Roskilde Festival, one of the world’s largest music festivals, is not only about music, art, and forgetting about one’s daily life and obligations for a week. In a larger perspective, the festival is also a vehicle for change and a laboratory for societal development. 2017’s overarching focus at Roskilde Festival was change and equality. Read the reportage and learn why partying, beers and social engagement works well together.
Words: Morten Grønborg. Photos: Casper Petersen
Young people with clattering bags. Expectant concert guests. A plethora of people in front of the iconic Orange scene and its canopy tent. Joy, energy and a relaxed mood blend in the air with the bass from a concert far away. SCENARIO is on the road. Ahead of us is four days at on a bare ground, a little outside of the province of Roskilde, which daily is the home for around half a hundred thousand people. Except this week. This week is special. It is the annual festival week.
Eight days each year, Roskilde Festival – one of the world’s largest music and art festivals – emerges as a temporary town with some 120,000 inhabitants. This makes the festival Denmark’s fourth largest towns and as one of the most densely populated areas in the world. In addition to being the venue for a week of music, partying, and fun, it can also be seen a gigantic social laboratory for both art and urban planning. Furthermore, the festival has become a platform for addressing some of the more sensitive political questions of our time, such as equality – or rather inequality – which was the official focus for the festival this year.
Behind its facade of carefree party life, Roskilde Festival is swarming with architects, artists, sound technicians and material scientists who use the crowded space of the festival as a testing platform for everything from Bluetooth mapping of movement of the huge crowd to the construction of temporary buildings and art installations.
According to event expert and psychologist Thomas Geuken, there is a dichotomy in the temporary urban space constituted by the festival. On the one hand, it allows for more innovation and wildness, since the distance from idea to realization is shorter when unconventional solutions can be used, and when the public space can be used unorthodox. Taking a risk is easy; it will all be torn down, anyway. On the other hand, impermanence and imperfection can prompt a new agenda. It points towards a desirable future, but one with less risk, as the projects are always demolished when the festival closes.
“You establish a temporary collective space and display some new possibilities that may give food for thought. Some of these innovative ideas might wander into the normal life as inspiration or real solutions for architects, planners, and engineers“ Geuken says.
This doesn’t mean that there are no specific gains from using Roskilde festival as a kind of temporary urban planning laboratory. The densely populated areas of Roskilde Festival encounter many of the challenges that will confront our cities of the future, especially in the fields of waste, energy, and environment. Read more about this: Roskilde Festival: A laboratory of cities.
Change and equality
A similar desire to transform, develop, and affect the public can be seen in the festival’s overarching focus on change and equality, which is a three-year programme, initiated last year. One example on this work is the festival’s own focus on gender balance amongst the musicians and acts on the stages. Earlier this year, Denmark witnessed a rather intense debate because the one-day festival Grøn Koncert, which toured in many Danish cities this summer, had only men on the poster and on stage. Simply none of the contributing orchestras or solo artist were women, and this gave rise to a massive criticism of the festival, which was accused of contributing to a man-dominated culture.
Furthermore, the debate gave rise to a broader self-examination in the music industry in general, but for Roskilde Festival – who’s also challenged by the fact that there are generally more male than female musicians to choose from – the focus on a better balance is not new.
”Men outnumber women and dominate many of the genres that we prioritize high at the festival, for example metal and hip hop”, says Anders Wahrén, Programme Director, at Roskilde Festival.
“We would like to help change the gender distribution. It is certainly in our own interest that music and future talent development are characterized by equality and gender equality and reflects the general population. But we cannot change gender composition in the short term, and therefore the distribution of women and men on our eight scenes will not be balanced neither here in 2017 nor next year”, Wahrén continues.
In front of Orange Scene we meet Ida (22) and her friends waiting to hear Savage Rose – the Danish pop rock band with the famous and iconic female singer Anisette as front person.
We ask her what female artists on the stage mean to her. Is it important at all?
“I haven’t really thought about the fact that Savage Rose has a female lead-in. It’s just a nice band that I’ve grown up with. And in general, I choose music based on whether I like it or not – and not whether it’s men or women who perform it. But that said, I think it is very important that women are visible and making their mark in al contexts in society”, she says.
“I absolutely support the festival’s focus on equality. Not only equality for men and women, but also equality in a broader sense. This work and goal differentiates Roskilde Festival from other, more commercial festivals and music events, and I really like that”, she states.
The festival’s thematic focus on equality is interpreted broadly and represented all over the festival site. This year, the weight is on cultural equality, and activities at the festival site will focus on topics such as racism, religious marginalization, gender equality and sexual identity.
“We believe equality between people is essential for a socially sustainable and democratic society of the world. Our goal is, in collaboration with our guests, artists and partners, to become wiser on equality and to motivate and engage people to make decisions that promote world-wide equality” the festival states.
To help highlight global issues of cultural equality, the festival has teamed up with organisations such as Amnesty, Danish Women’s Society, Mellemfolkeligt samvirke, MIX CPH and Rapolitics. In the festival’s ‘Rising City’ area, the focus on cultural equality is showcased through art, workshops, music, debates and talks. And in the festival’s Artzone, performing feminist rapper Princess Nokia and activist and musician Madame Ghandi among others are giving talks that fit the festival’s overall thematic bent. So, how does it register with the average festival-goer. Do they notice and engage with the theme? We meet two of them, Mathias (25) and Pernille (26), who are having a beer outside Rising City.
“I’m here for the music and the partying, mostly,” Mathias says. “But I think it’s important that the festival uses its reach to influence their audience and raise awareness about important stuff. I mean, people are more susceptible when they are slightly drunk and haven’t slept for two days” he laughs.
Pernille looks at Mathias overbearingly. “I think it’s great that the festival focuses on equality, especially when it comes to gender issues and sexism” she says. “Even here on the festival site, I think it exists, and it’s something that we should talk more about. Plenty of my [girl]friends have had unpleasant experiences with drunk guys that think it’s ok to behave poorly or even sexist just because they are on a festival. Yesterday, a friend of mine was knocked over by three guys while she was peeing by the fence. It was a joke to them, but does that ever happen to guys? Not cool”.
And what about cultural equality in a more global sense?
“That’s important too. It’s easy to forget how privileged we are in Denmark”, Pernille says. “Especially in a festival setting when you are busy partying and enjoying yourself. So, it’s good to get a dose of reality”.
“Discrimination and racism is something that should be taken seriously”, Mathias adds. “Although I don’t see much of that on the festival site, thankfully.”
Psychologist Thomas Geuken doesn’t believe that the festival’s focus on equality neither this year or next year will change people’s beliefs over-night. But a non-profit festival such as Roskilde can certainly help to change the attitude of the population in the longer run, he says:
“By influencing the young people at a time when they are most happy and free, the festival puts a print that will come true later. In that sense, I definitely think that the work will pay off for the festival, and that a change is going to come”.