Roadburn Festival

author AP date 14/04/22

After a three year wait, the iconic Roadburn festival will finally return to its physical form next week in the wake of two cancellations in 2020 and 2021. And as a part of our building intrigue around this almost mythical mecca for all things heavy, avant-garde and experimental, we wanted to hear from two of the main minds behind the event, Walter Hoeijmakers & Becky Laverty, about what makes it so special, the tenacity they’ve had to show during two years of lockdowns and bans on mass gatherings, and most importantly, what we should be looking forward to at this year’s edition of the festival. Whether you’re joining us in the Netherlands this year or planning to do so next year, Walter & Becky provided a treasure trove of thoughts and comments that should send your hype meter off the charts. Read on to find out what they had to say…

Cover photo courtesy of Peter Troest

RF.net: It has been three long years since Roadburn last took place in 2019. It must have been stressful, having to plan and postpone multiple times during these turbulent years?
Becky: It has been stressful! It's been an emotional rollercoaster for us but set against a backdrop of a world which has been difficult to navigate for just about everyone. Although our circumstances have been difficult in a very specific way, I think a lot of people will be able to identify with what we've gone through and what we've felt. Not having a physical edition of the festival, and feeling removed from the community that helps shape Roadburn has been difficult. Now, a couple of weeks out from the festival, we have a whole different raft of emotions - relief mixed with trepidation, a bit of uncertainty and yes, still stress!

RF.net: In the end, as it became obvious that Roadburn 2021 was not going to happen either, you put together the Roadburn Redux online streaming event instead. Can you tell me a little bit about how that came together, and how you wanted to convey the spirit of the actual festival through it?
Becky: We had originally rolled over the 2020 line up to 2021 when we first had to cancel, assuming all would be well in the world a full 12 months later. As we got to the time of year when we should have been making announcements it became clear that we were still on shaky ground... So we looked at what might be possible, a scaled down version of the festival perhaps? As the weeks went by even these plans looked less likely and we had to rethink completely.

We were able to get some grant funding to help with the back end of broadcasting live from the 013 venue, which meant that we were able to invite a small number of bands to perform and be enjoyed by Roadburners around the world. By being in a position to put some of this grant funding towards commissioning artists we were able to contribute to the creative stimulation (and band finances) that had been diminished as a result the pandemic and its impact.

Around those live performances, we built a whole programme of premieres, pre-recorded performances, Q&As, and other things that we could share exclusively over the Roadburn weekend. Of course - as ever - the presence of fellow Roadburners is what really made the experience what it was. We couldn't have anticipated the overwhelmingly positive response, with thousands of people tuning in - some just for a few minutes, but thousands for the whole weekend, start to finish. It wasn't quite the same as being together in person, but the energy and the feeling was still there - and we managed to pull off some very special performances and provide something new and unique. It was a huge team effort and it paid off - it bridged the gap between Roadburn and then some!

RF.net: Some of the artists and performances from Roadburn Redux have also been carried over to Roadburn's 2022 line-up. Was this always the plan or was it a direct result of how their streamed performances turned out and how they were received by the online audience?
Becky: An obvious one that falls into this category is GGGOLDDD - they were commissioned to create and perform a piece of music for Roadburn Redux which turned out to be our best streamed set of the weekend, it really resonated with Roadburners. That performance has been turned into their upcoming new album, This Shame Should Not Be Mine - and it is such a beautiful and emotive piece of work we knew they belonged back at Roadburn this year to perform it in full - this time with a real life audience (and extra strings players too!).

Elsewhere Solar Temple really made an impact, as did Trialogos and a few others, so it really made sense to include them in our plans going forward.

RF.net: Looking at the line-up this year, it is in many ways quite similar to what was originally planned for 2020, yet with some pretty significant changes as well. Was it a conscious effort to try to preserve as much of that line-up as possible?
Becky: When we had to scrap our plans to just carry the 2020 line up to 2021 we decided that we wanted to start again from scratch. Roadburn prides itself on reflecting what's going on at any given time, but also balancing looking both backwards and forward to what has already or soon will make a big impact on heavy music. So, a two year old line up didn't make sense to us... but some of the bands did. Of course we had commissioned projects for 2020 that are still yet to see the light of day and we were adamant that they would be carried over, so they formed a significant anchor point to build the rest of the line up around.

RF.net: Do you have any major regrets in terms artists that were supposed to perform in 2020 but could not make it this year? If so, which artists on the 2022 bill do you feel are the natural replacements for those artists?
Becky: I think it's a real shame that James Kent and Emma Ruth Rundle’s curations didn't come to fruition. We're really pleased that they'll be a part of Roadburn this year, and I hope I get to introduce them to each other in Tilburg. They both put such time and effort into their curations, and a few bits and pieces remain here which just shows that their ideas were truly in line with the direction of Roadburn.

We don't really think of one artist being a replacement for another - even when we've (sadly) had cancellations for this year, we don't seek out a like-for-like replacement necessarily. It's more about finding someone that suits the vibe of that day or stage, and finding a common artistic thread that means they will fit in.

RF.net: In more general terms, how do you go about hand picking and booking the artists — both musical and otherwise — that get to perform at Roadburn? Do you have some very specific things you are looking for, as well as things that you are trying to avoid?
Becky: Walter has been at the helm of this for many years and often cites gut instinct as his main decision maker. This year I joined him on the booking side of Roadburn alongside my other duties, as did Joël Heijda, one of the in-house promoters at the 013. I think it's fair to say that gut instinct has played a big part in it for us all. It's like we have a few pieces of a giant puzzle in front of us and we're trying to find the missing pieces to create a beautiful image - one that we hope matches up to what each other are envisioning, and that looks like a beautiful image to other people too!

We want to avoid staleness and standing still. We want artists that continue to evolve in the same way that we do - brave, bold, boundary pushing artists are core to Roadburn. Aside from that, there's no quota or real guidelines that we follow... just that good ol' gut instinct again.

RF.net: It also seems like you are able to attract artists for one-offs and exclusives to a much greater extent than most European festivals. Why do you think that is?
Becky: For 2022 it was a necessary part of putting together the festival - we still have some bands playing who are also touring Europe, but we knew the less we relied on full tours for 2022 the more likely our line up was to stay in tact. At least that was a theory we had...

But overall, we will always aim to have a fair amount of exclusive performances because we want to do something that makes Roadburn a one-off, a must-attend event. Yes, you can see some of these bands elsewhere, but you won't find all these bands doing these performances in this way anywhere else. We don't take for granted that people spend their hard earned money on attending Roadburn, and we want to create a special and memorable event.

RF.net: In your own words, what does the festival's philosophy of 'Redefining Heaviness' mean? How would you compare the earliest editions of Roadburn to where it has arrived today?
Becky: For me - seven years in and still a relative new-comer - I feel like it means challenging preconceptions of what heavy music is and can be. For example, Midwife - to me - is undeniably heavy, but sonically worlds away from Primitive Man. Roadburn exists in the place where they overlap. Having not been around in the earlier editions of Roadburn, I don't think it's for me to comment on that, so hold the line, I'm going to call Walter and put this question to him...

Walter: We have always wanted Roadburn to be a reflection of the underground - when we started out in the late 90s we put emphasis on the thriving psychedelic, stoner rock and doom scene. Throughout the years we put focus on all forms of heaviness from post-rock to metal, to drone to dark folk music. Different scenes thrive at different times and in different ways, and that's what we pay attention to. Roadburn is still a reflection of the thriving underground scene - we just shifted the focus a little bit, as heaviness comes in many more forms than it did 22 years ago. Whatever the focus, we always aim to take Roadburners on a sonic adventure through different kinds of heaviness.

RF.net: Heavy music seems to remain the core of Roadburn's booking choices, but in recent years there has also been a clear tendency to book more electronic, hip hop, etc. artists. It this a conscious effort and something that the festival's audience can expect to see more of in the years to come?
Becky: Roadburn is often viewed as a metal festival - and whilst we definitely have plenty of metal on the bill, that description doesn't do justice to the eclectic range of artists that we have performing every year. We love and embrace metal bands, but heaviness comes in many shapes, forms and hues - to remain closed off to other genres would result in a much less vibrant festival.

RF.net: We could not help but notice the festival's artwork is not as bold or dark as previous years — it seems somehow more fleeting in terms of the motifs. Is this a reflection of a move toward an even more experimental, or perhaps broader scope of booking?
Becky: The visual art - created by Tekla Vály and Tereza Holubova - was created with minimal input from us. We told them that we wanted something that included elements of joy and communion - as that's what we were hoping to have this April. We wanted the artwork to strike a hopeful and positive note, and we think they nailed it. I think it also represents something somewhat otherworldly, or evokes the feeling of being slightly disembodied or floating away from your own self - which is how immersing yourself in Roadburn can feel sometimes. The visual art element of Roadburn is really important and has also evolved over the years in quite an organic way. We remain open-minded about the direction that both the musical and the visual elements of Roadburn will take in the future.

RF.net: This year, you have also added the Paradox jazz club with its own programme of intriguing artists to the festival's selection of venues. Is this a one time thing, or part of Roadburn's continued evolution and reinvention of itself?
Becky: This will be part of the festival going forward. We're really thrilled to have Paradox become a part of Roadburn to further explore the jazz and avant-garde realm of Roadburn. The venue is renowned and highly regarded and with their artistic director, Bartho at the helm we are were always confident that the curated line up there would be cutting edge and resonate with the Roadburn audience. We're in for quite a sonic adventure this year, and hopefully long into the future.

RF.net: Finally, if you could each pick five must-see performances, as well as mention some of the talks, exhibitions, or any other aspects of the festival that this year's attendees should not miss?
Becky: I'm going to cheat on this answer to squeeze in as much as possible:

1. All the commissioned projects - James Kent & Johannes Persson, Jo Quail's The Cartographer, Bismuth & Vile Creature, Solar Temple and Dead Neanderthals.

2. The side programme - all of it! It's my baby - and this year features some great panels but I think 'The Queer Side of Heaviness' and 'Community & Collaboration' panels will be excellent.

3. Liturgy - both performances, but “Origin of the Alimonies” has required a big team effort to put together and I can't wait to see it come to fruition.

4. Emma Ruth Rundle - “Engine of Hell” is such a bold and striking artistic statement, I am excited to have Emma back with us to perform it in full.

5. This one's a tease but we have a few special surprises that will unfold over the course of the weekend and if you revisit this interview after the festival, then you'll probably agree they were not to be missed.

Walter:

1. GGGOLDDD

2. Emma Ruth Rundle

3. Tau & the Drones of Praise

4. Slift

5. Solar Temple & Dead Neanderthals

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