Original article written for The Copenhagen Post
Roskilde Festival is often touted as being a festival that “goes beyond music.” Indeed, #Rf19 has been described by its organisers as “8 days of music, activism, art, camps and freedom” and to this end, much has been done this year as in many others to create a forum to house the needs of an increasing eclectic festival that attracts a varied and demanding demographic.
Central to this is Roskilde´s arts programme, which tends to create novel, inventive forms of creative expression, which this year, manifested themselves most clearly (we feel) via the House of Chroma and Ambereum areas, both of which combine colour, aesthetics and other elements of performative design.
The Modern Festival Narrative
Whether these areas have been sculpted in response to the likes of festivals such as Heartland zoning in on creating powerful manifestations of creative dialogues that do veritable justice to the “beyond music” intent or whether they emanate from the demands of an increasingly diverse, increasingly aware audience demographic is debatable. What´s not, however, is the future of spaces such as these in the festival narrative, particularly at an event such as Roskilde, which faces the unparalleled challenge of moulding a festival that responds to the increasingly obvious challenges of the world today and the generations to come.
This said, balancing multiple stakeholder interests and ensuring each gets adequate representation in such fora is always going to be a next-to-impossible task and invariably, there is a big difference between intent and actuality. Let´s have a closer look at how the shared spaces of House of Chroma and Ambereum fared against their expectations this year.
House of Chroma – Performances, Workshops, Music
House of Chroma loaned a page from the Buckminster Fuller inspired Dome of Visions concept and with it, the intent to create a liminal space in which ideas, debates, workshop and music could flow freely. The throbbing epicenter of the art scene, the dome was designed by the Brazilian artist Eli Subrack (also known as Avaf – Assume Vivid Astro Focus,) and like other works by him, explosions and accentuations of colour feature prominently as a dynamo for creative expression.
And what better way to manifest the qualities of such a space than for Eli to invite his pals from the Brazilian Queer Resistance Movement to declare the house open on Wednesday? Using exaggerated, intense expressions of the body amidst a backdrop of theatrical voices and electronic music, the Brazilians wove a tapestry that connected their inconceivable reality with that of an imbibed, privileged but nonetheless curious audience.
Despite this indefatigably vivid opening, House of Chroma was also as much about the familiar everyday and not merely the inconceivable extreme – familiarized. Activism and its new facades were explored comprehensively and in a matter-of-fact manner by a sit-down with the 2011 Occupy Wall Street co-founder, Micah White, ambient soundscapes were created by the Danish musician, Sofie Birch and Norwegian Sissel Toolas took us on an olfactory journey of 50 scents gathered over 30 years of research.
And there was more – rap music as a vehicle for green climate activism in the form of a workshop and subsequent rap battle hosted by the NGO, Rapolitics, spoke directly to the hearts and states of mind of Roskilde´s millennially-influenced audience and the Girls Are Awesome movement also made a House of Chroma appearance that went beyond the obvious discussion of on-stage female empowerment, focusing instead on what happens behind the scenes, through a talk with Karen Vincent from SheCanPlay, Jenny Rossander from Lydmor and sound engineer Jessica Petersen from Roskilde Festival.
Indeed, each House of Chroma happening managed to pull of the rare feat of being exceptionally distinct in composition and execution – often appealing to multiple senses and at times, zoning in on one, as was the case with Sissel Toolas’s olfactory journey.
If we speak of a future in which we must harness our collective energies to re-think the challenge of creating sustainable change, it is clear that we must also go beyond what we can see and hear and as such, sensory bombardments that speak to other ways of seeing and experiencing reality make for a potentially powerful agent of change. House of Chroma may not have set the Roskilde world alight as far as this goes but as a bare minimum it provided a space in which room to think differently and participatorily if only within the realms of a plastic dome draped in psychedelic colours.
Ambereum: Vivid space with room for one´s imagination to wander
If House of Chroma was the capital of the Art Zone, Ambereum was the second city that quite often outwitted its larger counterpart, whether by accident or design. Where House of Chroma´s dome crammed varied influences together into a creative space that at times felt crammed or constricted, Ambereum was more spacious and less intense.
Described as “an area for DJ´s, art, relaxation and raves,” the Orange and yellow-walled ambient space hosted performances and sensory discoveries by day such as the fun-sounding yet anti-climatic Japanese artist, Tomoko Sauvage, whose use of water in ceramic bowls as an instrument concept flattered to deceive.
By night (from Thursday through to Saturday,) the area morphed into a nightclub-esque metropolis, under the auspices of Berlin-infused electronic music, courtesy of artists such as Boris, Roi Perez, Virginia and others. This set up that worked quite well and stood in stark contrast to the more laidback nature of the space during the day.
All in all, Ambereum´s relaxed confines provided a comfortable, if not soothing space for festivalgoers young and old to relax and dream in and this only adds to the festival narrative, particularly given the sheer size and cleanliness of the area.
Beyond Music: a Narrative for Change – Today and in the Future
In tandem with House of Chroma, Ambereum managed to create a creative forum that appealed to the beyond music intent that the festival organisers are focusing their efforts on with greater intensity. While their execution could have been more refined, more varied and perhaps even more accessible, there can be no doubt that there was more focus on the arts as a central component of the festival narrative this year.
As the festival struggles, as the world around it, to adapt to the demands of creating a more sustainable society, there can be no doubt that creating a narrative that fosters creative dialogues that go beyond the mere consumption of musical performances is one way to lead the charge.