Wreck Time Is Over

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Right, so nothing’s been happening in this space for ages. Sorry about that — been busy being home, and writing up Roskilde at that other site. I thought, however, that since the hangover has kind of passed and sleep has been caught up on, but a tinge of that signature elation still remains, I’d blog a little about this year’s festival before we move on.

From the perspective of someone reared in hip hop such as myself, this year’s festival seemed like something of a watershed for the genre at Roskilde. While it’s been present there for almost twenty years, it is only in the last few years that it has been recognised as a genre major enough to occupy large parts of stage time around the festival, not the least on the central Orange Stage, heart of the festival. This year, no less than four (and a half, if you count Danish turntable maestri Noize and Static’s warmup for Jay-Z) hip hop-related acts, one of them Danish, played there to mostly great success.

Gnarls Barkley quite predictably rocked it. Cee-Lo’s powerfully lucid voice resounded soothingly on the sunny Friday afternoon, and especially the two ballads he sang, “Neighbor” and “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul?”, both standout tracks on their new album, The Odd Couple, carried those sweet chills you at times crave in music, not the least when your emotional armour has been sufficiently eroded through days of drink, dancing and all-round debauchery. And when they played a haunting rendition of Radiohead’s “Reckoner” towards the end everything clicked. In a way, they upstaged the headlining British band itself. The latter had played the same stage the night before and sadly failed to deliver on expectations through a combination of almost muted sound and nigh fatal introversion.

Which brings me to what is probably the worst brainfart of Roskilde scheduling I have experienced in 14 years of attendance: MC, singer and producer Jneiro Jarel was representing his Shape of Broad Minds project on one of the smaller stages at exactly the same time Gnakrls Barkley were playing. Not only are Jarel and Gnarls Barkley mastermind Danger Mouse signed to the same label, they appeal to the same audience, or rather, those interested in Jarel’s fresh, exploratory, southern-inspired hip hop are sure to also be Gnarls Barkley fans, and most likely to prefer the latter. Adding insult to injury, Jarel had brought along his recent collaborator Khujo Goodie, Cee-Lo’s old friend and colleague from the historical Atlanta crew, The Goodie Mob. I don’t know any of the details of the latter’s departure from the group almost decade ago, but my impression is that it wasn’t a clean break. Apparently they have since made up, but robbing Jarel and Khujo of their audience in this way is still an insult and could perhaps even be perceived as something of a humiliation. All I know is that this kind of error should never have happened, and reflects terribly on the Roskilde progammers.

Other than that, it was amazing to see how huge an audience Denmark’s no. 1 hip hop act, LOC drew for his both thoroughly professional and wonderfully energetic show on Saturday afternoon. I’d guess around 30.000 people were there, and the way they were wylin’ out to “Undskyld” and “Absinthe” towards the end of the show was a sight to behold. Liam O’Connor was holding his own on stage most of the time, his voice carrying through with oomph. I’m not a huge fan of his slightly laborious, yet basic flow and his rather cold music, but this was impressive, and will surely stand as a landmark in Danish hip hop. I should add that last time I ran into him at Roskilde, in 2001 I believe, he was stumbling around drunk in the media area amongst us nobodies talking about beating up Bruce Dickinson. Boy has come a long way! (By the way, you can listen to the whole thing here.)

Jay-Z’s closing show was a bit of a mixed bag. Playing as he was to a mixed festival audience, I suppose it was a conscious choice to play a kind of hit parade, padding the show with a lot of inferior material of the kind he’s done with his girlfriend Beyoncé and his protegé Rihanna, plus other boring pop shit. The problem was that he was closing Orange Stage Sunday night. You don’t close this venue with tepid pop — you close it with a fucking party! He did insert some of his bangers here and there — the opening with “Roc Boys”, followed by “99 Problems”, was great, and it was cool to see thousands of people playing along to the call-response on “IZZO (HOVA)” and “Jigga Who? Jigga What?”, but fits and starts don’t make no party. What he did show is that he is a professional through and through, and that his clear, confident flow carries through live. It was amazing hearing just how thoroughly he owned “Can I Get a…”, for example. I’ve always been unconvinced by the depth of his material, but in terms of flow and delivery few can stand beside him.

The other major rap act was The Streets, late Friday night. I was totally blazed-out, so I can mostly deliver general impressions. It was clear that Mike Skinner had upped the ante since I last saw him at Roskilde 2003, and left in bored disgust at how lethargic he was on stage (he also played in 2005, but it was impossible to get near the stage they had assigned him to, the programmers having thoroughly underestimated his draw). His performance this year was energetic, with lots of contact with the audience, and he was clearly having a ball (the “greatest gig of my life”, as he himself wrote afterwards.) What puzzled me somewhat, however, was how polished and timed it all sounded. I mean, this dude’s basic ethos is DIY, and here he is performing a smoothly perfected stadium show, at least by rap standards. I don’t know, I suppose it’s a nice tradeoff for the almost insultingly low-energy performance he gave in 2003, but still kinda “Unstreets,” if you ask me.

Anyway, as I said the festival has never been this packed with major hip hop acts, and when you add in a dozen or so smaller names with relation to hip hop and its subgenres and other permutations the world over, you’ve gotta hand it to the organisers (homegrown hip hop also dominated the concerts on the so-called Skate Stage, leading up to the festival proper). Never mind that I made the same choice as hundreds of other hip hops heads and missed Jarel, and also had to opt out of what many said was a great show by Lupe Fiasco due to new, ridiculously complicated parking- and camping rules for the press that were tying Emma and I in knots somewhere on the periphery of the camping area. And never mind that several of the other acts kind of disappointed. It was still cool.

Reggae, on the other hand, received something of a bum rap this year. Again. No major roots- or reggae names, just two dancehall acts. Queen Ifrica delivered an nice, energetic show, and even brought in Tony Rebel as a surprise guest, while Lady Saw gave a strong, if somewhat slower performance than I had hoped. Other than those two, we were treated to an assortment of non-Jamaican artists, most notably Danish/Swedish Babylove and the van Dangos, who played a great, super-enthusiastic concert, but cannot be expected to hold down what is surely the hottest genre on the Danish club scene at the moment with so little backup from the island of origin. I’m really not impressed by Roskilde’s efforts on this. After last year’s diverse and impressive programming I thought they had figured this one out, but apparently not.

In any case, most of the best concerts for this listener were elsewhere. Sharon Jones wowed an otherwise weary Sunday audience with her infectious charm and astonishing energy in an amazing performance with the Dap Kings. Her on-stage dance lessons alone, bodily relating the story of her roots, were a sight to behold. At the end, she launched into a two-pronged James Brown homage, first grunting and hustling her way through a set of dance moves from her hometown of Augusta, GA, and then bringing on the goosebumps with a magisterial rendition of “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.” Whoa! Here are a couple of videos for your listening and viewing pleasure:

I could go on — Nick Cave came in his Grinderman persona and punished us all with a lecture in darker-than-pitch rock’n roll, Slayer played immaculate thrash metal as always (Dave Lombardo is insane!), Judas Priest took us to the Museum of Metal as only they could, and the tag team of Benga and Skream, aka. Magnetic Man, rocked the late night crowd coming up to Sunday with a booming set… only yours truly’s memory kind of started failing about half an hour into it. Such is life.

And then there was Neil Young. Every time he plays Roskilde, which is every so often, he delivers the showstopper. It’s just the way it is. This time was no different. As opposed to his last show there, in 2001, which he performed with Crazy Horse to predictably thunderous results, he this time tempered his continued exhumation of the soul of guitar rock with a number of the slower, more vulnerable songs from earlier in his career. There were many a high point, but I guess I’d single out the way he managed to make his youthful songs, several of which auspiciously deal with aging, reverberate as if written yesterday by his 62-year old self. “Heart of Gold” felt achingly present, and in the suite of “Needle and the Damage Done” and “Words,” he reached something akin to a spiritual moment, playing his guitar like there was no other way. Unforgettable.

If you read Danish, check out Rapspot for a much more thorough coverage of hip hop and related genres at the festival. Here are my reviews: Orishas, Boy Better Know, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. There’s more coming over the next days, including an interview with Jneiro Jarel and Khujo Goodie, which will also be published here, so stay tuned.

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