Roskilde Music Festival

The Danish people are commonly known for their attractive appearance, stylish fashion sense, a reserved attitude, and generally introverted culture. It’s easy to confirm this statement if you spend any time in Denmark on the 348 days laying either side of Roskilde Festival. Go there for the 8 day Roskilde festival however, and you’ll see a completely different side. The Danes use this extraordinary event to let their hair down in an almost complete reversal of the traditional Danish style.

The annual music festival is held at the end of June in the small town of Roskilde, on a massive field 35 minutes outside of Copenhagen. During the festival, Roskilde grows in population to become the second biggest city in Denmark. The first four days are called ‘warm up days’, the campgrounds are open but the official festival gates remain closed until the final day of the ‘warm up days’. 

I signed up as one of the volunteers to help build the main stage of the festival, known amongst the staff as the canopy crew. The group of about 15 people stay in bunk bed container style accommodation for three weeks and are the longest serving volunteers at the site who perform arguably the most physically challenging work. We had 10 days to construct the gigantic orange stage, the grandstand audience pavilion, and lighting towers. Once construction was completed we were permitted to let loose during the 4 official festival days. We received three mega buffets per day, a free festival ticket and a seemingly unlimited supply of beer. Days were 10-12 hours long and only officially over until the boss came backstage wheeling a trolley load of tuborg cartons. 

I had arrived in Denmark fresh from a twelve-day booze bus that circled all the main Western European tourist destinations. I stole an unlocked bike from Copenhagen Central and boarded the train to Roskilde. The festival grounds were completely empty when I arrived. I met the crew on Day one and quickly found myself comfortable with the bunch of misfit alcoholics. The crew were made up of mostly Danes, some fresh faces completely new to the job, some were seasoned veterans who had been Canopy Crew volunteers for many years, these guys take out annual leave every Roskilde for the three-week commitment, one guy even has a tattoo of the iconic orange shade sail on his calf, and some were international travellers who spoke no Danish, like me.

We gathered for a lengthy debrief of volunteer requirements. The message was delivered in Danish, but there were plenty of tuborgs to keep me occupied as I stared blankly at Lars as he delivered the instructions. The crew relaxed and socialised on the empty stage floor which filled with a dense mix of tobacco, marijuana, beer and laughter.

I woke with a splitting headache and presented my Morgenmad ticket to the food hall attendant. Tak. The first, and only Danish word, to this day I’ve really properly learnt and used. There were still plenty of people partying at the backstage as I forced down my second coffee for the morning. The previous night party had turned the once tidy volunteer chillout area named ‘blackstage’ upside down. Full and empty Tuborg cans littered the room, picture frames hung delicately from tiny fixings, couches were upturned and there were at least three of the volunteers curled up asleep in blankets or peering through stiff eyelids from an all night bender. Lars stood surveying the damage and directed more Danish words at the crew. The English translation lasted half as long and pretty soon the crew were banging together pieces of metal that would apparently become the platform for some of the world’s most popular musicians in ten days’ time. 

The big party on opening night was followed by an equally big one to celebrate finishing our first official day of work. Day 3 followed the same procedure as did four and five, increasing in tempo in unison with stage construction. An Excitement was building in the air as the festival drew closer. I had no idea what to expect. Already though, this festival was shaping up to be one to remember. With the lifestyle I was living it was easy to relate to the bunch of maniac misfits who made up the canopy crew. I was developing some genuine friendships amongst the group and enjoyed being welcomed by the team.

At the festival gate hundreds of people were already lined up, waiting for the gates to open. The party was going on early for the volunteers and It was a party outside the gate too even before the crowd were let in. Every group had a massive sound system on wheels. Powerful amped up speakers blasted sounds to compete with neighbouring ones of bigger and louder size. I watched the madness, Tuborg in hand anticipating the open gates, and the chance to party with these crazy maggots. 

The crowd charged through the open gates as the clocked ticked over to 16.00. The race was on! People streamed in from all directions desperate to get the best camping spot. Tent poles, suitcases, and charging youths exploded through the gates in a complete free for all. Considering The massive camp site and various advantages of ideal camping spots ultimately it depends on personal taste. My fellow workers and veterans of the event informed me on pros and cons such as being close to toilets, away from fences where people like to piss and close to music stages. There were designated party hard locations, and others that were traditionally quieter camps. 

The impressive spectacle of watching the festival gates open, and see the excited crowd stream in from all directions, made me think back to the Australian festival summer I used to live for. Here at Roskilde its permitted to BYO alcohol, and the presence of police and sniffer dogs is virtually non existent, I didn’t see either the whole time at roskilde. At an Australian festival, there’s hundreds. The entire entrance is patrolled by brightly coloured cops who are more than willing to frisk and strip search any suspected pill poppers amongst the crowd. A truly intimidating feeling, especially when you have hidden half a dozen caps of MDMA in the sweat band of your trucker hat. Interestingly, the lack of security and police at Roskilde makes the whole place feel a lot more relaxed, safer, and showed a trust in the people to make their own mind up about which chemicals they’d use to intoxicate themselves. In fact, this relaxed tension made me consider settling for a beer instead of a gram of MDMA, which I would normally only opt for the latter in Aus. With the pressure taken off and simply feeling comfortable carrying a small amount of drugs in my pocket as opposed to necking a large chunk after sneaking them past the authorities. 

That night, The crew did the traditional tour around the campsite and festival grounds to get the group familiar with the surrounds. I was pulled from the tour about 20 metres into the camping area, by a group of young Danish girls eager for an extra participant to join their drinking game. The one who grabbed me suggested her friend wanted to show me something in her tent. I waved goodbye to the canopy crew, and followed Tine through the open zip in her tent and I saw nothing more of the campsite until morning.

Tine’s neighbours had a two storey boom box turned up to full which was finally switched off at 6.50am, giving me roughly ten minutes sleep before my alarmed buzzed me awake again at 7am for work. I ran from the campsite and made it back as I zipped up my trousers, exchanging mutual cheeky grins and winks with the crew while the instructions were delivered. 

The inability to speak Danish had its perks. After work I could excuse myself at anytime without having to listen to the translation of their boring instructions or shitty jokes and confidently load my pockets with free tuborg and hash cookies, and wander back into the campsite to party with the crowd, which was now reaching fever pitch. 

I was affectionately nicknamed ‘the cookie monster’ by the crew for my insatiable appetite for hash cookies. I would often be caught nibbling on them all the time, even during work hours, which certainly made stage construction a far more enjoyable experience albeit an unproductive one. Unfortunately, one evening I took too many as I was being invited back to the tent of Penille, another young Danish lady keen to show me something inside her tent. I continued chatting and nibbling during the massive walk to her campsite. About halfway I mumbled an apology to Penille and dragged my half paralyzed body back to the backstage area and proceed to roll on the floor for hours in front of some of the crew, coining my future nickname of the cookie monster.

The massive stage is erected just in time for the festival gates to open. When they do I have the best view in the house, atop the stage, watching the crowd spew in from all directions. Whoever from the crowd touches the stage first, gets a free Roskilde ticket the following year. Champagne drenches the victorious sprinter, and the crew cheers and celebrates a job well done. We are now free for the next four days to enjoy the festival until the dreaded stage take down at 8am, the day after the final festival day.

The main act this year is Paul McCartney. It was a special moment to witness a live Beatle on stage. A perplexing performance from start to finish across a massive three-hour set. Other notable acts to play were south African psycho rock band Die Antwoord, Norwegian electro dance Kygo and a powerful afternoon set from Florence and the Machine. Canopy crew staff are permitted to be front and centre, in the mosh pit or backstage for all of the performances. The hours of scaffolding was certainly well worth the perks.

The madness I experienced on day one of the warm up days simply never ceased. The four days at this, my first Roskilde experience, were some of my finest memories of the first four months of travelling Europe.

So At 8am, day one of stage pack down, after four days of partying, In 30 degree heat, the canopy crew zombies in orange hard hats, steel cap boots and unwashed Roskilde merchandise t-shirts dragged their hungover, or still drunk bodies to the main stage to attempt tearing apart the mammoth structure. The workers stumbled about the site wielding rubber mallets and hammers, smashing at protruding bits of scaffolding, dragging steel decking as heavy as our sagging eyelids, slicing at duct tape, dismantling lighting towers and loading trucks in a frustratingly slow crawl. The similarly hungover bosses shouted instructions through rotten teeth and stinking breath, while the crew yawned in response, limping and collapsing over one another in a chaotic and downright dangerous attempt to collapse the biggest stage in Roskilde. 

Day one was simply a struggle to stay awake. Each break was a torturous decision of eating food or taking a nap. When work was over the sight of three fresh green and white tuborg cartons being wheeled backstage on a trolley was met with considerably less enthusiasm as it had two weeks earlier. It was the first day since I had arrived in Europe where I was completely alcohol and drug free.

Twelve hours later I’m shaken awake by Lars, its time to start work and I’ve overslept my alarm. It was a much needed rest and I was ready to make another assault on the pack down. Progress is swift on day 2, the refreshed crew get stuck in and by the third day the stage is completely gone, leaving behind the iconic orange shade sail and a bunch of satisfied volunteers, who celebrate in the only way they know how, chugging cans of tuborg. 

A gala dinner is on for all remaining volunteers, involving a big 3 course dinner and whatever remaining booze is on offer. The party is so big it nearly overshadows the previous 8-day festival. The volunteers, free from the burden of the orange stage, seem to have found another gear. The friendships that have bonded over the weeks are further enhanced in one more night of madness.

The following day everyone has a nice sleep in and we are so used to hangovers by now it is a mere formality. It’s sad to say goodbye to these wonderful people but I vowed to return (which I did for the next two years). Roskilde Festival far exceeded my expectations. An amazing experience like no other of its kind, and simply is in a field of its own when compared with other music festivals on the other side of the globe. I packed my bag onto the stolen bike Id arrived with and rode to the train station where I was taken to CPH Lufthavn, to board a flight bound for Lagos, Portugal.

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