Not everyone buys tickets to Roskilde Festival for the music. Some fork out 2000 kroner simply for the chance to earn money by collecting bottles, cans and plastic cups, which can be exchanged for money. The ‘pantsamlere’ (refund collectors) comb the festival grounds and wind their way through crowded concerts to pick up the plastic refuse dropped by punters during a show.
The collectors are among the most marginalised people at the festival, and in the past they have been met with hostility and harassment from festival revellers. In response, artist group Superflex created a VIP area for the refund collectors in the centre of the festival site.
Inspired by the exclusive headquarters for leading fashion houses around the world, the group turned the concept of ‘exclusivity’ on its head by offering a private space to the collectors, the Bottle Collectors VIP, which also offers meals, refreshments and internet access.
We caught up with Jakob Fenger, one of the founders of Superflex, to talk about the project and the way it reframes the concept of privilege.
What are the issues that inspired the shelter?
One of the biggest issues at Roskilde has been the tension between the refund collectors and the general festival audience. There have been some grim incidents in the past, and it’s usually because the regular festival patrons don’t see the refund collectors as humans. We as artists are interested in that that conflict. It seemed obvious to turn it upside down.
People often don’t realise that they are privileged until they lose their privileges. On the one hand you have young kids from Western Europe who are privileged on many levels, and then you have refund collectors who usually stem from marginalised social strata.
So this is about turning that on its head, and moving these privileges away from the regular festival attendees and over to the most underprivileged group here. That’s why regular attendees can’t enter the shelters, including journalists.
So it’s about addressing a power imbalance embedded in the festival society?
Yes. I’m from Roskilde, I’ve been to this festival many times, and there seems to be an inherent hierarchy within this place. There are different wristbands for different sections – VIP rooms, press rooms, artist lounges, and you either have access or you don’t. There are different kinds of privileges. I have this high-ranking press wristband, someone else has a higher ranking wristband, and then there’s regular media wristbands. On one hand this is a hippie festival, on the other, there’s an entrenched hierarchy.
How will this help change attendees’ attitudes towards refund collectors?
We have a group of service workers who assist the refund collectors and are writing down their stories. So we’re generating information about the collectors as well – who they are, and why they are here. That is what we should aim for as a society – an awareness that some people are not privileged.
Who are the refund collectors?
They are all kinds of people. For example, yesterday we had three teenage boys from Denmark in the shelter. They were dressed up in rabbit suits as a way of getting bottles handed over to them. They were sharing the lounge with two collectors from Nigeria, a Roma family and two Polish engineering students saving up for their studies. The collectors are made up of many different people, with many different reasons to be here, and that ultimately it’s just a job.
You’ve been to Roskilde Festival for many years. Have there always been refund collectors?
Sure. I collected bottles here as a young kid, for extra pocket money. But I think the reality has changed over the festival’s lifetime. Europe has changed. We live in a more globalised world, and people are coming in from outside to make a wage this way. As long as people live to a standard, where doing this kind of job makes sense to earn money, people will come.
What does this project say about privilege in a broader Danish context?
Privilege will always exist. But it’s important to be aware of what it means when you don’t have privilege. Most privileged people aren’t aware of it. You don’t question it, it’s not a part of your life. That is probably what we should aim for – an awareness that some people are not privileged – which can change how you look at other people.