Read the in-depth interview with Roskilde’s press spokeswoman Christina Bilde. How does the festival decide on the values they promote? Is the festival aiming to educate its audience? Find out about the interesting approach they have on involving smaller and bigger gigs, regarding partner organisations and artists alike.
Equality has been the main topic in the last 3 years. On the homepage or in the press kit I read that 'Roskilde Festival believes in equality and people's ability to contribute to a more just world'. Whats interesting to us: Who are the decisive parts in regards to these political standpoints and how can we imagine the decision process of setting them?
Maybe I should start more historically. We've always put a focus on themes that we found important. To give attention not necessarily to themes that were paid very much attention on beforehand. But we have the position and the size to give it attention and maybe recognition around. And it used to be just what we found important, that is the festival management and some of the people working on the value themes. When we decided on 'Equality', actually for the first time, we decided to ask a lot of the partners that we worked with, what they saw as the more important issues within their work. Because they are not just working in Denmark. A lot of them are also working internationally. So we had a workshop where we invited them. We also invited some of our art curators to put in a perspective on what artists and arts is engaging in, or was engaging in at that time. Because it's also important to us to merge art and values. You say political aspects, we call it value aspects, or value politics if you could say that. Equality came out of that workshop. It actually came out quite clear for a theme. And we will be working in that wave of making our decisions also in the future. We decided that equality should last for 3 years. That was a decision that we made, because our experience was working with the themes like equality we always engage partners and also those are themes that we do not necessarily know a lot about. We find them important, but we are not the ones that are experts. If we only work with them for one year, we can't give them the full attention they need and our audience will not, because there is so much going on at Roskilde. Not sufficiently enough of them will notice that we have the theme. And the partners that are engaged, for them it's quite difficult to work at Roskilde. If they only have one year to do that, it is all kind of a pilot year for everyone. And that doesn't really work. So we decided that 3 years would be the best. It's not that it's getting better and better. It's a matter of us introducing the theme, unfolding it and then concluding on it. And that's actually 3 years. So now we have decided to work with a new theme for the next 3 years. We haven't really given it a new title. We have decided on this new theme, where we have actually looked more into what we represent. And what makes sense for us to talk about. Instead of looking very much from the outside what is going on. What is it that we with a certain stamina you could say can be a voice for and lift. We've decided that the theme for the next 3 years, without having an exact title, has to be the voice of the youth in some way. Youth democracy, youth engagement, youth life and life conditions. And we will work more on that just after the festival. There is a group working with that which consists of me, I'm part of the festival management, some of the Roskilde people, both volunteers and people working as employees, working within our social responsibility or sustainability team and also inviting in again some of the partners to qualify that theme. But we have already decided that that is the theme. So that's kind of how it's decided. In relation to equality where we really asked everyone, this time we have looked more closely at ourselves. Actually asking ourselves, what makes sense for Roskilde to say something about, that we actually know something about, where we can actually contribute and our participants contribute. That's how me make the decision. And as you can tell, how we make the decision is actually changing.
But if you say 'We' you are talking about a smaller core of Roskilde management?
A smaller core of Roskilde management. Of course the decision is made by the Roskilde management and our board. We have a board made of the Roskilde festival society which arranges the RF. They have to approve the theme.
How do you see the development in the participation of the young visitors, in the cultural program, in the political program and also regarding the specific camps, like Leave-No-Trace, Clean-Out-Loud?
P: It's growing I think. We've always had an audience that was very engaged. But some years ago we used to design our awareness or activism program in a different way. It had to be symbolic, it had to be strongly visual, it had to be playful and it had to be simple. You had to be able to engage yourself in it easily. Because that was what we found worked with our participants. Actually during the last 4-5 years, we put on seriousness. What we found is, I don't know if that's an illustration or a symbol of youth engagement having changed, but I tend to think so, that young people today are much more concerned about the environment, they are much more socially aware than they were 10 years ago. Or at least they engage themselves in other ways. And I think that is what we can tell at Roskilde Festival. Because we do see people engaging themselves in serious debates, talks and games. It can still be fun and symbolic as well, that works really well. Like you can see with the equality walls, we also take very strong symbols as a fundament for the work. It has to be both. But I think what we are seeing is a generation that is very concerned and that engages themselves to make a difference. And LNT, COL and Dream City are strong symbols of that as well. That is special for Roskilde, they do that together. In togetherness or as a community, that is very strong here.
But in West for example you are pushing really hard. You are moving COL for instance. In the past years it was way in the back and it's moving, it almost takes over west. Because from the other side there is LNT coming. That must be a conscious decision, looking at East where it's still kind of Wasteland, at least in the middle of East, a Mad-Max scenario. Do you sit down and decide: “Ok, we have to take the free space away, we have to put a COL sign on it to step forward.” ?
We don't want to take the freedom away. But we found out, that engaging camps or participants in communities with a special theme is a way to heighten responsibility. And one of our big issues is of course the wasteland, the 'teenage wasteland' as someone once called it.
Which is a huge part of the excitement as well. For me it was the best thing, I could live as free as I want to.
As well, exactly. I think COL is actually a very good example of how to still be responsible, but also have fun. Because they have managed to make a community where you arrange parties, you have parades, you have a lot of fun, foolish, wild things around sustainability. So it's actually a way of showing sustainability doesn't have to be quiet, it doesn't have to be dull. You can actually have fun. To us that is a way of creating I think a new social standard. But I think it will never take over the entire festival area and there is a lot of good things to say about the areas where you can just go in and engage yourself. When you go into those areas you can also see camps that have made their own themes and have made games around those themes. So it's not that they are only going there to camp and trash out. It's their own created theme. But we have been working very consciously with COL. We have given it a very high currency, because it's situated better. And one of the highest values of RF is distance and knowing where to stay. That is a way of also lifting up a sustainable area as COL. So it's a mixture of us wanting to push that forward and a camp community that has also managed to really create something that is attractive. I also want to stress that, what they are doing to make it attractive is inspired by the other camps. That's very important, it's a circular thing.
As I understood it, if we're talking about Wasteland, you don't feel like you've reached everyone yet. But by putting those areas, you're hoping that it will spread out over the camp site.
We do hope to influence and inspire people to leave the festival the way it is when they arrive. But we see that it is a culture that has been build up in many years. And it is also supported by a lot of cheap solutions, camping gears and everything, a throw-away culture actually. A throw away culture that exists all around, but which is also now being challenged by heightened consciousness around circular economies, sustainability etc. Well, the dream is, that it will be an entirely clean area.
What about the political side of it? How does the political development in Denmark affect your work on the government level? Because you are working together with them. Do they look down on you? Roskilde could be seen as a left-wing bubble, not connected to the reality in Denmark right now. How do you work with that?
We are very conscious not to consider ourselves party-political but value-political. So when we are talking about equality, it actually stems back to our DNA, our history, being a NGO which is set in the world to help young people and children. And that also means to care about the surroundings. Of course you could say, or then there are people who say, that it is left-wing. But I also have seen, well not the far right, but conservative writers for instance acknowledging that what we are really saying is “We believe in people” We believe that people can be able to lift a community. And that could also be a conservative perspective, actually. I think we are representing an alternative, no doubt about that. But it's not something that's being looked down at at all. But I think it's important to say that we are also a very unique thing. We do invite the government, the ministers, to come visit the festival. If they say yes, we create a program that is related to the area that they work with. Not many festivals are able to do that, but we can, because we are a city. We also had right-wing politicians here and what they see is young people that are engaged, that are friendly, that are nice. Also to people that don't share the same opinions, that represent something else. To create that is something that is very much respected. That's how I see it. What we are doing, you might not agree with our perspectives, but there is a very high respect around us.
One more question on the partners. How do you decide who to coorporate with in regards to the cultural program?
With the artist program it is our curators that are looking into it. We found out that it makes good sense for us, both to have organisations that are rather big, because they are able to lift something up, not just to lift a theme, but also help and lift some of the smaller organisations that we are working with. And the smaller organisations we are working with, we find that important, are also helping forward some of the new organisations that are just growing now.
They are bringing up tasks that the bigger ones can’t touch yet.
Exactly. And it's actually the exact same perspective we are putting on partners as we are putting on artists on the stages. There are upcoming organisations that you are a platform for, helping them forward. And there are huge headliners, that can actually both help the smaller ones, but also put more attention to the themes that we are all engaged in.
One little detail, I found interesting in the PressKit. It was mentioning ‘Act Alliance’, who put on the ‘Equality Stadium’ and not mentioning the religious background they have. Was that a conscious decision to keep it out of there?
Now that you are asking, no I don't think so. And it's an interesting question. Although there is a heightened focus on Religion in DK, it's not as heightened as it is in many other countries. This is the Danish Church Aid, it's called the “Danish Folkekirke”. The protestant church, most Danes are members of it automatically. And we don't think as much of our own religion. And they are not acting religious in Denmark in the same way as maybe the sister organizations working outside of Denmark. But it is a very relevant question.
One last thing, concerning also the value orientation of the music program. Since I've been here in 2006 I realised that you pick certain artists that are definitely not as big as being able to play Arena for instance, or back in the day at Cosmopol. So on huge stages you put on certain artists that are coming from tricky areas or have some kind of a political background. It must be a conscious decision to give them a space and thereby push people to see it. Because you could easily put them all in Pavillon and that's it. I was wondering, how is the process, how do you talk about it, sitting at the table saying “ok, we just put them in Arena, fuck it”?
It's always a matter if can they perform a stage of that size. Can they put on a live act that fits with the stage size? We would never do it just to give them a big audience, if we didn't think they could. That is the first priority of course. We have this sentence that we use: ‘Our ambition is to give our audience what they didn't know they would love.’ And as a part of that you also put forward things or artists that were not as well known, but that doesn't mean that they can’t perform. When you do that, you have to look in areas of the world where not that many people know music from, but also for upcoming artists. You could say that is part of being non-profit. Having that ambition to inspire and to change. Bring forward new things, because that is also where the change comes from. That is also what inspires and changes ourselves. It's also a matter of, if we don't do that, if we don't have a focus on the upcoming within music, if you put it very firmly, we wouldn't have artists on the 'Orange Stage' later on. So it's also almost a business model. It's a matter of securing that there will still be interesting artists that are also able to perform live.