People in the Nordics are a famously cold, insular and rule-abiding lot. But once a year, they abandon all pretence of civilisation and actually make eye contact with strangers from beneath the crest of a floral headband or a beer-guzzler helmet.
That time is music festival season. Set against the backdrop of sunny summer nights, the Nordic region offers everything from massive rock festivals to small electronica affairs. But ticket prices are hefty and you can’t attend them all (let’s not pretend your body could take it.)
To make the choice easy, I’ve narrowed it down to two extremes and pit them against each other. On one side is the raging, rock’n’roll piss-up that is Denmark’s iconic Roskilde Festival. Up the Baltic is Finland’s Flow Festival, a stylish lifestyle event slowly gaining international traction on the festival circuit.
ROSKILDE FESTIVAL // June 25 – July 2
Roskilde Festival occupies a special place in the collective Danish consciousness. It’s less music festival and more like heaving hedonistic mass of bodies, dancing feverishly for eight days straight.
As Northern Europe’s largest music festival, and pulling a crowd of over 100,000, the festival site is surrounded by a sprawling tent metropolis. The campsites host parties that rival the concerts, and some get incredibly creative – with makeshift bars, libraries or a recreated Game of Thrones set.
Urine is the quintessential smell of Roskilde. Punters drink to excess and sprinkle the…well, ‘excess’ indiscriminatorily across the festival site. Somebody will probably pee on your tent. You may as well accept that now.
And regardless of the weather, you’ll come home plagued by illness. If it rains, you’ll return home damp and crippled with a cold. If it’s sunny and warm, that’s even worse – the urine-soaked ground dries up in the heat and turns to dust, which is then swept up by the wind and inhaled by unsuspecting festival-goers. The notorious “urine dust cough” can follow you around for the remainder of July.
So why endure it? A veritable smorgasbord of music is one reason. The festival cherry picks up-and-coming Scandinavian artists and bills them alongside major international acts. The 2016 line-up will see everything from a 15-strong, all-girl Icelandic rap group on one of the smaller stages, to rock legends New Order, PJ Harvey and Iggy Pop performing under the festival’s iconic Orange tent. Blur’s Damon Albarn will also reappear with the Syrian National Orchestra, to follow up last year’s multi-musician African jam, which saw the Britpop legend carried off stage by a security guard at the crack of dawn after trying for one encore too many.
But the best thing about Roskilde is the sense of community and freedom in the air. People let go, anything goes and literally everyone is going. I’ve never been able to turn a corner at Roskilde without running into friends (excellent) or exes (not so much). And there’s always the opportunity to meet someone new – heck, half the couples I know in Denmark met at Roskilde and consummated their relationship in a tent of questionable structural integrity.
There’s also a beautiful sense of history to the whole thing – the festival has been going since its debut as a two-day rock event in 1971, and it’s not unusual to meet Danes at their fifteenth festival in a row.
So that’s Roskilde in a nutshell. Filthy, smelly, sticky, and unbelievably magical.
HEADLINERS: LCD Soundsystem, Mø, Neil Young, New Order, PJ Harvey, RHCP, Tame Impala, Tenacious D, Wiz Khalifa
TICKETS: SOLD OUT. It’s not impossible to find a ticket from a reseller. If the price is too high, try getting a free volunteer arm band HERE.
MORE INFORMATION: roskilde-festival.dk
FLOW FESTIVAL // August 12 – 14
For those who prefer to dance to Iggy Pop’s ‘Passenger’ in a more dignified environment, he’ll also be performing at the ultra-stylish Flow Festival in Helsinki. The line-up may share some of the same acts as Roskilde but, fortunately, the ubiquitous festival onesie is nowhere to be seen at Flow.
Set in a disused power plant in downtown Helsinki, Flow feels more like an urban playground than a muddy outdoors romp. The old, industrial structures are strung with fairly lights, while strobes casts coloured patterns on the concrete, lending a surreal and beautiful feel to the place.
Attendees’ fashion is experimental, but never obnoxious. Native American headdress is noticeably absent. Everyone looks good. You look good. In fact, as a non-camping festival, you have (presumably) woken up in a bed and actually look like you’ve had a proper night’s sleep, meaning your festival instagrams might actually see the light of day. But there’s also pressure to put your best fashion forward which sort of hinders the fun – it’s hard to get lost in the music as you inch away from the guy with the overflowing beer cup hovering precariously close to your favourite top.
Musically, the festival takes great pains to showcase the local Finnish music scene alongside bigger bands. Watching these acts perform for local crowds lends a fun, intimate energy to performances, and sometimes prompts spontaneous cross-band jams. There’s also the novelty of a 360 degree stage where the musicians play inwardly, facing each other, allowing the audience to catch the gig at any angle.
Forget the usual festival fare of soggy french fries – Flow is a carefully-curated gastronomical affair. Leading Helsinki restauranteurs are invited to set up food trucks, plying fair-trade coffees, vegan ice creams and Asian-fusion dishes. Last year, there was lobster. Your constitution will thank you, but the hefty gourmet prices mean that your wallet probably will not.
While Roskilde is an intoxicating blur, Flow is the kind of festival you’ll remember – probably because nobody really seems out to get drunk. It feels more like a sunny afternoon picnic with friends, which is the perfect way to recover from last month’s urine-dust cough.
HEADLINE ACTS: Jaakko Eino Kalevi, Sia, Iggy Pop, Four Tet, Stormzy, Massive Attack, M83, Floating Points
TICKETS: 3 Days – DKK 2050; 3 Days – DKK 1060; 1 Day – DKK 690
MORE INFORMATION: flowfestival.com
A few more options
Set by Egeskov Castle and the surrounding gardens, Heartland offers a line up of acclaimed musicians, artist, chefs and speakers from around the world – from Martina Abramovic to Tobias Lindholm, and Mark Ronson to the Flaming Lips. It’s all rather sophisticated, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be magic too.
June 10 – 11
Copenhagen Jazz Festival
If you’d rather not swelter in a tent while your neighbour plays Taylor Swift on repeat, perhaps try a festival where you can sleep at home. Copenhagen Jazz Festival is wildly popular, bringing some of the world’s best in the genre. Ten days of concerts across the city – super chilled, super grown up, super easy.
July 1 – 10
Into the Valley
Looking for something slightly more off the map? Try Into the Valley, a three-day music festival in a stunning quarry in Dalhalla Rättvik, Sweden. Rather than the usual pop darlings, Into the Valley presents an array of electronic musicians, many of whom are surfacing from the underground scene for the very first time.
July 28 – 30
As one of Norway’s biggest music festivals, Øya Festival promises a range of artists, from big names like Daughter and Jamie XX to exciting up-and-coming acts. With a focus on organic food and sustainability, it’s a big festival with an environmental conscience – at least your hangover will be guilt-free.
August 9 – 13