So we’d been trying to get to Roadburn for years, and organizing a group trip from New York was turning out to be herculean. At least one year saw us miss out on tickets because they sold out in 14 minutes. A four-day metal festival in Holland, selling out in 14 minutes. Anybody doubt metal’s importance in the world? So this year we were determined and scored our tickets the day they hit the auction blocks.
It still sold out in 14 minutes.
But no matter, we had our tickets to Roadburn, where some of the heaviest music this side of the Higgs boson would be played with meaning and passion, in a city in southern Netherlands.
Pay the ticket, take the ride…
Day 1: Welkom in Nederland
Schiphol International, Amsterdam. Everything is new and slightly different, but full of promise and possibility, and it’s here our journey begins. Fully dazed and slightly confused, we make our way through the early morning streets as bicycles come at us quick and hard, so we accept our role as humble guests in this great and storied city, so we get the fuck out of the way before we cause some international incident, like a blind spot pile up that nobody wants, not here, not now. It’s still early, but the streets are coming alive and we find our way on foot to the Van Gogh Museum, which is packed with pilgrims, so we stagger through this grand palace of profound works, some never seen in books or printed on postcards. The genius is evident and hard to fathom, and it’s glorious and epic. Our jet lag is now a full-force gale pulling our minds and bodies in all directions, but we break on through because we certainly didn’t come here to sleep, stand idle or complain about anything whatsoever.
Riding the Dutch rail system, a sublime train all European-modern and comfortable and nothing like we have back home. We ramble through the countryside, which alternates between the sort of idyllic, historical beauty of Van Gogh’s landscapes and the harsh modernism of industry, past the old windmills and the new ones, too, through Rotterdam and smaller villages that I wouldn’t be able to pronounce in a hundred years.
After making it to our crash site in Eindhoven–three single beds lined up military style, no door to speak of separating the bathroom from the beds–we train it to Tilburg and the ride is smooth and the anticipation high. It takes a few wrong turns and dead end alleys before we make it to the site, but we quickly scan the scene and score our wristbands that let us run wild through the festival’s streets.
And now for the really important shit…
An old-world glare hits us as we grab our first round of Roadburn brews and they’re remarkably good, exceptionally good in fact, but not so much in that first beer of the day taste (which of course they’re inherently that), but more in that first beer in a foreign land at a music festival we’ve been waiting years to attend, kind of way. So we hastily order another and as we drink Jupiler and Grolsch in plastic cups we ask ourselves, isn’t this about the best fucking thing ever?
Next to us is a full table of like-minded rockers, smoking, drinking, talking music and bands and we realize they are from Germany, Australia, Scandinavia, Canada. Its an instant community and a sort of beautifully broken English is heard everywhere. It’s immediately evident the people here are serious about their music and the poser quotient hovers at absolute zero. We are far from home, but feel instantly welcomed by our new family of strangers.
Let the Grindcore Begin
Our first music of the day finds us at the main stage in the 013, catching England’s Napalm Death. We are suddenly in the grip of some extreme and violent grindcore. It’s abrasive and bleak and a perfect way to kick things off. And look, there’s another bar here on the upper level, so the only right and proper thing to do is order another round.
A short break in the action gives us another chance to commune with all our brothers and sisters, score some badly needed food to keep us standing (falafel and fries), and of course grab another round. What’ll it be? How about the Leffe Brune?
If It Sounds Like Sabbath, I Wanna Hear It
Stage 01 is host to Goatess, a heavy-riff outfit from Sweden. We’re up front and center and score the extra large beers for maximum set stability, because there’s no way in God’s Hell I’m risking missing one note from these gnarly looking fuckers. Goatess is massive, a colossal force, and lead singer Christian Linderson is facing the void, leaning hard into every hypnotic riff, howling that Ozzy snarl. We are dutifully blown away. I make a mental note to self saying something like remember this moment for all time and I’m hoping said moment goes on forever because it’s pure perfection, and I’m glad we went with the big beers because I’ve been able to stay put and be completely inside every moment of this Swedish riff-blizzard. Goatess hits our sweet spot to the core and everything is perfectly aligned, venn diagram and all.
The end of the evening finds us back at the main stage for New Orleans hardcore troublemakers Crowbar. At this stage of the game we’ve been up for what feels like decades, but we hang in and hang on because fuck that weak shit. Lead singer Kirk Windstein is a burly, stout motherfucker, spitting from the stage and basically taking no shit. It’s all very loud and very nasty and we’re kept on our toes by the sheer madness of it all. It’s our first experience with an American band at Roadburn, and there’s a familiar feeling, something resembling home.
On our way back to our bunks in Eindhoven, we just can’t bare the thought of ending the evening, so we stop for a nightcap. Upon meeting a few local chaps we have a long, drawn-out and drunken conversation about local history (World War II) and music festivals (North Sea Jazz Fest, held in Rotterdam) and we exchange rounds of Dommelsch and Bavaria Premium and Hertog Jan (which we quickly rename “The Werner Herzog Nightcap”) and it’s an endless parade of good vibes and communal love between lost souls of the European night. We’re then told that “nothing ever happens in Eindhoven” and that Tilburg is the “second place where nothing ever happens.” Well of course we have our own thoughts about this and share our wonderful stories of all the “happenings” that we’d seen in one full day in this glorious part of the world.
Day 2: Day of Dada
Of course we’re late to rise so we decide upon a leisurely lunch in the Eindhoven town square. The ultimate question at this time of the day is, beer or coffee? We settle on both, which turns out to be the perfect balance, and the lovely blonde waitress has no idea what Roadburn is or why a bunch of New Yorkers would be having lunch in Eindhoven on a random Friday afternoon, but that’s exactly the way we want it because it’s all so completely right and true.
So it’s back aboard the Metal Express and we assume the role of commuters and take in a double espresso and the daily paper (in Dutch) and I swear I overhear somebody say in perfect English, “I just loved Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act!”
Now, how about some more music?
Harsh Toke are a bunch of groove-hungry California longhairs, and how could they not be because they contain the whole ethos of that great state and the original jam band mission, with a straight line running right back to the Grateful Dead. Today they’re joined by the legendary Lenny Kaye and they’re ripping through an hour-long two-song set that incorporates poetic vignettes from the whole history of garage rock and psych rock. And the weed is simply everywhere, in fact the dudes on stage don’t even need their hands to smoke it, like they are blowing bones and playing their instruments at the same time and it’s no big deal because everything is cool, isn’t it?
Harsh Toke is good smoke!
Real Horror Show Like
We stumble into Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin set by chance, some might even say destiny, which turns out to be the first of many revelations for the day. Goblin is performing its iconoclastic soundtrack scores right along with scenes from the films, most notably Dawn of the Dead. It’s surreal and beautiful and creepy and a welcome change from the pot-infused power chords of Harsh Toke. Gothic Italian prog rock? We are truly enlightened and lucky to be here.
Hey, is that Mike Scheidt of YOB just wandering around, drinking a beer, taking it all in?
Simply put, Sweden’s Trettioåriga Kriget absolutely floor us with their complex and vintage prog, played so effortlessly and flawlessly. Why have I never heard of these guys since I’m kind of a freak when it comes to 70s prog? They lay their shit down with such power and grace and the younger musicians at Roadburn would do well to see this tight but loose outfit in action. And isn’t it just sublime to be introduced to something you’ve never heard before, even though it’s been around for 40 some-odd years? Who knew that was still possible? So I have that little kid feeling, discovering a “new” band and wanting to get my hands on their entire back catalog, all original vinyl of course because that’s the way it’s meant to be heard.
The Kingdom of Sweden is really making a case for best of show here at Roadburn 2014.
Trappist Beers by Candlemass
At some point a conversation ensues about devil imagery in metal and there are two separate threads we follow, one being it’s all too serious and somewhat silly, and the other being it’s really just a joke played on the squares who are really the ones who take it all too seriously, and are there really people in the world who actually believe in Satan, and isn’t that just as ridiculous as believing in the old man in the sky with the long beard, so to speak? But in the end we decide it’s all good and it’s onto the next show and the next round so we sample yet more strange and foreign beers, this time something from the great monks who don’t say much if anything at all but do brew up a tasty beverage in the name of Westmalle Trappist, and boy oh boy what a head splitter, let’s have two more, Jan.
All this talk of god, the devil, and monks is fitting because we are now watching Candlemass (from Sweden, where else?) who conjure up Satan in all his dark energy and sinister glory and it’s all weird and nasty and a shit ton of fun.
Umbrellas, Tennis Racquets and the New Austrian Avant-Garde
Over at the Cul de Sac, three strange-looking cats are sound checking and they’re speaking a language we can’t for the life of us pinpoint on a map and then learn they are Austrian, which is fine by us because well, we’ve never seen any bands from Austria, have we? So the sounds coming off the stage remind us of Minutemen, Devo and Gang of Four, and this turns out to be just about right because Bulbul are ripping it up with humor and artfulness that quickly turns them into our favorite band, if only for the moment. Somewhere along the line the guitarist is playing an umbrella and the bassist is playing a tennis racquet and it’s stellar art-rock in a new and twisted form.
On our way back to Eindhoven we get turned around and walk right into Jesus, just sort of standing there all stately and somber-like, and we are of course stunned by this turn of events. How very odd. So we get a picture taken with the master of all worlds and feel ok with meeting The Maker, if you will, but I’m wondering if he noticed we were a bit loaded.
DAY 3: Bringing It All Back Home
Late to rise again, we down two coffees to get the blood racing and the brain infused and focused on the horizons that await this glorious new day. On our way to the station we get hassled by a bunch of teenagers asking if we “needed a coffee shop?” which of course means “do we wanna smoke some weed?” and we’re confused because like, in a country where weed is legal, do you still need drug dealers?
Our first order of business is the first beer of the day and onto the Green Room for a date with Ontario’s Monster Truck. I’m not sure of the time since I’m carrying no phone and no watch, but it feels about the right time for some kick-ass jams in the style and form of old masters and old favorites Mountain and Grand Funk Railroad, which is just what we get, played with aggression and punch. There are massive Orange amps and plenty of Gibson SGs of course, which may be some sort of Roadburn prerequisite since every band has them in their arsenal. Well done Canadian lads, welcome to the hard rock universe.
Somewhere along the way we break for a round of Turkish broodje döners, which are greasy and salty and go perfectly with an inordinate amount of beer. Can we get some more harissa with that?
All This Song Needs Is More Beer
So it’s back to the main stage for Richmond, Virginia’s Windhand, who bring the original doom aesthetic back from the dead, all the while conjuring new mysteries from that old magic, and it’s a breath of fresh air to see a wild and true front woman keeping it hard and heavy, and so after their set I ramble over to the Veemarktstraat and find lead singer Dorthia Cottrell selling t-shirts and albums and stickers so I grab a shirt and pay up in Euros, which she gently glides into her bra for what I suppose is maximum safe keeping.
More wandering leads us to Boston’s Gozu who are punishingly loud and brutal and the room is so packed we only get a glimpse of this behemoth of a band. Over at Het Patronaat, which turns out to be an old converted church with stained glass windows showing like stations of the cross and the whole bit, we find Austin’s Scorpion Child rampaging through a set that reminds us of Rainbow, and we all have a quick laugh about the whole metal played in a church paradigm. And then we jump at the chance to order a round in a church, because when the fuck does that ever happen?
Bring the Fuzz
YOB is performing their 2009 masterpiece “The Great Cessation” in its entirety on the main stage and we’re as close as humanly possible. It’s packed and loud as fuck. The walls are trembling and the amps are buzz sawing. YOB are the undisputed masters of the crushing doom aesthetic and we wonder how three unassuming guys from the wilds of Oregon can make so much noise and command so much attention.
Hollowed out and fully spent, we say our final goodbyes to Tilburg and head for the hills of the north. The journey back to Amsterdam Centraal takes several hours, so we have ample time to reflect on events past and enjoy another trek through the Dutch countryside.
We spend our final night wandering the streets of Amsterdam and stumble upon a magical little place called Cafe Chaos. There are rounds of Palm and Achouffe, all served in the proper glasses of course, and they are consumed with a humble reverie. We’re so inspired by what we’ve experienced over the past few days we can’t help but start our own heavy band right there on the spot, and so we throw around names like Hatchet, State of Complaint, Into the Vortex and my hands-down favorite, The Gnome Knows.
We’ll have another round please.
As we close the joint down we hear the familiar rumble of “Riders on the Storm” and what a fitting end to our mystical journey, our ecstatic mission. Staggering back to the hotel we notice a glaring full moon, an ancient and timeless moon, watching over us and half the world, a guiding light keeping us from spilling over into the canals, or getting run over by the raging storm of bikes, which still seem to be rolling by at this late hour.
Hey, what were those band names again?