Every year in April, the Roadburn Festival draws thousands of attendees to the small town of Tilburg in the south of the Netherlands. Over the years, it became an underground music event with a next to legendary reputation. We talked to artistic director Walter Hoeijmakers about his vision for the festival, and about the consequences of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine when organising an event like this. Hoeijmakers lets us peek at some of his favourites of this year’s edition and talks about the legacy of occult rockers The Devil’s Blood.
woxx: Looking at the line-up of this year’s edition of the Roadburn Festival, there are quite some names on the bill that lots of people are looking forward to see on stage, while at the same time there are lots of bands one has yet to discover. How do you choose the bands?
Walter Hoeijmakers: At Roadburn, we try to define heaviness and also want to go on a journey of discovery. So on the one hand, we are honouring bands that have been redefining heaviness for a long time and have been making waves over the years. These are the bands that are more well known. On the other hand, we are looking to find new young and exciting bands that are doing the same but that haven’t had the opportunity to either become big or to play for a bigger audience. We are always trying to have a well-balanced line-up in this sense.
And what exactly are your criteria?
The criteria are more based on gut feeling than on anything else. Most of the bands at Roadburn have a certain fire in them. They are very passionate about their art, about their music, and they have a certain drive, a certain urgency to make themselves heard. This is very important when picking the bands. So we are constantly on the lookout for new and exciting bands, have our eyes peeled on what is going on in the underground. And we focus on certain genres that are thriving and that might suddenly have a momentum.
When Walter Hoeijmakers (57), artistic director at Roadburn, started the festival in 1999 together with former co-organiser Jurgen van den Brand, it was just one night with some bands whose musicians he already knew. Initially an offspring of a blog with the same name, covering stoner, doom, and psych, it became an internationally acclaimed underground festival for heavy and extreme music over the years. Nowadays, around 5.000 people attend, taking over the Dutch city of Tilburg and some of its main cultural venues for four days. Besides the shows, exhibitions, discussion events, and a dance performance are featured. This year’s edition of the festival will take place from 20 to 23 April.
In your interviews you sometimes refer to the dark elements in music that are important to you. Could you elaborate a bit on what this means to you, in an emotional and in an aesthetical way?
A lot of the underground music is quite dark in scope, in feeling, but also in the way of emotions. When I say dark in scope and feel, I am not talking about dark arts in the sense of people that worship the devil or something. I refer to people that make this kind of music in order to at least cope with their surroundings, to be able to cope with all the difficulties in their personal life or in the world, and mostly the music is a reflection of their struggle with daily life and everything they encounter. These people make music because they want to be heard, but they also want to use music as a catharsis. They really want to get rid of certain feelings or anxieties or fears in their personal lives and they use music as a tool for this. And I think when people are using music as a tool to comprehend life, there is a kind of tension that makes the music interesting, because it is so genuine. For instance, I can find solace in this kind of music; it is music that inspires me to cope with daily life or to take certain decisions. This kind of music can guide me through difficult paths in life. That’s why I refer to the dark elements of the music. For me, personally, that’s the music I like most and that I want to give a platform to at Roadburn Festival. Most of these musicians are really interesting because they turn music into art. They guide the listener into a new world or something, that is how I experience it. This has always been a very important part of Roadburn since the very beginning: We really would like that people who attend Roadburn embark on a journey of discovery not only with regard to new music, but that they discover new things inside themselves as well. And this kind of darker music is the perfect vehicle for it.
Do you always trust your own judgment when it comes to the aesthetical aspects of choosing a certain band, or are you sometimes afraid that a performance might turn out as full of clichés or kitsch?
I trust myself more or less, but it’s always good to collaborate with other people as a soundboard. Like for the booking it’s me, Becky Laverty, Joel Heijda, and there are yet some other people. We are constantly questioning ourselves and we talk amongst ourselves to make sure that we are as genuine as possible in our choices. The last thing we would like is that Roadburn would become a cliché. Roadburn is based on good feelings and on emotions and the aesthetics always need to emphasise that. If you think of the poster art for the festival, the way we present the bands and the whole aesthetics of the festival, we always want to do something different and we want to avoid clichés. Don’t get me wrong, but the days of naked women holding a raven and a skull – that would be too cliché for Roadburn. We want to push boundaries, so we also want to push the aesthetic boundaries of the festival. The festival is not about dark clothing or having a beard or being heavily tattooed. Basically we want Roadburn to be accessible for everyone, regardless of their way of life. And by pushing our own boundaries and by pushing the aesthetics, we hope that people feel welcome, and that is a very important trajectory we have been on in the last couple of years. And part of it is an artwork drifting away from the regular aesthetics that people would expect from a festival like Roadburn.
Do you have a particular artistic outline in mind that you change for every edition of the festival or are you rather going with the flow of what you perceive as interesting at the moment?
It’s a combination of the two. We have a sense of what’s going on in the underground and what we want to represent and reflect at each year’s festival. There’s so much going on, and music is constantly moving forward, and there is an exchange between certain genres and such. So at one hand, we are a reflection of what’s going on in the underground at that moment, and on the other hand, we also deliberately want to showcase certain elements of what we think is important. And then again, referring to the question you asked before, we need to be very careful that we don’t become a cliché, become preachy or behave in an elitist manner or something. And that is something we think about and talk about a lot every year.
So you don’t have a changing topic that you put at the centre of a particular edition of the festival?
We have a certain musical topic, based on the fact that we know what’s going on. For the last couple of years, a lot of electronic-based music has emerged. We noticed a change from the more heavy riff and heavy guitar-based bands to bands that are experimenting with electronics or a hybrid of certain genres. That was the distinctive direction we wanted to take, so the 2022 festival edition was quite heavily based on the influence of electronic music in the underground. That was deliberately a focal point for Roadburn. And for 2023, we noticed that due to the pandemic and the global crisis, the war in Ukraine and such, people feel more uncertain about the future. We started to observe that because things are moving so fast in the world, this is currently reflected in the underground as well. There are a lot of bands that make heavy music again, more punk, post-punk-oriented stuff, electronica-oriented, black metal kind of things. There is a lot of folk music, a lot of dark folk music that addresses all that’s going on. And we noticed that there are a lot of musicians that want to be heard again. They are voicing their opinion musically, artistically, spiritually, and they are voicing their concerns through music. So that is the more distinctive direction for 2023. We wanted to reflect the urgency that we’re noticing right now, the urgency within musicians to make themselves heard.
There’s always been this assertion that art is flourishing in times of crisis because crisis also means that things that we’ve always perceived as normal and certain are suddenly put into doubt or even shattered, and this is what is reflected in art. On the other hand, one could also imagine that it offers escapism, especially when we talk about metal as a genre.
I’d rather say that social development is nurturing art. What we see is that there are a lot of younger bands that are artistically flourishing right now due to the global crisis and post-pandemic situation. They voice their opinion, they showcase a certain urgency in their music, and they are progressive. They want to move forward instead of being reactionary and conservative and harken back to nostalgia or to safety and to the times of yore, pretending that yesterday everything was okay. This is what Roadburn 2023 is all about – moving forward musically and artistically. And that is why this year’s line-up also has a lot of lesser-known bands, because we are deliberately searching for these young and exciting bands that are flourishing at the moment.
Comparing Roadburn with other heavy metal or extreme music festivals, it’s quite obvious that yours is a decidedly inclusive festival. There are many more women on stage than at usual metal festivals, queer attitudes have a platform at Roadburn, there are bands from outside Europe and North America playing and so on. To what extent do you pay specific attention to such aspects while planning the festival?
First of all, it’s not tokenism. We are not trying to tick boxes so to say. In recent years, a lot of women have been doing crazy interesting things that fit into the Roadburn realm musically and artistically. The queer community is also making a lot of waves when it comes to a certain really heavy kind of music. It’s a flourishing scene. We want to give all of them a platform, not because they are queer, not because they are women, but because they are artists. They have a lot to say musically, artistically, but they also are the voice of this current generation of young women, of queer people. By giving them a platform, we notice that we get a more inclusive audience, more women, more people from the LGTBQI community. So with this approach, we have become more and more inclusive, but always based on art and music.
So would you consider Roadburn to be a political or let’s say politically conscious festival? Or is this just more or less the common sense you expect from people: to behave humanely?
I tend to believe that it stems from the latter, that Roadburn is a home away from home, a safe haven for like-minded people. And if you’re offering forward-thinking music and art, you attract forward-thinking people. We never set out to make Roadburn an overtly political festival, but of course it’s very obvious where Roadburn stands. We want to be inclusive, we want to be diverse, we want to have those forward-thinking musicians and offer them a platform for their ideas and their art.
Is Russia’s war against Ukraine affecting the festival and if so, how?
Of course we are affected by it. Let’s begin with the audience. We always had quite some people from Russia and Ukraine coming to the festival, who cannot make it anymore. That is kind of weird, because at Roadburn there was no tension between these people. So in 2022, we had of course people wanting to return their tickets, because they couldn’t travel. But due to all the sanctions we weren’t able to transfer the money anymore. On a very small scale that was an effect of the war that we noticed at Roadburn. And normally we would have had our eyes peeled on certain Russian and Ukrainian artists. We will host White Ward from Ukraine, and we have invited Këkht Aräkh from there, too, but the latter can’t make it due to visa problems. No Russian bands can make it over, which is a real pity, because there is of course also Russian artists that are part of the opposition there and are completely against this war. For instance, a Russian band like Shortparis is very interesting and they are voicing their opinion very clearly. They would be a perfect band for Roadburn, and why not having a band like that at our festival exactly now? But unfortunately it’s not possible, and that saddens me a lot. Of course I am very worried about the war in Ukraine and for the people there. But I’m also very worried about what that will mean in the future for music and art, for our way of living. And I hope this ends really soon.
The motto of the festival became “Redefining heaviness” in recent years. And very obviously, by heaviness, you don’t merely refer to the heaviness of a heavy guitar riff anymore. So what does this mean to you nowadays in a musical sense?
Normally, when you talk about heaviness, you think about, like you said, loud, heavy guitars, heavy guitar riffs, played by denim-clad guys with beards making lots of noise – all those metal bands that I all still love very much. But as an artistic director, I felt very restricted by only catering to certain genres. I started to notice that it all becomes, as you say, more of a cliché, more of a predictable business. There is so much more that defines heaviness, whether it’s electronics or heavy psych, folk, jazz or singer-songwriters. They can be very heavy, too. There is also a lot of heaviness in silence. Heaviness doesn’t need to be amplified by loud amps, it can also be amplified by a singer-songwriter or by soft voices or by hypnotic music. So the reason why we brand the festival “Redefining heaviness” is to let everybody know that Roadburn is nowadays about heaviness in all shapes and forms, unrestricted by genre. That’s very important, because then we can grow as a festival. If we stuck to the post-rock, post-metal, doom side of things, the festival could become very stale. By embracing “Redefining heaviness”, we gave ourselves the opportunity to broaden our horizon and broaden the horizon of our attendees as well. And we feel that Roadburn now has a whole new life, that we have been starting all over again. That gives us a lot of inspiration and it’s also encouraging to work on Roadburn and finding this broad spectrum of musicians and bands. It’s very rewarding.
A band like the Kenyan-Ugandan industrial grindcore/noise band Duma, that played on last year’s edition of the festival, is probably a good example of what you say. They are heavily based on electronic sounds and samples, but they define themselves as a metal band and as a part of the metal scene.
Duma are redefining heaviness because they are a part of the metal scene of Kenya and Uganda, but they have a different take on it than most of their Western counterparts. That’s so interesting about them: They’re making electronic music, but it’s completely steeped in metal aesthetics in a way. That’s why we invited Duma and Deafkids to collaborate on a commissioned music piece. Coming from Brazil, Deafkids also have a different outlook on how these things should sound. If you talk about an average heavy band or a heavy post-rock/post-metal band, you can immediately hear in your head what it sounds like. But these people are toying with that. They are really pushing boundaries and break the musical and aesthetical laws. They are adding their own take on it, and especially Duma, they added their own take on electronics paired with metal. The result is this crazy urgent hybrid of electronics with metal aesthetics. They took the genre and ran with it, so greatly done. When they played at Roadburn in 2022, something happened between the band and the audience. They pushed each other into great heights. The audience was really into that, they were whipped into a frenzy by the band. But likewise, the band was also being encouraged by the response to take it even further. That was so amazing. I vividly remember meeting the two guys from Duma in front of the 013 venue (one of the main venues in Tilburg where Roadburn takes place; ed.) after the show. They were really excited, telling me how much they liked playing at Roadburn because they had the feeling that they were playing for a like-minded audience. They felt understood. They told me, “all the people in the room understood our energy, embraced it, and together,” they said, “we were like in unison.” And that inspired us to ask them to join up with Deafkids for a commissioned music piece, because we are so interested to see how people from Africa and Brazil will take the Roadburn aesthetics, the metal aesthetics, their own aesthetics into a new direction. It feels like they are being put into a pressure cooker.
You started this idea of commissioned music a couple of years ago …
… in 2018.
According to what criteria do you pick the bands that you offer this opportunity to?
The reason why we started the commissioned pieces is because we wanted to distinguish ourselves from other festivals. We wanted to offer the Roadburn attendees something really special, something that you won’t see at any other festival. We are offering new music from bands they know, that can only be witnessed for the very first time at Roadburn. At the same time, we want to give musicians the opportunity to grow as musicians, as artists, by creating something special for Roadburn. So it works both ways. When we started this in 2018, there were two things going on in the underground. There was a really thriving and exciting Icelandic black metal scene, and I happen to know quite some of the key musicians from that scene. At the same time in Finland, you had the whole Tampere scene with Oranssi Pazuzu and Dark Buddha Rising. So it was obvious why we chose the Icelandic black metal scene for one commissioned music project and Dark Buddha Rising and Oranssi Pazuzu for the other. They were all young, exciting musicians with fresh ideas. That’s when we decided to continue with these commissioned pieces. In 2023, we will focus more on the underground, because due to the pandemic, a lot of the smaller underground bands had less opportunity to play, less opportunity to grow as artists and as musicians. That’s why we will have four commissioned pieces catering completely towards the underground. We hope to help these musicians to grow and embrace the opportunity to actually be creative again and to play at a festival in front of thousands of people that are really appreciating their art.
How exactly do you support these bands during that process?
We give them the financial support to actually be creative and we give them a platform at Roadburn. So there is a certain budget for these bands. And then at Roadburn we give them a proper stage and proper production conditions to make this happen. They will perform on the main stage of the 013 or at the Koepelhal (besides the 013, the Koepelhal is the other main venue in Tilburg where Roadburn takes place; ed.), which is the kind of stage that they normally don’t play on. They also know that a lot of people at Roadburn are really into the commissioned music projects, they are really eagerly awaiting what will happen. So by creating music for this commissioned piece, you know that you will face a really excited audience that are literally there to hear what you’re doing. For us, it is to make sure that the bands have a platform to excel.
During the pandemic, you created Roadburn Redux and pulled off one of the most outstanding live online events during this whole unfortunate period of time. To what extent was this idea of Roadburn Redux fuelled by the idea of helping the underground survive this particular crisis?
It was completely fuelled by that idea. There were two major aspects. First of all, we wanted to, of course, survive as a festival and we survived indeed. We wanted people to know that we were still working behind the scenes on Roadburn, that we were still alive. And on the other hand, we saw that the underground was in dire need to be heard and that musicians needed the opportunity to do something, to be creative, to be who they are and not being stuck at home, confined by restrictions. So the whole idea of Roadburn Redux was to offer the platform that we have physically in Tilburg and to share the performances online. We wanted to give musicians the opportunity to be heard, to feel normal and be creative and for the audience to reconnect with each other, with the musicians, with us as Roadburn. The event was fuelled by a very genuine idea to get together and make sure that we could inspire all of us around the world that are into this kind of music, firmly believing in us as people, as artists and as attendees and such. We did everything within our possibilities to make this happen. We worked on this for so long amidst so many people and with so much heart and soul and passion, and we actually still can’t believe what Roadburn Redux was and that it was such a success and that it inspired so many people; that it kept bands and musicians going, and that it kept attendees going. I’m still super proud and grateful of what happened that weekend. I have to say all credits go to the 013 venue. Their management team went off and beyond to get the funding for this. It was a very expensive endeavour, with all the technical requirements we needed. But the general management of the 013 did wonders with grant applications, securing all the resources and the money to do this; but also to get all the production requirements on par. It was a crazy endeavour and we all worked on it very hard. And we also have to thank the cultural department of the Dutch government to make this happen financially.
How has the pandemic changed the conditions of organising such a festival and the underground in a broader sense as well?
The pandemic and the geopolitical situation have completely changed the music industry and especially the live music industry. It’s a huge challenge to organise a festival nowadays because of the increasing costs. It’s also very difficult because the whole infrastructure from bands, concert organisers, managers and bookers, up to the suppliers needed for organising festivals, the logistic kind of stuff, a lot of these people are mentally broke, financially broke. They barely had the time to recover from the pandemic, because once everything opened up in Europe, we got the Ukrainian war and the geopolitical crisis that comes with it. A lot of people in the industry are tired and are literally trying to survive and don’t have the resilience to cope with what’s going on right now. There are so many challenges and pitfalls in organising tours, in organising festivals. So it’s very hard and difficult for everyone, and that affects the mood behind the scenes.
Is this development also affecting the organisation of tours?
Yes. Smaller bands have less opportunity to tour. Tours are very risky financially and a lot of bands that still haven’t recovered from the whole pandemic don’t have the financial resources to take a risk. So fees and ticket prices are going up like crazy. At the same time, people are being affected by inflation so they have to make hard choices. Everything that was a certainty in the live music industry, in the underground prior to the pandemic is now an uncertainty and that makes it really, really difficult. I think that a lot of people that love underground music and love to go to shows have no notion of what’s going on behind the scenes and how hard it is and that things have actually changed drastically. For instance, if a band normally went on tour before all of that, the whole tour was booked and announced like six or seven months in advance. That’s not possible anymore. It takes forever to complete the booking. Plus the gas prices are up, there’s a shortage of staff, you have to hire a van, hotel prices are up. The whole infrastructure is so expensive that it’s hard for bands to tour on a shoestring budget. Then the tour is mostly announced two months in advance. Ticket sales are going slow most of the time, so promoters are very anxious to get their invested money back. And if bands and promoters are getting too anxious, shows are being cancelled. The uncertainty makes it difficult for everyone, for bands, for organisers and for people that go to shows. What we are observing in the festival landscape is that a lot of European festivals are very late in announcing their line-ups. They are also lacking a lot of smaller American bands touring and are focusing on a couple of really big names, to be sure that they are able to sell the tickets. But also these bands lost so much money during the pandemic. So in order to compensate for this, the band fees doubled and tripled. And for a lot of festivals, once they have booked the big headliners, they have less money for the rest of the line-up compared to 2019. Things like that are affecting the whole landscape. You can immediately see that when you have a look at the smaller stages, because there is a lot of smaller, local bands. These are not anymore the line-ups we were used to. Everybody is so cautious. A well-known guy in the music industry told me that 2023 will be the hangover year of the pandemic.
Does this apply to prospective attendees as well?
A certain age group is certainly only going for the sure-fire bands. And we notice that the age group from let’s say 40, 50 plus that were also going to underground concerts – people with mortgages, a car, kids, et cetera –, they are struggling with the inflation now. So this age group that normally had money is now being way more careful how to spend the money they have left. And due to the pandemic they started to notice that staying at home and being with friends is also a very nice way to spend a Friday or Saturday night. The behaviour of people changed, and also the way they want to spend leisure time has changed. Another aspect is that when a ticket used to be at 10 or 20 euros for a small band before the pandemic, it might now cost like 20 or 25 euros. And then people say: “Hey, but I was used to see that band for like ten euros in 2019; now I have to pay 25!” The dynamics have changed so fast and so extremely, and 2023 is the year that the whole industry is trying to find a feat in this changed landscape. Every day is a struggle to find out how much the live music industry really changed.
How do you personally cope with all the stress during organizing such a big event? And especially during the festival itself?
Luckily for me, Roadburn is being organized: The production and logistics are all done by the team of the 013 venue. Roadburn is now part of this venue due to the pandemic. So we have a huge team. For me, as an artistic director, I hope this changes for the best. Because if the next couple of years will be similar to the last few, I’m not sure whether I can still do this or not.
So you are literally afraid for the future of Roadburn?
Not for the future of Roadburn, which will continue, but for me personally, I find it rather difficult. And I still want to work on the festival, but if this is the idea of working for the next ten years, I am not made for this. I’m getting 58 in May, so I’m already in the process of making sure that there are young people who take over Roadburn in the long run, but it’s hard to cope with all this. I find it really stressful and I’m not sure if I can cope with this for the next seven to eight years. But Roadburn will continue.
How do you think all these changes will affect the long-term development?
People are exhausted, get agitated and are more focused on themselves. In the pandemic, everybody was trying to collaborate with each other and now with the global crisis suddenly everybody is focused on themselves again. Everything became very individual. That’s the difference: Pre-pandemic it was less survival and more community-driven and more like making sure to collaborate. Whereas now this whole music industry is way more based on survival. That’s the biggest change. The situation of record companies is another weird kind of thing. During the pandemic, there was a huge run on vinyl. People didn’t go to shows, so they got tons of vinyl to support bands. Now everything became so expensive that people are cutting back on buying vinyl. There are many record labels that have their warehouses stacked with vinyl that are not selling at the moment.
Let’s get back to this year’s edition of the festival. Can you give us an idea of some of the bands you are particularly looking forward to?
We put a lot of effort in getting this line-up together. It wasn’t easy due to all the circumstances we discussed just now. That’s why I’m extremely proud of the team for getting this entire line-up together; never before did we have to face so many challenges and pitfalls to make it happen. It took forever. Personally, I am really looking forward to Julie Christmas, because her performing has already been in the works since 2019. There’s also a UK anarcho-punk band that I’m really happy to see named Bad Breeding. They were supposed to play at Roadburn in 2020, 2021 and finally in 2022, but for all the above mentioned reasons they couldn’t make it. And now finally they will come to Roadburn as it has been in the making since 2019. So that is a band that I really want to see because of the whole back story. Furthermore I am extremely looking forward to Boy Harsher, a band I really love. I am looking forward to seeing Deafheaven playing the whole “Sunbather” album from 2013. I am looking forward to seeing David Eugene Edwards and I’m also really looking forward to seeing the Dutch band DeWolff because I really love the heavy seventies. And this is a young band steeped in that era and they are so good – so that’s a personal favourite. I’m also looking forward to the more hardcore kind of bands. We never had that many hardcore-inspired bands at Roadburn, and there is a lot going on in that scene at the moment. It’s a scene that has currently really started experimenting with different genres and pairing hardcore energy to a hybrid of different genres. So I’m looking forward to seeing High Vis, Candy, Chat Pile and of course I want to see Circuit des Yeux. I’m just very proud of how we took a diverse line. And it’s always so difficult to pick bands that I want to see because certain people start maybe asking questions why I didn’t mention their band.
Did the fact that you have lost a great deal of your eyesight change the way you perceive music?
I can still hear whether a band is very special or not, though it affected my work as artistical director heavily because a band is about music, aesthetics, looks. And I’m not capable of seeing the aesthetics anymore. I’m not capable of seeing the looks anymore. I’m not able to see a band perform on stage anymore. And that makes it quite difficult, I can only form an opinion purely based on what I hear. I’m not capable of seeing the artwork anymore or the band photos. So I’m depending on a support team of people around me that tell me about bands that are really interesting. They provide me with links so that I can listen to the music. And if I go to shows, I go with friends who tell me what’s going on stage. So in that way, everything changed. I’m still a huge music nerd, but I’m depending on a huge support network that keeps me informed as I’m not able to read anymore. It’s like I need to get all the information through other people. That’s why there is now more people involved in booking the bands and in the whole creative process of Roadburn, more people involved also in having a say about the aesthetics of Roadburn, because I’m not capable of doing that by myself anymore. Yes, it completely changed. But I see this as a huge challenge and I love it, which may sound weird. Of course I’m very upset and sad that I lost my eyesight. I have like two percent left or something so that’s almost nothing. But I see it as a challenge to still function, to still being an artistic director. And: I’m not on social media anymore. I cannot read anything on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or anything. So now I have plenty of time. I’m not being distracted anymore so I can fully focus on listening to a band and fully focus on listening to other people. I’m not influenced by social media anymore and that is a huge relief (giggles). I can fully focus on the music. It’s the music that comes first now, I can be solely focused on one thing, and with that in mind, it’s also very easy to support the people around me. So it’s a very interesting process. And I’m just very happy that I still can enjoy music. And I listen to a lot of podcasts about music, I read a lot of audiobooks about music, so I still get my information, but on a whole different level.
While preparing for the interview I stumbled upon a specific expression called the “Roadburn angst”. Do you have an idea of what it refers to?
It’s the fear of missing out. It means that people want to see everything at Roadburn.
Any advice to the attendees on how to confront this angst?
Just go along with the flow, don’t over-prepare yourself. Some people are planning to see like ten specific bands every day. They have a whole route. They run from one band to another. And I always say just pick one, two or three bands per day that you really want to see and then just go with the flow. Meet people, talk to people and see bands that weren’t on your list but might completely blow you away. Roadburn is a laid-back festival and people are genuinely interested in each other. And by not running around like crazy to see all the bands and just focus on a couple of bands, you will maybe meet friends for life at Roadburn because you’ll meet like-minded people and by just being interested in what’s going on and talking to people, you will be very surprised about what Roadburn will bring you.
Sometimes when I come from a festival that’s really emotionally demanding, I have something that I describe as a post-festival depression. I’m sure you know exactly what I’m relating to. So probably you have a word of advice on how to cope with that as well.
You have to get through it and please believe me, the post-Roadburn depression is difficult. And I am talking about myself, my post-Roadburn depression is crazy. I have worked on the festival for an entire year, put my heart and soul into it, and then it’s gone. I have to start processing all the impressions. I feel completely lost due to all the impressions, the whole experience. You have to go through it and then start focusing on next year’s edition again or at least focus on the beautiful music you have discovered.
Before coming to a close, you might probably want to tell our readers how the whole idea of the Roadburn Festival came up and how you arrived where the festival stands now, with its almost legendary reputation?
Roadburn started out in 1998, primarily as a blog, it was started by me and Jurgen van den Brand. We were professional music journalists back then, and “Watt”, the Dutch magazine focused on heavy music we had worked for, called it a day. That was when Roadburn became a platform to still write about stoner, doom, psych and all things heavy. So we already had a huge network of all the bands and musicians that were part of that upcoming stoner and doom scene. And then in 1999, a friend approached us recommending to do a small festival called Roadburn Festival. In the beginning, it was just a couple of bands per night. And we wanted to have the aesthetics of the website being part of the evening with the bands as well, with video projections and things like that. We did that for quite a while. It was just like a nice extension of the website. But in 2005 the whole thing changed and suddenly Roadburn wasn’t only a blog, wasn’t only a website and a community, but it also became a real one-day festival. In 2007, it became a two-day festival. From 2008 and 2009 on, suddenly the festival became more important than the website. Roadburn transformed from a website for all things heavy into a music festival for all things heavy. But we never had any blueprint. It was not deliberately done, it just happened. We just wanted to reflect the underground as it was at the time. And then from like 2014, 2015 on, we started to think more strategically about the festival. It became so well-known that we really had to plan for the future. Up until 2015, we had around 2.800 people attending. From like 2016 on with everything, it became suddenly like 5.000 people. That was after the 013 venue had been rebuilt and we could host more visitors; suddenly it was like a real festival. Today, a lot of people are depending on the festival: bands, the 013, the underground – so now the festival became like a really important fixture. It has a huge economical spin-off during the weekend on the city of Tilburg and its surroundings. But it was all naturally done. We never sat down and discussed: “Let’s start a festival and become like this.” It all grew organically and that is the most beautiful part of it.
Occult rock has also played quite a big role in the beginning of the festival. You had bands like Coven, that one could consider the forefathers of this genre, but also The Devil’s Blood played their live debut at Roadburn and were closely linked to it in general. How would you describe their legacy?
I knew Selim (guitarist and musical mastermind of The Devil’s Blood; ed.) and Farida Lemouchi (singer of The Devil’s Blood) very close personally. They are a very important band, and they single-handedly rejuvenated the whole occult rock phenomenon that dated back to the seventies. And of course they took it to a really high level, with their stage show and music and got it more into the mainstream. Selim had a lot to tell musically and artistically. The Devil’s Blood was Selim’s brainchild and he felt the urge to do this. It was so genuinely done. It was really the reflection of who he, alongside Farida, was. There were a couple of more bands that did the same. But later on it became a kind of genre: female-fronted, the aesthetics needed to be like The Devil’s Blood or like the seventies, and people wanted to make a career in it; they wanted to hop on the bandwagon.
Bands like Wolvennest from Brussels (still existing; ed.), In Solitude, The Devil’s Blood are really special, their music is a reflection of who the people in these bands are: They do it because they have the urge to do it. That’s why these bands are or were so good, it’s genuinely done without boundaries. These people wanted to push boundaries and break laws. They really wanted to do something that was their own. And Selim had such a strong musical vision for The Devil’s Blood. In hindsight, we can see how influential the band was, and it still stands out as a very authentic band. I have seen so many great live shows of them. Selim was a very accomplished guitarist. But he knew guys who were even better than him and that’s the guys he invited to be part of his guitar army. Both Oeds (Beydals; ed.) and Ron (van Herpen; ed.) maybe didn’t have his musical vision, but they could excel on the guitar solos and everything. He was so smart to get the best possible guitar players, bassist, drummer he could get in the Netherlands to fulfil his vision. And luckily he found these people that really wanted to be part of it and wanted to make sure that he could make his artistic and musical vision happen. And I think that when Selim passed away, the whole occult genre became a kind of a joke, because it started to lose its originators. Selim was an originator. Tobias Forge from Ghost is also an originator, Michel Kirby from Wolvennest is an originator. These people did something that was new at the time. They really took a certain aesthetic from the past, put new life into it and gave it new meaning. Eric from Watain has the same drive and necessity and urgency as Selim, as Michel, as Tobias, whatever you think about Watain. But these people are all very close. They are like-minded people, they are genuine, feel the same necessity and that’s why all these bands feature a certain element of danger. You never knew what happened during these shows. The danger was not only on stage, because people like Selim are so genuine, they draw like-minded people with a dangerous edge, too. So there was always a kind of tension in the air and that’s what the people were thriving on. That’s why these shows were always very intense and very interesting because you never knew what would happen.