When I first arrived in Denmark nearly two years ago now, I had no idea what to expect of the land of butter, bacon and blondes. It was a bewildering experience to begin with, a blur of vowel sounds and questionable cuisine. As I delved further into the maze of Danish culture, one event seemingly defined the youth culture of Denmark: Roskilde Festival. Every young and old Dane I met professed the magic of the event, telling tales of decadency, excess and joy in a field on the edge of the small town of Roskilde.
It became increasingly apparent that this was a facet of Danish culture that I had to experience in order to fully understand the Danes. But there was one issue - I was an embarrassed festival virgin. The idea in some ways terrified my mild mannered sensibilities. Sleeping in a cold tent for days on end surrounded by drunkards, the stench of excrement filling my nostrils at every turn? No thank you.
And then I received a message from The Local Denmark's editor Justin Cremer, inviting me to come Denmark’s biggest festival. I stood in front of my mirror. Wrinkle-less skin, thick head of hair and a sparkle of hope in my eyes – It struck me that I’m not a 78-year-old man with arthritis, spewing out tales of times gone by. Rather, I’m sprightly 24-year-old, who has waited far too long to experience what many say is a life-changing experience. So I grabbed the chance by the gonads and prepared myself for the unknown. What could be the worst that could happen?
See also: As it happened: Roskilde Festival 2016
One aspect of the festival experience that I was wholly unprepared for was the sheer volume of people. 130,000 might not look like such a staggering figure on a piece of paper, but as I arrived at Roskilde Station on Tuesday afternoon, that number took on a tangible form. I stood there clutching my sleeping bag to my chest like it was a vulnerable child in a war zone, bags laden with cheap Danish beer crashing into me from every angle. My eyes widened as I scanned the furore for a sign, anything. A lone taxi pulled up, I was saved.
After being summarily mocked about England’s defeat to Iceland during my 10-minute drive to the festival, my chauffeur and I parted ways. He patted me on the back and left me with "try not to die" and a slight smirk. “So far so good” I murmured to myself as I made my way into the madness.
Quite a first impression. Photo: Christopher Manion
A man-made wonder
As I crossed a bridge to the West entrance the entire field came into view, and what a view it was.
Countless tents of every colour sprawled across an endless horizon, a haze of dust rising from the thousands of shuffling bodies. I have seen my wonders in the world but this was akin to nothing I had seen before.
I was staying with my girlfriend and six of her buddies in a camp in the ‘Clean Out Loud’ area, and as I had absolutely no idea what and where it was I pulled out my phone. I informed her I was standing lost between eight scantily-clad ladies playing beach football and Superman riding a skateboard... I hope I will one day be able to give my location through these points of reference again.
The camp was not the cesspit I was expecting. We had a gazebo, and as every English man knows, where there is a gazebo there is civility. I dropped my luggage off and set off to explore. I began to fancy myself the Marco Polo of festivals, seeking the unknown and the exotic.
My new home for the next few days. Photo: Christopher Manion
I fumbled through the crowds aimlessly heading towards the highest concentration of people. I found myself in a place called ‘Dream City’ (I would dispute the name as I encountered a shack aptly named ‘Camp Nasty’ that resembled Charles Manson’s disused holiday home). But it was spectacular. The effort put in by the individuals here to make this a week to remember was remarkable! Three-metre-high speakers, costumes to rival ‘Game of Thrones’ (there actually was a camp solely dedicated to the show) and wacky contraptions for the consumption of alcohol.
My perception of festivals was, indeed, being challenged. I was beginning to understand the complete freedom people gain at Roskilde. You want to dress as Jon Snow and drink warm beer out of a store mannequin's bum? Go for it. All was seemingly not only accepted, but relished, in the ‘Roskilde spirit’.
It was only four hours in and suddenly the overwhelming nature of the whole spectacle began to take hold. I sat to let it all sink in on a hill overlooking the festival, it was a beautiful sight to behold as the setting sun cast a golden hue over the thousands of tents and the sound of laughter and music floated through the crisp dusk air. I had started to understand Roskilde, and the music hadn’t even started yet.
Tents as far as the eye could see, beautiful. Photo: Christopher Manion.
Day two: Music... and the first toilet encounter
On Wednesday it was time to experience some of the best music in the world. The fact that my back was in excruciating pain and my armpits smelt like shame could not take away from the reality that I would soon be standing in the same field as the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. But first I had plenty more to see, and today was to be the first time I would actually meet Justin in person.
But before I was to embark on my quest for the weird and wonderful, I needed to use the lavatory. This mundane daily exercise became an unfathomable assault on the senses. The repugnant stench of human excrement lingered like a thick cloud of sadness in the vicinity of the port-a-loos. As I approached my nostrils pleaded with me to reconsider and my stomach violently churned in protest with every step closer. I opened the toilet door and peered down the abyss – I couldn’t do it; I had found my festival limit. Thankfully there was a fence a mere twenty metres away that offered the gentlemen a natural latrine.
After my first of many encounters with festival toilets I traversed the festival to meet Justin. The glorious sunshine of yesterday had been replaced with foreboding grey clouds and sporadic showers, turning the once dusty landscape into a mud bath. But this turn in the weather did nothing to dampen my mood as the festival area was now officially open. What an amazing place, hundreds of shops, bars and food stalls surrounding stages that would be holding up some of the most revered artists in the universe. While people pushed past me determined to reach their destination, I strolled around glassy eyed like a 17-year-old with a fake ID in a strip club, soaking in the mesmerizing sights and sounds.
The festival area opened on Wednesday and I saw the famous Orange Scene for the first time. Photo: Christopher Manion
Finally, I met with Justin around the Orange stage. Taller than I imagined him, and even after years in Denmark his American Midwestern accent was still very prominent. We became acquainted over a cold Tuborg in the now glorious weather. As we sat I could feel my legs melting in their black jeans encasing, I noticed Justin was wearing trousers that could be unzipped to become shorts. This guy knew what he was doing at Roskilde, and it was becoming more and more apparent I was shockingly ill-prepared.
Justin and my good self enjoying a ice cold beer in the Danish sun. Photo: Justin Cremer.
After a few refreshing beverages, I settled down amongst the Orange faithful for the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. The energy of the place was electric, incomparable to anything I had experienced before. An endless sea of faces screaming, singing, laughing and all together for the exact same reason. An incredibly moving moment.
After my first ever concert at a festival, I was hooked. My appetite for live music was insatiable, I pinballed from stage to stage soaking in all I could find. Over the coming days I would see some of best contemporary bands in the world: Tame Impala, Mac DeMarco, Courtney Barnett, Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes, MØ and many more. For a lover of music, this was one of the most exhilarating moments I had ever had in my short – slightly underwhelming – existence on Earth.
Danish star MØ giving an outstanding performance. Photo: Christopher Manion
Day four: The rookie goes down
The following days became somewhat of blur – flowing beer, copious amounts of laughter and incredible music. But I was to discover, in the only way befitting to the ongoing tragic comedy known as my life, that beer alone cannot sustain a human.
Whilst me, Justin and some newly acquired friends awaited the legendary Neil Young on Friday evening, we were joined by best-selling author Michael Booth. He turned out to be an extremely pleasant chap, even while donning a rather questionable tweed ensemble.
I tried my utmost to string some form of coherent conversation together as my sleep-deprived mind slowly began to give up. The thousands of faces began swirling and my knees gave way and there I was, collapsed at the feet of my editor, a group of people I had known for a day and an author with his very own Wikipedia page. ‘They’ always say you’ll look back and laugh at moments like these, but as the cold wet mud soaked through my t-shirt and dozens of piercing eyes gazed down at me, it would be fair to say I was more than sceptical I would be crying with laughter anytime soon.
A silver lining did present itself in the wake of this ordeal – I experienced an incredible outpouring of care from complete strangers, that I was told is somewhat unique to Roskilde. Within ten minutes I had a sandwich in one hand and a yoga instructor giving me breathing lessons. I may have made an unmitigated fool of myself, but at least I was safe.
Over the course of the festival's final days, I reflected on what defined Roskilde. From what I experienced, it was much more than people gathered in a field listening to music. It was unique individuals from all walks of life together to celebrate a moment of happiness, away from the drudgery and mundane nature of everyday modern life.
Regardless of age, sex, race, religion or sexuality there was a sense of togetherness. A sense that although the person standing next to you may be from a world you will never be able to comprehend, at that moment you both shared something, something that words cannot describe. And for that reason, I will be seeing you again next year Roskilde Festival, for another exhilarating few days.
Roskilde Festival offered a place for everyone to enjoy life. Photo: Christopher Manion