The city of Roskilde is steeped in history. Its origins date back to the Viking age, making it one of the most ancient principalities in Europe. However, the first week of July (or thereabouts) it's traditionally renowned for playing host to Scandinavia's largest music festival. Swelling the town's population from just under 50,000 to a staggering 110,000+ when taking into consideration all the artists, volunteer workers and paying customers, it can also boast itself as being the longest established of its kind in that part of the world.
Dating back to 1971 when it was originally set up by two enterprising young students as Sound Festival, the first event having been attended by approximately 10,000 people. Since then, Roskilde Festival has grown into one of the biggest and most prestigious music festivals in the world, having seen the likes of U2, The Kinks, Prince and The Who grace its stages down the years.
While 2000's event will always be remembered for the tragic accidental deaths of nine festival goers during Pearl Jam's set on the main (Orange) stage, it also marked a seachange in the way future festivals were handled. Aside from increasing security across all of its stages, Roskilde also adopted a "no moshing" policy with the emphasis strictly on individuals looking out for one another. By segregating the front pit areas of each stage using a traffic light system that turns to red when full capacity is reached, the organisers have gone out of their way to ensure nothing of that nature ever happens again.
What really sets Roskilde apart from most of its contemporaries both home and abroad are its diverse range of art projects. The development of Dream City alongside the familiar Cinema, Game, Relax and Street cities, an area on the campsite built by volunteers, being a particularly breathtaking sight to behold. Started exactly one hundred days before the festival commenced (16th March) and constructed in many ways like a scaled down version of Glastonbury's Shangri-La (although inspired by Nevada's Burning Man arts festival we're later told), it consists of numerous projects ranging from a Heavy Metal Camp exclusively for fans of the genre to a semi-circular dome at its epicentre hosting all kinds of weird and wonderful soirees from secret sets (Rasmus Stolberg from Efterklang and various friends will play sets here over the course of the week) to after hours rave parties. Then there's the Twin Peaks influenced Velvet State, a passage of tunnels and rooms encompassing varying degrees of extravagance and horror from fetishist art to an abattoir.
On top of all that, Roskilde also prides itself on delivering the best culinary experiences of any festival in the world. Forget stale burgers and greasy chips, there's a variety of delicacies ranging from Reindeer Stew and Pea Porridge to Vietnamese Pho or the inspired and hugely popular Meatza, essentially a pizza topping but using organically reared beef patty as its base rather than dough. The range of alcoholic beverages are impressive too, and even though main sponsor Tuborg provide the only beer option, there's everything here from a Russian bar serving all kinds of vodka based fare to the Soupanatural cocktail bar which prides itself on their wonderful Ginger & Lemon Iced Fucking Tea.
Again, almost entirely serviced by volunteers, it's this facet of the festival that makes Roskilde one of the friendliest and most vibrant atmospheres DiS has ever been in. And then of course there's the line-up. Costing approximately 40,000,000 krona (that's around £5 million) to put together and featuring a glut of renowned international artists, this year's event consisted of over 150 artists spread across eight stages. Controversial bookings like Rihanna; castigated by many of the festival's more traditional rock element; sharing bill topper status with Metallica, Slipknot and Kraftwerk. While the undercard itself reads like a list of headliners anywhere else, Sigur Ros, The National and Queens Of The Stone Age among them. Add some of the best up-and-coming talent Scandinavia has to offer at the minute and one or two surprise guests along the way and it's easy to see why the rest of mainland Europe and beyond are gradually making their way over the North Sea.
We'll start with the tale of a humorous episode that took place on our flight over. Sharing a plane with Suicidal Tendencies and their road crew, larger than life drummer Eric Moore takes exception to the complimentary BLT wrap issued to travellers mid-flight. That's not a proper wrap," he declares to the bemused stewardess, "THIS IS A PROPER WRAP!" he screams gesticulating with his hands something the size of a mini-rocket launcher. As the bewildered stewardess scuttles away to a chorus of giggling bandmates and associates, our encounter makes DiS curious to witness their set the following evening. These days consisting of only one original member in vocalist Mike Muir, the band's hour-and-a-quarter long set encompassing their thirty-two year existence proves to be something of a history lesson in US hardcore. 'Institutionalized', 'Subliminal' and 'You Can't Bring Me Down' encouraging chants of "S,T! S,T!" from the rabidly enthusiastic crowd.
Bypassing the Mumfords lite banality of The Lumineers and uber-contrived post-punk of Savages we stumble across a bizarre cross-dressing duo who introduce themselves as The Wilson Sisters from New Zealand over in the Velvet State area. With a hardcore fanbase clothed in similar attire at the front of the stage, their songs consist of diatribes against hypocrisy, misogyny and the Pope respectively. Over on the Arena stage, 30,000 people try desperately to squeeze into an area designed to house 18,000 at best for Kendrick Lamar's hugely anticipated set, and near pandemonium ensues. Not being ones for pushing and shoving, DiS heads over to the Odeon, showing support for fellow inhabitant of Robin Hood country Jake Bugg. While his repertoire appears to go down well with the predominantly Danish audience, we're not sure whether his tales of Clifton's speedbump city and hiding from the feds become somewhat lost in translation.
Last time Animal Collective played a late night festival slot at Barcelona's Primavera the overall consensus was one of huge disappoint. However, here they're a revelation, treating the packed Arena to a combination of the old ('Did You See The Words?', 'Peacebone'), new ('Wide Eyed', 'Father Time') and downright anthemic ('My Girls', 'Brother Sport'). It would be a fitting way to end the first full day of Roskilde 2013 if it weren't for the Scandinavian supergroup of sorts over on the Orange Stage an hour or so later.
Introducing Ingrid, a collective formed by Sweden's Peter Bjorn & John, Lykke Li and Miike Snow. Although billed as a collaboration, it becomes more of a showcase for each act's better known works. An almost acapella take on Joy Division's 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' gives way to Peter Bjorn & John performing four songs on their own. Lykke Li then joins them for a similar run through her own catalogue, the highlight being a brand new song off her forthcoming record at the end. When Miike Snow takes to the stage to do pretty much the same things start to become a tad predictable. That is until Chrissie Hynde appears unexpectedly to deliver flawless performances of Pretenders standards 'I'll Stand By You' and 'Don't Get Me Wrong' along with a soulful cover of The Rolling Stones 'Under My Thumb'. Perhaps not surprisingly, the full Ingrid collective (excluding Hynde) take to the stage for 'Young Folks', arguably the best known song from the collaboration's main three individual parts. That less than 5,000 people stuck around to watch it proving the only real disappointment.
The next morning (Friday 5th), DiS and several of the other assorted international press people embark on a pre-scheduled "Food Tour" that sees us eat our body weight in steak, sausage and potato salad washed down with several litres of organically produced wine. Light headed and decidedly merry, Turbonegro's glam-induced garage intercut with between song banter about masturbating over scantily clad Scandinavian girls fares better than it probably should do. By the time Canadian trio Metz take the Pavilion stage an hour later we've regained both our sobriety and taste, their No Age meets The Ramones noise pop delaying the hangover by several hours.
The trippy experimental sounds of Suuns also elicit a perfect backdrop to the evening sunset. Fusing elements of abstract electronica, noise and dreampop, those Radiohead comparisons in the official programme aren't entirely without foundation, if only for the fact their set sounds like Kid A with the addition of tunes. Roskilde's organisers may have been accused of selling out by some when Rihanna was announced but the heaving mass of bodies stretching all the way up the hill from the Orange stage right to the very back of the site tells its own story. That Ms Fenty fails to deliver what the majority crave unfortunately tells another. Arriving on stage a good half an hour late to an initial chorus of boos, she responds with a curt "Denmark, are y'all ready to get ratshit?" before launching into a selection of tracks off last year's disappointing Unapologetic. And loses at least a third of the crowd in the process. By the time parity is restored courtesy of 'What's My Name?' and 'Umbrella', attention spans have waned so much DiS is already on its way to watch King Tuff in the Pavilion. Displaying an energy and enthusiasm sadly lacking on the main stage, their four to the floor garage rock acts as a perfect pick-me-up, even dedicating 'I'll Be A Freak Til I'm Dead' to Rihanna.
Better still are German psychgaze five-piece The Blue Angel Lounge. Highly revered among the aforementioned psychedelic scene since 2010's excellent Narcotica long player, their heavily orchestrated brand of Brian Jonestown influenced drone rock ensures DiS retires to bed on a high. A legal one of course.
Saturday brings a spell of scorching sunshine, so who better to see than sprightly New Yorkers Parquet Courts. Unfortunately, their hour-long scheduling means some songs become overcooked nine minute dirges which is a shame, because when they deliver short sharp shocks like 'Borrowed Time' or 'No Ideas' they echo their sentiments like a young Replacements. On the positive side, an encounter with a group of friendly Icelandic people culminates in them recommending countryman Asgeir Trausti, so DiS sticks around to see him turn in an epic set of Jeff Buckley-esque proportions.
The next couple of hours are spent waiting impatiently for The National, catching glimpses of veteran actor-cum-country star Kris Kristofferson and Prurient's discordant techno alter ego Vatican Shadow. While the former's frazzled Americana casts a maudlin shadow over the Orange stage, the latter's sparse electronica hits the spot in the dark confines of Gloria. Iceage too are an interesting anomaly, if only for the fact they choose to play a more avant garde set than the visceral punk most UK audiences familiar with their live shows would have witnessed these past two eighteen months.
It really is all about The National though, and for ninety wonderful minutes they simply ooze perfection from every pore. The opening four-song salvo of 'Fake Empire', 'Don't Swallow The Cap', 'Bloodbuzz Ohio' and 'Mistaken For Strangers' will be difficult to equal anywhere this year, the Rolling Stones introduction at Glastonbury last week apart. Unsurprisingly focusing on the last two records - two-thirds of tonight's set is lifted from Trouble Will Find Me and High Violet - Matt Berninger is in celebratory mood throughout, a feeling joyously transcended to the audience who respond accordingly. Early singles 'Abel' and 'Apartment Story' are greeted like long lost siblings, while a rousing finale of 'England', 'Mr November' and 'Terrible Love' sees Berninger carried aloft then buried in the pit at one point. Utterly flawless.
Just when it looks like things can't get any better, Sigur Ros do their damnedest to prove otherwise. Playing at the appropriate hour of midnight in the dimly lit Arena is the perfect setting for their monumental soundscapes, and Jonsi Birgisson and his assorted cohorts deliver on every level. Whereas last year's Bestival set was littered with technical issues, more from a visual rather than sonic perspective, there's little if anything to criticise here. Difficult as it may be to pick out individual highlights from so many, the way Birgisson somehow manages to sustain the highest note of 'Festival' before launching into a pulsating 'Untitled #8' makes several thousand neck hairs stand to attention. By the end, me and several colleagues from various UK publications are left speechless. Yes, that good.
Still on a high from the previous two performances, DiS isn't quite ready to relax just yet, so hotfoots over to the Pavilion stage where Goat's George Clinton-does-Gong schtick puts in the mood to party all through the night. Which we do until sunrise.
Onto the final day, where James Blake's bass heavy set and Fidlar's frenetic punk squall serve as perfect wake up calls for anyone still feeling the effects of Saturday night's over exertions (i.e. yours truly). Copenhagen based duo My Bubba provide the soothing antidote, their simplistic folk coming on like a Scandinavian Fairground Attraction (remember them..?).
Being introduced as "Noel Gallagher's favourite rock'n'roll band" must be a bit of an annoyance for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club considering they're seven albums and fifteen years into their career now. With such a vast back catalogue to choose from, they play it anything but safe, opting for sprawling album tracks like 'Six Barrel Shotgun' and 'Lullaby' over big singles 'Stop' and 'Red Eyes And Tears'. What's more, they're another of this weekend's revelations, a point that doesn't go unnoticed as 30,000 Danes eagerly scream back every word to 'Conscience Killer', one of many standouts from 2010's vastly underrated Beat The Devil's Tattoo.
Queens Of The Stone Age have gained a reputation as the perfect best festival band too, and when they open with a rousing 'Feel Good Hit Of The Summer' it's easy to see why. 'No One Knows', 'Little Sister' and 'First It Giveth' follow suit and the lively audience respond accordingly, bellowing each and every word back in unison. Josh Homme divides the audience up by gender for a singalong 'Make It Wit Chu', which the girls win hands down before the fiery couplet of 'Go With The Flow' and 'A Song For The Dead' bring their set to an end, Homme flinging his guitar across the stage and just missing a security guard by a fraction of an inch in the process.
With Roskilde 2013 approaching its final hours, it's left to one of the most pioneering groups in the history of music to give this year's festival one final send off. While the phrase "They changed the face of music" is bandied around at any old Thom, Julian or Pete you'd care to mention, Kraftwerk actually did change the face of music. So when they play 'Autobahn' for a full twenty-three minutes - a piece of music still so otherworldly futuristic today - it's difficult to believe it was conceived in 1974. And the list goes on. 'Tour De France', a record sampled by several hip hop artists and producers in the 1980s, Salt'n'Pepa's 'Push It' being the most well known follows suit. Add 'Computer Love' - ripped off by Coldplay for 'Talk' eight years ago, its original b-side 'The Model' - arguably one of the greatest number one singles ever, 'Trans Europe Express' and 'Radioactivity' and you've half a dozen of the most innovative compositions in popular music. What was even more spectacular was the sight of 60,000 people in Kraftwerk adorned 3D glasses - handed out beforehand as part of tonight's visual experience - staring back at the stage in awe. Ending on 'Musique Non Stop', there really couldn't have been a more appropriate way to bring the 43rd edition of Roskilde to an end.
Until next year...