On the off-chance that I’m lucky enough to attend the 2014 Roadburn, it will be my sixth. I cannot and will not claim to have been there when the annual festival — held at the 013 venue in Tilburg, the Netherlands, each April — “took off,” nor will I attempt to speak to its history, but having been fortunate enough to witness the five in a row that I have, and having watched over the last couple months as the 2014 lineup has come together, I’ve come to think about the fest differently over that time.
I remember being lost my first trip to Tilburg, staying at the Hotel Ibis in 2009, taking the bus over to the venue, and back, having dinner and copious drinks at the outside tables of Weirdo Canyon, learning how to properly pronounce “Duvel” — emphasis on the first syllable not the second; like “drivel,” but delicious — and having no idea how to get from the Green Room to what was then the Bat Cave and has since been renamed Stage01. The ins and outs of the 013 were somewhat familiar by the end of the fest, but in the years since, I’ve come to think of them the way someone of faith might imagine a pilgrimage destination. Sacred space. A place that helps make you who you are.
Maybe religious terms are the right ones for it, since if I’ve “drunk the Kool Aid” for anything in the last half-decade, it’s Roadburn. I’m a fan. Whether it’s seeing the humble and exhausted awe of festival figurehead Walter Hoeijmakers throughout each weekend as he seems in perpetual amazement of what’s happening in front of and around him — the sold-out crowd a given each year, the physical pressure in any of the 013‘s rooms or in the converted church Het Patronaat dependent on who happens to be on stage at the time, but probably a factor no matter who it is — or having seen sets there from the Born too Late era lineup of Saint Vitus and so many others I never imagined I would see, whether it’s Godflesh, or Church of Misery, or Electric Wizard, or the collaborations, album performances, all recorded, all documented, whatever it might be that speaks to the extra effort that goes into making Roadburn something special even within the righteous sphere of European festivals. For the incomprehensible dedication alone, it’s hard to think of it in any context other than the supernatural. Perhaps in part because of the travel involved and the immersion into a culture other than mine (at least when I’m outside 013; when there I feel more in my own culture than when I actually am), it is an otherworldly experience.
That was true in 2009 and up to 2013, but of course that context changes, doesn’t it? It has to. The venue becomes familiar. The trains to get there become familiar. The walk from the Tilburg station to the hotel. I know which restaurant in Weirdo Canyon has the good breakfast special and which back door in what room of the 013 leads where. In the time that I’ve been aware of its presence in the European underground sphere, Roadburn has grown immensely in reputation, and rightly so. While I may have acclimated to its methods, I nonetheless remain astounded by them. Perhaps all the more so because I’ve seen it happen over this span.
The way I think about Roadburn is like any creative project. It has evolved. What started based around a specific idea of supporting heavy and/or stoner rock has grown into something else, and by “grown,” I don’t just mean ticket sales. It is a creative progression, like one would see in any artist, like one sees all the time in bands. This evolution has happened organically, but it has also reached in multiple directions. Like octopus arms, Roadburn‘s spectrum has stretched into multiple spheres, so that it’s not unreasonable that what might seem like the incongruities of a Mikael Åkerfeldt curation, or Loop and Triptykon sharing a stage, and of Napalm Death compiling a special set exclusively for the fest are not only accepted, they’re near expected. Approaching 2014, Roadburn is like any genre-bridging work. It teaches you how to read it. It is the festival, the experience, as art.
It would be a cliche to say you can’t know if you haven’t been there, and while on some level it’s true as it is of anything, even those who’ve yet to make the pilgrimage or who may not be interested in doing so can be affected by its influence, whether it’s someone else of similar mind following in Roadburn‘s footsteps, or an artist finding inspiration somehow in that weekend as many have, up to and including Enslaved. To understand there’s nothing else like Roadburn is one thing. To breathe that air — no easy task by the end of a Saturday night, perhaps, but worthwhile to feel alive — is something else entirely. It is a singular vibe, and no matter who takes up that influence, their work is inherently derived from it.
The first time I heard of Loop, I was in an Austin, Texas, hotel room, sharing it with a publicist whose level of offense that I’d never listened to the band bordered on the personal. One might look at the progression of having related acts like Jesu and Godflesh, not to mention Loop‘s own Robert Hampson play solo at Roadburn in years past as an example of the continued creative expansion of the fest itself. The chance to see them now, to be there, crowded in the photo pit and to then march with my stupidly oversized camera bag back to my hotel room and spend the whole night, from about midnight until after the sun is up, typing about it, only to crash out and then get up the next afternoon, shower and immediately head back to the 013 — no time for food, barely time for coffee — to watch YOB and The Heads at the Sunday Afterburner, tired, dead on my feet by then but still fucking there, is something I live in fear of missing.
I want to see that next stage in the process, to find out how the psychedelic fetish that has resulted in a live Papermoon performance, in The Heads playing with John McBain, in Carlton Melton and Sula Bassana meshes with the destructive onslaughts of Windhand, Inter Arma, Sourvein, Conan and Lord Dying. I want to discover The Great Old Ones and see Gozu and Freedom Hawk triumph like I watched Wo Fat this year. I want to be able to spend all of 2014 saying, “It was better at Roadburn,” like I’ve done for the last five years; one reality condescending to another outside of itself. I want to see the people I’ve met and all the familiar faces of the regulars there year after year. I want to worship again.
And I hope I will.Roadburn 2014, The Netherlands, Tilburg