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ROADBURN FESTIVAL 2023 • DAY ONE: Thursday, April 20th

 - Hold Christmas Sacred! -



Yes, that's a long list of artists there for one bloke to watch in a day! And honestly two or three of those were only rather fleeting encounters on my part. But I felt like including them anyway and I am the sole king of this blog, so deal with it!

I can't remember anything worth reporting happening earlier in the day - and that's probably going to be the same for most of the following days, since the weather was... well, good enough for an indoor festival, but not motivating for any touristic excursions before that. So I brought a good load of photographic equipment for nothing. But that was ok. I was very  fine with just having a little bit more time to relax, too. 

Shortly after noon I arrived in Tilburg, where the festival officially started with the opening of the merch area (immediately scored a Roadburn tote bag and longsleeve shirt) and a young band from Switzerland having the honour of being the first to crank up the amps in The Terminal, on the bigger of the two stages here, which are familiar since last year.   


Powered by a massive wall of guitars, electronics and vocals, which were mostly more effect-laden instrument than actual singing Yrre majestically crushed the packed room with their slow-building, droning Blackened Post Metal. Think the evil sibling of E-L-R! (Who I'm confident should and will also find their way onto this stage one day.)

It wasn't the kind of show which gave me very much to analyze or presented anything radically new apart from maybe the altered vocal part - but it didn't need to do that, because it was just very well done and a proper wake-up call for anyone still in doubt that it was that week in April again. Massive.


The stylistic transition to Norna playing afterwards in The Enginge Room next door was pretty smooth, as the tempo and the huge Post Metal base were relativly close. Yet I'd say that this trio clearly wasn't as much about providing an atmospheric mystical soundtrack, but rather centered around an in-your-face Post Hardcore attitude. Less elevating, more suffocating. Black hole heavy, desperate and punishing. If for you Roadburn still is mostly the "home of the riff" - you surely got your fix here. Brutal.


Last year the place had been under construction and thus been temporarily replaced by an actually surprsingly great tent, but now the Hall of Fame was back with the same atmosphere as before, shining in new splendour with an improved, yet still intimate stage and new surroundings.

With sweet scent in the air and an occult-ish, ritualistic mortuary cult setting my first show here already checked some mandatory boxes for a complete and successful Roadburn experience.
The duo Judasz & Nahimana, aided by a third live member and later on by two guest musicians on vocals and violin, performed their album "Récits d'outre-mondre" on percussions, guitar, hurdy-gurdy and some interesting self-made stuff, crowned by beautiful mystic Folk vocals singing and chanting in French and Portuguese, but also ghost-like whispers and harsh male screams from the grave.

Musically I'd describe it as a mostly acoustic Ambient Folk suite with occasional subtle influences from the realms of Black Metal, Industrial and Contemporary Classical music. An earnest and solemn performance with much love and that special Roadburn spirit. With this the show I truly arrived at the festival.


The memory of this one got buried a litte, even though it wasn't bad at all. After Yrre this was another huge sounding group with (among others) Post Rock and Ambient elements in their sound, yet on a more electronic base. But having just witnessed the solemn and naturalistic mass of Judasz & Nahimana I somehow couldn't get into the mighty wall of Enphin with its bleeps and buzzings. Good sound, just not for me in that particular moment.

There also wasn't much time to enjoy it anyway, because a couple of highly anticipated shows would soon follow a power walk over the busy crossroads away inside the 013 venue...


There were a handful artists in this year's line-up, who already held a special place in my heart and Esben And The Witch undoubtly conquered it with their magical performance on the Next Stage six years ago. The resulting "Live At Roadburn" album still is the most frequently played one of those in my by now quite respectable collection. Returning to the place of their triumph the trio now premiered their upcoming new album "Hold Sacred" with their first show in years.

Among the few perks of writing stuff like this is that I sometimes get the possibility to listen to stuff long before its release, so I had already enjoyed the somber and rather quite material several times. Yet not being in "analytic mode" I had somehow not realized that the drummer wasn't actually playing any real drums, so the setup of the stage was already a little surprise.
And since I've ordered my ticket for the upcoming show at the Hafenklang in Hamburg before their appearance at the festival was even announced, I was in peace with only being able to watch about two thirds of their performance, no matter how mesmerizing it would be. And it was indeed as spellbinding as live music can possibly be!

Singer / bassist Rachel Davies is just blessed with an incredible gift of emotional expression, an aura in which any fragility or doubt turns into a powerful sting right into the listener's soul. The most Ambient, minimalistic arrangements Esben And The Witch have ever utilized only made her captivating, haunting presence felt even more. Absolutely beautiful!
I can't wait to meet this band again on tour with Fågelle (who I had missed due to Clashburn last year) and Radar Men From The Moon soon! 


Speaking of emotional super powers one cannot forget gushing over Julie Christmas, who of course occupied another quite specific and much more excentric, theatrically heightened space on that spectrum, but still maintained a pure unhinged authenticity, which transpired even into the furthest corner of 013's giant Main Stage hall. I often try to find comparisons for singers, but with Julie that feels pointless, because she herself is one of my most important references I always use for other artists. Yet still noone really does what she does.

After her "Mariner" performance with Cult of Luna in 2018 and three years of covid postponement her solo show - to which she also brought CoL's Johannes Persson as part of her band - finally happened. And what a victory parade it was!

Playing tracks from her 2010 album "The Bad Wife" as well as material of her former bands Battle Of Mice and Made Out Of Babies plus some completely new songs she screamed and wailed against a cathartic wall of sound while absolutely commanding the stage - all while being dressed like a disposable Christmas tree, including colour-changing LED lights. Over the course of the show her outfit got more and more ragged - and she even cut big strains of her long hair. So all of this was just a ploy for her to save herself a visit at the hairdresser! Impressive.

But seriously: There was something special in the hair air. And it was not just the whiskey she treated her musicians and the first rows of the audience with. This was a relief, a cathartic celebration of communion. There's no discussion: Julie Christmas now has two legendary Roadburn performances under her belt, which will tie her name to the festival lore forever.


No time to rest after Christmas! You want a solo performance recalling Lingua Ignota, yet more operatic and with an American-Philippinean foundation? Enter Micaela Tobin aka White Boy Scream.

Her performance was a highly experimental patchwork of piano, samples, drones and noises. A good instrumental backdrop, but elevated to other spheres by her incredible vocals. It felt like watching that singer from "The Fifth Element". Darker of course, but luckily without the lethal shoot-out. Absolutely phenomenal!

Oh (white) boy, I'm already starting to get exhausted of having to write about exceptional unique vocalists now, and Roadburn had so many mindblowing artists in that regard...

What on Earth was this? Well, at least for the first fifteen minutes or so that question could be answered, as the Japanese band started their show with long hypnotic, sometimes robotik, sometimes more naturalistic krautrock jams.

But soon it became obvious that the band comes from a country, where there seems to be very little pain or shame in mashing up the weirdest pop-cultural elements. If I tell you about super high pitched vocals, Funk, Metal, Pop, even Hip Hop, all embedded in a wild Psychedelic Noise Rock context you you'll probably have some weird picture in mind. And it still certainly isn't what it actually is, which is... sorry, we're stuck at the opening question again.

The show on the Terminal stage was dubbed "Far East Electric Psychedelic", so I guess the less song-oriented opening was something specially designed for Roadburn, but without past references I cannot tell for sure. However, the show was wild and out there. And since I didn't watch the whole seventy minutes of it I'm absolutely positive that I still missed some crazy shit. One of the biggest surprises of the festival!

There have been shows outside the official Roadburn programme in the past, especially in the Little Devil bar, but this year it was a whole thing called Offroad, which included a multitude of bars, clubs cafés, but also the festival's food and merch areas - so basically almost everywhere discounts and special menus for Roadburn visitors where in place or of course roadburn-adjacent events were happening. A lot of all that was too far away, too late during the night or just couldn't be squeezed into my already packed schedule, so unfortunately I only made it to this one unofficial show in the LOC Brewery close to the Hall of Fame.
(Would have loved to also have seen at least the former official location Cul de Sac back in action again, but maybe I'll get another chance for that next year. However if part of Offroad was motivated by making up for the Ladybird Skatepark not being available for secret shows anymore, it obviously was quite a compensation.)

As someone who doesn't drink beer at all I of course didn't stumble into the brewery by accident. I had researched today's Offroad bands on the couch in the morning and decided that the SubRosa vibes of the Dutch Doom band Yantras were something I wouldn't want to miss. That was the right call, because the Doomgaze / modern Sludge paired with both soothing warm and ferocious growl vocals by singer Natalya Thelen was absolutely up my alley.

On social media I've referred to Yantras's show as my possibly favorite of the day, which may sound like a little too much praise considering that there had also been Julie Christmas, Esben And The Witch, Bo Ningen... well, you read the review so far, right?

But then I not only really loved what the quartet did, but also the circumstances and timing of the show. It was just exactly what I needed when I needed it: Crushing emotional Doom in a very intimate setting. Of course the sound system wasn't nearly as professional as anything on the festival and the stage - it didn't even exist. They just played behind a bar. It was an awesome contrast. I loved it and I'm looking forward to the band's upcoming new album, on which I was told I will find most of the songs they played.


The only downside of watching the whole Yantras show was that I wouldn't be able to see France on the Next Stage from the beginning. And that one seemed like one of those where you really needed to watch the whole thing for an adequate experience. So instead I just relaxed for a bit on the balcony for the second half of The Soft Moon.

I've read that the Darkwave / Electro Rock project was supposed to play a full album, but somehow forgot about that promise and did a regular. For me that didn't matter, it was fine stuff anyway, even though I didn't have the energy to follow it with as much attention as it would have deserved.

A good soundtrack to come down before being on the way to my car.


But hey, wait! After the Main Stage went silent just a couple of steps away France (what a band name!) were still playing what I assume was probably just one huge repetitive Drone Psych piece performed on bass, drums and amplified hurdy-gurdy. Yes, after Judasz & Nahimana the hurdy-gurdy count of this review just hit 2!

It was pretty brilliant, and immersing oneself in this hypnotic trance for over an hour must have been awesome. So it probably was a little masochistic to give myself only this little glimpse of what might have been. But it was still worth it. Would love to see this Frenchest of all French bands again for a full show.

And on that notion I'm going right to...


Everyone has a unique Roadburn weekend (or just day) and this report of course only covers my personal road. So what else could I have ended up talking about?

For most of the day I followed my plan, which is already a respectable achievement considering that with the exception of two Main Stage shows (Burst and Deafheaven) I was at least interested in every single show on all five stages. Only seeing Yantras shook my plan up towards the end.
As already mentioned the back-to-back shows of Esben And The Witch and Julie Christmas were already clashing at their rear and front ends, but they also prevented me from seeing both Alice Cotton and the mighty bludgeoning of Body Void, which was the most painful show to miss for me.

On my way to the car I got a little wet, but it was warm and not too much, so everything could dry until the next morning. And even with the temperatures about to fall that would already be my worst Roadburn weather (not counting the depressingly grey Monday afterwards). Rumour has it that there would be more than one occasion of really bad heavy rain, but I guess I was too much inside enjoying music to be affected.

reviews of the other festival days:

ROADBURN FESTIVAL 2023 • THE SPARK: Wednesday, April 19th

- Canned Beer, Chlamydia and Digestive Disaster! -

ROADBURN FESTIVAL 2023 • DAY TWO: Friday, April 21st

- Redefining Eternity: A Journey Through Timelessness -

ROADBURN FESTIVAL 2023 • DAY THREE: Saturday, April 22nd

- Resources of Suffering, Means of Catharsis -

ROADBURN FESTIVAL 2023 • DAY FOUR: Sunday, April 23rd

- A Constructive Criticism of Jesus and Other Brave Sunday Musings -