Roadburn Festival

Dates: April 21, 2022– April 24, 2022

Much has changed on planet Roadburn since the festival first started as a small, stoner-rock-focused affair in 1999. By the time I started going in 2015, it had developed into an internationally acclaimed metal festival: clearly not just Another Metal Show, though, it pulled in big names alongside more eclectic and obscure choices, yet was still largely guitar-focused. Since 2015, Roadburn has gradually shifted into the boldest and most forward-thinking, heavy-oriented festival there is. I say heavy-oriented because the festival’s tag-line “redefining heaviness” is the best description for it; it’s how I describe it to my friends and colleagues who are none-the-wiser. The festival’s key turning-point — Emma Ruth Rundle’s solo show at the Green Room in 2016—armed only with an acoustic and a whole load of raw passion and emotional trauma—has been well-documented. I can attest that there was more emotional heaviness in her final performance of ‘Real Big Sky’ than a million death metal bands. (And I do love death metal). That was the turning-point: now the gloves are off, and Walter and Co. have worked unceasingly to hugely expand the range of genres present, diversify the representation of artists performing, taking risks with collaborations and commissioned works, and generally to make Roadburn a festival that really is like no other. Even Roadburn 2021, forced online, was genuinely an incredible experience: so much more than Just Another Live-stream.

The very least anyone can hope for this year is that most of the crowd and most of the bands are able to attend safely and for the Roadburn crew to recover from two years of upset. We all deserve that at least. But I’m much more optimistic. The 2022 edition, despite all the potential setbacks, still promises to be the most ambitious yet: it promises to set a new benchmark for what music festivals can achieve, irrespective of genre. In fact—if you’ll indulge me—it threatens to mush all genres up into a big ball of glorious sound-paste and smear it liberally on the toast of Tilburg, reinvigorating the contours of our jaded sonic palette altogether.

At Roadburn I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Mysticum up on podia with pyros, going brrrrr. I watched Dälek bring noise-hop to the church. Scott H. Biram gettin’ hoedown with y’all. Medieval synthesizers in the crypt of the Old Tower. Time to di(v)e(rsify)…But somehow all those moments could indeed be lost in time compared with some of the stuff lined up this year. The prospect of PoiL Ueda, for example—a collaboration between French prog rock and Japanese folk— sounds like the most unlikely thing yet. You’d never assume that Japanese sacred music could twist around the contours of prog rock so naturally; that a rock band dropping to acapella Japanese sacred music could sound so sick followed by synth stabs. Just check out the video for ‘Dan no Ura – 壇ノ浦の戦い’.

Below I’ve gathered some thoughts and recommendations for the 2022 edition, which I hope will help a little in making those crucial timetable decisions. You’ve had two years to update your battle jackets and upgrade your highlighters, so get stuck in!

Thoughts on Curation

Since Roadburn effectively launched the band at a ‘showcase’ gig in 2013, GOLD have achieved much more than the addition of more letters to distinguish their name. Now known slightly eccentrically as GGGOLDDD, the various Roadburn sets they’ve performed since clearly chart their journey up to their current status as curators of the whole shebang. 

A recent Facebook post from Roadburn quotes GGGOLDDD quoting Alice DJ: “Who needs guitars anyway?” That’s quite a bold question in the context of curating a festival closely associated with guitar music. They may have been referring to the playlist they were asked to compile, which doesn’t feature bands chosen for the 2022 edition. But, having researched the 2022 line-up, it seems to identify a general trend. The performance of This Shame Should Not Be Mine given by GGGOLDDD last year certainly indicated a more electronica-oriented direction. And one of their guitarists Kamiel Thomas has left the band to go solo, bringing his singer-songwriter project to Roadburn 2022. But, regardless of how many guitars it does/doesn’t feature, it was a huge highlight, a mic-drop headliner of a performance at an online festival which tries to avoid headliners. They could play exactly the same set this year and it would be just as good, but I’m sure Milena has a few tricks up the sleeve of her armoured suit. Don’t miss out.

Sometimes the role as curator involves booking bands that work to deconstruct the host band’s influences. This is largely what happened with Ivar Bjørnson and Einar Selvik’s Houses of the Holistic in 2015, pulling together a host of prog, psych, goth and Viking acts. Sometimes it involves giving up-and-coming artists a golden (puns always intended) opportunity. Perhaps it always should. The latter seems to be part of the plan for 2022 and I’m all for it—especially when they’re bringing acts from Nairobi for the first time, such as Duma, whose savage, glitchy beats and atmospheric noise collages sound utterly new yet are sure to fit in perfectly.

I count 111 acts listed on the Roadburn 2022 website—probably more from the Netherlands than usual, presumably part due to the curators being Dutch and part for practical, pandemic-related reasons. The countries and ethnicities represented are still broad, including Indonesia (Senyawa), Nairobi (Duma), indigenous American/Australia (Divide & Dissolve), Japan (Poil Ueda).

There are perhaps slightly fewer Big Names than previous years, our curators avoiding well-established bands who might provide the sole impetus to fork out for a ticket at a different festival. Well, that’s what other festivals are for. There are certainly fewer bands un-problematically classified as metal. But we’re getting used to that. There are certainly more non-white artists on the line-up than in previous editions, decidedly more than the average Metal Festival. And there are more women and non-binary folk. About time too. All of this continues the general trends of recent years, making this edition feel like the start of another new, exciting chapter in Roadburn’s storied history.

Safe Bets

There are some obvious acts that got a nod from me when the announcement emails started arriving. Emma Ruth Rundle performing her most recent album: stripped back to guitar and piano, without the full band of previous releases, there is no clash that could top this one…except perhaps Lingua Ignota performing her most recent album. Somehow I have failed to see Kristin live, despite her multiple Roadburn performances, and—while I’m sure it was for good reasons—I regret this a little given how much real pain and passion she was said to have put into them. But soon this will change. And you wouldn’t want to harbour similar regrets.

Alcest and Solstafir, two well-established and well-loved acts, are set to perform major albums: Écailles de Lune (2010) and Svartir Sandar (2011) respectively. Both albums form hinges between changes in the musical style of each band: joining a harsh, black metal past to a lush, post-rock future. They’re both incredibly solid choices. If you’re already into these bands, you’ll know how good this will be; if you’d like to get into them, this is definitely the best place to start.

Radar Men From The Moon are actually from Eindhoven, and—playing the final, spaced-out Green Room slot—their brand of motorik-robot-rock was a definite highlight of Roadburn 2017. Having played in various guises on several occasions in the past, they’re clearly Roadburn favourites and, according to their Facebook page, Radar Men are playing three sets this year: “a regular set, an electronic acid metal set & a collaboration with Twin Sister.” Always mercurial, you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get from release to release with Radar Men but, whichever manifestation you get, be sure to tune in and drop out, then repeat x2.

Let’s not dwell on the announcement that ambient wizard Lustmord can’t make it this year—c’est la vie—as his collaborator Karin Park will still perform her moody goth-pop on the Next Stage. And now is an especially good time to see her “day job” band Årabrot. Having seen them live maybe three or four times, it’s taken me a while to properly get into them. The voice of mainman Kjetil Nernes is certainly an acquired taste; quite nasal, even for a long-term Smashing Pumpkins fans such as myself. But I saw them in London at the end of 2019, hearing some new material which showcased the vocals talents of Karin Park alongside those of Nernes, and it all came together for me, especially on new, quieter and more folksong-influenced songs. Expect doom-heavy riffs, melodramatic stage gestures, literary/Biblical allusions galore, and apocalyptic darkness that’s strangely catchy.

Hype Train

If you haven’t heard the hype about Lamp of Murmuur then I guess you’re not into raw black metal. Few people—none outside the US—have seen this mysterious entity perform live but many of us have scooped up all the tapes. “They’re so obscure they’ve barely even played live before!” I murmured to my partner when they were announced for Roadburn. “Speak up, dear,” she replied. “Oh, well I hope they’re still good to watch.” The sense in this illuminated the flaws in my kvlt logic like a lamp. But, if they’re anything half as good as their releases—which span moody, melody-driven dungeon synth and emotive, gloriously be-riffed nastiness—on stage then be prepared to be blown away. Although, while Roadburn isn’t about competition, I feel there’s a chance that Netherlands black metal act Faceless Entity might just creep up behind Lamp of Murmuur, Jason Momoa-style, to steal the obscure raw black metal crown. But Roadburn’s always a win-win.

I’m not sure if hype is the right way to describe the average response to Liturgy, given the amount of knee-jerk criticism and flat-out abuse that frontwoman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix has faced in the metal scene. It feels like a rarity for the band to play live, at least outside of the US, although they did play Roadburn in 2011. Having followed Hunt-Hendrix’s writings on metal and philosophy for some time but not seen Liturgy live, I’m keen to know if they live up to the complexity and grandiosity of Hunt-Hendrix’s vision – or at least if they’re enjoyable! Well, what better way to see them for the first time in two shows at Roadburn, the first playing the more metal-oriented album H.A.Q.Q in its entirety, which Hendrix describes as nothing less than a “meditation on the reality of God.” If that wasn’t ambitious enough, the second show will be the album Origin of the Alimonies performed with a chamber orchestra (which, alongside Jo Quail’s The Cartographer, is in fact one of two orchestral performances at Roadburn this year). Hendrix, in her writing, music and overall vision, is nothing short of audacious, and, while I don’t quite know what to expect, I’m sure Liturgy will something unique and unforgettable.

Heavy as Fuck

Primitive Man are probably the heaviest metal band I’ve seen live. Yes, I have seen Sunn O))) and I don’t go around making that sort of pronouncement lightly! I could pepper this with adjectives like crushing, oppressive, fearsome, etc., but it wouldn’t do them justice. Go and watch Primitive Man: you will wind up dead and grinning like a cave-person who’s just rubbed some sticks together. You won’t laugh; you might cry; it will be excellent, and mostly very slow indeed.

You may well know Wiegedood already given that they tour a lot and have lots of connections to Roadburn favourites like Amenra, in which case you’ll be as pleased as I was when they snuck them onto the line-up in March. If you need your fix of the fast, the nasty, and the heavy, then do catch the unrelenting savagery of these Belgian black metallers. There’s also the Roadburn debut of Dutch black metal duo FREJA, a creative/romantic partnership founded at the Maalstroom showcase in Roadburn 2019, who combine the best aspects of jaggedness and transcendence on their debut single Our Chosen Path. And I’m perhaps even more excited about Silver Knife: all I know is that they combine members from three fine bands Laster, Wolvennest and Hypothermia on their debut Unyielding/Unseeing – and it’s raw, visceral and glorious.

UK Recommendations

Local to me, here in the UK, that is. As a fellow Londoner, I’m lucky to be able to catch Jo Quail—cello-virtuoso and all-round, incredibly nice person—performing quite frequently. I find it genuinely hard to believe how virtually any Roadburner would not find something special in one of her solo performances. So, my expectations for her commissioned orchestral piece are very high. I think the only time I’ve seen an orchestra at Roadburn was for Triptykon in 2019, so it’s an exciting event in and of itself, but especially with Jo Quail at the helm. Towards the other end of the spectrum, I have to say that I’ve never been much of a hardcore kinda guy. But, despite this, I’ve enjoyed Svalbard live a great deal, and I have no doubt that their passionate intensity will appeal to many, hardcore fans or not.

Pulled By Magnets features Seb Roachford, probably the best drummer in London, and I fan-boyed audibly when I read he was playing. I’d highly recommend any of the bands he’s played with, such as Polar Bear, Acoustic Ladyland and Sons of Kemet, especially if you like modern jazz that veers towards the experimental, the progressive, and the punkish. While Pulled By Magnets are generally fairly mellow by the standards of many Roadburners, you can still expect crescendos of noise, FX-drenched bass, riff-driven sections, and dark atmospheres. All members of this three-piece will be great to watch, of course, but—equally competent playing deft and complex poly-rhythms, beautifully subtle rhythmic waves, or flat-out grindcore beats—I’d recommend watching them even if just for Roachford alone.

Weird Shit

If you tuned into Roadburn 2021 and caught the total madness that is cosmic psych jazz progsters Neptunian Maximalism then—like me—you’ve probably only just returned to Earth. And now you’re back in the nick of time to catch their off-shoot band ZAÄAR in the 2022 edition. Before I’d discovered the Neptunian connection, my attention was grasped by the band’s wonderfully surreal album artwork: a bizarre image of oddly elongated animals by Peter Kľúčik, reminiscent of the great British-Mexican painter Leonora Carrington. Their latest album Magická Džungl’a captures all of the unease, menace, and playfulness of that image; and it will no doubt make for a truly unforgettable performance.

I’m excited by the addition of the Paradox jazz venue this year. A new venue is always exciting, but the prospect of a space especially for jazzy, ambient, drone, psych, trip-/chill-out vibes really appeals. And, if ZAÄAR’s anything to go by, this will be a decidedly uncomfortable, relaxing chill-out kinda vibe, in the best possible way! Always seeking new musical experiences, I’m intrigued by the prospect of Kristoffer Lo & Dirk Serries, one of the strangest combinations playing there. According to the Roadburn website, “Kristoffer will perform with an amplified tuba and flugabone,” and, judging by their YouTube footage, the resulting soundscapes are surprisingly lush.

Roadburn goes Pop…

…in the best possible way. You know, pop that’s weird and dark and well-written. Roadburn has snuck some in a little while ago, actually, with Zola Jesus’s explosive performance in 2018, although you might have missed it beneath all Nika’s infectious energy, and the industrial, noisey goodness she layers into her sound. And there’s more “pop” to be found at Roadburn 2022, in the form of: Karin Park, as previously mentioned; KANGA, if you like noir-beats in the vein of Drab Majesty and Gary Numan; and Alice Hubble, if you like it subdued, synth-led, and quirky.

…and clearly there are so many more acts I could have mentioned. Whatever happens to your schedule on the day, I’m sure that Roadburn 2022 will do nothing less than reaffirm its status as a unique festival of polymorphous diversity and eclectic heaviosity.

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