Festival Report

Towards a juster music world: Roskilde and the Human Stain

Is something rotten in Denmark? Not at Roskilde: the Danish festival legend lights the way in terms of musical, social and societal diversity and sustainability on, in front of and behind the stage – if organisers dare to go beyond the minimum effort. But is the audience ready for Utopia?

Roskilde’s 51st edition is history: late Saturday night, or rather, Sunday morning, the very last visitors found their way to their tents, long after the orange stage ended on a high note with a grandiose performance by Lizzo, the singer and flute player come international pop superstar. For the non-profit organisation behind the festival, it was also the opening of a new chapter in their history: after last year’s 50th edition, the organisers chose the motto of „Utopia“ as a guiding principle for the coming years. In a world characterised by wars, climate catastrophe, inflation, and a rising percentage of youth feeling hopeless about their future, the festival aims to create utopian forms of community and togetherness on the festival grounds, hoping their effort will shine beyond the lawns of the town just outside Copenhagen, and inspiring change in everyday life.

But can a festival truly change hearts and minds?
Can it really make an impact beyond its festival grounds? Or even on its festival grounds alone? The festival’s line up this year was again certainly impressive and highlighted the booking team’s efforts to show how musical and social diversity, gender equality, and mainstream and underground attitudes can be all be satisfied. From headliners such as Blur, aforementioned Lizzo, but also Rosalía, Lil Nas X, Kendrick Lamar and Queens of the Stone Age, to Kongolese Afrofuturist Punks Fulu Mikizi, Pakistani music phenomenon Ustad Noor Bakhsh, hot Jazz icons Domi & JD Beck, or Hardcore legend Justin Pearson, and dozens of other well-known and obscure artists from all corners of the world, alongside activists, speakers, and visual artists, the scope of the festival is only paralleled by few others, maybe even only the UK’s Glastonbury.

Other aspects of this utopia still felt vague, despite best efforts. For several years now for example, the organisers have created an initiative called „Orange Together“, mirroring the festival’s logo colour, with stations on camp grounds, social workers and volunteers actively working towards more respectful behaviour, and providing support, safety, and help particularly in cases to sexual violence, as well as offering workshops on how to behave respectfully and accept other people’s boundaries.

But just like the festival’s very well intentioned – and often successful – ecological sustainability strategies, they can only serve as support systems and behavioural nudges. The festival grounds are still ripe with young and not so young festival goers expressing domineering and, with rising alcohol levels, even intrusive behaviour.

At the late night show of the feminist Black Metal act Witch Club Satan from Norway, who perform almost nude, there was a front row full of men filming the artists’ bodies. No amount of hair pieces, corpse paint and litres of (hopefully) fake blood could keep parts of the audience from zooming closer to the performers, neither could the intense, furious tracks expressing their anger at patriarchy.

But despite all criticism and limitations, Roskilde’s efforts should serve as an inspiration for other festival organisers. While still far from perfect, the goal itself to create a fairer and more just festival experience for all visitors should be lauded. Roskilde’s not-for-profit status allows the organisation to be more experimental and attempt to do things differently. Their ongoing success – they were sold out again this year – proves them right. While the diversity and gender equality on the stage will not immediately translate into a diverse and more equal audience in front of the stage or team behind the stage, it can be a first step towards a more inclusive, maybe even utopian society. Considering the Danish and worldwide shift towards authoritarianism, every single attempt is worth a shot.

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