Barbarians at the Fence: Roskilde Festival, Day 1

July 10, 2013 | Theo Bark

Back in April, I came up with one of my best schemes yet.

I offered my job the opportunity to fly me to Europe for the summer, where I would assume my daily music editor responsibilities, spending my weekends traveling to various places to cover and attend Europe’s famed music festivals, from Glastonbury in the U.K. to Roskilde in Denmark.

The plan was verbally approved, so I bought a flight from L.A. to Spain for Primavera Sound and Sonar, got myself some press credentials, threw myself a going away party, then the company I worked for went under the week before I was due to fly out, and everything went off the rails.

I spent the last couple of months sleeping off a four-year hangover, drinking weak coffee in the hills of Spain, in olive orchards by myself, listening to the Beach Boys.

After a while, I missed the beach, so I headed back to Barcelona, where I’ve been living with a pregnant Catalan and British couple.

I checked my email. Several thousand messages urgent press releases from publicists who haven’t yet heard that I’m no longer important, a couple emails from friends asking where I’ve been. A message from my Norwegian friend Maiken, whom I’d recently met at Sonar in Barcelona, when we were hanging out on a beach at 9AM with a transsexual prostitute, asking me if I wanted to go to Roskilde to cover the festival with her.

In this new life, I have a new rule. Never turn down an invitation.

I’ve heard a lot about Roskilde. Annual tent parties in the immense camping areas, rivers of piss and shit, wastelands of refuse, public sex, tent fires, the fence where baked urine accumulates, scorching in the sun, and wafts into attendees’ lungs; a golden shower of flaked piss descending from the sky like snow.

Kids camp out for up to ten days, partying, puking, fucking and drinking for a week before the actual music begins. Oddly, this year’s lineup included Rihanna, Metallica, Sigur Rós and Kraftwerk, performing in what I imagined to be a knee-deep-in-shit battlefield of young Vikings vomiting on each other.

 Needless to say, I couldn’t wait, and in typical fashion, within ten seconds of stepping off the train platform in Copenhagen on Thursday, I was stopped by police and searched for drugs.

I was escorted to a small room full of people who looked like they generally slept outdoors, where an extremely polite policeman went through my luggage, which mostly consisted of underwear. It reminded me of the time police subpoenaed my camera in Ohio, which a friend had just used to take a picture of his balls.

“So, how do you like Copenhagen?” The cop inquired, as he rifled through my bag.

“Seems nice.”

“And how long have you been here in Denmark?”

“Well, I got off the train, I met you, and now here we are.

“Sorry for that,” the cop said, sounding genuine, as a black lab sniffed my underwear.

The actual town of Roskilde is a short train ride outside of Copenhagen, and the train, like everything else in Scandinavia, costs about half a month’s rent in Barcelona. When your steady income’s been reappropriated, you begin to measure exchange rates this way; a weekend in Paris equals nearly two months’ rent in Barcelona, or four months’ living expenses out in the hills. Roskilde licks chops, wolfs the last of my severance.

An Andy Warhol photo hangs in the apartment where Maiken and I stay in Copenhagen, affixed with the following quote, “Wasting money puts you in a real party mood.”

We spend a couple of nights in Copenhagen pre-gaming, smoking finger-sized spliffs in Christiania, drinking gin, listening to dancehall, talking.

When we finally make it to the Roskilde grounds on Saturday morning, we’re greeted by a fetid perfume, a potent blend of mildew, rancid milk, ash tray, vinegar and something floral, like a plum picked out of a field of manure. Maiken calls it “festival cologne.”

There’s virtually no security presence at the entrance, or really anywhere on the grounds. The festival staff is made up of volunteers, handing out water, checking wristbands, not really giving a fuck. Sneaking drugs or alcohol in would be about as difficult as bagging groceries. In comparison to Sonar, where I saw the most open drug use of my young life, Roskilde is relaxed. The kids drink, some smoke weed, I hardly see much more than that.

 The grounds resemble a hippie commune, sprawled with ramshackle bars, organic food vendors, graffiti, thousands of bikes, miles of tents, a basketball court, small soccer field, movie theater, a lake for fishing and swimming, “where you will probably get Chlamydia,” Maiken informs me. A Thai restaurant advertises “probably the best Thai food in town.”

A bar called Gringo Bar, which seems redundant at a Danish music festival, serves nachos.

“The first rule of Roskilde is never touch any fences,” Maiken directs me, describing the flaked urine, which, when the weather’s nice, tints the air with a powerful ammonia.

“Everybody has the same cough, it lasts for weeks,” she says.

We throw away a modest fortune on drinks and wander around the grounds. Brooklyn’s take on Odd Future, Flatbush Zombies charge around the Cosmopol tent, doling out some valuable sex ed.

“How many of y’all like to fuck?” bearded member Zombie Juice yells. “You know you only here ‘cause your mom and dad fucked, right?”

We head to Apollo, the smaller of two outdoor stages, a poorly attended tee ball field in comparison to the main stage’s stadium-sized grounds. Tomas Barfod of Danish band WhoMadeWho drums from the stage, which looks like a pumpkin-shaped version of Stewie Griffin’s head, pulling out breezy tracks from his 2012 album Salton Sea.

We fall asleep in the sun. We’re lucky, the weather is perfect this year.

“’07 was shitty. It was my first year,” a Danish kid named Rasmus tells me. “There was one Thursday where it rained more than it had ever rained in Roskilde. Just that day. I think I was listening to Björk.”

Maiken says she saw people making holes in the ground and sitting in semi-circles, waiting for someone to fall in.

We wander the grounds. Drunks piss out in the open, eschewing the orange plastic latrines strapped to trees like masks. They look like prosthetic tree vaginas. I try one of the white bathrooms next to the tree pussies, swathed in a fragrance of Swiss cheese and baby shit.

We’re waiting for my Australian friends, Chad and Nathan, who I met while covering Parklife tour in 2010, a now-defunct Aussie festival. They’re attending Roskilde with their artist, Flume, but they’re late, and I don’t have any phone service, so we head over to the Arena stage to see Kvelertak, a Motörhead-inspired Norwegian metal band which I’m partially responsible for getting signed, yet have managed to miss every time I’ve tried to catch them live.

We buy drinks, which the bartender screws up eight different ways, then forgets to charge us for, and check out the band, stacked with a full six members, three guitarists, spearheaded by a shirtless Erlend Hjelvik.

They perform songs from their recent major label debut Meir, before ripping two of my favorite tracks from their 2010 debut, “Mjød” and “Fossegrim.” I remember jogging around the hills in L.A. to these songs, high on weed cookies, looking for mountain lions.

There’s a guy in a superhero outfit and coochie cutters jumping next to me. He knows all the words, I just know the sounds. We’re three rows back, volunteers pass out glasses of water to the crowd. It’s great.

We head back to the small outdoor arena stage, and catch Glasgow’s Numbers showcase. Redinho is playing live, no sign of the Aussies. We sit at an outdoor bar, and watch people pass by. I ask a Swede for a light and he tells me to keep it. The people are incredibly nice.

A tractor pulls up, the driver pops out to get food, then drives away. Guys in Metallica shirts kick around a giant square bottle of ketchup; Roskilde soccer.

 I’m getting a little festival anxiety, when Chad and Nathan stroll up all “no worries.” They buy Jack and cokes, we check out Spencer’s set, then push move on to Metallica for jokes.

 We show up just as they play “One.” I remember learning this song on a Casio keyboard in 4th grade, imagining the music video in my head because we didn’t have cable. The controversy over The Black Album, which I loved in a completely different, early ‘90’s way, back when we listened to Guns ‘n’ Roses, Naughty by Nature and Nirvana, all equally.

James Hetfield admonishes the crowd to “sing it,” in a snarl that sounds hilarious coming from a 50-year-old, and they peel off the opening riffs of “Enter Sandman” to a dark field of banners and Viking dragons. Somehow, this is the first time I’ve seen Metallica live.

 We head over to Sigur Rós, who play a beautiful set, alien and otherworldly, at the giant Arena stage, which is now packed. The night has covered several decades’ worth of formative acts for me — I’ve seen two of my favorite bands for the first time.

We all want to see Swedish psych rock band Goat, but Flume’s tour manager has a van, so we sit by the parking lot and wait for our ride back to Copenhagen.

As we sit, a Roskilde resident on drugs, the first I’ve seen, accuses us of being undercover cops, bellows at us to understand him, begs us to understand him, refuses to believe that we’re not Danish, informs us he has a “real dick,” and threatens us, yelling “I am from Roskilde!” over and over, while fumbling with his belt.

He can’t keep his phone or money in his pocket any more than he can affix his wilted canvas hat on his head, and he ends up face first on the asphalt, cuffed behind his back, smacking his face against the blacktop.

We head back to Copenhagen, which smells like a real city, and try to fall asleep while it’s still dark, but the sun beats us to the punch.

(Photos: Theo Bark/ANIMALNewYork)