Mayhem in Tent City: Roskilde Festival, Day 2

July 11, 2013 | Theo Bark

I spent Saturday at Roskilde Festival drinking and watching bands, so today I make a blood oath to infiltrate the world of Roskilde camping.

When I tell people I’m covering the festival, but I’m not camping on the grounds, they look at me like I’ve just said I’m on a pizza tour of the Baltic.

“Camping is half of it,” my Norwegian friend Maiken explains. The other half is drinking.

Roskilde, a town which dates back to the Viking era, is the burial site of various kings and queens of Denmark, my favorite of whom is Harald “Bluetooth” Gormsson, King of Denmark and Norway, a Christian convert who died in 986 AD.

The festival, one of the largest in Europe, was created by hippie high school kids in 1971, and became a non-profit in 1972, promoting music, culture and humanism.

Now, a week-long party on the campground leads to the actual four-day music event, at which point most are “so fucked up we can hardly think.”

Shortly before the campground officially opens, many celebrate “væltning af hegnet,” bum-rushing the protective fence to score prime camp real estate. Due to this ritual, the festival organizers, who employ some 32,000 volunteers, frequently have little time to set up toilets, drinking water and other necessities, annually deemed an afterthought by festivalgoers, eager to drink, puke, fuck and piss for a solid week before a single note is played on the festival grounds.

The weather conditions vary. Either it rains, and the grounds become a shit swamp, or it’s sunny, and the fence is caked with piss, which bakes in the sun, tinting the skies with a golden silt. In either event, they wild out.

“As the sun went down one night, there was a camp of belligerent 13-15 year-old boys, with one kid particularly drunk. They dolled him up in a dress then took turns hitting him with a baseball bat,” Kelly, a former coworker of mine, tells me, when she hears that I’m checking out the campgrounds.

“At the end of the festival, they set fire to all of their camping equipment, then repurchase everything the next year,” she adds.

“Sometimes people are still in the tents,” Maiken confirms.

Heading to the festival, the floor of our train is matted with hay, rank with an earthy “pre-Roskilde festival cologne.”

The camping area appears deserted. Graffiti covered tents lean, queasy, abandoned amidst a crusty sea of half-full liquor and wine bottles, sandals, flattened beer cans, socks, water bottles, broke down camping chairs, mattresses, pillows, tarps.

Kids wheel sound systems onto the train, haul sleeping bags, guitars, soccer balls, everyone looking equally dogged, dejected, depressed. One guy has a kayak.

We push through the crowd to check out James Blake and 21-year-old Australian producer Flume, both of whom are slotted at 2:30PM alongside the Heliocentrics, all of whom would be better suited for sundown, though I have no idea when that might be. The sun doesn’t seem to set.

Flume has a good crowd for the modest Arena stage, a couple of old guys dance alongside a Viking helmeted blonde. Kids wave an Aussie flag.

We head backstage with Flume’s managers, Chad and Nathan, and drink festival beers, relaxing. It doesn’t smell half bad.

“It smells like coffee and cigarette breath,” Maiken corrects. “Teacher smell.”

The artist area is introduced to us by guided tour. Hot grilled food, salads, hummus, fresh fruit. One of the kids from teen punk band The Bots helps himself to an adult-sized portion of cauliflower au gratin.

The grill staff announce orders by band name, “Fidlar,” “Azealia Banks,” we smoke spliffs in a purple tree house, while Flume and his crew sleep in the sun.

Two years ago, Flume was 19, working at the Hard Rock Cafe, Chad was tour managing, Nathan was preparing to be a first-time father, Maiken was in school, I was in an office in L.A. Now, Flume’s gone platinum in Australia, and here we are, everyone sleeping in the sun, on the grass, like kids. Chad says it’s the first time they’ve relaxed in weeks.

Maiken and I sit, talking, while everyone else sleeps. I walk her off the grounds, her train from Copenhagen to Oslo just minutes away.

Crowds swarm the doors. Backpacks, dreads, more sound systems, crutches. No Americans. No DayGlo. No EDM.

She turns at the door. I stand there, lame. A flash of her white shirt on the top deck of the train, she sits, smiles, waves.

I pass tent city, small groups of kids basking in the squalor, taking in their last day.

One camp collects air mattresses next to a tent that looks like a Klan member, piling them high, doing backflips onto the pile.

A group of guys sit around a mixology bar from the set of Mad Max; several milk crates packed with beer, various liquors, mixers, simple syrup, perched atop an alter of filth, camping equipment, jars of canned food. All but one have lost cellphones, they laugh, unconcerned.

They offer me a drink, I ask for a house special. They pour up something light, then pass me a liqueur which I can barely get down. It’s one of the most popular drinks in Denmark, it tastes like salt licorice and cough syrup. I take two pulls, I don’t want to be rude.

“Three years ago, I woke up at the pissing fence. I was passed out, and I woke up, with my pants down, just lying there,” a blond kid with a broad smile, Rasmus, tells me, when I ask if they’ve had any run-ins with the infamous fence.

“It’s been raining a bit, but normally you get all the piss dust. It gets in your nose,” he adds. “You’ll able to trace where the fence has been for a thousand years or something, because of all the ammonia.”

Police stroll by, followed by a camera crew, skirting the mountain of air mattresses. Hot air balloons hang low in the sky.

The guys have set up a shopping cart in front of the pile, now almost two dozen mattresses deep. A kid in a headdress waits behind a shirtless guy in board shorts, who tucks into a expert back flip.

People dive in from all angles. Rasmus flips his way across the pile and returns with a square water bottle, shaded a light purple, filled with several gallons of Ribena, simple syrup and vodka. We drink many. They proclaim today their favorite day of the festival.

“Sunday is always the best. It’s when the best things happen,” Rasmuss says, leaning back in his chair. Earlier in the week they were less fortunate, someone took a shit on one of our tents.

“The rumor is it’s one of the girls who lives in our camp,” he reveals with a grin.

Another of their friends was escorted back to their camp, after passing out and puking in a random tent.

“I have this girl, I always meet her on the festival area. We don’t normally see each other, but when we meet, we just talk a bit, and then we find a random tent,” one explains. “I’ve been caught two times. The first time, I got lucky because it was a guy, so he could understand. The next time it was two teenage girls. They got pissed.”

I pass around a bottle of Johnny Walker, and inquire about the tent fires.

“I lit some fires last year, but we got in trouble,” Rasmus says. “I was so disappointed that there was no fires and mayhem, so I lit some myself.”

The cops grill a dusty kid on an air mattress, and when their drug dogs begin searching his tent I excuse myself. I could sit at the camp and joke with them all night. I almost do.

I catch up with the Aussies backstage, just as their van is about to take off for Copenhagen.

I saw exactly one act, missed Kraftwerk for the second time this month, and we head back to the city, to their hotel, where I roll a spliff and Nathan randomly plays “KV Crimes,” a Kurt Vile song that’s been stuck in my head all weekend.

“Club Mate … on holiday … with the Moon Duo … Space partners,” Vile sings.

The city lights are green and gold and the water is still. The sun has yet to set.

Where am I going? I’ve lost my locker key somewhere on the campsite, on a pile of abandoned air mattresses, in a random tent. My phone’s out of credit, my Spanish number no longer works.

The same Kurt Vile song plays in my head as I pass out on the couch, and when I wake for the seventh time, Chad and Nathan have gone, and I’m alone again.

“Alright … what now? It’s fine, I think I’m ready … to claim what’s mine … rightfully.”

Next time I’m staying in the wild camp.



(Photos: Theo Bark/ANIMALNewYork)