Roadburn Festival at Tilburg, The Netherlands - live review

Dutch festival goes out-there with live performances from Crippled Black Phoenix, Gong, Wolves In The Throne Room, Magma, Hedvig Mollestad Trio and Ulver

Christian Vander from Magma live
(Image: © Falk-Hagen Bernshausen)

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Roadburn Festival boasts a brilliantly diverse line-up. Though it primarily attracts music fans of the bearded and black leather-clad variety, the bill means you can go from headbanging to doom to being mesmerised by a jazz sax solo to dancing your socks off to electronica, all in the space of a few hours. And if you find the time for a musical break, there are in-depth panel discussions, interviews, signings and a nearby strip of cafés to chill in with a cherry beer.

Crippled Black Phoenix are the first band to grace the main stage. Their swooping, Floyd-tinged heavy rock is a smooth way to ease into the festival, and though it’s early in the day, they pull in a good crowd. Soon after, we reach more extreme realms with Wolves In The Throne Room, who don’t just put on a show, but an entire assault on the senses to a packed main room: their rich yet pulverising churns of progressive black metal pour from the stage with flashes of light as the band perform in near-darkness.

Legendary French collective Magma’s mega set on the Friday is a show of two halves; first up is part one of Theusz Hamtaahk. Its juddery, jangly, syncopated build with swirling pianos and multi-part chants no doubt bemuse any Magma virgins who wander into the main room – it sounds almost like it could be the soundtrack to a trippy children’s show from the 1970s. The second half, their most famous work Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh, is just as avant-garde but more accessible, rumbling along with a mesmerising groove and enchanting the audience. The various members move across the stage, all playing their parts with passion – and when he’s not thundering away at the drums, Christian Vander takes to the mic. It’s a bizarre, beautiful and entirely enthralling ritual of a performance.

Hedvig Mollestad Trio play over in the tiny, jam-packed Extaase bar. Led by Hedvig herself, the Norwegian three-piece formed out of a jazz programme at music college, but their expansive instrumental sounds have a bluesy, heavy hard rock edge that include a double bass.

Mancunian psych subversives Gnod have Roadburn’s freewheeling spirit screeching through their veins. Their multi-set rampage begins with a barrage of squalling electronic abstractions, continues with Friday’s thunderous, guitar-driven turbo-Krautrock extravaganza and peaks with Saturday’s genuinely synapse-shredding tribute to Faust and Tony Conrad’s seminal drone masterpiece Outside The Dream Syndicate. It is all, without exception, insanely exciting.

Instinctively unpredictable, Norway’s Ulver are on a shadowy synth-pop kick at the moment, and while new album The Assassination Of Julius Caesar never quite hits the mark, those same songs make perfect sense here. With a stunning light show and plenty of between-song ambience, it’s another stylish triumph for these inveterate weirdoes.

Gong are on blistering form and deliver a joyous, kaleidoscopic avalanche of psychedelic magic, veering from old classics like You Can’t Kill Me to new flights of unhinged fancy like towering closer The Unspeakable Stands Revealed with the featherweight grace of skilled veterans. When they launch into what frontman Kavus Torabi proclaims as “the greatest riff of all time” during Master Builder, the room is instantly awash with grinning faces and blissful euphoria, just as the late, great Daevid Allen intended.