The Sheer Joy Of Performance Essay

This time three years ago, I hadn’t jumped a single thing for almost ten years. This season, I am happily jumping hedges that my horse and I can’t even see over the top of. Crazy? Most likely. But when the adrenaline is pumping, and an inviting-looking hedge is looming directly in front of you — well, what’s a girl to do?

The sheer joy of hunting comes from far more than just dressing up in a smart coat and shiny boots and drinking port. It’s the simple pleasure of being out in the field, watching the hounds do what they do best, and enjoying the pure beauty of the sport. One of my favourite memories this season is of watching the hounds work through a field of leeks, the only sign that they were there being the little puffs of mist above the crop, and the odd head briefly popping up to double-check its whereabouts.

It’s the thrill of clearing a 5 ft hedge without thinking twice (just kick on, find a nice-looking gap and pray, is my technique). ‘How brave,’ people say, looking at the photographs. ‘I could never do that.’ Well, I never thought I could, either. There may be photographic proof, but my memory has erased the details of the whole fearsome jump, a bit like it used to do with those shocking exam papers I knew I had failed. It’s about jumping our way across David Cameron’s constituency; discovering D-day training sites scattered with replicas of Normandy’s Atlantic Wall, and the true location of James Bond’s Skyfall (sadly, in the film it’s Surrey rather than a remote Highland glen). Those are the little things that make a day perfect.

To a certain extent it’s just the rush of it all, and I probably am an adrenaline junkie of the worst kind. Galloping across country at high speeds may not be the most sensible thing to do, but somehow all thoughts of sanity disappear when the field master takes off. The feeling of being at one with the horse; an animal that, however good a hunter it may be, never leaves you quite sure what it might do next, is one that simply can’t be matched. Why would I put my life into the hands of an immature, six-year-old Irish gelding? There’s only one answer: I must be mad.

I only hunted once before the ban on foxhunting came into force. My father, being the kind of person that he is, decided that if Blair’s hunting legislation was going to be enacted, the least we could do was lend some support. So off we went on a pair of hirelings; me aboard a tiny Exmoor pony, and him on something that should really have been pulling a brewer’s dray. Today, I’m out hunting every weekend, and any other day that I possibly can — and I’m far from the only one. Since the ban came into place, ten years ago on 18 February, the number of people who hunt regularly has grown to around 45,000 — an increase of 5,000 over the past ten years. And if their experience is anything like mine, who can blame them?

I've penned this article three times in full. My initial drafts were attempts at pure musical discourse. While the validity of examining a music festival by virtue of the artists is undeniable, it simply didn't reflect my experience at Roadburn. I've made the mistake of reading others' writings on the subject, which makes me worry I'll tread the same waters as somebody else. While it appears others had different points of focus (no surprise on a fest with so many options) I still feel wary of how this appears. I want to share my thrill without being hyperbolic. So much writing on the topic of music glows with grand terms but quickly assigns the same love to the next thing and so on. It feels sensationalist, even when honest. So here's my take on Roadburn. Some of the language is flowery, but it's as true as I can muster.

The People

I'm not a social butterfly. If you've interacted with me at Roadburn, you'd be surprised by this. There's something about the communal enthusiasm, the constant flowing of food and drink, and the sheer velocity of the whole thing that just brings out my most excitable and friendly self. I'd still rather see a band's set than chat (when possible) but the capacity to put faces to names I've known online and to share beers with people from all around the world is truly astonishing. Many concerts I've attended felt like, well, concerts. Roadburn's sense of community makes it like almost like a family reunion, but one where only your cool oddball cousins show up and you just get to talk about the things that excite you.

This year, I stayed with my friend Thomas (as I did last year) and while I spent even less time in the house with him, it was a true delight. Additionally, the opportunity to really spend time bonding with my friend Andy from Manchester (and his wonderful partner Siobhan) was incredible. We'd been in contact online for years and it was clear that our geekiness and shared desire to pal around was stronger than any social anxiety we may have felt. Aside from these fellows, goofing off with my pals from Roadburn 2016 for the second year in a row was a true joy, as were chance meetings with Kevin Chan (of California's Baneful Genesis record label) and K. Ravko of Folteraar and Dutch cult label The Throat. Spending time with so many beautiful, creative people was not just joyous, but outright inspiring. As for my friends on the media end of things, there are literally too many people to name and I'm trying to avoid making this an outright listicle. If we spoke, I promise I was never too deep in the beers to forget our interaction. Let's do it again next year, alright?

The Music:

Last year I tried to write about every single band I saw. This year, I'm hitting the highlights while acknowledging that the rest was still completely enjoyable. I didn't see a single band and think "well, this is a waste of time," but there were certainly bands I saw that blew me to little bits. I'm getting these out of order because the blur of Roadburn defies time and I don't see why I should reorder things just for the sake of a chronology that only I experienced.

First off, it was wild catching two and a half (sorry) sets from my pal Andy. He played as Ritual Object twice and Caina once. I know there's an umlaut in there but I damn well have no clue how to make one without using the copy/paste feature. Ritual Object was exhilarating and haunting noise that went over quite well for me, and better than I'd have expected for a crowd I (mistakenly) assumed to be there for pure riffs. Caina's show for the tenth anniversary of Mourner was painfully bare and sparse yet also so human and personable. I can think of few sets that felt more connected and devastating (and yes, I saw Warning).

Second, let's examine the black metal. If you know me, you know it's the bread and butter of my musical palate. There was no shortage of quality black metal this year, but the true highlights for me follow. Nadra's return to Roadburn was absolutely explosive, as they took the stage in Het Patronaat instead of the crowded corner of Extase. While they were brilliant last year, it's clear that they've grown and developed immensely as a band in the elapsed time. Whatever comes next from this act will be amazing. Folteraar's raw black metal in Cul de Sac was uglier than anything I'd expect to see on any festival and it felt so great to see. The venue was dimly lit (and the band had a candelabra onstage for maximum spook) and I was in the perfect in-between of delirious from exhaustion but not yet worn out. Catching Laster's ridiculously proficient form of black metal showed that there's plenty of room for development on the outskirts of metal and their performance was ridiculously fun. There may or may not be footage of me dancing like an idiot during their set. No, I won't link to it here. Finally, Vastum and Oranssi Pazuzu are two bands I'd already seen once before and never expected to see twice, but both put on even more impressive sets than when I'd caught them before.

Finally, there's the entirety of Sunday. Ohhhh Sunday. I've waxed poetic about Oxbow once before on here and twice for Noisey. Roadburn was the third of four times I've had the luck to catch these art rock legends and it was possibly the heaviest set I'd seen them play. Bonus ups for an unexpected encore of "She's a Find." Possibly the best way to start a day I can imagine. Later in the day, I caught two bucket list bands. Ulver has long been one of the bands I list as my favorite when asked, because who has time to just have one favorite band? I truly never thought I'd see Ulver. They played a set culled exclusively from their new record, The Assassination of Julius Caesar. It's a great damn record and their set was precise and professional, with some of the most brilliant visuals I've seen for a band not on the arena circuit. The last band of Roadburn for me was Hypnopazuzu. This group's main minds, David Tibet of Current 93 and Youth of Killing Joke, are both legends in their own right, but placing them in charge of a band intent on jamming through hypnotic soundscapes of pure psychedelic bliss elevated everything. I spent the entire set in a state of pure elation and I can't even describe the performance, aside from noticing that both Tibet and Youth were barefoot throughout.

I could say so much more, but even this feels...weird. I feel that in trying to document something so important, I'm losing my own weird association with it. I need to share this, as it's one of the few artistic events that truly matters to me, but please know that this doesn't even scratch the surface. There are so many sets left out here that were also brilliant. There were so many moments I had with beautiful humans and so much joy that can't be translated into words on an unfeeling website. I simply urge you to come join us for Roadburn 2018 (dates are already announced and I'm sure the lineup will be worth it) and find out for yourself just how beautiful a rock and metal festival can be.

Full disclaimer: I was part of Roadburn's social media staff this year. Nobody has paid me for this article nor has it been requested in any way. Walter & Becky of Roadburn are lovely and supportive friends but only urge writers to write honestly and artists to create fearlessly.

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