Paint it orange

“Just like you have to come and see the concerts, you have to also come to see the art. It’s a part of the general experience of the festival now.”

There’s no disputing that a large portion of the people attending festivals are primarily interested in the music line-up. Spotify goes into overdrive in the weeks leading up to the festival and all of the magazines, newspapers and blogs cascade with feature-length pieces about the biggest acts while Roskilde’s marketers figure which of the performers are likely to sell the most tickets.

While the music is considered Roskilde’s raison de etre, art also has a major part to play and yet there’s little to no mention in most cases of the likes of Husk Mit Navn, Ron English or Danish graffiti writer Sweat on the festival's website. Framing a large area of the festival grounds – the most exposed wall spaces being around the Gloria Stage and the wall facing opposite the Orange Stage – these colourful murals punctuate the crowd with creative provocations and lend festival-goers an atmosphere that all too often goes under-appreciated.

As with all large-scale festivals, the aim is to create an environment that stirs up a sense of liberation and inspires individuals to act in ways that represent a break from their normal day-to-day lives. Committed to hedonism in its purest form, the general openness of Roskilde's audience to surrender their inhibitions, voice their opinions and experiment socially – all helped along by a drop of alcohol for the large majority – is palpable when walking any distance within the grounds of the festival. 

Along the promenade of Copenhagen's finest (Photo: Daniel van der Noon)

The perfect canvas

Where art galleries tend to intimidate, disillusion or even offend people, Roskilde offers a space that has the ability to reach the masses through art. Visitors of the festival are perfect guinea-pigs for artists to try out something a little different, giving the artists almost free reign to express themselves in ways that most traditional art institutions or even commercial galleries would endorse.

The most striking examples are the rows of classic street art and graffiti panels that pave the grassy promenades located close to the Gloria Stage. With varying degrees of originality, festival organisers always seem keen to bring in a troop of spray paint graffiti artists to slap up complex, technically astute, traditional ‘tags’ around the festival area.

Given the general leniency of the forms of art work displayed within the festival, it seems only natural that street artists thrive here. Lars Pedersen, the curator behind Roskilde Graffiti (an organisation celebrating its 15th anniversary this year) explained that it wasn’t always this way.

“In the years before, there was of course some form of art at Roskilde but it was never presented in a constructive or positive form," Pedersen said. "It was very underground: one guy, a bucket of paint and a random wooden board that he’s pulled out from somewhere.”

Pedersen said that since then, graffiti at Roskilde has come a long way.

“Prior to 1999, the festival was painted in a more anarchist or illegal way and the festival wanted to see if they could turn all of that desire to paint into something more positive,” he said.

Low and behold, the festival now boasts a line-up of over 100 graffiti, street and public artists working in close collaboration with Roskilde Graffiti and a budget that makes it easy for artists to source materials. They've experience increasing interest from both the national and international press, along with thousands of glances from passers-by.

Having also featured in a long list of festivals as a graffiti writer himself, Pedersen expressed admiration for Roskilde’s willingness and openness to art, something he said is not commonplace abroad.

“The reason the project is so big is because the infrastructure of the festival allows us to have a lot of walls. I’ve been to plenty of festivals around the world where there is practically no wall space, and yet Roskilde has miles of it.”

Bringing in the big names

Boasting a battalion of spray paint graffiti artists that includes some of the biggest names in the game – including Sofles, one of the fastest graffiti writers in the world who was being recorded as part of this year’s documentation of Graffiti Roskilde (which you can keep a see for yourself by searching #rfgraff on Instagram) – the art of Roskilde is now the envy of most European festivals of a similar ilk. A short walk near where many of murals appeared during the warm-up days to the main festival revealed pieces by the likes of Husk Mit Navn, Sweat and a handful of new kids on the block who favour different media other than the spray can, including the Copenhagen duo Simon & Nadim, who have made use of paint rollers for their ‘graffiti writing’ instead.

Cashing in on a handful of urban art’s luminaries, Pedersen also made room for artists who don’t necessarily fit in with the classic spray can clan. Top of the list is Ron English. A controversial and politically active painter, public artist and graffiti painter, he has provocatively voiced his opinions with his so-called propaganda art in his hometown of New York for decades. Handed what is arguably the festival’s best spot opposite the Orange Stage, his ironic, humorous and politically satirical homemade paste-ups add an element of intelligence that conventional street art is not able to compete with. One of the posters which stuck out from the row of close to 50 pieces featured the face of Tutankhamun’s tomb with a slogan in bold type-face reading: “Narcissism. Makes Me Feel Better About Myself.”

Another identifiable piece which has broken the norm was a mural by Stine Hvid, an illustrator and artist from Copenhagen whose monochrome Stine Hvid's erotic reptiles (Photo: Daniel van der Noon)mural featuring erotic reptiles stretching across the black wall-space and pitched between more traditional graffiti writing pieces turned a number of heads on the walkway down to the Orange Stage.

But there’s much more to the eye than the graffiti boards and without a cast-iron definition of 'art', it takes little imagination to interpret the entire festival as a masterpiece of social art. But the atmosphere, unique to Roskilde, rests upon the pillars of music and art which, as Pedersen warmly expressed "makes for a much more fun area to walk around".

"There’s something for your eyes, something for your ears and what’s more it’s done by some of the best artists in the world.”

To view more of the art from the festival, search #rfgraff on Instagram, ‘like’ the Facebook Page ‘Roskilde Festival Graffiti’ or check me out on Instagram @danielvandernoon for other finds at Roskilde Festival 2013.