
Nevertheless, there are worse ways to end a weekend than with a final dance to Boys Don’t Cry. As Roskilde 2019 prepares to close its doors, there are plenty of smiling faces who will be back next year.
Roskilde Festival ran 29 Jun to 6 Jul at Roskilde, Denmark; Roskilde Festival 2020 will take place 27 Jun to 4 July