Because two heads are better than one, and because Roadburn is such a large and multi-faceted festival, Echoes and Dust sent in a tag-team of reporters to this year’s edition to live the festival dream of being in two places at once and bring you the full story (or thereabouts). First the music, then the panel discussions.
Main Programme: Music Write-up
Despite the numerous potential setbacks, Roadburn returned to Tilburg in 2022. It wasn’t just a successful return against the odds, cobbling it together in the end: it was a triumph, continuing a pattern of many years’ worth of annual triumphs, each bringing further increased returns. You might reasonably expect, as many had, that it would be dominated by cancellations; and yet – beyond a couple of real stingers – it was not at all. The topic of the pandemic emerged in various ways, of course, but – from the audience POV at least – it also didn’t dominate. Of greater significance, in many ways, was the impact of broader political and cultural shifts towards social justice which occurred during, or were exacerbated by, the various lockdowns and the murder of George Floyd: towards an emphasis on radical, critical, postcolonial and post-patriarchal thought and action in the Roadburn community and beyond.
Rather than provide an impracticably large blow-by-blow account of the whole four and three-quarter days, I’ve identified a few key thematic strands for the event – Heaviness, Black Metal, Paradox, Diversity/Representation, The Body, Post-Christianity – which bring together a variety of different artists and aspects of Roadburn 2022.
Although the festival’s tagline was introduced previously, you couldn’t miss it this year: “redefining heaviness” was displayed in huge letters at the entrance to the Koepelhal site. Seeing this, I find myself recalling Dani “Cradle of” Filth’s appearance on music-comedy show Never Mind the Buzzcocks several years ago, where he jokingly described his band’s music – the screamiest of high-pitched screamy extreme metal – as “heavy funk”. It was a great gag for sure, but it also helps illustrate something important about Roadburn 2022: any music can be heavy, making a strong emotional impression, providing a sense of catharsis. I heard “redefining heaviness” repeated a lot throughout the weekend, sometimes with a note of jokey deprecation. But Roadburn is doing such important work in this regard – not as some tick-box exercise, but as modus operandi. The guitar certainly did not disappear this year, as I mentioned in my Preview, although it sometimes held less prominence than usual over the keyboard or the saxophone… or indeed the decks:
“This is The Bug! Droppin’ the bomb, Roadburn, droppin’ the bomb!” English producer The Bug (Kevin Martin) returned this year, having performed with poet/rapper Moor Mother in 2018 and drone-guru Dylan Carlson in 2017. With MCs Flowdan and Logan in tow, Martin was in full grime mode for the first time, bringing the sound of South London streets to a sweaty, rowdy Next Stage crowd. We can’t dance and it doesn’t matter: Roadburn is ‘avin’ it large. Feeling those deep, deep bass stabs right in the gut, this really did bring the heaviness in new ways. And – the final show for me in a ram-packed day – god was it fun, with the MCs whipping up the crowd with panache (“Up, down, left, right, front, middle: mosh pit!”). Surely this show, out of all at this edition, must have opened up new horizons for the Roadburn crowd.
Moving in other directions, 2022 was certainly a good edition for classical and orchestrated music. Finally, we got to see The Cartographer, the first composition for full orchestra by exemplary progressive cellist Jo Quail. Against a suitably fantastical-nautical backdrop, an orchestra of sixteen members filled the 013 Main Stage, including Crossbones (a sub-group of trombonists); and alongside regular-contributor Jake Harding from UK doom band Grave Lines and Lucie Dehli, a French artist and musician, providing occasional vocals and narration. Jo Quail herself was positioned stage right, cradling her trademark electric cello, and – lit from behind by a spotlight – reflected light-beams up into the gallery like the rays of the sun.
The Cartographer was met with huge applause, and all onstage look thrilled with such a reception. As with many sets this year, it was listened to in a silence that felt not just respectful but anticipatory, awestruck, breathless. Originally commissioned for Roadburn 2020, The Cartographer itself is a piece in five movements, each of which feels distinct and conveys its own self-contained tale, set within a larger, overarching musical narrative. It’s a dense piece that we’ll be digesting for a long while to come. Ranging from full-frontal, heavy brass-bombast (orchestra as literal metal band) to quiet, eerie reflection on which Quail performs her trademark combination of cello-body-tapped rhythms and staccato string-plucking looped together, The Cartographer runs the gamut of emotional resonances and musical timbres. It evokes cinematic images of wild, big-screen action-adventures, dramas of whirlwind romance, deep tragedy, and eerie fights against supernatural adversaries. Metal bands have tried for years to integrate classical music into their own for decades with limited success; the former have frequently been compared with the latter with varying degrees of accuracy. But – despite the inevitable comparisons that inhere from such an artist playing amidst metal bands – The Cartographer is far from classical music trying to imitate metal: metal is one source which Quail draws upon for its distinctive ability to represent emotion and its sheer power to move. There is no doubt, however, that The Cartographer will influence metal following this show, as well as a whole host of other genres. Most importantly, it showcases Jo Quail’s abilities as a composer, not just of versatile solo pieces, but of grander, more complex arrangements, and I hope that this opens up further opportunities for her – bringing her writing talents to varied and exciting endeavors in music and beyond.
Bruit, one of the highlights from this year’s Pelagic Showcase, also performed with orchestral instruments alongside their regular rock-band setup: in this case, a brass section and cello. Perfectly complimented by a surreal collage of black-and-white footage, the French post-rockers played a stunning set characterised by swelling harmonies and broken beats. As dandelions flower, black holes expand, brain scans materialise and cells multiply, Bruit soar in huge, brass-driven swells or drop to the earth for pizzicato, microscopic ant-music. As an instrumental act, we’re allowed to interpret the emotional timbres put forward as we will, but a sample leaves one clear political message: “the millionaires and the billionaires are the exception to the rule.”
Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, frontwoman for Liturgy, also appeared with orchestral instrumentation this edition. Given that Hunt-Hendrix performed the Liturgy album Origin of the Alimonies (2020) alongside the band, it seemed slightly odd to do so billed under her own name. But this scarcely mattered as the full audacious, complexity of the work unfolded before us, the handful of supplementary string players contributing the extra layers of depth, harmony and tonality necessary to reproduce the album. As with Jo Quail, it is difficult not to consider Hunt-Hendrix one of the few genuine innovators and iconoclasts in metal, and the ways in which the album blends immediately recognisable elements of black metal with orchestral arrangements feels genuinely like the start of a new era for the sub-genre – in terms of musical ambition, at least, if not always ideological formulation.
Also concerning dramatic shifts in musical direction, I must extend total respect to Radar Men From The Moon for refusing to stick to a tried-and-tested generic template. Since discovering them around 2016, they have developed from robot-psych-rock wanderers into bitterly-abrasive, abstractly-industrial metal bruisers which – judging by the packed and enthusiastic Next Stage on the Wednesday night – is a strong manoeuvre. But it’s unfortunately a new sound I’ve yet to fully get into.
There can be few other festivals where you can catch the atavistic sludge-doom of Primitive Man and the whispy-as-a-cloud dreamfolk of Midwife (Madeline Johnston) on the same bill. And no others which will help you to realise that acts at opposite ends of the generic spectrum can both be heavy, in different ways. And I mean that seriously: amidst a gorgeously gentle set, with light drum-machine beats accompanying wide-open guitar and unhurried, ethereal vocals breathed through a telephone-receiver-mic, Johnston growls “how much more death can one person take! Your god hates me!”, and it might just be the heaviest part of the whole event. It’s every bit as terrifying as Primitive Man’s noise interludes, like cosmic horror made abstract, and their slowest, lowest moments, like being dragged behind a cart-horse face down.
So yes: redefining heaviness. Starting out as a stoner rock festival, and gathering underground extreme metal along the way, there was once a time when you could rock up to Roadburn confident to hear those genres at any time, following a continuous strand of your favourite sub-genre throughout the weekend. It’s now clear that those days have largely gone, and Roadburn is better for it.
A Clandestine Black Metal Festival?
Having argued that genres are dissolving at Roadburn, the 2022 edition did maintain the tradition of providing an especially strong strand of amazing underground black metal, much of which was from the Netherlands. While much of this was written into the line-up initially, some of it appeared due to cancellation and or surprise sets.
Belgian/Dutch/French act Silver Knife brought the best parts of DSBM and atmospheric/transcendent styles to the temporarily-constructed Hall of Fame stage, while Dutch band Faceless Entity revealed the human visages behind their cowls, keeping things raw, eerie, and chaotic. If some folks had doubts about the Hall of Fame stage – which was described by Roadburn as a tent – they were quickly dispelled when it revealed itself as a near mirror for the Next Stage (formerly the Green Room) in sound and ambience, bar its wooden shell. Later, Noctambulist popped up in the Little Devil bar for a surprise set, showcasing their shoe-gaze, atmospheric take on black metal, using an array of Fender guitars (two Jazzmasters and a Jaguar) unusual for the sub-genre yet crucial to their sound. Roadburn stalwarts Alkerdeel were a predictable and excellent last-minute replacement for Koldovstvo, bringing their reliably tense and unrelenting presence to the Terminal stage: only black metal purists could resist the sheer weight and body of their sound.
For many, this was the first live experience of much-hyped US black metal band of mystery Lamp of Murmuur and it was certainly a showcase of their masterful grasp of all kinds of styles, drawing on traditional black metal, black ‘n’ roll, D-beat, thrash, post-punk, and perhaps even disco. What they lacked in stage confidence, they made up for in execution and atmosphere. For those who saw their secret set in the cramped Little Devil bar – alas, dear reader, I was already entranced by GGGOLDDD elsewhere – they can be proud to have seen a rare set in a distinctly more kvlt venue than the large Terminal Stage, the former set apparently slightly ironic in its orientation towards Lamp’s 80s Goth-oriented recent material. I did however walk from the Lamp of Murmuur show straight into the Skatepark from a surprise pop-up set from Dutch avant garde black metallers Grey Aura. Combining metal aggression with foxtrot and waltz rhythms and spoken word sections, they might not be for everybody but I was clearly not the only person utterly blown away by them.
The Introduction of Paradox
. . .and now for something completely different. Or not quite, as we shall see. Another key factor in this pattern of musical diversification was the introduction of the famous jazz club Paradox for the first time. And I deem it a clear and unmitigated success. It seems odd, in fact, that it hasn’t always been so. For a start, it’s only about eight minutes from the 013 so you can fairly easily nip over to catch a set; and it’s on the way back to the Stadt campsite, so makes for an ideal late-night show. The programme was pitched perfectly, bringing in artists loosely oriented towards the more experimental, avant garde realms of jazz, noise, drone, and “world” music, but many acts easily incorporated more obviously Roadburn-friendly styles like metal and stoner rock into their sets. The musicianship of every act I saw here was surely virtuoso, even by the already high standards of Roadburn. And, as well as widening the tastes of an already pretty-eclectic bunch, it provided another way of effectively dispersing the crowd across venues, plugging gaps in the schedule, and ensuring maximum opportunities to catch a show at any time of the day.
Albatre, a noise/free jazz/metal trio based in Rotterdam, get stuck into a deep, dark groove like Aluk Todolo or Stinking Lizaveta, with bass, drums and sax locked in super-tight, winding around the red walls of a roasting hot Paradox. Dans Dans are a joy to watch and to ‘dans’ to. The main guitarist, with a huge array of pedals and cassette walkmans, is a tall, gangly, man – all elbows and knees and pointy patent leather shoes – who struts and dances over his pedals like a slightly-panicked heron. He plays the guitar on a spectrum from articulating cool, sharp, melodies to frantically disemboweling the instrument like a scene from a bad cannibal film; and, with the exception of only Caspar Brötzmann, is the most original guitarist I’ve seen in years.
Everything about ZAAAR is weird and wrong. Saxophones sounds like choking birds. The human voice sounds wonky, eerie, uncanny. A guitar chord doesn’t clang as it should, it bends, morphs, convulses. Drum beats diffuse like dust in the air. Any trace of the original world-free-prog-jazz compositions is transmogrified into something alien by the group’s sound-tech, treating each instrument with individually-bizarre effects and manipulations. If any of the audience were on mushrooms, ZAAAR’s weirdness probably catapulted them into sobriety.
The Diversity of Representation
During her Main Stage performance, Emma Ruth Rundle expressed gratitude at the way in which her now famous 2017 solo acoustic performance in the Green Room enabled and emboldened her to perform solo more frequently – “gave her permission” was the phrase she used. And that is why she made such a triumphant return to the Main Stage in 2022 performing Engine of Hell, alone with her guitar and piano. She was largely speaking about musical permission, but musical diversity runs hand-in-hand with diversity of representation. The broader the range of artists creating, and the broader the range of fans appreciating their work, the better and the more diverse such work will be and the safer, the more comfortable, and the freer will be the nature of the community subsequently formed. And much of the work that Roadburn has been doing more broadly in the 2022 edition is about giving permission to individuals, genres and demographics who are otherwise marginalised in underground musical communities.
My Roadburn 2022 kicked off with Canada’s Big Brave, bringing their warm and enveloping sound back to the festival since playing the medium-capacity Het Patronaat in 2018, this time playing one of the largest stages. The band’s recent single ‘Half Breed’ feels like their most personal song to date, concerned as it is with the bi-racial identity of singer/guitarist Robin Wattie, and it sounds incredible live. Big Brave may have a colossal wall-of-amps sound expansive enough to support Sunn O))), but it’s their expert use of silence alongside the volume and feedback that distinguishes them – well and Robin’s beautiful and strange vocal style, which I can’t hear without thinking of birdsong.
Also playing the Terminal stage, Australian doom-duo Divide and Dissolve – two women of indigenous heritage – have made it their duty to reinforce the key messages of Destroy White Supremacy, and Dissolve Colonial Borders. It is still uncomfortably rare to see a metal band fronted by a person of colour, furthermore if that person is also a woman. The duo seemed nervous on such a big stage, understandably so given their comments that suggested it was probably their largest show to date. Saxophonist/guitarist Takiaya Reed has no qualms in airing their blunt political messages over the mic as well as in their song titles, reminding us of the colonial genocide that the Dutch committed, and that Tilburg sits upon “sacred land”. In response, the Roadburn crowd both cheered and listened politely. There are probably few crowds composed predominantly of metal-heads who would listen to a band explaining the importance of having difficult conversations with “racist uncles”; perhaps even fewer who would spontaneously shout “fuck Nazis!” in the middle of it and receive applause, as happened here. We can only hope that Divide and Dissolve inspire other artists to use their platform for such important work. Despite the band’s political importance, however, I must confess I feel that it might be their message rather than their music which lingers in my memory longer. Still, Takiaya’s looped saxophone melodies which prefigure several songs are distinctive, and I’d love to hear them more deeply integrated into the band’s Jucifer-esque, freeform punk-doom.
Unfortunately I didn’t catch much of the collaboration ‘A Hymn of Loss and Hope’ between Bismuth and Vile Creature on the Main Stage – both bands with active members of the LGBTQ+ community – born from their first meeting at Roadburn 2019. Coming in to the unexpected sound of Bismuth’s Tanya (usually wielding a crushingly-low bass) singing on the piano over Creature’s KW lightly distorted guitar, I caught a glimpse of another side to the doom/sludge both acts tend towards more generally, a side I shall be following up after the show.
Living with the Body + Transcending it
Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, who came out as a transwoman in 2020 has made her own process of physical and spiritual transition the subject of Liturgy’s recent album, and, as such, was another prominent member of the LGBT+ community to perform on the Main Stage. On the huge screen, Hunt-Hendrix’s body – topless, artfully nude – played an integral role in exploring her relationship with spirituality, during the performance of Origin of the Alimonies. At a near-literal climax of the album, her spread-eagled form birthed a white orb amidst a blaze of strobe lighting as angelic dissonance reached crescendo from the Liturgy-orchestra.
And such ideas centred on the body formed another thematic strand for this edition. (The human body that is, not The Body the band.) In yet another outstanding set with a woman performer at the centre was GGGOLDDD’s set, performing This Shame Should Not Be Mine – in the Real this time and not on your TV screen. An album which deals explicitly with singer Milena Eva’s experience of rape at the age of 19, This Shame is harrowing to listen to, for the ways in which it represents the long-term effects of such trauma in the mind and the body. There is a point in the album when, after alluding to the violation, Milena provides a kind of first-person monologue of the victim’s POV during the act itself, and it is so painful to hear that I almost wished for the performance to stop. It became obvious that many people in the audience, predominantly women, were in tears at this point. GGGOLDDD have – following several fine, diverse albums – arrived as a phenomenally powerful headlining act, and deserve the greatest success.
As a solo performer who builds complex, “tribal”, neo-folk and post-industrial soundscapes, Lili Refrain moves about the Hall of Fame stage with so much energy that it feels like a whole band accompanies her. As well as constructing such complex arrangements in perfect time – overlaying keyboard parts, vocal harmonies, and intricate percussion from multiple drums – Lili Refrain performs with a rare exuberance and glee, and the crowd feeds from her energy eagerly. With vocals reminiscent of Lisa Gerard and Diamanda Galas, it’s a set that combines the beautiful, the sinister, the demonic, as well as the bright and beautiful, and prompted an immediate vinyl purchase from yours truly.
In a very different yet no less powerful set, Emma Ruth Rundle introduced her final song ‘Citadel’ (?) as about “wishing to transcend the body, dissolving in a post-death state without feeling, pain and embodiment.” It was difficult not to think about her recent allusions to failing eyesight here, lump in throat, as well as her experience of Endometriosis which she has spoken about also, or about her visual art – cramped bodies punctured by a metal cage, omnipresent horses contorted into anthropomorphic costume and posture – which explores similar themes.
Lingua Ignota, aka Kristen Hayter, is an artist whose body is often the centre of her art and life but not out of choice. Whilst watching her jaw-dropping, triumphant set this year, few could help but think of her recent revelation of the extensive and shocking abuse she endured at the hands of Daughter’s frontman Alexis Marshall, who himself played the Main Stage in 2019. Many present would have seen previous Lingua Ignota Roadburn sets where she wound up bruised and battered from the rage with which she flung herself around the stage. If her latest album Sinner Get Ready, played in its entirety in 2022, deals with her life as Post-Christian, again her body is central: as painful conduit for the spirit of a god who torments and exploits her, and which can never be equal to its task; as vessel for pain and torment at the hands of her abusers, with no prospect of divine support or retribution.
Eschewing a band or any instruments for herself bar a prepared piano, Lingua Ignota’s set was designed to focus the crowd on her voice and on the sinister video she performed before. This was not so much a set, not so much an album performance, as an experience – one designed to command the full attention of the audience. Hayter looked serious, sombre throughout, not responding to the audience. Every eye is focused on her, every ear on her voice. It’s a painful and emotive experience, full of incredible beauty, rage, fear, vulnerability, and power. A prominent sample, recorded during the pandemic, features a woman confidently claiming that she is washed in the blood of Jesus, that she does not need vaccination, that Jesus’s blood will protect her – reminding us of how the pandemic has affected the bodies of nearly everyone on the planet in one way or another.
One final, sad, note on the theme of the degenerating body. Walter, the much-loved figure behind Roadburn, has discussed his degenerative sight condition and the ways in which it forces him to change how things are run at Planet Roadburn a little, and the way he engages with the festival on the day – as explored further in the Panel Write-up. It seems an especially cruel twist of fate that Emma Ruth Rundle, a friend of Walter and the festival, appears to be – judging by her recent Instagram posts – also in the process of losing her eyesight.
Spirituality & Post-Christianity
In fact, the theme of post-Christianity became broader than just the one set. The first sounds many on the Roadburn campsite heard on Sunday morning was the tolling of the bells of Tilburg’s St Joseph Church. Prior to Lingua Ignota’s set, crossing the city centre to the 013, I’m sure I saw a group of churchgoers quizzing a Roadburner on the presumably satanic or satanic-seeming symbols on his metal t-shirt. Then, half an hour later, Sinner Get Ready provided its own beautiful and terrifying statement on the dogma and violence possible through Christianity and organized religion. The philosophy of Hunt-Hendrix and Liturgy combines Jewish and Christian mysticism, critical theory, and metaphysical philosophy in a manner that is not straightforwardly Christian or religious, and might also be called Post-Christian.
Performing on the Next Stage, Norway’s post-punk/noise-rockers Årabrot perform behind a large glowing cross, in perhaps the most overtly Christian gesture of the festival. Seen streaming from their converted church studio throughout lock-down, it’s great to finally see this unique band again after several years. Infused with the Old Testament imagery of Nick Cave songs, Årabrot are at their best on the firebrand melodrama of traditional song ‘Sinnerman’, and newer material where frontman Kjetill Nernes and Karin Park perform vocal harmonies. Park also played Roadburn as solo performer for the first time in 2022, largely laying off the religious imagery in favour of more personal, synth-driven songs, ranging from club bangers, Tori Amos-esque melodramas, and dusty folk tunes. On ‘Blue Roses’, a hit with all the crowd, Park tells us “a little something” about herself; the line “Do you want to come inside for a coffee/ and smoke some homegrown?” gets a friendly laugh, while “if you see me with a gun in my hand/stay off my sacred land” brings us back to the lyrical territory of her day-band.
Finally, later in the day, Mizmor took to the Engine Room stage, again recalling Hebrew scripture through the visual aesthetics, and the trauma of having Christianity forced upon a person, as Liam Neighbours has discussed in relation to his personal life. As expected, Mizmor is crushing, contemplative, cathartic. Moving across to the realms of the spiritual, who better to guide us there than Alcest, performing Écailles de Lune in its entirety, to a packed Main Stage audience. Sometimes, amidst a day of generic unpredictability and musical exploration, one needs some reliable old favourites to get one singing – well, humming anyway – along: as the meme goes, everybody swoons when Neige goes ahhhh.
From the sublime to the ridiculous. Somehow I concluded this year’s voyage of musical discovery in a tiny bar, covered in beer and singing to Nirvana covers, courtesy of French black metallers Sordide. It’s another one of Roadburn’s storied secret shows, held this time at the legendary Little Devil bar. To be honest, in previous editions I’ve found the secret shows mildly annoying: promising great riches but somehow tantalizingly out of grasp. But I loved them this year, mainly because they were barely secrets at all, more like very last-minute announcements. This show is especially surreal for me, as I didn’t catch Sordide’s black metal set the previous day and rushed to Little Devil hoping to catch a reprise, only to learn along the way that A) this was a covers set; then, once inside to learn that B) they were playing only Nirvana covers; then to figure out that C) they were playing only heavy Nirvana songs and the odd classic from In Utero. Somehow it made total sense, and – gentle reader – mayhem did prevail.
Let Roadburn expand. Make it expand. Broaden the generic horizons even further. Let is continue to push against the boring, straight-white-male-centric line-ups. Let’s have more panel discussions, more art shows; and bring back the cinema! Let’s scoop up more of Tilburg’s quality venues and expand the festival’s appeal to like-minded groups of musical explorers. The trick is not to let the community lose its fundamental values: the underground ethos; diversity, respect, and open-mindedness; and the sheer love of heaviness in all its glorious manifestations. And as of Roadburn 2022, there’s every sign that those values are firmly in place.
Side Programme: Panel Write-up
(Words by Emma Filtness)
As an academic, I love a good a panel discussion and, if I’m being honest, I was looking forward to the added bonus of some much needed Sitting Down On An Actual Chair time (my knees were so pleased). I managed to attend three of the four panel discussions that formed part of the festival’s side-programme, which often also includes art shows, music documentary screenings, listening parties and more. I’m sad I missed ‘Explorations in Heavy Music’, on the theme of “classical to contemporary”, but with a programme as full as this one, clashes are inevitable.
First up for me was ‘The Queer Side of Heaviness: a Celebration of Being LGBTQ+ in Heavy Music,’ hosted by Tom Dare of the Hell Bent for Metal podcast. The musicians and one fan (in a Spice Girls tee) were cosied up at the front of a pleasingly full room on sofas surrounded by houseplants and sunlight. Tom began by asking Hunter Hunt Hendrix of Liturgy if it’s easier to be creative or original if you’ve not seen yourself represented, to which Hendrix said both yes and no: “there’s no schema out there,” and “I wouldn’t make the music I do if I wasn’t the person I am. My path to black metal had a lot to do with being trans even if I didn’t realise it at the time.” Hunter followed this by stating that “the cosmic degree of isolation is what drew me to black metal and why I chose that form rather than punk.” This garnered lots of teary nods from panellists and audience-members alike.
Meredith Graves (ex-Perfect Pussy) followed this, shedding light on their early lonely experiences attending gigs as a fan and not seeing themselves represented on stage or feeling part of a community, and it was this that galvanised them – they described their work since then as “critical, reparative and restorative.”
When asked by an audience member how they deal with encountering fascist/right-wing bands and their fans when they’re booked for the same shows or spaces, Vile Creature’s K.W said “I don’t just play queer spaces anymore – we’ll play on a bill with questionable bands to show that shit’s not OK. We’ll go in, take up space, be our queer selves, unafraid.”
The conversation covered the gendering of metal and its relationship with campness, opening interesting discussions around representations of feminine violence, imagining queer futures, science fiction (Meredith’s looking for some queer SF reading recommendations, fyi), and more.
Whilst I left the panel discussion feeling all warm and fuzzy and part of a queer community, I was left with a slight uneasiness that I couldn’t ignore. The discussion was very much presented as a celebration of queerness, and this was repeated by the host throughout, so there was no mention of the festival venues’ binary toilets and the lack of all-gender provision, though this issue was raised in some of the festival’s online community spaces. And for a panel that talked long and hard about the significance of representation, it was predominantly white and predominantly American. It would have been nice to hear from more non-white and non-western perspectives to enable a more inclusive, intersectional conversation – but there’s always next time.
I only caught the tail end ‘Roadburn 2022 Q&A’ featuring Artistic Director, Walter Hoeijmakers, with curators Milena Eva and Thomas Sciarone of GGGOLDDD and hosted by Becky Laverty, but was glad that I’d braved tucking myself quietly into the back of the space to listen in. Walter was discussing the future of Roadburn and, particularly, the festival’s visual identity, which carries a particular weight given Walter is losing his eyesight. He discussed his recent work in augmenting a core team to be his eyes when taking the festival forward in which he’ll be more of a mentor figure, stating “I hope I can coach them, I hope I can inspire them.” Reflecting on the changing nature of his role, he said “it’s a different role and I need to figure out how it will be.”
I’ve been attending Roadburn for years, but this was my first time attending with a disability which can affect my mobility, and I was really worried about being able to cope with all the standing, the lack of seats, and so on. Perhaps this was why what Walter said really resonated, and not for the first time this festival I found myself getting teary. After the panel on queer metal which inevitably touched on the importance of representation, Walter’s reflections here, and Emma Ruth Rundle attending the festival for the first time with her cane, plus my own recent experience, I find myself becoming more and more interested in exploring the relationship between music and disability – perhaps at a future festival, there could be a panel exploring illness, disability and music, to open up some necessary conversations about a more inclusive accessibility (I’d love to host this, btw). The venues are wheelchair accessible, which is a good start, and if you’re lucky there’s a viewing platform, but there’s so much more to accessibility than this – Roadburn, we can do better, right?
I’ll be honest, the main reason I was so excited about the Community and Collaboration event was due to the presence of Emma Ruth Rundle on the panel. I’m not the gushing, fan-girling type, so I won’t overdo it, but I loved her long before that now-iconic solo Green Room show that truly did ‘redefine heaviness’, and I’ve not quite worked out how to articulate that experience, other than to say it was numinous. As someone who is themselves a part of a supportive and nurturing creative community, albeit mostly of poets and visual artists rather than musicians, I was really interested to hear more about communities of practice and the art of collaboration from some of Roadburn’s most recent collaborators.
This panel was chaired by Cody F. Davis, who writes for Decibel among others, and is also a physiotherapist – jokes were inevitably made about bad posture, back pain etc. The panel featured the aforementioned Emma Ruth Rundle, Ethan Lee McCarthy of Primitive Man, Dylan Walker of Full of Hell, Bryan from THOU and A.L.N/Liam of Mizmor. Brian said that for him, the appeal of collaborative experiences comes from the way they enable “pushing the boundaries of creativity.” Ethan echoed this: “When you bring new people in you can flex new muscles creatively and carry that forward into what you do.” Discussion inevitably turned to the pandemic, lockdowns and collaboration via file-sharing. For some it was an opportunity to slow down, yet for others it gave them time and space to develop both solo and collaborative projects. “Because the technology exists I can be in a band that are thousands of miles away,” said Dylan.
When asked how they approach a collaboration, how the process begins, Liam said that for him it starts “as a conversation, a concept, a blueprint, the sharing of riffs. I demo out a song and send it over, then we have a Zoom call and teach each other the songs.”
The session turned into a love-in, with Emma discussing how natural it feels to collaborate with people she has a real-life friendship with, referring to Liam, who she described as “family” then declaring “I don’t have any friends who aren’t at this festival.” When discussing the sense of community found at Roadburn, Emma discussed that pivotal Green Room show: “People were showing me this respect I’d never encountered in my life, it really changed me as a person, gave me permission, made me feel confident […] the people that come here, there’s an open-mindedness…serious love. I feel safe walking around here and I don’t feel that elsewhere. I wouldn’t be making music in the same way or even at all if it wasn’t for Roadburn.”
This panel really brought home to me how much we all – musicians and fans both, here – really need this festival. As Dylan so neatly summed up, “this festival is cathartic.”