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Hot rubber and no boots

Andreas Becker reports from the rowdy Indie-pop music festival in Danish Roskilde

People in the Danish town of Roskilde just sneer when you mention the fast lane aid of Live 8. Year in, year out, musicians take to the stage for a good cause here. Add to that continuous sunshine and bands like Bright Eyes, Sonic Youth and Chic, and you get a one-of-a-kind permanent high.

The load of rubber boots unpacked the night before the festival in the hardware store in Roskilde's pedestrian zone turned out to be a bad investment; they weren't going to be needed this year. Last year it rained the whole time, and this year the sun hasn't stopped shining apart from two or three hours a night. Sure, that can have its disadvantages. Seldom do you see so many extremely welcoming Vikings who are unfortunately completely ripped out of their minds. But on the other hand the atmosphere is a whole lot more relaxed with the bikini tops, muscle chests and beer bellies abounding. If only that increasingly acrid smell around the fences, bushes and trees would go away. In any event, the staff at the Gringo Bar, a shack selling expensive cocktails, kept moving to the right-hand side of the bar where the smell of limes dominated the boiled up Viking piss.

Anyone who's experienced the hygienic conditions at Roskilde will pardon my language. There were just six Dixi toilets and a single hose tap for the hundreds of people camped out on the media grounds.

And yet "rules are rules", and these are enforced more strictly every year. This time we had to move our tent three times because the overseer said you couldn't pitch them alongside campers. The reason: if the camper exploded, the tent would burst into flames.

But the good thing about moving so often was that small communes formed. I ended up with a group of twenty-somethings from Malmö, with a punked up girl from Rome who kept getting pissed off at the boring Swedes. And there was a very cool girl from Oslo who slept half the time and spent the other half reading a love story. The Malmö boys refused to drink beer because it takes too long to get drunk. They greeted you with "Want a gin?" Even at breakfast.

Prolonging the Woodstock myth - so far so fantastic. Just too bad about the music. Too many relevant bands are missing. True, here in Roskilde you can always discover great Indiepop and world music bands (including the fantastic Brasilian group Bnegao e os Seletores de Frequencia) and see great concerts by Bright Eyes, The Faint and 13 & God.

But never before have the headliners at this festival been so shameless. Duran Duran? They dedicated "Learn to Survive" to "the Africans". Audioslave gave a bleak show and Foo Fighters was drop dead lacklustre. Then there was the Danish rock by D-A-D. For the first time this year the supply wasn't met with "sold out" demand. There were deadbeats like Ozzy O. from Black Sabbath (who surprised everyone and gave a great performance, although, in spite of drinking from a cup and then spraying something down his throat, he still lost his breath after 90 minutes) and the pooped out surfer of old folk's homes, Brian Wilson, who cheated the stalwart Roskilders - who had forked over 185 euros for 160 acts - by only playing 75 minutes because he wanted to play all the Live 8 shows on the same day.

Too bad the Concorde that Genesis used to jet around to the "simultaneous" Band-Aids no longer exists. Sexist Snoop Dogg appeared in a blue and white nightgown and was out of luck. His sound was a bit thin and above all he didn't see the girl with nothing but an airy wreath of flowers over her breasts.

Green Day were the only ones who still seemed to have any energy after the Live 8 performances on the same day. The act reached a climax when the lead singer pulled three volunteers from the crowd of 40,000 people at the Orange Stage to replace the drummer, guitarist and base player. The three pulled off an entire song, after which the hobby guitarist kissed the Green Days on the mouth and got a guitar as a present in return.

At times like that you can only love Roskilde. Even the drunken text-messaging kids. The six covered stages illuminated in the night. Then when Sonic Youth comes on you just feel like crawling into the speakers. And on top of that there's Chic, right there, inspired, true to life! A dream. "Upside Down", "We are Family", and "Le Freak". It'd been a long time since we'd danced like that, grinning and singing along with complete strangers. At times like that, Roskilde's a drug that you'd like to shoot into your veins once a day. Never again normalos! It makes you want to live a whole lifetime in the perfect music tent city, where there's always a favourite band playing, from noon until night.

Anyone who needs money can collect a couple of consigned plastic cups (it took me just 15 minutes to collect enough for the 20 crowns for a small beer) or work as a volunteer in one of the restaurants. In fact, every one of the approximately 20,000 volunteers has to work a total of 24 hours, cooking noodles for example, or as Crowd Safety in orange jackets. All proceeds go to the local sporting clubs and other groups taking part.

Last year the festival donated 60,000 euros for a medical project in Palestine. This time the profits will go to DanChurchAid, which is fighting modern slavery in Cambodia. You can give workers wearing T-shirts with "act against slavery" written on them your empty beer glasses as a one crown donation. In 30 years, the non-profit Roskilde festival has donated 85 million crowns worldwide. That's also one reason why people only laugh at the fast lane attitude of Live 8. The rubber boots can wait till next year.


The article originally appeared in German in the tageszeitung on July 5, 2005.

Andreas Becker is freelance journalist living in Berlin.

Translation: jab. - let's talk european