I have been a bit distracted from writing in the last few weeks. One reason is the visit by my 18-year-old son, who did long-haul travel from Australia to Denmark for the first time on his own. Another is the abundance of activities going on in Copenhagen coinciding with summer’s arrival – if momentarily.
In this last week we have been enjoying the Roskilde Festival – the biggest outdoor contemporary music festival in Northern Europe with eight stages, over 160 acts, some 130,000 attendees, stretching over 80 hectares on the fields south of the old Danish town of Roskilde. The idea of this feast of music was hatched by two highschool students in 1971. Since the first 10,000 attendees paid 30 DKK (or AUD 6) to see 20 acts over two days in 1971, the festival has certainly grown dramatically – as has the price of the full pass of 1940 DKK. But festival goers seem undeterred by price and again this year the festival is completely sold out, both the week camping pass and the day passes.
It seems the young people in particular want the full festival experience with a week of camping and four days of access to the festival site, almost as a rite of passage that includes unrestrained partying, drinking and vomiting in the temporary tent city and on the festival site. Festival goers are not just Danes: about 50% come from places outside Denmark and set on an annual pilgrimage as a great floating music tribe. The result is a temporary city, with its own culture, economy and infrastructure, which for one week becomes the fourth largest city in Denmark.
As a young person, I never did go to Roskilde. I had friends who raved about the experience, but to me the idea of crossing the belts to Sjælland to camp on a muddy field with thousands of out-of-control young people in a haze of smoke was a little bit daunting. I was content with the more local music events, especially Muskelsvindfonden and Tuborg’s free Grøn Koncert, which featured Danish bands that I much preferred to foreign acts at that age, like TV-2 and Gnags. These events too involved unrestrained partying and drinking, but going home to sleep in a bed, rather than camping in the sometimes untrustworthy Danish summer weather.
The overwhelming impressions from experiencing Roskilde Festival for the first time are firstly about the super quality of the musical experience, secondly about the great atmosphere created by crowds of happy-go-lucky fun-loving people and thirdly about the unfathomable mess created by having that many people in a relatively confined space. It seems campers are content to live in their own rubbish and – literally – soil their own nest. Stuff is thrown where you are, no matter that a bin might be two metres away and the camp sites in particular look like a rubbish heap with broken camping equipment, food wrappers, junk and spent drink containers strewn between the densely packed tents. It seems the abundance of music, drink and fun is gradually transformed to a vast midden.
The drink container refund system helps reduce the litter and a multitude of professional bottle collectors tirelessly traverse the festival site and camping grounds with large plastic bags, gathering refundable drink containers to be handed in at the refund stations. They see themselves as providing a cleaning service to careless festival goers who have enough to disregard the deposit they have paid for each bottle. And it does add up: it is estimated that 1.3 million drinks are drunk each day – at 1 DKK each that can translate to half a year’s wage for some collectors.
It is a rather spoilt attitude, for when one throws rubbish on the ground, rather than in a bin – and bins are everywhere – someone else will have to use time and energy to pick it up. The bottle collectors avoid all non-refundable rubbish – naturally enough, they are trying to make a living out of this messy result of Danish affluence. Luckily, armies of volunteers try to keep the bins empty and the grounds relatively clean.
Thankfully it did not rain this year and so nature did not add mud to the mess. There areas that were wet underfoot was not attributable to rain: young men seem to prefer open-air peeing close to where they are and freely pull out their hose near a fence, at the edge of a path, by a tree – anything can become subject to a squirt of kidney-processed beer, leaving mud underfoot and a stench that makes you wish it would rain. This behaviour is in spite of the organisers new attempt to make passing water in appropriate places more fun: ‘Recycle your piss and farmers will turn it into beer for next year’s festival’ promise large signs, inviting men to let the water go in troughs that gather the urine in large tankers to be used in the barley fields as fertiliser. This barley will in turn be used by brewers to produce next year’s beer supplies.
This strategy supplements the Dutch invention, the P-Tree that was implemented in 2011. Festival volunteers tie orange (of course) plastic urinals to trees and plumb them into a reservoir. There are also a multitude of portable pissiors that we also see everywhere in Copenhagen during the many open air events. Around the festival site are stations of the unfortunately named GoDik portable toilets with flush – and the older version without. In addition a collaboration with WWF has seen water saving toilets installed in which you can have a jungle experience via the soundscape as you let go of your effluence. Another partnership with Rockwool has seen the area in front of the Camp West fence paved with moisture absorbing wool to reduce the mud and the smell.
But it all seems to be to no avail. The approximately 1,000,000 liters of drink that go in each day, must also come out. And if the drink is alcoholic there is no accounting for how that might happen when nature calls. When one has to go, one has to go. The result is a particularly foul odour of stale urine that wafts over the festival site when the wind picks up. As the week progresses, mud bands grow wider and wider in front of fences and under trees that could otherwise provide much needed shelter from the hot sun at this year’s festival.
One has to be extra careful not to end up in someone else’s toilet.
Perhaps I sound like a cranky middle-aged woman who has forgotten young festival fun. Believe me, I do not begrudge young people partying with abandon – I recall my own behaviour with clarity. The Roskilde Festival experience is a rite of passage for many, though a bit of common courtesy and regard for others might make the experience better for everyone.
In spite of the smell and the mud, I have enjoyed much music in these last few days and here are some highlights: