Roadburn Deep Dives: Emma Ruth Rundle

Roadburn 2017, Sunday 23 April, 013 Green Room

Redefining heaviness. If you’ve had any sort of interaction with the world of Roadburn in the past few years, you have surely come across this notion at some point. Just like everything else in art, culture and human innovation, heavy music is changing, evolving, becoming richer and gaining new meanings. As a festival that strives to give a home to groundbreaking and unusual artists – the “freaks in the corner”, as Steve Von Till from Neurosis so wonderfully puts it – it’s almost a mission statement for Roadburn to not only keep up with what it means for music to be “heavy” but actively contribute to that expansion and that discovery of new territories. And if that might seem like a complex goal, or even a rather vague ethos to follow, sometimes everything comes together and is crystallised in a single moment; something you can point at and just go, “yeah, that’s it”.

That’s precisely what happened when one lonely – and, as it turns out, rather terrified – woman stepped up to the Green Room stage on the last day of Roadburn 2017. Emma Ruth Rundle didn’t know it at the time, but she was about to make Roadburn history.

José Carlos Santos
Paul Verhagen (Pics)

“It was such a turning point for the festival,” says Becky Laverty, one of the main faces of Roadburn, as the festival’s Press & Communications manager, who was instrumental in getting Emma to perform this show of shows. “It helped us to open up some doors and explore what heaviness meant. That show summed up really well that ethos of redefining heaviness. That one woman, with no accompaniment, was able to create this unique atmosphere, so dense and overwhelming. It was absolutely a heavy performance, but not necessarily the kind of thing that people associate with heavy music. It immediately became one of the shows that we’ve referenced the most when booking shows. What is heaviness, and in what ways can you define it? That’s a question we ask ourselves all the time, and this show is an important part of the reply to that.”

For all the show’s impact on Roadburn and on Emma herself – we’ll get to that in a minute – it’s funny to realise, when talking to the parties involved, how different it all could have been, if not for a few random details that, with seemingly cosmic will, worked together to create the conditions for that powerful performance. Like, for example, why she stepped up to the stage all alone.

“Before Roadburn, I was on a really long tour, which started with Deafheaven in the United States, and I basically never got out of the van,” Emma says. “I kept going with Jaye Jayle, who were touring. When I got the Roadburn offer, I decided to book a European tour around it as a lot of American bands do, to make it more affordable. Because I couldn’t afford to take my own band, the idea was to use Jaye Jayle as my backing band, and have them open the shows during the tour – that would give them the opportunity to go to Europe too.”

When things didn’t work out with Jaye Jayles‘ drummer, Emma brought in the drummer from her own US-based backing band, and the group only had a few days to rehearse for the tour. Then they all went to Europe, without ever having played a show together.

“We had a day, as a long soundcheck, before a show somewhere, to play as a band. That was it. I’m saying this, and I realise that I would never do any of this now, when I look back on it,” she laughs. “We made it through that night’s show. But was it good? I don’t know! But it didn’t feel right to me. The whole purpose of this trip was to be at Roadburn, so I reached out to Walter and Becky asking them if a solo show was a possibility they could consider.

“If I had the opportunity to present it as a band, and to represent well the album I had made, which was the reason why I was invited, I would have chosen to do that. But I felt that it wasn’t good, it wasn’t presentable, and the last thing I wanted to do was to be humiliated at Roadburn. I was finally going there, it was such an honour to be there as an artist, at that magical place… So I eventually made the choice at the last minute to do it alone.

“I hadn’t played a solo show for some time because I had been touring with my US band,” Emma continues. “I hadn’t played in that format since I did solo opening slots for other bands, with reimagined versions of what the albums were, but at least that’s something I did do for a long time. I felt I had enough experience and I felt strong enough to do it like that again.”

To add to this sense of a-woman-against-the-world loneliness, another unfortunate event unfolded: “This was the same year that Chelsea Wolfe, King Woman and True Widow played,” Becky recalls. “There is actually a photo with Chelsea, Nicole, Kristina and Caro from Oathbreaker – this group of great women who played Roadburn, and Emma wasn’t in it because she was only there on the Sunday. I remember a conversation with her when she told me she was really looking forward to coming here and seeing all these women who were playing that year and with whom she’s friends with, and none of them were there anymore when she arrived and she was all on her own!”

But Emma never backed down. She was prepared. Scared, but prepared. “I knew that it was going to be terrifying,” she says. “All of the emotions leading up to it, I would describe them as terror and fear. You know that nightmare where people are standing naked in front of their class or something? That was what this whole Roadburn thing was like to me. I hadn’t performed in front of metal audiences in a long time either, but I do have a lot of experience with people heckling, talking to each other, not listening, even dumping beer on my stuff. I was ready for all that. I was ready to go into battle. I wanted to have this accomplishment of performing no matter what. I had this idea that if I had a band, people would have more respect for it and listen. And if they didn’t, at least we’d be louder than them.”

Fortunately Roadburners came through and proved themselves up to the situation. The audience in the Green Room on that magical evening was in itself a sanctuary, it lifted rather than brought down the brave performer singing her heart out to them.

“The Green Room was absolutely crammed!” Becky recalls, still in some awe of the atmosphere that was built in there. “Emma looked a bit nervous when she first came out, but then she totally owned the stage. It was such a powerful performance. Although I believe it would also have been incredible if she had played with a full band, it was really a stark performance, which felt right because that album, Marked For Death, is quite stark as well. She looked so strong and powerful, she dominated in such a calm and quiet way. Afterwards I spoke to her backstage and I told her this, and she said it had been one of the shows where she’d been the most terrified. But it didn’t come through at all.”

It did not, but Emma was indeed: “I’m super disorganised, and Becky and everyone from the staff really helped me. I was like a little bird and they picked me up and put me back up on my nest. Once I got to the Green Room – and I’m reliving the fear right now! – as soon as the show started, I realised people were silent,” Emma says quietly, her own voice hushing as if still in acknowledgement of the incredible response she got on the occasion. “It was a very powerful and moving experience for me. I think to this day it still remains my favourite show that I’ve ever played.

“I’ve never felt the respect that I felt from the Roadburn community and the audience, it really blew my mind,” Emma says. “It changed my life, honestly. I felt that was a pivotal moment in my career as a performer. Nothing has ever been the same for me since that moment. It was the first time that I felt… maybe this isn’t placed in the right way, because people should get their sense of self-worth from other places, but at Roadburn I felt respect as a musician for the first time in a way that I had never felt before in my life: I felt like I had a place.

“It gave me a strength that I’ve taken with me forever since then. That I have the right to do what I’m doing, that I have a place to have a voice, that I shouldn’t feel ashamed for myself, for what I’m saying and what I’m singing.”

All of this somehow makes missing Emma’s curation-that-never-was in 2020 even more heartbreaking, but there are also good things to take away from that. “It’s such a shame her curation never came to fruition,” Becky laments. “But I do feel that our relationship with her is not over and there is much more to come. That was just the beginning. It’s also to do with how heavy music has evolved. I don’t think Emma would be covered in the likes of Metal Hammer ten or fifteen years ago, for example, and for that matter nor do I necessarily think she would have made much sense at Roadburn then, even. The boundaries of heavy music are shifting, and she is a prime example of how they are evolving.”

Emma herself says of the pandemic-interrupted Roadburn 2020: “It’s sad. It’s crushing. We all did the work, it was there. It would have been so cool. It was such an honour, and such a highlight of my career as a musician, working with Walter and with Becky and everyone involved, making the decisions, talking to the bands, getting to know some of them, getting a feel for this amazing community and how it was all coming together in this moment.” But she also comes away with the positives and with the hope that doesn’t fade: “I don’t feel like everything was lost for me though, I still took away an amazing experience. I do feel horrible for everyone who didn’t get to see the shows, I’m sad that I didn’t get to see the shows! And for all the bands that didn’t make it there, too. But this is what it is now. We’re still here, we didn’t lose our lives and a lot of people did, that’s how I have to look at it. I really look forward to when I can get back to Tilburg and to Roadburn again.”

We’re all counting seconds over here, dear Emma.

Roadburn Deep Dives: Thou

Roadburn 2019, Saturday 13 April, Ladybird Skatepark

“Oh God, that one,” Roadburn artistic director Walter sighs and then laughs wearily, just at the mere mention of Thou’s legendary Misfits covers show at the Ladybird Skatepark during their residency in 2019. That reaction alone already tells you everything about the odyssey that took place behind-the-scenes of what has become one of the most surprising and talked-about moments in Roadburn history.

When Thou were confirmed as Roadburn’s 2019 Artists In Residence they agreed that they would play four distinctive sets over the course of the festival. Only three of these shows were included in the schedule – the time and location of the fourth remained under wraps. Despite that (or maybe because of it?) it became one of the most unforgettable shows in Roadburn’s 20-plus years. So, let’s take this from the very beginning…

José Carlos Santos
Teddie Taylor (pics)

“From the first moment I talked to Bryan about Thou being artist in residence for Roadburn, the idea of having a secret show was already there,” Walter reveals. “I told them about the options: I mentioned there was a skate park, and the Hall of Fame room.” Thou vocalist Bryan Funck confirms: “We had decided pretty early on that it would be really cool to do a covers show, and we wanted to keep it secret, and also do it at the smallest place possible. We didn’t think so many people would be that excited about it, so we thought we’d just create something a little more intimate, just cram a bunch of people into a small space.”

Thou had originally thought of the Cul de Sac for a venue, but the festival wasn’t using it that year. The smallest room available was the Hall Of Fame; but it wasn’t quite right for what the band had in mind.

“The room itself is small, but the stage is quite wide,” Bryan explains. “It’s a nice, cool space, but in terms of what we were going for, especially with that set, it was a bit sterile and it just wasn’t going to work. The skate park stayed on our radar, mostly because it felt like a punk thing, something that’d be fun to do. We even imagined that it would be great to have people skating at the same time and everyone going nuts!”

Fortunately, it didn’t get that far, as security staff had enough on their plates as it was, but the journey towards skate park acceptance was to be a long and arduous one for everyone involved. “We had different opinions about how popular this was going to be – we thought that there would be people there, sure, but not that many,” says Thou guitarist Andy Gibbs, laughing now at how colossally wrong he was in that prediction. “If there were other things happening at the same time, which there were, we thought it’d just be this niche thing. We weren’t sure if word would spread, and how fast, so for us it’d just be like a really small show with half a dozen people. But Walter told us right from the beginning that no, there’d be a shitload of people and it’d be difficult to manage. I don’t think I really understood that until right before it happened. We had thought people would just stand there and stare blankly at us like they usually do,” he laughs.

As we all know by now, it was far beyond a ‘niche thing’. Anyone who was at the festival that afternoon will remember the feverish anticipation when people started to realise that the secret show was due to take place.

“Until a couple of days before the festival, things were still undecided on both ends,” Walter recalls. “The Hall of Fame was easier, there was a stage, it was a proper venue, but there was a certain magic about doing it at a skate park. The real fun started when we announced the running order and the times. People started going crazy because the fourth show wasn’t announced, they kept asking where and when it would be, and we would just shrug and say, ‘We don’t know!’ But it was really obvious from the schedule, the spot was right there – the Hall of Fame ended at 11pm that evening! What did you think was going to happen afterwards?”

When Thou arrived in Tilburg at the beginning of the festival, they went to check out the two venues. And while they weren’t particularly excited about the Hall of Fame, they figured it could work. But over the weekend there were a couple of other impromptu shows at the skate park – Thou saw the potential and wanted to make it work.

“On Saturday morning, anticipation was at a high,” Walter remembers. “The band had decided and asked for the skate park, and production went ballistic. ‘How can we have hundreds of people in there, it’s not doable!’ they told me. People at the festival were, at the same time, getting super anxious, to the point that I couldn’t even walk around anymore without someone coming up to me and asking me about it every time! I remember even Nergal, who was at the festival, at one point came up to me and asked me to tell him where it was going to be! And I just kept saying ‘I don’t know!’, and it was really the truth, even if no one believed it!”

If you’re not too familiar with the proceedings of putting shows together, you might be wondering what all the fuss is all about: it’s just a room but with ramps, right? Walter explains: “The problem is that the skate park is not a venue for shows. For the little punk shows we did there, we just threw together a small DIY PA, and there were a few dozen people watching, and that was fine. But the production team was adamant that it wouldn’t be able to accommodate something of this size and scope.”

That seemed to seal it; but there was one superhero about to rush in and save the day. “After several serious conversations with all parts involved, it was Frens, the 013 general manager, who came to the rescue,” Walter laughs. “He told me, ‘Walter, we need to do it DIY style! This is punk rock and we’re going to do it at the skate park, we have to!’ I told him that production didn’t want to do it, so he went and talked to them, and just told them matter-of-factly that it had to happen because the band was on the way and it was confirmed with them already. Which it wasn’t! But he overruled everything anyway. This happened around 10pm, about an hour from the show. We had an impromptu meeting with security, and we also still had to call the general manager of the skate park to tell him what we were going to do, and he kind of gave us the go ahead, he was just like, I don’t know, sort it out with the production!”

If you have met him at the festival, you’ll know that Walter in panic mode is usually, despite the seriousness of the situations, a harbinger for special things to happen. And here he was, going berserk once more, right before yet another legendary happening.

“I rushed to Thou’s dressing room, and all the band were there with Emma Ruth Rundle. I told them, ‘Skate park is happening! What amps do you need?’ Everyone was super excited and started throwing around ideas: I want a model T, I want that one in the corner backstage, this and that. Five minutes later, I’m backstage with a lorry and all the amps on the street being loaded on it to be carried to the skate park. Of course, that’s when some people saw it happening, and started to catch on. We set it all up with the recommendations of the security staff, who were super helpful, because we still had to measure doors and all kinds of things like that: we still didn’t know exactly how many people we could fit inside without running security risks, which we obviously weren’t going to do.”

All in all, it was one of those situations where it was better to ask for forgiveness than permission. “The day after the show, we had to have a real talk with production, because they were a bit angry,” Walter says sheepishly but with a devilish grin. “They were not amused about mine or Frens’ actions. I know I was very undecided in the days leading up to it, it was all ‘Hall of Fame! Skate park! No, Hall of Fame! No, skate park!’ all the way, then I reassured them on Saturday that we wouldn’t do the skate park, and then at 10pm I’m all like, ‘SKATE PARK, YEAH!’ I get why they were mad.”

Fortunately, anyone who was there will surely be unanimous in considering that it was all worth it. The first thing Bryan told the audience before they started playing was, “So look, we’re gonna have a lot of fun, or we’re going to look like a bunch of fucking dipshits. You gotta pick. Usually we look like dipshits, so I’m thinking we’ll try to have something new tonight, and have fun.” And fun they had…

“The amount of people there was actually less exciting to me than the actual response to it, that’s what made it so memorable for me,” Bryan says. “People were so into it, and having so much fun! For as little as we practised for that set, and probably for as poorly as we played, it turned out incredibly well. It was easily one of the most fun shows we ever had. That set is now the set by which I judge all Thou sets by. It’s actually become a sort of completely unrealistic thing to live up to, but I can’t help it. After having experienced it, now I know it can be like this. So why can’t it be like this all the time? It sort of ruined our normal shows for me!”

For the festival, it was an equally momentous occasion. “It was a defining Roadburn moment,” Walter states. “As awesome as the big shows are, as much as we are known for our production values, as much as the commissioned pieces are an essential part of everything… sometimes, it all comes down to stuff like this. All these bands started out in garages, in basements, in skate parks. This sort of thing is where our hearts lie, it’s where we all come from. Seeing a band in a garage or in a damp basement, it’s in our blood. And it all came together on this show. The band, the fans, the staff, everyone in that room came from that same place. This is the underground that everyone fell in love with years ago, at the very beginning of our individual journey. The expression in people’s faces, the smiles, the joy, the excitement… I’ll never forget it.”

Also, in more practical terms, it had an effect that is still to be measured: “A venue was born, too,” Walter says. “The requests we had for bands wanting to play the skate park in the 2020 edition that didn’t happen was insane. It’s actually being rebuilt now, so we don’t know how it’ll look or even if we’ll ever be able to use it again, but we’ll see.”

It’s interesting to look back now on such an important part of both the festival and the band’s history, and to think about how any small detail might have completely changed it. For instance, Andy reveals that it wasn’t always a clear choice to have Misfits as the theme of the covers show.

“Mitch [Wells, bassist] actually wanted to do Deftones,” Andy says. “I think when we first talked about it, Walter thought we’d do Nirvana, that’s why he suggested it in the first place,” adds Bryan. “Which makes sense: we do a million Nirvana covers, so that’s what people would expect us to do. But for us it was like, let’s just have fun with it. Being a crazy show, and at a place where people weren’t expecting, it all came out of us not wanting to do just the same old thing that everyone thought we would.”

Andy agrees: “That was the whole appeal. I don’t think anyone would peg us for Misfits fans, and to be honest, none of us are really huge Misfits fans! Mitch was really pushing for Deftones, but we pushed back a bit on that, because no one’s gonna go crazy over a bunch of Deftones songs: it’s not energetic enough.”

Perhaps even more shockingly, Bryan quips: “I wanted to do Metallica!”

“That would have been great!” Andy agrees. “But the songs are so complicated: there was no way we could have gotten that together in time, we didn’t have a ton of time to practise for this.”

And you know what? Thou and Roadburn aren’t done playing tricks on you guys. “I loved all the secrecy about it, that’s the kind of shit I love,” Bryan says. “If we ever come back to Roadburn, I’d love to not even be on the bill, and just show up and do a bunch of really fun and weird stuff and have a great time with it. Just surprise people!”

Andy picks up on this: “Maybe we can play on the other side of town. In the lobby of the hotel, like that Nine Inch Nails marketing campaign: we’d leave cryptic notes in bathrooms all over Tilburg. That would be sick.”

Sit tight: who knows what Thou will have in store for us next…

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Roadburn Deep Dives: Neurosis 30th Anniversary

Roadburn 2016, Saturday 16 April 16th & Sunday 17 April, 013 Main Stage

The evolution of Roadburn has been quite a gradual thing. From the early days of paying tribute to the forefathers of the stoner, psych and doom scenes (Blue Cheer and Sabbath will always be in Walter’s heart!), through to the expansive, forward thinking, genre-defying festival we have before us today – it’s been a wild ride. Somewhere in there, around the mid ’00s – which is coincidentally when Neurosis made their Roadburn debut – Roadburn started to explore the outer reaches of heavy music, relishing uncovering whatever the underground had to offer.

Neurosis and their 2007 headlining show proved to be pivotal in the way heavy music was presented at Roadburn. And as the festival evolved over the following years, so too did the band, culminating in two special 30th anniversary shows in 2016. These shows highlighted a decade of synergy and growth for both parties. They served as a second marker in the gradual transformation of the festival, and a significant impetus as it sought to further redefine heaviness.

In this series of Roadburn Deep Dives, we naturally picked – a complete no-brainer if there ever was one – the Neurosis 30th Anniversary shows at Roadburn 2016 as one of the most momentous and memorable occasions we have ever witnessed at the festival. But it’s impossible to look at that admittedly crucial moment without realising how much of it was simply the logical outcome of that profound relationship established a decade earlier.

José Carlos Santos
Paul Verhagen (pics)

“Everything dates back to the 2007 edition,” says Roadburn’s artistic director Walter / Roadburn, the heart and soul of the festival, already with a hint of emotion in his voice. “Neurosis hadn’t been in Europe for a while, and they were quite hard to book. Yvonne Mclean, who worked for Roadburn at the time, was friends with Steve Von Till’s then-wife, with whom she talked to try to reach the band about the possibility of playing the festival. I had met Andreas Kohl from Exile On Mainstream a couple of years before, and he had worked with Neurot Recordings – he also vouched for Roadburn. Those connections were a big help in trying to pass the message of what the festival and the venue were like, and why we wanted them as headliners back in 2007. They eventually agreed, and we were able to announce them: that was an incredibly important moment.”

As if to metaphorically pinch themselves, and make sure that Neurosis really existed and would bring their unique brand of heaviness to Roadburn, Walter recalls that he and his close collaborator at the time, Jurgen van der Brand, went to London to watch them play at The Forum, a few months before Roadburn. “The festival was already sold out by then,” Walter remembers. “Andreas was at the show too, so we went there, we saw the whole show and we were absolutely in awe. There was such a buzz around the band, and there were a lot of people from abroad there – we even bumped into our friend Michiel Eiknaar, who sadly passed away in 2019, and a couple of other people from Tilburg.”

After several years where Neurosis rarely played live, this buzz was more than justified. Their shows were the stuff of legend, and Neurosis were just about the hottest band in the underground at this time. It was an enormous coup by Roadburn to secure them for the 2007 edition. But it wasn’t easy.

“I remember they had very peculiar backline and tech specs, and everybody told us they were a somewhat difficult band in that aspect,” Walter recalls. “But the 013 knew it was very special to have them over, so they did their very best to fulfil their technical rider. We really wanted to make sure that everything was done perfectly for them. That happened, and I think they were very pleased with how the Roadburn and 013 staff treated them. I think they realised that we took them very seriously as a band, and that we had done everything to accommodate them and to make sure they could play their very best show.”

When asked about those first contacts with the festival, guitarist/vocalist Steve Von Till laughs and says, “My memories of Roadburn all blend together!” Nevertheless, the important things did stick. And Walter is right – they were impressed.

“What I remember about 2007, although some of the details are hazy, is that Roadburn immediately felt different from any other festival we had been invited to,” Steve says. “It felt just like where we were coming from: more DIY, more underground appreciation… Not only that, but more intimate too. It wasn’t trying to be some giant thing in a grassy field. It was in a proper club, with good rooms, amazing gear, friendly and very professional staff, and a great collection of really well-curated bands. So many bands that I wanted to see were also playing, and I think every other band felt the same. As a musician, you would be watching a band you like, standing next to someone from a band you like. Any lines between band and audience – and staff – become quite blurry at Roadburn.”

It was clearly a match made in heaven, so as the relationship progressed, it quickly went from friendship to deep love. “They were happy with how things went, so we kept in touch,” Walter says. “When we started to work with curators in 2008, with David Tibet our first, it was clear to us that Neurosis would be one of our first choices to curate, so we decided to do just that for 2009. I was given the opportunity to go to San Francisco, and fly to Northern Idaho to Steve’s place. I spent a couple of days there with him, and we talked a lot about all their plans and ideas. Beyond The Pale took place at Roadburn 2009 with a lot of Neurosis-related projects, and it was a very special year.”

Steve also recalls that meeting fondly. “It was a great honour to be asked to curate,” he says. “We had toyed with the idea of putting out our own music series in the early 2000s, with our Beyond The Pale festival in San Francisco. What we found was that we really loved the idea of choosing a wide variety of artists in different genres for the same reason that we found a home at Roadburn – different styles of music that share a kinship because of its outsider and truly original nature. Its emotional content. And to be invited to do that was great. When Walter stayed with us here to discuss the details, we drove around, showed him some mountain scenery, some lake scenery, we had some great hangout time, some great discussions. When we’re given the opportunity to dream, we dream pretty big. And while we can never cater to our exact dreams and wishes, I think we got pretty close to it. We had a great, unique line-up that year.”

Marriage duly consummated, it was just a question of fanning the flames of passion, and that much was done throughout the years, where barely a Roadburn went by without a Neurosis-related project on the bill. “We’d always invite Steve and Scott’s projects whenever possible,” Walter says, “and in 2015 I got the call from their booking agent and European tour manager Ansgar Glade, telling me they wanted to do the 30th Anniversary shows at Roadburn because of this bond that we developed over the years.” Walter beams with pride at the memory. And we should all count ourselves lucky, because these shows might never have happened.

“We actually resisted the idea for quite a while,” Steve quips. Really? “Yeah. We don’t really enjoy looking backwards, and we don’t necessarily feel inspired by what was inspiring us when we were 19 or 20 years old. Our real main celebration of our 30 years was the creation of Fires Within Fires. On our actual anniversary, which was December 2015, instead of worrying about a show, we spent it in the studio, recording and mixing that new record. But eventually we came to the conclusion that yeah, we should do at least just a few local shows. That of course blossomed out of control and turned into three nights in San Francisco. It was an incredible few days, and we hadn’t thought about taking it anywhere else. But, once again, eventually we thought that, maybe, while we’re doing this one time thing of looking backwards, maybe we should take it to Europe.”

Neurosis did two nights in London, and then went to Tilburg for their 30th anniversary performances at Roadburn.

“It was the perfect vibe to conclude that whole celebratory time in our career,” Steve says. “We might not do that again. It was very tough to go back and relearn stuff from so long ago. Artistically we didn’t even know if those songs belonged in the same set together! But being at Roadburn felt like being among family, and we thought that if there was one place where we could pull that off, it would be there.” As it turns out, playing songs from three decades ago isn’t an easy feat.

“I try to not be in my mind when we’re actually playing,” Steve reasons. “But because we were playing things that were less rehearsed and that felt less natural – I mean, it doesn’t feel natural to play those songs anymore, let’s be honest. Every cell in your body regenerates every seven years or so, so we’ve regenerated several times as humans since we were able to play that fast. I’d say it’s still uncomfortable, but we kind of embraced it for what it was. A rare celebration: out of character for us, yes, but a rare treat, so it still felt like a special time.”

“Everything else around it too, not just the two sets,” Steve adds, “being able to play a solo set in the Het Patronaat… Man, talk about being nervous, being there all by myself in that great room packed with people! It forced me to grow and perform well in front of so many folks. I remember singing with Converge too, the song we did together with Chelsea Wolfe, that was fantastic as well. That whole weekend was just day after day of excitement, nervousness and good feelings.”

What better way to put an exclamation mark on Roadburn v2.0, right? “I do look at these shows as really the culmination of a decade of friendship and artistic kinship, of something that started back in 2006,” Walter says. Steve confirms this with a wide smile: “It absolutely is a friendship,” he offers. “Walter is the face of Roadburn, he is a dear friend, and a great, kind, creative and inspired human being. We love him, and we know how much of his heart and soul is in all of the festival. It all stems from him, but I also have to mention all the other people who make the festival: there’s a whole, huge staff of folks at the 013, the people in town, everyone putting together the magazines, the websites, the promotion, the behind the scenes work. It’s really impressive, and to know that’s happening with good people and with good friends, is great.

“We still feel just like we felt on that first time we were there,” Steve continues, “that finally there was an international festival that was like a home. It’s grassroots, it reflects our DIY punk rock aesthetic, and our love for psychedelic, trippy, heavy music. It’s where the good stuff always is.”

For that to keep being true, its evolution has to continue. Which is why, as Walter insists, Neurosis2016 performances were “also a kind of closure: we knew that this was the epitome of everything that Roadburn was about from 1999 to 2016. Celebrating the 30 years of Neurosis at Roadburn encapsulated everything the festival had been about through those years. Everything came together at those shows – we were honouring Neurosis by giving them the platform and the best possible conditions to do them, but at the same time they were honouring us as well, acknowledging us as the festival where they had been allowed to grow over the years too. Their growth was the growth of the festival too. In a way, the new Roadburn that we are developing now really started after that pivotal point: in 2017, we started to do a few things differently.”

All the while, never forgetting about the past either, and the good things that brought us all to where we are today. “Neurosis also paved the way for that format, that plan, of multiple shows – to give the headliners time and space to celebrate their careers,” Walter says. “That was the case for Sleep and for Godspeed You! Black Emperor, too. When you have the opportunity to have a headliner that has been around for such a long time, and that has had an influence as deep as these bands, that helped shape the festival itself and all other bands playing there, why not do this? That was something we decided after the Neurosis shows in 2016: that’s another way in which they were so influential.”

More than any other, the relationship between Neurosis and Roadburn represented the way in which the festival became the gathering point for one great big community, made up of all the very different and very wonderful people who live their lives by the sway of heavy music. As wise Steve puts it, in a way that really sums it all up, “Roadburn gave us all a home.”

Roadburn Deep Dives - Wolves In The Throne Room

Roadburn 2008, Saturday 19 April, 013 Green Room

It happened 13 years ago, but for those of us who were lucky enough to have been there, the first Wolves In The Throne Room appearance at Roadburn remains absolutely seared into our memories. Rarely has a band made such an impact, especially a rather young and inexperienced band (at the time), and at a festival that wasn’t exactly known to host the genre they mostly inhabit. It was a converging of unlikely circumstances that forever changed both artist and event.

“That was such a pivotal show for Roadburn,” says Walter, the festival’s artistic director, also still in awe of that mythical performance all these years later. “It totally opened our doors for the more black metal side of things: the more ‘organic’ kind of black metal, as it was often called at the time. That show single-handedly completely paved the way for that sort of thing in the following years of the festival, and it’s obvious how important that kind of music became at Roadburn.”

Of course, for pivotal moments to occur, the audacity to take risks also has to be there. How was the decision to feature an artist that, for all intents and purposes, didn’t really seem to fit the festival’s orientation at that time? Walter ventures that Wolves In The Throne Room’s Two Hunters album made quite a fuss in the underground, so there was a lot of talk about them, even in Roadburn circles. But you get the feeling that, like some of the best decisions made by Roadburn, it was really a gut thing on the part of Walter. Wolves made sense for Roadburn on a primal level, as if they had mutual ancient ancestors and were connected by blood without even knowing it. And the plunge was taken by both parts without hesitation.

“We were so green at that point, and so deeply punk and underground in our orientation, that we didn’t know anything about the festival,” laughs WITTR drummer Aaron Weaver. “Just the concept of going to Europe and playing festivals was like going to outer space: it felt like uncharted territory to us. But it also felt like something special and important. It was our first fly-in, our first one-off show at a festival. Nowadays, we know what to expect and it’s part of what we do, but at that time it was an alien experience. At the same time, though, as soon as we got there, we immediately felt at home.”

“It was Andreas Kohl from Exile On Mainstream who knew the guys and confirmed how good the band was live, and we trusted him,” Walter remembers. “We asked him to talk to them and see if they’d be interested in playing Roadburn. I think in a way for them it was also a breakthrough in Europe. The festival broke new ground that year, and WITTR were doing the same for black metal: everything came together in that single show. It was obvious for us that they were a Roadburn band, even if, at the same time, we were still very much rooted in stoner, doom and post-rock.”

This acceptance was felt by the band, and created an instant connection that endures to this day. “It was so welcoming, even to a bunch of complete outsiders like we were,” Aaron offers. “What has been created there by Walter and everyone else, the Roadburn community, is so special, and unique, and family-oriented. In the best sense of the word, it has a true cult spirit, in that everyone there is spinning in the same wavelength, and tapped into the same source of energy and of spirituality. There’s a similar vision. Everyone dreams the same sort of dreams. I almost want to call it a medicine lodge. Cultures always have these sorts of secret societies, where people who are in some way united spiritually come together to get into it, get weird. We immediately felt that Roadburn was a spot where we were understood, despite all of our weirdness.”

Maybe even because of their weirdness. After all, Steve Von Till has endearingly described the Roadburn community, be they bands, fans or staff, as the “freaks in the corner”.

“I think we also felt that something was forming, perhaps even more clearly because of that difference in style between us and the other bands on the bill that year,” reasons Aaron. “It was a formative time for Wolves In The Throne Room and also for Roadburn – obviously in the following years the festival has expanded beyond any kind of genre: it’s now something much bigger than an event attached to any genre or style.”

Of course, none of these good vibes would have mattered much if the show wasn’t a gigantic thunderstorm of unforgettably epic proportions, but that’s exactly what the band delivered. You can still witness it for yourself on the Live At Roadburn album which ensued – it was one of the first in this series – or on several quality videos of the event that still populate the internet. Aaron confesses that he rewatched a couple of these videos before our chat, and even he was impressed.

“Tight is not really our thing, but I was struck by how wild it looked,” he says in awe. “It’s still like that, but I think that at that time our band was really tapped into a really wild and out of control energy. That’s something I noticed, and I think that’s what got to the people who watched it as well: that the music is constantly on the edge of falling apart. It’s like we’re all physically pushed to a breaking point, with the harshness and the physicality of the playing, and that’s right there on display in those videos. It’s that spot right before everything shatters into pieces that sounds good. That’s not the usual metallic approach, metal is usually more methodical, there’s more headroom, but what we were doing, and I think we still do, there’s no headroom at all. It’s just pushed right up to the ceiling.”

Walter remembers a similar feeling, and the lingering effects of it: “I remember the excitement in the air about that show, people were talking about it so much afterwards. When it was over and people were coming out, I was outside and I felt it: it was palpable, the excitement coming from that room. It was noticeable something had happened. It’s a landmark that changed everything for us. After that show, we started to book a lot more experimental, heavier bands for Roadburn. We dived straight into the black metal world, and later on we explored the genre even more, like with the Icelandic scene. That show was the starting point for Roadburn to embrace much more extreme music, from black to death metal, and other genres: it all started there. It inspired us to keep diving into those worlds and cherry pick all the bands we thought would be suitable for the festival.”

Wolves In The Throne Room would return a couple of times more to Roadburn after 2008, and hopefully will still chalk up a few more appearances in the future. It’s another case of a relationship that was formed and of two entities who still continue to grow together.

“Roadburn feels like a weird alternate dimension,” Aaron says with a laugh. “Every time we’ve been there since, the feeling is similar. Although I will say that as we became more seasoned, it also became easier to be fully present, maybe notice more what’s going on, instead of being in that state of barely holding it together, barely knowing your way to the stage, which is how we were back in 2008.” Fortunately, their music still remains, as it should be, right on the edge of being uncontrollable. Let’s keep it that way.

Roadburn Deep Dives: Earthless

Roadburn 2008, Friday 18 April, 013 (Bat Cave) Main Stage

Imagine that you’re in a relatively small band, taking your first tentative steps outside your own country. You’re playing at a cool festival: in the smallest room, but that still means that a couple hundred people will watch you play. You’re having a smoke in those last 10 minutes before your show, when suddenly, the head honcho of the whole festival steps through the door and tells you that, newsflash, you’re headlining.

How would you react? You’d probably be wondering what the hell they put in the Netherlands weed. Surely that’s what Earthless guitarist Isaiah Mitchell and bassist Mike Eginton also thought when this exact dream/potential nightmare scenario happened to them in 2008. Earthless 2008 is firmly rooted in Roadburn lore as one of “those” shows: where just having been there gives you bragging rights forever, and Earthless more than rose to the occasion and put on the performance of a lifetime on the Main Stage. But let’s rewind a little bit, and try to piece together how they got to this surreal situation.

José Carlos Santos

“It was simply a stroke of fate,” explains Walter, Roadburn’s artistic director. “We had booked Isis to headline and play an extensive two-hour set, but unfortunately they ended up having to cut it short to roughly 45 minutes, and leave right after. By that time, we didn’t have any other bands scheduled in the Main Stage anymore, as all that time had been reserved for Isis. There was a band already playing at the Bat Cave [the smallest venue at the 013 before its redesign a few years ago], and only Earthless remained after them. Me and the production went a bit nuts at that point, because we were very afraid of 2.500 people trying to cram into the Bat Cave for Earthless, as that was going to be the only show taking place at that time.”

It’s one of those situations that people who don’t organise festivals rarely think of: it isn’t a simple matter of just choosing a band and a venue – you have to predict and control the flow of people, so that potentially dangerous circumstances are avoided.

“We completely panicked – myself, production, stage managers: we all quickly realised we needed to have something, anything, happening on the Main Stage, or we’d be left with a couple of thousand people who had nowhere else to go,” Walter remembers. “I really didn’t know what to do. In desperation, I ran to the loading dock, just to see if I could spot someone from a band, any band, that would be willing and ready to play. Production were shouting in my in-ear communication system, and all I remember is going a bit crazy because time was ticking, and I needed a solution, now. I felt like I needed some air, so I walked back up the stairs – and I ran into Mario.”

This Mario was none other than Mario Rubalcaba, the drummer for Earthless. Mario was, by a delirious stroke of luck, walking around the venue, and he was the right man at the right time.

“I was on my way up to the little Bat Cave, ready to go set up my stuff,” the drummer recalls, still amused at how everything went down. “On my way there I ran into Walter, who was… I wouldn’t say he was in panic, but he was in a kind of state like that, I could tell there was something going on.”

Make no mistake, Walter was indeed in a panic.

“I asked Mario, “Do you guys want to play in the Main Stage, right now?”, Walter laughs. “He said yeah, but that he needed to check with the other guys too, so I ran to their dressing room, where I saw Isaiah [Mitchell, guitar and vocals] relaxing with a little smoke, and I asked him and Mike [Eginton, bass] the same thing, and I didn’t even give them time to answer. I just told them, ‘You have to get downstairs now: you’ll be on the Main Stage in five minutes. They were stunned, just looking at me like, ‘Dude, what?’”

Walter laughs, though no one was in the mood for chuckles back then; though Mario seems to have taken it all in his stride. “I was like, alright!” he laughs. “Regardless of a lot of people at the time not knowing who the band was, I saw it as a good chance to see what happened in that scenario, so we just went for it and did it. It was a lot of fun!”

But Walter’s panic mode, while subsided, wasn’t over yet. “Next I went to talk to the 013 tech crew for the Main Stage – the light guys, the sound engineers, the backline techs and everyone,” he recalls. “I told them what had happened, that the band who was going to play last at the Bat Cave had agreed to help us out and switch to the Main Stage at the last minute, and they all agreed that we would treat them like royalty!

“So they got everything: the best possible backline we had, the best sound and monitor engineers, the crew helped them as much as possible with everything they needed, full monitors, huge visuals, absolutely everything,” Walter continues. “While they were setting everything up, I headed to the office upstairs and printed a few A4 pieces of paper that said, ‘Earthless now playing in the Main Stage’, and I glued them on the doors of the Bat Cave, the Green Room, and in other strategic places. I was like a madman, running all over the building, putting papers up. If only we’d had Twitter back in 2008!”

And then, as all of us who were lucky enough to be there remember, magic happened. Even with Walter’s paper runs, not that many people were there at the beginning of the show, but when that supreme power known as word of mouth starts rolling, you don’t need Twitter. After just a few minutes, the room filled up from a couple hundred to a couple thousand people, all based on the jaw-dropping, mind-expanding jams that Earthless, just those three dudes, were letting loose on that humongous stage.

“I definitely remember the room filling up as we played, and kind of quickly too,” Mario says, thinking back. “At the time we were playing really new material, we had a song called From The Ages that we had just started to play live, it hadn’t been released yet and it would actually be a couple of years until the record with that song would come out: Roadburn was sort of its live debut. It was great to be able to do it without anyone knowing what it was, just watching it translate to a huge crowd and seeing what effect it had.

“I remember the sound on the stage was really good, I was stoked on the gear too,” he continues. “I was lucky to use J Mascis’ kit that he has stationed over there in Europe with some relatives. At the time he was playing this really big 28” bass drum, and he let me borrow his drum set. Everything sounded incredibly good, and I totally forgot it was getting recorded! I only thought of that when we got home. I’m so happy we had that show recorded, because it meant a lot to me and to the band. To come home and a few weeks later get the recording, and thinking about putting out that live record – especially since at the time the Live At Roadburn records weren’t common – was really special.”

Walter remembers that, “at the beginning there weren’t more than 400 or 500 people in the room, but it was obvious from the start that they were a phenomenal band. It was instant impact – boom! They floored everyone straight away, and the place filled up really quick. Everyone started texting one another, calling their friends in, and people went nuts. To this day, this show is the stuff of legend at Roadburn.”

For that reason alone, it deserves to be a part of this prime selection of Deep Dives. But Earthless 2008 also became a lot more than that. “In a way, it was a show that helped us unite the several scenes – psych, post-rock, post-metal, the more dark and experimental metal stuff like Neurosis: everyone was together at that show,” Walter remembers. “That’s the moment that I can pinpoint when Roadburn really started to feel like a scene itself that could unite all these little scenes, a gathering of like-minded people, a safe haven for all the underground misfits that all came together at Roadburn.”

It was also a learning curve, as two years later, because of that damn volcano, Walter and the staff would not only have to find an extra headliner to fill a few hours, but replace over half the festival lineup while it happened. It was panic mode x1000: but at least they had some experience in crisis management.

Finally, a kinship and an ongoing relationship developed from this starting point between the band and the festival, with mutual benefits to be reaped from both parts. “Roadburn was firmly rooted in Blue Cheer/Hawkwind, in the past,” Walter says. “But these two editions, 2007 and 2008, culminating in this unbelievable show by a relatively unknown band, made us realise there was a whole world of current bands, here in the now, doing new and exciting stuff, and that we had to turn ourselves to the future too.”

“It’s just such a cool thing to have,” Mario gushes. “Walter and everyone at the festival have been, since day one, the best people to work with. Just the whole vibe of the festival, I’ve been lucky to have been there five times and I’ve always been lucky to play, but even if I was just hanging out I would be completely stoked anyway. Each year, it’s the festival that rises above, keeps it fresh, and people keep digging it.”

Walter puts it simply: “Earthless and Roadburn became kindred spirits.”

Roadburn Deep Dives: Warning

Roadburn 2017, Saturday 22 April, 013 Main Stage

Don’t get us wrong – we’ll never knock wishlists. Wishlists have become a daily part of Roadburn, and it’s as exciting for us all to critique each others’ as it is to write them ourselves. We all have our own wishlists, too: this writer once handed Roadburn’s artistic director Walter a list, divided by categories, with 157 names – ranging from the absolutely impossible (like Darkthrone), to bands with 10 followers on Facebook.

The main thing that has to be managed when you make a wishlist – as well as stopping them from becoming their ugly cousin, a ‘demands list’ – is expectation. The booking process is often a long, bumpy and winding road, which more often than not leads to an insurmountable dead end, especially when dealing with inactive or ‘unlikely’ bands. We could write a book on the reasons why that band you really, really think would be so obvious to have at Roadburn hasn’t made it there yet. You have to learn to accept and deal with all kinds of situations. Getting your favourite band to play Roadburn can be a process that lasts for years until, in the best case scenario, it finally happens.

José Carlos Santos
Paul Verhagen (pics)

Sometimes, the best course of action is to just do nothing, as Walter learned when trying to get Patrick Walker’s old band Warning to reunite and play their classic album Watching from a Distance at Roadburn. We all wept with joy and raw emotion when the likes of Footprints and Bridges finally echoed through the 013 Main Stage in 2017, where Warning seemed like they’d always belonged. It was one of the most profoundly touching shows this writer has ever seen, at Roadburn or anywhere else. But it took an honest conversation in London to get the ball, well, not quite rolling, and then a relatively long wait to make it happen.

“For me, the biggest thing that I took from that Warning show is that you have to be patient with people,” Walter reasons. “Sometimes it’s no use pressuring an artist into doing something when you want them to do something. Some of our most special shows have taken years of preparation to put together, and sometimes that preparation just involves waiting for the right moment. With Patrick Walker and Warning, that’s exactly how it worked. He was very honest with me – he told me he would want to do it, he told me that it would happen at some point, but he asked me not to pressure him and not to put him on the spot. And that’s exactly what I did. I let it rest, I didn’t push it, and a couple of years after that first conversation he finally brought it up again and we were able to make it happen.”

That first conversation took place, at a Primordial show in London. “There is a photograph of the show where this conversation happened, that Becky [Roadburn’s publicist] took,” Patrick Walker recalls with a laugh. “I had been rehearsing for the weekend with 40 Watt Sun, and a friend told me to come down because Becky and Walter would be there. So I went down after rehearsal, and I spoke to Walter about the Warning thing. I don’t remember much about it, to be honest! But I do think that was probably the first time we brought it up. I was in no hurry to do it because we were rehearsing for the second 40 Watt Sun at the time, so my priorities were very much elsewhere. I needed a while to focus on other things, because I knew it would take a little time to get Warning back together.”

Even if it was going to take some time, it was clear to everyone involved that the first return of Warning would have to take place at Roadburn. “I knew I would tour it,” Patrick says, “but I had no interest or any thoughts about debuting the show anywhere else. I had two experiences of Roadburn prior to that with 40 Watt Sun, so I knew what kind of festival it was, and it would have been that or nothing. I just can’t think of another festival where it would have felt like that…” He makes a long pause to collect his thoughts.

“Roadburn is a festival where everyone is made to feel of equal importance,” he continues. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re the headlining band or if you’re playing in the Green Room at 3pm on Friday afternoon; everyone is made to feel as if they’re of real importance to the success of the festival, that they are of the same value to the audiences. And every audience at every show proves this. The enthusiasm is the same, and everyone is always very respectful of the bands. It’s also a much more leftfield festival than any other which specialises in heavy music. I just couldn’t imagine doing it anywhere else. I had no obligations to do the show there or anything, but Walter just treated me so well throughout the years and my experiences playing there were so good, that there wasn’t any question.”

The Warning chapter seems to be fully closed now, after the shows, reissues, and everything else that went on for a couple of years following that impactful reunion at Roadburn 2017. It was an important closure that the band needed to have. When Patrick asked Walter for a little wait before planning the reunion, he wasn’t pushing things into an indefinite hiatus – he knew it would have to happen.

“The thing with Warning is, we were one of those bands cursed with achieving a kind of cult success posthumously,” Patrick chuckles. “We got a kind of reputation after we split up, that we could never enjoy. I was eager to get that band and that music behind me while I was doing it, to move on to other things, but it did reach a point where I remember thinking, ‘I can imagine doing that again, I would quite like to do those songs again, with a proper, full band, in front of audiences now.’ Also, I wanted to play the album as it was recorded, to use two guitars and everything. There were things on the record which, in hindsight, I regarded as bad judgments on my part. While I couldn’t go back and re-record the album, I could certainly repair them in a live situation. I just wanted to do it, I wanted to travel with Marcus [Hatfield, bassist] again because he’s one of my best friends. After the hard work of doing the second 40 Watt Sun record, it felt right. And now I feel like I’ve done that record justice. It was good to be in touch with a lot of people whom that music has touched. It’s done now.”

The fact that Warning is a done chapter now isn’t any kind of dramatic gesture by Patrick. He’s just not the kind of artist to have different projects and outputs. “I’ve always said that it doesn’t matter what band I’m playing in, what band name I’m playing under. The music will always be the same,” Patrick explains. “Whatever music I’m writing and performing is always part of the same artistic approach. It’s not a question of stopping one thing and then going back and doing another. It’s a timeline that just keeps going, no matter what the name is. People associate Warning with me doing ‘doom metal’, but that’s just because that’s the record I did in 2006. Those shows merely revisited that period of my life. The record I made four or five years after that was still a ‘heavy’ record, but it was already different. It was one step away from that. And the next one was another step forward. If I would do music under the Warning name now – which I wouldn’t – it wouldn’t sound any different from what I’m doing now. I only ever make the music that comes naturally, that comes out of me.”

As for the Warning show itself at Roadburn 2017, the preparation wasn’t exactly peaceful, as Patrick reveals: “It was quite stressful, because the biggest thing that happened prior to the show was that Christian [Leitch], who was the drummer for 40 Watt Sun at the time and who had been the drummer in the last incarnation of Warning, he pulled out about four or five days before Christmas in 2016, so that was less than four months before the show.”

“I thought, fuck,” Patrick continues. “What am I going to do? I spoke to Becky, and she recommended Andrew Prestidge, who I didn’t know, but I listened to some of his recordings and watched some of his videos. I liked it, so I contacted him, explained the situation, which was a bit awkward – ‘Oh, we have a show on the Main Stage at Roadburn in three-and-a-half months, and we’ll be touring after that…'” Patrick laughs. “He had a listen to the album and he said he’d do it, and we only started rehearsing around the end of January, but everything ended up working very well. We still needed to do some rehearsing right before the show, because although I had been performing rather consistently, Marcus hadn’t been on a stage in about eight years, and Wayne [Taylor, guitarist] hadn’t performed to an audience in about 20 years! I did feel a bit vulnerable, so we also had a rehearsal the day before we performed.

“As for the day of the show itself, I don’t remember much, to be honest!” Patrick says. “What I remember the most is that I took about eight hot showers! There’s a lot of air conditioning in the backstage area, and it was really drying out my throat, so the only way I could lubricate my voice properly was to take these near boiling hot showers. I just kept walking out of the dressing room in a towel all afternoon, Andrew was saying, ‘Fucking hell, you must be the cleanest man in doom!'”

So it was a sparkling, squeaky clean Patrick Walker who stepped up on stage to deliver those mournful, exhilarating, transcendental songs we all know and love, and, according to him, “it went pretty smoothly, I think”.

“Pretty smoothly” is by far and away the most shining compliment you will ever hear Patrick say about any of his shows. And if any doubts remain that their Roadburn appearance was something special, the fact that not even Patrick can poke holes in that performance is the absolute proof of it. “I don’t remember beating myself up about it afterwards,” he says with a chuckle, before adding, very seriously: “When the show finished, all I remember is feeling incredibly proud for the rest of my band. I felt wonderful for Marcus and Wayne, and Andrew too, because he was a lifesaver for us.”

And now, as with most other artists that we’ve featured on this Deep Dives series, the story continues. The ongoing relationship is there. As many of you will know, 40 Watt Sun were one of the main choices in Emma Ruth Rundle’s 2020 curatorship that sadly never took place. But we are fairly confident (and we’re not pushing you, Patrick, don’t worry!) that we might see him in Tilburg a few times more.

“I’m not a prolific live performer,” Patrick says. “I don’t do a lot of shows, and that’s largely through choice. But the times I’ve done Roadburn, it’s always felt like a kind of a milestone. It’s always made to feel like an event. They’re some of the best shows I’ve played, and to some of the best audiences as well. When I think back to the 90s, the idea of playing this kind of music at a festival like Roadburn would be unfathomable. There’s just such great diversity and tolerance from everyone there. It will always be my festival of choice. And like I said before, none of this has nothing to do with the billing or the stage you’re on or anything like that. It’s down to the credit of the festival and Walter that everyone is made to feel equal. We’re all on the same path. We’re all on the same journey.”

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Roadburn Deep Dives: Eyehategod

Roadburn 2010, Sunday 18 April, 013 Green Room (Setlist: Not even the band knows.)

Eyjafjallajökull. Icelandic for ‘motherfucker’. It’s not, really (it’s ‘glacier of the mountains of the islands’, if you must know). But after 2010, when its eruption led to the chaotic disruption of the European air space and subsequently the Roadburn lineup that year, we should have earned the right to change that particular translation. Roadburn would go on to have such a wonderfully close relationship with the Icelandic underground, receiving the cream of their various crops year after year but back then Iceland had other plans. Why, Icelandic nature, why?

José Carlos Santos
Paul Verhagen (pics)

But, there was a silver lining. Several, even. First of all, Roadburn managed to get all of the bands that had to pull out because of the volcano back the following year. Secondly, many bands stepped up to fill those slots in 2010 with such a desire to help, such a passion to make up for all the losses, that their performances turned into something legendary. So, perhaps, we should actually be thankful to motherf… pardon, Eyjafjallajökull. During those wild hours of 2010, Roadburn really discovered what its community is made of, and bonds formed there are unbroken to this day.

One particularly endearing and representative story from the 2010 edition is that of Eyehategod. The legendary NOLA band had played on Thursday, on the first day of the festival, before the full reach of that fateful ash cloud had made its presence felt, Then they went on their merry way, to fulfil the remaining dates of their European tour. However, when Eyehategod heard about the depressingly empty lineup that Roadburn was facing for Sunday, they reached out to the festival from thousands of miles away and offered to come and help make it right with a second performance, even if it meant driving all night from the North of Italy to Tilburg.

“My memories from that year are a mess, it was so difficult to reschedule everything and to find all the replacements; everything was chaos,” remembers Roadburn’s artistic director Walter. You can tell it’s still rather painful to bring back those memories of the year when the sky seemed to have fallen in on Roadburn.

“I remember on the Saturday night of the festival, I got a call that was either from Eyehategod or their tour manager,” Walter says. “They told me they were in Italy but that they would drive up to Tilburg and get there in time to play as Eyehategod, if we wanted. Since the Afterburner [the name previously given to the Sunday of the festival] had almost completely fallen through, we were totally at a loss, desperate to find bands to cover all the slots, so that was a huge thing for us, especially as they said they could even play a longer set than usual to fill up a bit more time on the schedule. I was incredibly moved by the offer.  Of course we told them just show up whenever you can and we will make everything work. It was such a great thing they did for us, without asking for anything in return. We didn’t even discuss a fee or anything! All they wanted was to play, be a part of the festival and to help us out. They were super stoked to be there.”

Mike IX Williams’ memory of the event is, rather predictably, even hazier, but such a feeling is not erasable, not even by the many beverages the Eyehategod frontman was consuming at the time. “I was really drunk back then, man,” Mike says with a weary laugh. “I was drinking a lot of vodka at the time, so I don’t remember a lot of it. But what I do remember very well was getting word of what was happening, our tour manager telling us there was an opening, and asking if we wanted to go help out and play another show.

“I remember being really happy, because we absolutely love Roadburn, we’ve always loved playing there: it’s one of our favourite places in the world. We were very happy to do it. It was exciting. I think it was a day off that we had, so we decided to use that to travel back there and just play and have fun with the Roadburn people.”

After a couple of days of bonding together to overcome adversity as one, the Roadburn community was clearly, despite everything that was going on, at a high point when Mike and the boys got there.

“Man, we even played Fuckmouth, which should tell you everything about how that show was,” Mike laughs. “People still talk about that today. Fuckmouth was kind of a joke between me and Brian [Patton, ex-Eyehategod guitarist] and Joey [LaCaze, Eyehategod’s former drummer who passed away in 2013].”

Fuckmouth was the name given to what can only be described as something of a mutant sideproject. “We would just do these grindcore songs sometimes, we’d say it was Fuckmouth,” he says.

“Overall, it was a super fun show,” Mike says. “People were just yelling out songs, and we played them! I have no idea what songs we actually played, or how many; I just know we kept cranking them out for hours. We’re pretty loose anyway with that kind of stuff, we make up the setlists as we go along, but that show was like the extreme version of that. In a special situation like that, we thought we’d just keep playing until people were sick of us!”

We’re not sure that’s possible – if we had our way, they’d still be up there today, 11 years later, cranking out those wonderfully ugly-ass tunes of theirs.

“I just remember that everybody went completely berserk, it was insanity and it was amazing,” Walter says with a wide smile. “There was such a good rapport between them and the audience, it was a completely unified vibe. There was no difference between band and audience, it was all about everyone being there together in the room. It was a reflection of how that whole edition turned out in the end – the camaraderie was so strong and everyone was so connected: bands, staff and fans, and Eyehategod fit right in. The connection that band has with the Roadburn fans and with the whole staff of the festival is remarkable. They’ve always been completely in sync with us.”

The love, it seems, is 100% mutual. “We love Walter, he’s always treated us really well,” Mike says. “We haven’t played Roadburn in a few years, but when things are normal again we’d love to come back. The two shows we did with Corrections House [in 2014] were also so great, it always feels like a special place to be. Whenever we can come back, we will!”

As Mike talks about the 2010 Roadburn, more memories come trickling back; he even remembers a few post-show shenanigans that went on backstage. “Church Of Misery played that year, didn’t they?” Indeed they did. “I knew it, because that was the first time we actually met them,” Mike says. “We’re really good friends with them now, we’ve played with them a bunch of times, but we hadn’t met them yet back then. I remember being down in the dressing room area at the 013, and Joey started throwing bottles against the wall, there was broken glass everywhere, and the guys in Church Of Misery were looking at us funny and didn’t really know what to think of that. To us it was just having crazy fun and everyone was in a great mood, but it got a little too crazy, and the look on their faces was great!”

Karma was also kind to Eyehategod after their good deed, as they managed to nab one of the very few flights that made it to the US after their show. “We were nervous about being able to make it back home, but we got lucky,” Mike says. “Flying home after that happened, I remember we passed over near Iceland and they made us close the windows to the plane. I think they didn’t want us to see the smoke: that was really weird.”

All in all, Roadburn 2010 was all about unity, community, and facing trouble head-on. “That year was special because it cemented our community big time,” Walter states. “And Eyehategod was a really important part of that. Their attitude emphasised what Roadburn was all about. We faced adversity together, as a community, as a family, and we overcame it together. Everyone stuck together. And that show was the most visible representation of that feeling. It showed our true colours as a tight knit group. We’re there for each other, we have each other’s backs, always.”

A decade later, it was that same spirit of community that made Roadburners approach a festival cancellation due to a pandemic by communicating on a Facebook group where they pretended to be at the festival instead. A year later, we will keep going through it together with Roadburn Redux online. We’ll all be okay on the other side of this. Together.

Scene Report: Death Metal

"The presence of death metal at Roadburn raises another point: is the death metal scene changing, or are more people just aware of its existence?" - Tomas Lindberg.

Death metal is a relatively young genre, all things considered. When genre progenitors Death, led by the late Chuck Schuldiner, released their landmark debut Scream Bloody Gore in 1987, the genre was nascent and primitive. In just a few short years, these genre pioneers embraced melody and progressive elements alongside their blast beats and shock-value cover art.

Evolution and progression quickly became hallmarks of death metal. The spirit of change drives the genre as much as the musicians’ love for knuckle-dragging riffs and camo shorts.

Vince Bellino

“Forming a new band, we were like ‘Yeah, let’s have no boundaries,” recalls Tomas Lindberg. “We can include violin, we can listen to King Crimson and try to incorporate that. That was the main starting point of the whole band and that’s still what we live by.”

In the early 1990s, Tomas and his bandmates in At The Gates found themselves at the forefront of the burgeoning melodic death metal movement in Gothenburg, Sweden alongside peers like In Flames and Ceremonial Oath. Though At The Gates initially broke up in 1996 in the wake of their legacy-making and subgenre-defining fourth album, Slaughter of the Soul, their place in the Swedish death metal scene was undeniable. Tomas remembers that time fondly and sees it as a creative period, though he admits that he didn’t foresee the legacy of the Gothenburg sound.

“When you’re that young, you’re very ambitious and almost pretentious,” Tomas reflects. “You think you have all the answers, you think you know everything, so we thought what we were doing was exactly how we want our music to sound. Of course, it was inspiring after a few years. Other bands in the area, Dark Tranquility, In Flames, started to pop up and there was a healthy competition in a way.”

Of course, the 1990s Gothenburg scene is but one of countless to emerge in death metal’s 35-year existence. A quick scan through the archives of Terrorizer, Metal Maniacs or Decibel reveals scenes in regions around the world: New York and Florida in the United States; the Gothenburg sound as well as the “buzzsaw” Swedish variant; scenes in Finland, the United Kingdom, and many other corners of the globe.

Today, melodic death metal exists around the world and Slaughter of the Soul is widely accepted as a stone-cold classic. But while the echoes of Gothenburg can be heard everywhere, the death metal scene – and extreme metal at large – is changing. For artists, the advent of services like Bandcamp and the internet in general has changed everything. Coupled with recording costs that are lower than ever before and the existence of social media, the distribution and consumption of obscure and extreme music has never been easier.

Reflecting on the band’s decade-and-change career thus far, Full Of Hell vocalist Dylan Walker attributes a portion of the band’s success – and general existence – to the internet.
“All the tools are more laid out for anyone than ever before and I think that’s important,” Dylan muses. “It can’t be a gated experience and it’s not; I think the barriers are all falling down and yeah, you could say that’s going to oversaturate things, but that’s fine with me. It’s like a rainforest – there will be a lot of dead plants on the bottom, but everybody deserves an equal opportunity to start a band.”

Dylan explains that when Full Of Hell began some 12 years ago, the band had no recorded music, and didn’t consider themselves to be very good. That didn’t stop them, however: strictly utilising social media, the then-teenagers got in the van and began to play shows. Seven years, a couple LPs and a staggering number of EPs and splits later, Full Of Hell met their creative equal in long-running experimental duo The Body, with whom they released the collaborative album One Day You Will Ache Like I Ache.

The two groups toured the album, which was an unorthodox and unsettling amalgam of noise, sludge, industrial, grindcore and death metal. As Dylan explains, The Body were invited to perform at Roadburn in 2016, and Full Of Hell “snuck on” the festival as their tourmates.
“It went really well,” Dylan says. “I definitely feel like we stood out but that was the year Converge did Jane Doe and G.I.S.M. played, and to me you could feel a different vibe just based on how it was curated.”

Full Of Hell’s inclusion at Roadburn in 2016, in addition to their planned residency at Roadburn 2020, is one of many indicators that the winds of change are blowing. The grinding death metal quartet, with their noisy trappings and shrieking, animalistic vocals, are not a “typical” Roadburn band. Traditionally, very few death metal or grindcore bands have played Roadburn, and the limited performances have generally been special sets.

With Roadburn’s roots as a stoner/doom and heavy psych festival, 2016 was a pivotal year for the festival, introducing Full of Hell and Repulsion to the mix. The inclusion stuck – in just four years, Full Of Hell went from outsider extremists to would-be artists in residence at Roadburn. Dylan doesn’t find it that strange, noting that he thought Japanese metal-punk weirdos G.I.S.M. were a far weirder act.

When considering At The Gates2019 performance at Roadburn, the same year he was a featured curator, Tomas says that the band paid special attention to crafting a set that would appeal to a crowd unfamiliar with their music. In addition to classic material, At The Gates performed songs with cellist Jo Quail, and also performed covers with Swedish songwriter Anna von Hausswolff and Sleep guitarist Matt Pike.

“We did pre-productions, recordings, rehearsing in different places with different guest musicians and everything, writing scores for the strings,” Tomas recalls of At The Gates’ performance at the festival. “It was huge. When we stepped off that stage afterwards, we were happy and thrilled, but we were also very relieved because it was a huge undertaking.”

Still, it raises the question: does death metal belong at Roadburn, and if so, in what form?

“Anything could happen, but with At the Gates, we are aware of what a Roadburn band is, and we also know that we are not a 100% Roadburn band, but our music is 200% Roadburn,” Tomas says, perpetuating the idea that a “Roadburn band” is not about genre. The presence of death metal at Roadburn raises another point: is the death metal scene changing, or are more people just aware of its existence? The consensus seems to fall toward the latter: regardless of generation and role in the scene, every individual interviewed for this piece agreed that, while the scene is growing because of new technology and less-centralised scenes, forward-thinking and unorthodox artists have always been a part of death metal. It’s just more visible now.

Dark Descent Records has been crucial in death metal’s surging popularity over the last decade and change. Now approaching its twelfth anniversary, Dark Descent is responsible for introducing bands like Horrendous, Blood Incantation and Spectral Voice to the scene at large. Though he’s signed some of the most popular bands in the scene today, owner Matt Calvert explains that he chooses bands because he enjoys them and they fit on the label. Because Dark Descent has a rapport with its customers, fans are then willing to give new bands a try after seeing the label’s stamp of approval, harkening back to the days of old when longhairs put their blind faith in Earache Records (until the label “betrayed” them by releasing Heartwork).

“12 years to me is a long time for sure, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s a very large timeframe for others,” Matt says. “We’ve had customers say “Hey, I’ve been listening to your releases since I was 15, I’m in my mid-20s now.”

Matt also points out that death metal has always been able to endure surges and ebbs in popularity, noting that the underground genre has been around long enough to have developed a fanbase that ignores the larger trends. “You love this music or you don’t,” he asserts. “I’m 50 this year, and I still listen to it because I love it. All I’m going to do is keep putting out quality releases and if some people leave us, they leave us.

“I don’t know if we’d call it a fad,” he continues, thinking about the enduring appeal of death metal, and the waxing and waning of its popularity. “We might call it a lessening of the audience, and that’s probably different. At this point, death metal’s been established for quite a while.”

This endurance is what allows new strains to grow within death metal; Matt says that three decades is long enough for bands to develop diverse influences. In decades prior, the pool to draw inspiration from was much smaller. The access to those varying influences also allows for a much more dialed-in sound, in whatever direction that artist wants to go.

“I think it’ll get more intelligent, it’ll get dumber, I think every good little aspect of metal and punk and extreme music like that, everybody is gonna be able to pick exactly what sliver of the sound they really like, and bore into it,” Dylan says. In many ways, the desire to burrow into more and more specific and dialed-in sounds is the same desire that drives Roadburn curators, individuals who are crucial to the festival’s presentation every year.

“Every Roadburn is different depending on who is curating it a little bit,” Tomas says. “I was very meticulous about it. Every band that I chose for the curation would fit into the Roadburn audience’s frame of mind a little bit, but still challenge them.”

For At The Gates, it’s their influence from bands like King Crimson and orchestral instruments and grand instrumentation that drives the sound in a different direction. For Full Of Hell, it’s the way the noisemongers borrow just the pieces they want from other genres. “I felt like it was a badge of honor to just participate, because to me it was so carefully curated,” Dylan says. “I think that’s a really smart festival and we always wanted Full of Hell to sort of fit into that.”

Lindberg and Walker both express their belief that most death metal bands could play Roadburn under some circumstance. Prior to Full of Hell’s inclusion, Napalm Death performed a special set of slower material in 2014, Repulsion played in 2016 and in 2019, Ulcerate made their debut at the festival.

The At The Gates vocalist stresses the cross-pollination that already exists between scenes, pointing out the fact that Mono played the same year as the Gothenburg legends. According to Tomas, the two bands make an effort to catch each other when they perform in the other’s home country. He adds that he has also performed at Roadburn with crust stalwarts Disfear, whose sound is more traditional.

In the same way that Tomas believes that Disfear fit as a release from the eclecticism that bands like At The Gates and Mono provide, he suggests that both more progressive and more primitive variants of death metal can find a home at the festival. Dylan agrees: while his immediate response is to suggest that bands like Gorguts, Artificial Brain and Tomb Mold would be the best fit for Roadburn, he quickly adds that “ultra-brutal dumb stuff” fits in the outside-the-box expectations that he has for Roadburn’s yearly lineup.

“It’d be pretty out of the box to see Sanguisugabogg on there, but I think if Walter likes it, it makes sense” he says, referring to festival mastermind and artistic director Walter / Roadburn. “I think people would be into it. Who’s to say where the line is?”

Death metal has come a long way since the 1990s, and has continued to evolve since the genre’s popularity blossomed again in the mid-2010s. As the genre continues to grow, it makes room for bands both progressive and traditional; just as the old-school death metal revival rages on into the 2020s, bands are also releasing albums that couldn’t have been imagined when Cynic wrote Focus or when Roadburn opened its gates for the first time in April 1999.

Despite its reputation as a metal festival – generally one that serves a doom-oriented crowd – Roadburn has also spent over 20 years evolving into a multi-faceted festival. No longer is the festival a three-band, one-day event. In 2022, attendees will have dozens of bands to choose from over three days. No two Roadburners will have quite the same experience, much like no two bands on the festival sound quite the same.

The future of Roadburn and the future of death metal are yet to be written, but for now, the genre is growing and has found a home at the festival, with Full Of Hell planning to return in 2022. Whether attributed to progressive elements or a fortuitous choice in collaborators, the spirit of innovation and a love for heavy, alternative music have brought the two together.
“I think it still holds the same banner,” Dylan concludes. “It’s about progressive music and inclusivity and that’s about it. I don’t think it’s limited any longer. It definitely seems like there’s more of a variety. Who knows what to expect nowadays?”



For all this talk of string instruments in death metal, the old-school practitioners are showing that you can teach an old dog new tricks. San Francisco outfit Necrot earned their stripes through heavy touring and constant focus. Tours with Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel, Suffocation and the Black Dahlia Murder have confirmed that Necrot can stand with the greats. Their second and latest album, Mortal, charted on Billboard’s Hard Rock and New Artist charts, proving the genre still has plenty of life left in it.

Blood Incantation

Pink Floyd never imagined a trip like this. Cosmic raging death dealers Blood Incantation have always marched to the beat of their own drum—recording with analogue technology, resisting a presence on social media until absolutely necessary and writing 18-minute songs with 17-word titles. The final product is unlike any other: atmospheric, psychedelic, intensely technical and played with frightening precision, the death metal equivalent to a breakthrough mushrooms trip.

Outer Heaven

Morbid Angel knew Where the Slime Live, and it seems like Philadelphia’s Outer Heaven do too. On their full-length debut, Realms of Eternal Decay, Outer Heaven took the best parts of death metal’s classics and synthesised a slab of progressive, swampy death metal that tells the story of a primordial slime’s conquest of Earth.


New York state has historically been home to some of death metal’s filthiest, heaviest bands and Undeath do those forefathers proud. Their debut full-length, Lesions Of A Different Kind, is a pure celebration of death, in both a sonic and conceptual sense. Lesions sounds like a remastered lost classic, with its boneheaded riffing, cavernous vocals and song titles like Phantasmal Festering and Chained To A Reeking Rotting Body.

Venom Prison

Venom Prison were formed in opposition to death metal’s most-misogynistic tropes. Their first album, Animus, features an assailant being force fed his recently-removed genitals, a good indicator for the brutality within. Their second album, Samsara, hits just as hard because it’s often rooted in reality. Vocalist Larissa Stupar takes aim at politics, sexual assault, hate crimes and mental illness against chugging, biting guitars and pounding drums with a touch of hardcore influence. The UK quintet call for change—both in the world at large and in the death metal scene—and battle tropes with no gimmick.


For every Venom Prison, there is a Sanguisugabogg. The Columbus quartet appeal to the genre’s deranged, perverse side, writing songs about pornography, sex and excessive gore with all the finesse of a neanderthal and his club. Songs like Dead as Shit and Dick Filet betray a sense of humor that isn’t present in the horror movie lyrics of Gored in the Chest or Dragged by a Truck.

Scene Report: Dark Electronics

‘I hear the roar of the big machine
Two worlds and in between
Hot metal and methedrine’

Andrew Eldritch was on one long amphetamine comedown when he wrote the Sisters Of Mercy’s best material throughout the 1980s. Staunchly in denial of his gothness and holding firm as Draculian rock god of the British Isles, Eldritch remains the ideal intersection of dark electronic music and guitar-driven rock and heavy metal that, sometimes, can draw in the same type of listener.

In the above lyrics, taken from 1987 anthem Lucretia My Reflection, guitars grind down into the tick-tock heartbeat of Eldritch’s beloved drum machine Doktor Avalanche. His solemn baritone vocals ring out in the chaos, an uncanny antihero’s voice projected with confidence, with aggression. It is weird and heavy, monumental and moving. Play it at the goth club or at the metal bar alike and you’re almost guaranteed to notice a fellow true ‘head’s face light up.

Electronic music and heavy metal couldn’t seem more different in theory, but that surface level reading belies an ocean of common waters in which plenty a black-clad rebel might swim. Anyone who’s dug out a perimeter spot in an active pit knows the thrill of throbbing as one with their fellow concert goer; this also holds true for the industrial techno raver swapping sweat with other dancers during a pounding Berlin sunrise.

Kelsey Chapstick

Los Angeles act HEALTH are a contemporary group who understand and exemplify this crossover potential by fusing heavy electronics with more traditional rock instrumentation to create what they describe as “modern hard rock”. In this 2019 Revolver interview, they discuss how classic bands like Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple have already released the greatest hits that genre can offer. Adding synthesisers is, for HEALTH, the way forward that can add heft and interest to their music.

“Whenever we say something needs to be heavier, it needs ‘more dog’,” they explain, citing a goofy episode of The Simpsons that features dogs swimming in a brewery’s vat of beer to increase the flavour potential of the batch. They cite the Roland TR-808 synthesiser as being “huger [sic] than anything in the world”, and note they incorporate tools like that in order to sound “the most fuckin’ dog”.

While HEALTH aim for sheer power in their music, more nuanced acts like Roadburn favourites Kaelan Mikla rely primarily on thematic heaviness to convey a sense of darkness and weight. Their layered synth lines weave a smoky incantation of Icelandic folklore and tortured dreamscapes, while pulsating backbeats get your body moving.

In an interview I conducted for Revolver right before the release of their 2018 LP Nott Eftir Nott, keyboard player and vocalist Solveig Matthildur said they’d written “songs of regret, shadows, witches and all the things that lure in the darkest hour of night mixed with Icelandic folklore, and reminiscent of the winter darkness that simultaneously frightens us and makes us feel at home”.

Her move from a black metal hotspot like Iceland to techno-drenched Berlin surely affected the dancier bits of the record, further gluing their feet in divergent scenes with ease and panache. One look at their latest video Sólstöður shows their continued love for blackened imagery while pointed doses of aggressive shrieking only highlight the beautiful contrast to a steady, pounding beat.

In complete opposition to HEALTH and Kaelan Mikla is a Roadburn Redux performer, Ethan Lee McCarthy. His project Many Blessings, a self-described “experimental outlet” for the Primitive Man and Vermin Womb frontman, is less interested in dance beats and fully dedicated to brain-melting aural terror; though, if you’re already familiar with the paralysing death metal terror of Primitive Man, that should be no surprise.

Violent, caustic, and ambient in the way a train grinding through a football field of rusty cars might be, Many Blessings albums like Thank You, Good Bye are comprised of increasingly harsh sounds over droning sonic backdrops that facilitate a sort of uneasy catharsis. The quixotically confessional titles are works of art in themselves, posing questions like Is it A Victimless Crime?, while other tracks like Wet Vessel beg for explanations that will never come. McCarthy stabs at the rawest form of self-expression through unfettered sounds and, without fail, draws blood every time.

There’s no way to talk about spilled blood in harsh electronics without mentioning HIDE. The duo excel beyond being simply musicians and instead use terrifying visuals, abrasive soundscapes, scathing performances, and their foreboding presence to sear through the heart of electronic music since their 2014 inception. Singer Heather Gabel doesnt pull a single punch when slicing into the meat of the outfit’s purpose, telling Revolver in 2014:

“I want people to feel afraid. So many people live in fear all the time because of who they are. My songs are about turning it back on the people who prey on [them].”

HIDE were set to perform on Roadburn’s fated 2020 lineup, a dismal loss for ticket-holders who anticipated the acerbic bite of the duo’s stage presence. COVID-19 took plenty of incredible acts away in its wrath, especially in a year when electronic music was set to take on perhaps its largest role in the festival’s history.

Boy Harsher were another victim of the cancellation, but now’s the time to dive deep on their catalog if you haven’t yet. If you’ve been to any goth club or party in the past several years, you’ve heard Pain.  It’s infectious, sexy, impossible to ignore, and one of the biggest hits of the dark electronic music scene in recent history. It’s the Massachusetts act’s signature song, and a perfect example of why they deserve every ounce of attention they’ve gotten over the past few years.

Formed in 2013 as Teen Dreamz before changing names and refining their dance appeal the following year, Boy Harsher dropped their debut Yr Body Is Nothing in 2016 and have since released instant classics like Country Boy Uncut and Careful with seemingly effortless charisma and creativity. The two members, Augustus Mueller and Jae Matthews, come from film-focused backgrounds and use their knack for tension-building and keen aesthetics to craft brilliant works of art like Send Me A Vision, which you can watch below. Timeless, ethereal, and unsettling in the most exciting way, it’s a stunning short film.

Another million-plus viewed video of Boy Harsher is Motion, which stars another prolific underground music star, Kristina Esfandiari. Kristina is the pinnacle of crossover potential, working as the mastermind behind passionate doom peddlers King Woman (formerly a solo project) while simultaneously creating bubblegum indie as Miserable, revenge rap as Dalmation, harsh industrial act NGHTCRWLR – we could go on, but you get the picture. She’s the physical manifestation of what multi-genre fusing looks like in one artist, and a prime reason why none of us should fear taking in sounds that seem daunting or different, unfamiliar.

Ultimately, that lack of fear and coming together of the creative minds is the spirit that drives a festival like Roadburn. While it may have started as a more stoner-doom mashup of acts that indulged in the legality of cannabis in its home country, the fest has since become a multi-headed hydra of brash, unapologetic performers that seek to touch, move, and enthrall their loyal watchers while indoctrinating newcomers into new, unknown pleasures.

While many of us joined scenes like those found tied to heavy metal or goth out of a sense of rejection from mainstream ideals, we’re sometimes reluctant to find common ground in that exile. Sloughing off rigid genre loyalty is refreshing and empowering, though, and not nearly as scary as it might seem at first. Heshers can dance, dancers can headbang, and the point of it all has always been fun, poetic, emotional catharsis through movement and art, community and camaraderie.


She Past Away

While they cringe at comparisons to the Sisters, it’s impossible to deny that She Past Away share at least a few sonic similarities with them. They are also a valuable voice in the dark electronic scene today, as well as another would-be act from Roadburn’s impeccable and sorely missed 2020 lineup.

The Turkish goths are known for their captivating hooks and dense atmospherics, beginning with their 2009 debut EP, Kasvetli Kutlama. Singer Volkan Caner haunts with a lonesome bellow while ice guitars, punchy keyboards, and a steady beat on the drum machine swirl up enchantment.

The EP’s title track is a depressive, atmospheric ode to loneliness and feeling one’s self slip away in a sea of ‘black leather masks on fake faces’ – lyrics that would feel just at home on a black or doom metal album. While those genres tend toward concentrated, dedicated crowds, She Past Away’s undeniable catchiness boosted their crossover appeal and gained an impressive eight and a half million views on YouTube alone. Even hesher diehards won’t be able to deny the duo’s magnetism and, really, why try?

Andi Harriman

Music journalist, DJ, frequent lecturer, and literal writer on the book of goth (check out her coveted tome Some Wear Leather, Some Wear Lace), Andi Harriman is one of modern electronic music’s best assets for carrying the torch of everything dark and dance floor-ready. You can find a smattering of entrancing sample sets on her website that give a peek into her musical style and the type of tunes she’s likely to spin at Synthicide, an electronic party and label she runs in New York City.

Also make sure to check out her debut EP with Berlin-based label Aufnahme + Wiedergabe, including the video for Ruminandum, that acts as a colorful pastiche of ’80s-influenced imagery dragged straight from the subconscious of an AI-generated brain fed a decade’s worth of archival MTV footage and early digital experimentation.


Gallops made their band debut at Roadburn, thus establishing their legitimacy on this list but also solidifying the growing breadth of ‘burners’ listening habits. When I attended in 2018, I recall the inescapable draw of Gost blocking out a full room of attendees ready to boogie, but they have since moved into more industrial territory, and left a gap into which another danceable act must fall if the crowd wants to keep moving well into the night. Enter: Gallops.

Tracks like Darkjewel and Shakma are perfect examples of their crossover potential when we’re talking ravers and heshers: there’s a steady, four-on-the-floor beat succeeded by ineffable grooves that hook the ear and move the body effortlessly.

Drab Majesty

Dais Records act Drab Majesty are coldwave revolutionaries whose simmering, perfect 1980s heartbeat builds on the aesthetics of vaporwave, the sounds of modern new wave, and the visual appeal of Andy Warhol dressed as a cyborg clown from 1967’s idea of the future.

Drab Majesty started as the solo project of Deb Demure, the alter ego of Andrew Clinco of American rockers Marriages, since the release of 2012 EP Unarian Dances. 2017 seemed to blow the doors off with the release of The Demonstration, just after Mona D joined the small crew. Their live performances as a duo are swathed in thick fog and bisexual lighting (in case you’re not familiar, click here to read more), leaving the watcher either primed for casual, relaxed dancing or a trancelike, soft-focus audience experience.

Check out their popular video for Oxytocin to get a sense of the baroque grandeur and ennui-soaked sound that sets them apart from their contemporaries.


Self-described as a “one-woman powerhouse of Parisian Darkwave,” Hante. is the brainchild of musician Hélène de Thoury that fuses pounding electronic beats, reverberant whispers, and sensual melodies to create sensual dance tracks imbued with the darkness needed to hold an entire room rapt from start to finish.

Hante is set to participate at Roadburn Redux, so watch her new music video to no doubt pick up on the numerous influences surely loved by plenty of ‘burners, like those she name-dropped in a 2019 interview:

“I’m still very influenced by bands I was listening to when I was very young such as Queen, Guns N’ Roses, Radiohead, David Bowie, Tears For Fears, The Human League, and Depeche Mode… I was listening to a lot of industrial/metal bands in the noughties and now there are a lot of amazing synthwave artists who inspire me such as Xeno & Oaklander, Hord, TR/ST, Boy Harsher, Selofan, Drab Majesty, and so many more.”

Scene Report: Psych

"Here we take a look at some of the highlights of the last year of mind melting heaviosity."

Some of the most magical Roadburn moments are primed with amorphous, free form chaos – the feeling that anything can happen at any moment. Terminal Cheesecake, 2015 was a glorious case in point: a maelstrom of dense, flowing noise, juddering subs, krautrock adjacent jams and, above all, a near medieval sense of mischief played at an ear bleeding volume. It felt all the more insane for the fact that it was happening on Sunday night, when most in attendance were already brain fried as it was.

Any Roadburners reading this will no doubt have a glorious cornucopia of their own such treasured memories and, after a year in lockdown, the need for mind transference has arguably never been greater. Luckily, a plethora of bands, labels and festivals continue, often against harsh odds, to fight the good fight through some of the toughest – and weirdest – years in living memory: offering up the sonic sacrament despite it all. Hypnotic, swirling, droning, noisy, beautiful, beatific – here we take a look at some of the highlights of the last year of mind melting heaviosity. Call it psych, call it noise – call it Susan if you like – take the following as crucial brain feeders.

Harry Sword

Rocket Recordings have long been central instigators in heavy, noisy, trippy, joyous sounds of various persuasions. Over the past 20 years they’ve put out a welter of sounds that span everything from the gnarled hypnotic heaviosity of Gnod to the playful theatrical ritualism of Goat; the widescreen, epic instrumentalism of Hills to the driving electric pummel of Teeth of the Sea

The past year has seen a number of highlights on the label. Gnod and Joao Pais Filipe’s Faco de Fogo combines the former’s mesmeric sensibility with the latter’s idiosyncratic percussive chops (Filipe is a skilled metalworker who makes his own cymbals and gongs) to seriously immersive ends.

Initially meeting at the Milhoes de Festa festival in Portugal where both were playing (Gnod were intrigued by a gong in the shape of a skateboard that Filipe was exhibiting), they got together for a three day jam session at Filipe’s metalwork studio and then a further four days recording, which was laid down with hardly any overdubs. Riffing on the four elements – earth, air, water and fire, with each jam named after one – it’s a swirling, pulsating, often foreboding quasi industrial vibe they work up, tempered by a loose jazzy swing. Indeed, this is something Gnod are past masters of – living and working at the Salford Mill, they often (particularly on records like Infinity Machines and Mirror) riff on a gritty, tripped out urban vibe that is, even at its darkest. always imbued with a sense of humanity and soul. Here, Filipe’s percussion (check the frenetic hand held drums and windchimes on Faca De Ar) lifts the final mix into funkier, brighter territory: it’s all about the contrast.

Keeping with Rocket, Anthroprophh did what they do best – swirling, wall of fuzz, face melting riffage – on the rough as gargling moonshine Toilet Circuit EP, imbuing the whole thing with a rawkus, punky, in-your-face sensibility not dissimilar to Dinosaur Jr at their most full-on, albeit minus the melancholy.

Pigs X7 built on the Buckfast-fuelled Sabbathian thwack of 2017’s Feed The Rats and the (even) heavier King of Cowards – a rawkus, motorik chug-fest that combined the brute swing of sludge metal with an unhinged Stooges-esque vibe (the highlight of which was a rollicking, steamroller pean to, well, a stretch of motorway in the form of ‘A66’) with the roaring Viscerals. Pretty much all you need in the form of squall and grease and seedy riffage was present and correct, not least on the epic Halloween Bolson – nine minutes of descending grot, a hoedown for the encroaching dark ages.

One of Rocket’s long time bands Hey Colossus released a bone fide masterpiece in the form of Dances/Curses, this time on bassist Joe Thompson’s Wrong Speed Records. An epic double that hummed with otherworldly portent and dusky atmosphere, Dances/Curses traded on patient arrangements, haunting melody and driving, mesmeric rhythm. It’s one of those rare albums that exists very much in its own headspace – you need to listen beginning to end with no interruptions for full effect – and was, rightly, lauded by many as the album of 2020. Approaching a tribal, ritualistic vibe on tracks like Tied in a Firing Line and A Trembling Rose, Dances/Curses is the sound of a band at the absolute pinnacle of their creative powers – a shimmering, hypnotic trip that would well soundtrack rainy motorway night drives. Mark Lanegan even lent his Marlboro-blasted larynx to the dramatic call of The Mirror.

White HillsSplintered Metal Sky was, in the absence of travel, a passport straight to the still beating, blackened heart of grindhouse 1980’s New York City. A dilapidated, clanking, quasi-industrial vibe prevailed on tracks like Now Manhattan and Digital Trash that – while speaking of the stress and clatter of big city life – somehow suited the jittery, paranoid, anxious mood of a year in lockdown perfectly. Think Suicide, Stooges, No Wave, bedroom synth experiments. Bleak – but immense fun –this was an industrial vision of the city put through the sideways psychedelic blender, evoking a singularly cinematic vista of New York, like something out of Death Wish: the street prophets, humid summers, dealers, street punks n’ hustlers – it’s all threaded together amidst clanking beats, weird, fizzy, dial up modem samples, white noise, drones and the call and response vocal dynamic of Dave W and Ego Sensation. Another killer release from the ever dependable God Unknown Records – one of the mainstays of modern psych.

Moving from the gritty and resolutely urban into outer stellar orbit, a special mention must surely go to wildly prolific guitarist Mike Vest. Well known for his work in Bong, Blown Out, Drunk in Hell and the majestic 11 PARANOIAS (check 2019’s Asterismal, which is strictly for the headstrong – planetary collapse bass weight, wall of noise fuzz attack, titanic desert sand storms, asteroid impact, time collapsing in on itself… all that good stuff), he’s also lent his formidable chops to a welter of solo projects (not least last years dronal hypnofest Absolute released under his Zodan moniker, as well as the welter of Lush Worker releases that tend to focus on noisier lo-fi gear) and collaborations.

Last year’s Lost Bones of the Holy Butterfly by Mienkunaru, in particular, was stunning. A collaboration with ex Overhang Party guitarist Junzo Suzuki, it encompassed two 20-minute tracks: churning, noisy, questing, tripped-out instrumentals of the very highest grade. Vamping around pummelling tribal drums and squalling reverb laden riffage that melded both players’ styles to powerfully majestic effect, it was all wrapped up in that special Vest feeling – ever-rising epiphany through continually embellished repetition. God tier, head twisting gear to be played at skull cracking volume.

Indeed, Vest’s numerous collaborations – and it would be a fool’s errand to attempt to list it all – point to a spirit of singularly open-ended collaboration that personifies the fertile psych/noise scene in his native Newcastle Upon Tyne. Box Records – run by none other than PigsX7 vocalist Matt Baty – has provided something of a nucleus for a deluge of wild sounds in the city, and further afield, since 2009. Putting out everything from early records by Bong and Gnod, through to the demented noise of Terminal Cheesecake (not least 2019’s superlative La Sucre De Livre) to folksier fare by Richard Dawson and haunting drone excursions by Jospeh Curwen, one of the most essential releases of 2020 came on the label in the form of Luminous BodiesNah Nah Nah Yeh Yeh Yeh. A greasy, dunderheaded racket entirely befitting of a band composed of members of Part Chimp, Terminal Cheesecake and Melting Hand, this is roc’n’roll left to boil over until a blackened, chemical crust forms on the bottom of the pan; a punch drunk stumble through every dive bar west of hell (in Roadburn terms, we’re talking a debauched midnight session at the Cul De Sac made sonic flesh). What can you say about a band with a song entitled Fuck the Beatles other than, ‘Please sir, may I have some more?’

Talking of febrile city scenes, a special nod must also surely go to Svart Records. Mainstays of the wider Finnish psych world – and perennial Roadburn favourites – Svart were originally known for putting out beautiful reprints of black and doom metal rarities and classics (think Candlemass, Reverend Bizarre, Katatonia etc), before moving into more left field waters and signing bands from the wonderfully fertile and wonky late noughties Tampere scene.

With some of the most beautiful natural country in the world and an ancient history steeped in folklore and magical myth and legend, it’s no accident that music from this corner of the world is so often underpinned by a palpably ancient bearing: one that emphasises whimsical melody and haunting, circling, folk inflected riffs. Hexvessel are a perfect case in point. Long time Roadburn favourites, last year saw the release of one of their finest LP’s thus far in the shape of the ethereal Kindred. Driven by acoustic instrumentation and frontman Mat McNerney’s understated, melodically astute delivery, it’s a beautiful, foreboding record that speaks of forest rites and transcendent beauty in the failing light of dusk. Bog Bodies was particularly magical, patient finger picking and saxophone bedding down a story of an ancient body – a victim of sacrifice – appearing to the air once more, while opener Billion Year Old Being moved from ethereal acoustics to wild, fuzzy freak out in the space of seven minutes: total killer.

If Hexvessel are grounded by the earth, however – the mulch and mud; the twisted ancient tree roots – label mates Kairon; IRSE! are of the stars. Responsible for some of the wildest sounds in the global psych cannon, they meld electronic flourishes, understated vocals and a massive, juddering, post rock-esque wall of sound guitar tone. It’s a bewitching brew, heard to fine effect on the dense miasma of Polysomn – a record that sounds as if My Bloody Valentine had somehow stumbled through a timewarp and ended up jamming with Hawkwind at a free festival in 1976 – jangling guitars, elfin chants and frequent blasts of fuzz emanating from the warm speaker stacks.

Keeping things Nordic, a final note looking forward to the soon to be released second DJINN LP on Rocket, Transmission. Named after the North African supernatural deities that sit somewhere between good and evil, and featuring members of the wider Goat/Hills family, DJINN are a wild, free jazz-inflected combo who combine easy grooves, handheld percussion, wild sax and hallucinatory arrangements: proper head music that calls to mind the soundtrack to the requisite ‘acid scene’ in some crackling, long-lost 1970s biker movie. If the tracks heard from the album so far – Creator of Creation in particular – are anything to go by the album will be a treat; lounge music for a giant Zeppelin in the sky, mushroom tea served from a gleaming golden urn; the long haired, giant goggled captain lost amidst the clouds, as the sky turns a multi coloured hue… keep on truckin’.


Shem – Top draw, hypnotic krautrock flavours from Stuttgart. The just-released Shem II is a cracker, full-on astral motorik groove with a beat that goes on (and on) and spectral drones drifting atop like some rusting outer orbit chunk of space debris.

Cancervo – New Sardinian trio who specialise in downtuned, instrumental stoner gear. Their debut LP is a wall of mesmeric thrum inspired by the mountain from which their name derives, and the folklore associated with it: specifically a mythical half dog/half deerfigure said to prowl

Mong TongTaiwanese retro-focused, synth-inflected gear that carries a strong, freaky, 1980s straight-to-VHS soundtrack vibe. Beatles, creeped out, compelling. Their debut LP Mystery came out last year on Gurgurubrain Records – it’s simple, spacious, atmospheric stuff with plenty of reverb-laden guitars and satisfying aquiline bleeps and pings.