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For years I’ve dreamed of attending Roskilde Festival, but growing older I’ve come to realise I’d probably struggle there, simply because it’s too big. So when I had the great privilege of attending a Danish festival last month it wasn’t the orange beast but the smaller NorthSide.
First off, I use the word “smaller” because it’s still big, but Roskilde lasts almost a week, attracts around 130,000 attendees and is staffed by around 20,000 volunteers, while NorthSide has around 40,000 per day over a 3-day period.
Another key difference is that there’s no camping – the festival takes place in Aarhus, Denmark’s vibrant second city, in a large park-like area right in the inner-city, which means Airbnbs instead of tents. Everyone walks or cycles to the fest, and the scenic journey along the river is a great part of the experience.
It’s a big festival, with loads of art, activity areas and food stalls but Scandinavian design comes to the rescue: the three stages are named by colour (green, blue and red) and subtle but prominent use of those colours in the areas surrounding each makes it very easy to find your way.
The sense of scale also extends to the performers, which this year included Queens of the Stone Age, A Perfect Circle, Björk, The National, N.E.R.D, Liam Gallagher, Diplo and many more. At 15 acts per day, it’s not a crammed programme, which was refreshing and kept the pace from being too frantic. There were several Nordic performers but the emphasis and overall feeling of everything was very international – surprisingly, even most of the signage was in English.
I feel like festivals are pretty similar across the world and they attract the same kind of people everywhere, but an interesting thing I noticed about the Danes was how well-behaved they were. Hearing a solo vocal from APC’s Maynard James Keenan soar above enraptured silence was downright spiritual.
It was also funny to see many reminders from the organisers that crowdsurfing and sitting on shoulders was prohibited, which was fine until a few American acts started challenging these rules. N.E.R.D’s crowd was probably the most hyped that I saw, and Pharrell Williams kept encouraging them to up the energy and “break the European record for crowdsurfing!” You could honestly feel the internal conflict this generated in the audience.
A more aggressive challenge came later from QOTSA’s Josh Homme, who said, “Get up on people’s shoulders! If anyone tells you what to do, ever, fuck them!” before adding “Hey! Security guy! Leave them alone! You work for ME!” Given how highly-restricted the shooting conditions were for QOTSA I found all that pretty hilarious but aaaanyway…
The whole festival was amazing, first and foremost musically – watching so many legendary acts was intense and after a while my brain just stopped registering how surreal it all was.
I think most people who’ve travelled for music will agree that going so far, sometimes to the literal other side of the world, for the artists we love makes seeing them so much more special. It’s a pilgrimage of sorts and not something everyone has the chance to do, but if you’re considering it, festivals are absolutely the way to go, especially the smaller ones. I can highly recommend NorthSide and hope to return some day!