Music festivals are about the bands, yes. I should know this being the live music obsessive that I am. But they can be about so much more than just music and partying, and Roskilde for me confirms this. Even though there is a great proportion of the festival geared up towards the hedonistic – the humanitarian side, which includes being run by volunteers, and with all profits donated to charity, gives a positivity and generosity to the festival that the other massive entities lack (with the exception of Glastonbury and maybe Poland Woodstock). I’d known about this highlight of the Danish party calendar for many years – there’s not many festival fanatics who haven’t heard of a festival with such an illustrious history (not overlooking the occasionally tragic moments). When a friend offered me the chance to volunteer at the festival – I knew I had to go. Even though logistically it wasn’t easy, I found volunteering by far to be the best way to experience a festival, and Roskilde to be quite possibly the most worthwhile festival experience I’ve ever had.
Roskilde, being nearly entirely run by volunteers means that there’s a huge percentage of them on site – nearly 30,000. In return for their hardwork, they’re provided camping spots in a volunteer only area, which is a lot more quiet than the near apocalypse party vibe of the main camping area. This access to a bit of peace outside the near complete immersion of noise elsewhere in the festival, is a welcome respite. There are also free showers which are to a surprising level of quality given the amount of volunteers – think high quality summer camp group showers as well as access to discounted food and drink and a special volunteers only area within the festival site. This itself has a cafe with plenty of phone charging space, and tables to keep working if you have any laptop based work you can’t get away from during the period of the festival, but more importantly, there’s free coffee and tea at all times on the festival site in this volunteers area. As well as free lemonade. Anything free is a blessing when at a potentially costly 8 day festival of the likes of Roskilde. If you needed any more incentive to volunteer, there is of course the fact that for four 8 hour shifts, at times you chose, you can see all of the music you wish, including many of the best acts currently touring, and for your efforts, hundreds of dollars will be donated to charity. Millions of dollars in profit is donated to charity by the Roskilde Foundation after the culmination of the festival, meaning your hard work is not just going into partying, but helping the world as well.
If this is at all getting you interested in volunteering at Roskilde, and keep in mind I haven’t even got to the music yet, the first thing you have to do is find a company to sign up with. I signed up with Mellemfolkelig Samvirke or MS Roskilde, which I can highly recommend. Founded in 1944, they are a politically independent non-government organization whose aims include “understanding and solidarity between the peoples of the world, as well as promoting global development based on the sustainable use and just distribution of wealth and resources” (taking from the Wikipedia blurb). All the money raised by MS Roskilde from the volunteers was to be donated to causes in El Salvador. Signing up to volunteer was a straight forward and painless process, and as well as signing up with a company hosting volunteers at Roskilde, you must also sign up at the Roskilde volunteer website, which can be found here. Once you sign up, it’s a matter of following the steps. Emails will be sent out stating when you have to sign certain forms, complete any learning documents that are necessary for your job roles, and when the time is right, chose your shifts. Choosing shifts happens on a first in first served basis, and getting in just as the places were open allowed me to chose shifts that were all largely before the music days. One night shift had to be completed, which I chose for the night I arrived, which gave a pretty epic initial experience – arriving via a 5 hour bus from Northern Germany, setting up my tent, and checking in to the charity base before starting an 8 hour shift that was to finish at 7 in the morning. One of the shifts had to be placed during a music day in order to meet requirements, but this could be taken in the morning, which means next to none of the music had to be missed. Work wise, our charity was involved in running a volunteer camp ground, so the work was not too difficult and involved either patrolling a camp ground, keeping festival goers happy, observing any incidents and keeping noise to a minimum. There were also times where we had to help lost or drunk campers find there tents, which while minor gave a sense of satisfaction in helping the overall friendly feel of the festival be maintained. Other jobs included manning entrance gates, checking wristbands and checking that any vehicles entering the site or campervan camping parks had the correct documents. All pretty basic but fun, and you have a good team to work with, friends to make and free food, coffees and all that good stuff during the shift. I have to admit that signing up and volunteering seemed a somewhat daunting prospect to begin with, and I couldn’t have achieved this without a much more organised Danish friend of mine, so shout out to them for opening up the possibilities for me to experience this. I can recommend you take the plunge and give the volunteering a go as well, if you enjoy festivals, or just charitable experiences.
Once your in, the festival opens itself up in a way beyond what it would if you were just merely buying a ticket and camping with all the debaucherous revelers. Having a quiet place to camp is a blessing, unless you want to be surrounded by the hundreds of thousands of Danish youth in the main camping area, who compete in creating their own stereos, blasting them at full volume nearly constantly (except for relatively late mornings hours when a nap to delay the hangover is attempted). These campground parties are part of the history of Roskilde and have grown to an impressive degree, even if to a unbeknownst spectator unfamiliar with such traditions, it may seem something akin to partying amidst the actualization of hell on earth. Deep house booms next to obscure Danish in-joke music, young people engage in drinking games such as beer bowling in the alleys between the camps, partying and dancing goes on all hours as the toilets overflow and the condition of the tents deteriorates with each night. How the Danish youth have the stamina for this level of full of sensory immersion, combined with drinking and recreational drug use is beyond me, but they manage to keep it together for the 8 days of the festival, and although there are occasional tragic occurrences, assaults, overdoses and reported rapes, this would be also the case at any major music festival. Especially within a gathering of people large enough for a week to be Denmark’s 5th largest city. There are plenty of volunteers, safety officers, medics and police working in the background to look after those who need it and keep the festival moving as safely as possible. If camping in a full-blown dystopian wasteland youth party such as this doesn’t sound appealing, but the prospect of a brilliantly curated music and arts festival does, then the amenities in volunteer camping will come as a welcome reprise.
I haven’t even got to the main draw of the festival yet, which for most is not the youth camping raves, but the main festival site with 6+ main stages, 175 acts, and various other events, including lectures, workshops and art installations. The major reason for attendance is the music, the headliners which in 2018 included Eminem, Bruno Mars, Gorillaz, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Massive Attack, David Byrne, Anderson Paak. and the Free Radicals, Nine Inch Nails, Stormzy, Khalid, Dua Lipa My Bloody Valentine, Mogwai and Danish acts such as Nephew, C.V. Jorgenson and The Minds of 99. The production value of the stages is extremely high, with state of the art lighting and huge screens on the main Orange stage (which itself is nearly as iconic as the festival). The sound on all the stages is brilliant and bands are afforded fees clearly large enough to secure their most complete stage designs, with all the lights, screens and prop elements that make concert attendance an immersive and exciting experience. Many performers seemed to be putting on special shows for Roskilde, Eminem for example brought out his Bad Meets Evil co-rapper Royce da 5’9″, Massive Attack brought with them reggae vocalist Horace Andy for perfect versions of his songs with them including a personal favourite Hymm of the Big Wheel, Gorillaz brought with them an absolute plethora of guests (which to be fair is not a rare going on for them) including De La Soul, Little Simz, Booty Brown, Jamie Principle and notably Del The Funky Homosapien, although his performance was cut short by what must go down as one of the strangest stage fails in festival history. I also caught memorable shows from artists such as Clutch, Chelsea Wolfe, PARTYNEXTDOOR, Danny Brown and Fleet Foxes on stages scattered throughout the festival. Genre wise, the festival is hard to down, the most EDM of concerts are side-by-side with the most metal. For example, Phil Anselmo, ex-lead singer of Pantera was at the party, performing with his new black metal project Scour (who made no mention or apologies for his previously racist behaviour, but did perform 2 Pantera covers in tribute to the later Vinne Paul). This could be followed by the likes of rising Swedish pop artist Sigrid. Therefore, ecclepticism is a strong point of the curation of the Roskilde line-up.
That’s only scratching the surface of the performances you can catch at Roskilde, To bring this back to my original point – volunteering at Roskilde can be about so much more than the opportunity to see music (even though there is a lot of music), some of the most memorable moments were the unexpected ones. I witnessed talks by activists such as Chelsea Manning, met friends through volunteering that have opened up whole new avenues of possibilities in Denmark, and put myself into situations that I believe I can learn and grow from. For example, one night the group I volunteered with hosted a dinner and quiz night. Through the socializing at this quiz night, friends were made that I kept seeing without planning throughout the festival, not to mention that our group got 3rd place in the quiz, just about the best placing I’ve ever managed for quiz night. On a personal note, I also managed to give myself food poisoning by eating salami that had been carried around in my bag, getting hot and sweaty for a week, which knocked out nearly a whole day of festivaling from all the vomiting. A mistake I won’t again repeat at a major music festival. And without the volunteering at Roskilde, it might have taken me a lot longer to learn that lesson.
If your looking to see top class entertaining, party with crazy tall and beautiful Scandanavian people with hilarious and cute accents, meet people and contribute to good causes with your volunteer time – then look towards Roskilde Festival. It could be one of the best reasons to travel up to the land of the Danes, and certainly one of the most simultaneously exhausting and rewarding reasons to.
Here’s a compilation of all the footage I shot during my 8 days at Roskilde: