Roadburn Festival has become Europe’s leading underground festival for heavy music of all types. Unrestricted by genre, the Roadburn lineup regularly champions scene-defining bands and pioneers up-and-coming artists who blur the boundaries effortlessly. “In the beginning (1998), Roadburn was mainly a website, and we wanted to share our undying love for the underground by creating a platform for everyone who was heavily into doom, stoner, and the heavy 70s – bands, press, and fans alike,” artistic director Walter Hoeijmakers says. “There was no social media back then, and Roadburn became one of the main hubs for this scene, the website that put emphasis on the cutting edge, while honoring the forefathers, too. A lot of the bands, and journalists and tastemakers as well, were involved in one way or another. And one day we got the amazing opportunity to convey the look and feel of the website into a very small festival (February 1999), and the rest is history.”

No one would have thought that this little festival would celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2019. “I still have to pinch myself sometimes to make sure it’s not some kind of fever dream,” Walter admits. “We didn’t have any blueprint whatsoever; all we did was go with the flow year after year. Roadburn progressed very naturally, though nowadays we’re very aware of our future – we try to distinguish Roadburn more and more by redefining the notion of what heavy actually means, while in the beginning we were celebrating the versatile stoner and doom scene of the late 90s and early 2000s. The artistic scope of the festival changed a bit over the years, too, but the passion remains the same.”

 

GodSpeed! You Black Emperor – Niels Vinck

At the core of Roadburn is a desire to push the boundaries of art to facilitate challenging performances, to encourage collaboration and to create true once-in-a-lifetime experiences for everybody at the festival – be they participating from the audience or on the stage. “I carefully plan the artistic scope for each edition, as I want Roadburn to be an exciting reflection of what’s currently going on in the underground,” Walter continues. “The festival is a tribute to the open minds of our attendees, and the forward-thinking bands as well, whether it’s the established names or young, up-and-coming bands. Though we’re also bringing new sounds into the equation – it’s all about pushing the envelope and sparking a creative fire. Plus, it’s about gut feeling, too. In the end, Roadburn wants to add context to all that’s going on in those thriving scenes, and the bands that played such a pivotal role in defining certain genres.”

Despite its well regarded reputation and broad critical acclaim, Roadburn remains very much underground, with many unknown bands invited to play every year. “The unknown bands of this year are the headliners of next year, figuratively speaking,” Becky Laverty of Pioneer Music Press, who handles Roadburn’s press and communication, says. “It’s important that bands get the opportunity to thrive and to connect with their audience, as the bands that embrace that and grasp every opportunity to do so will indeed be the bands that come back again in two or three years, and again after that, and yes, soon enough those will be the bands that are playing the main stage at Roadburn. Genre isn’t a restrictor in terms of our headliners, but unknown bands have to grow into those headline slots, which can sometimes take years. But we have faith that many of them will do exactly that.”

Working behind the scenes on a festival like this is not an easy task. “It’s exciting, exhausting and rewarding. I hope it looks effortless from the outside,” Becky smiles. “It may sound like a cliché, but because we are all music fans and passionate about our individual roles in the festival, we come together to make it work. Everyone who plays their part is incredibly dedicated and committed to making Roadburn a success. It’s a great team to be a part of.”

 

 

Roadburn takes place each April (April 11-14 this year) in the Dutch city of Tilburg. The epicenter of the festival is the 013 venue, with other local venues forming the constellation that houses the festival acts. “The first editions of the festival were actually held in Amsterdam, Tilburg and Sneek, and later on in Nijmegen and Eindhoven, among other cities as well,” Walter says. “Back then we hosted multiple very small festivals a year. For our 10th edition in 2005, a very good friend of mine was the in-house promoter of the 013 venue, and he invited us back to Tilburg to mark this special occasion. From then on, it proved that 013 (and Tilburg) was the perfect home for Roadburn – the in-house staff of the 013 venue are such a pivotal part of Roadburn nowadays, and the same goes for Becky.”

After 20 years, Roadburn has amassed many great memories. “There are a lot of special moments that stand out to me, but some of them are hard to capture in words,” Becky admits. “Sometimes the most magical moments are fleeting, shared experiences between friends that are hard to articulate, but you know that you are united by the moment you’re witnessing. Of course, there are fantastic sets that stand out –Warning in 2017, Zola Jesus in 2018, Indian in 2014, Zombie in 2015, Converge’s Blood Moon set in 2016, Emma Ruth Rundle in 2017… ooh, there’s loads!”

“I have been a massive fan of Hawkwind, Celtic Frost (Tom G Warrior) and Voivod, among others – working with them at Roadburn was truly special. It was definitely a dream come true!” Walter adds.  “Roadburn 2010 also sticks in my mind as an Icelandic volcano shaped a tight-knit Roadburn community. However, I don’t want to deal with 15 to 20 bands cancelling out of the festival due to the closed European airspace ever again!”

Mizmor – Paul Verhagen

The new edition will not be without surprises. “I’m super excited about the 2019 festival – can’t wait to see the commissioned pieces, the collaborations, the special sets. There’s actually so much that I want to see, but I’ll be too busy behind the scenes – as always,” Walter confesses. “The moment I engage with all those smiling faces, our beloved attendees completely enraptured by all these amazing bands, I’m the happiest man alive. That makes it all worthwhile! We broadened our artistic scope for Roadburn 2019, and being sold out already in December is bolstering the feel that our attendees are perfectly in sync with what we try to achieve artistically. The 2019 festival is poised to be a rollercoaster –emotionally and musically –even more than ever, as there will be so many special performances.”

“Same,” Becky says. “There are so many special and one-off –perhaps even once-in-a-lifetime –shows happening. I hope it will be the same as in previous years in terms of the relaxed vibe, the sense of community and the feeling that we are ever so gently pushing the artistic boundaries of what’s possible at a heavy music festival.”

 

Roadburn has a diverse history of curators. Tomas Lindberg (At the Gates, Lock Up, Skitsystem) is working on it this year. “I know Walter had his eye on Tomas for some time, and we were aware of his voracious appetite for new music,” Becky explains. “I have worked with him before and I know him as an easygoing, enthusiastic music lover. So far, he has lived up to expectations, and it will be really exciting to see his curation come to life in April.  When I see people talking about the curation, I think there is sometimes some confusion –Tomas curates a portion of the festival, not the whole thing. Tomas and Walter work closely to ensure that both parts of the festival work in harmony, and a truly diverse lineup is presented in the end.”

All these efforts have the main goal of making the underground music scene stand out. “It’s thriving, but I think it’s a complex place to navigate for new and young bands,” Becky says. “Actually, it’s probably just as complex for established, older bands –the goalposts are frequently shifting. However, in terms of the actual music and the incredible creativity, underground metal has a phenomenal amount to offer. I think there are a lot of exciting bands that are going to bloom into vital live acts in the coming years.”

Walter agrees, “Amen to that!”

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:: New Noise Magazine Metal Web Editor ::

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