Heavy Metal Summer Camp
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I am writing this on a plane to New York.
I'm not supposed to be on a plane to New York; I'm supposed to be on a plane to Boston. However, due to a late airport shuttle, we missed our flight. Moreover, since it's currently Spring Break in the Netherlands, every single Dutch person decided to fly to the United States on the same day. That meant no return flights for us, other than to New York.
So, I'm writing this on a plane to New York.
I was in the Netherlands to play at Roadburn, the underground heavy music festival. This was my second time there - the first being in 2019 when my band, Have a Nice Life, played our debut album in full for its 10th anniversary (a life-altering trip for multiple reasons). In total, I haven't been here all that much, less than a week in total. But returning to Roadburn felt like coming home.
To understand this, you need to understand what being in a band does to a person.
I've been in bands since I was in 6th grade, so I honestly don't know what other people imagine being in a band is like. However, if you are imagining anything even remotely glamorous, you are several miles off base.
Being in a band is 95% drudgery.
It is endless band practices, playing the same songs over and over until even a few notes of them make you sick.
It is painstakingly packing up your gear, loading it into vans, driving those vans to venues, painstakingly unloading your gear, and then doing the entire process in reverse.
It is hours upon hours of driving in a cramped vehicle that gives you back pain and neck cramps.
It is having to go to the bathroom and not being able to find a place.
It's driving 8 hours for a show only to find out that no one promoted it, the local bands want you to play last, there isn't a PA, and you're not getting paid. Then your amp melts from the inside or your string breaks or the cord disconnects from the microphone and the people in the audience stare.
That's if anyone is even in the audience, which, to be frank, will rarely be the case.
Most of the time, you will be playing for people in the other bands and potentially their significant others...that is, until you watch them walk out halfway through one of those songs you practiced so much.
It is trying to fly home to Boston and finding out that you're going to New York instead.
That's the reality: 95% drudgery.
Most of the time, you wonder why you bother. Then, you remember.
95% drudgery leaves 5% left over, right?
The remaining 5% is taken up by the best feeling you will experience in your entire life.
What is that feeling? I'm not in anyone else's head. I couldn't tell you what it is for them, though I have a sense it's not all that different. So here's what it is for me:
Time stops. I don't think. Everything clicks. You are one with the other people on stage. You are doing something together, and it feels important. Something exists that didn't exist before and can only exist in this one particular moment in time, right then, right now, fully in the present, fully present. You are there. Surely you're always "there," but now you feel it.
Roadburn is a place you remember. And where you run into other people who remember, too.
People who've been in those practice rooms.
Who've played those shows.
Who've watched people walk out, who've driven hours to play for no one, who've just kept going despite literally every part of the universe conspiring to convince them that no, this is never going to happen, and all this band bullshit is a colossal, borderline irresponsible, waste of your precious time.
Perhaps this is unique to Americans at Roadburn; I'm not sure. But I kept having this experience: running into someone I deeply respect, someone whose art I find moving, impressive, or unique, and saying something to the effect of: holy shit, right?
To be in the kind of band that plays at Roadburn is to commit yourself to a musical career primarily composed of quizzical looks. These are not genres for those looking for emotional validation or commercial success. The highs are few and far between - that's just the brutal mathematical reality of things. Too many bands, not enough venues, not enough fans.
For people in bands like that, coming to Europe and playing big rooms in front of people who know and appreciate your music isn't a commonplace or expected thing. That's not a thing we're used to. That's a special experience - an amount of professional and creative validation that is, frankly, very hard to come by.
Every musician you meet at Roadburn gets it. Everyone is kind. Everyone is supportive. Everyone tells you that you played amazingly and that the crowd loved you, because every single one of them knows what it's like to play an empty room. No one takes it for granted. How could you? Holy shit, right?
Roadburn is a haven where musicians can connect and understand each other's experiences. It's a place where the struggles and sacrifices of being in a band are recognized and respected. Where you find solace in the shared journey and the mutual understanding of the challenges you face.
As I reflect on my time at Roadburn, I realize that it's more than just a music festival. It's a celebration of resilience, passion, and the power of music to unite people. It's a reminder that even in a world that often doesn't understand or appreciate our artistic endeavors, there are places and communities where we can find acceptance and camaraderie.
So, as I sit on this plane to New York instead of Boston, I can't help but feel grateful for the unexpected detour that brought me to Roadburn. It's an experience that has reaffirmed my love for weird music, my commitment to being in a band, and my belief in the transformative power of performing on stage.
Roadburn is a place where the strange becomes ordinary, where the unconventional is celebrated, and where the music speaks volumes. It's a place where you can truly be yourself and connect with others who share your passion. And for that, I will always cherish the memories and the sense of belonging that Roadburn has given me.
Rather than give you something cool to read this week, I would like to recommend some bands I saw or discovered at Roadburn.
This is not an exhaustive list - you couldn't see all the bands that play Roadburn if you tried, and I spent a lot of my time getting ready to perform. This is just a short list of bands I saw, liked, and want to recommend.
This is in absolutely no order whatsoever.
Total surprise to me. I got to catch some of their second set from backstage and it was fantastic. That was a big space, and to command so much attention as a single performer is NOT easy. Super cool.
I couldn't find any footage of the performance I saw at Roadburn which was one of those "you had to be there," mind-altering moments. There is so much going on in any single piece Otay:onii performs - costuming, instrument changes, live looping, visuals, custom props and effects - I found it overwhelming. Not to mention all of these things are being played expertly.
Tim and I left early to get ready for our own set, and as we left he turned to me and said "We should just give up." I get that (joking) reaction - holy shit, there is so much talent on display here, it's hard to process.
At the same time, though, my takeaway was a kind of elation. I found my preconceptions of what, exactly, we can do on stage to be expanded. Fantastic.
Consistently one of the best bands we play with.
I tell everyone that ECW is "your favorite band's favorite band." They sound HUGE, they have excellent stage presence, the shit they are playing is inventive and surprising.
I met them briefly backstage but missed their set because we were getting our stuff ready.
LISTEN TO HOW PRETTY IT IS. Jesus fucking christ.
How do people get this good at music???? Incredible.
This was another band I was totally unfamiliar with. Very cool, lush rock music that veered between accessible and surreal. The singer mentioned the band just started practicing together a few weeks ago; they were fantastic.
I mean - you know Chat Pile, right?
This band is amazing, but they are equally amazing live, which is not super common. Not to mention I got to meet them for the first time and they are the nicest, sweetest, coolest dudes.
Their cover of "Bulls on Parade" was a high point of the week for it's sheer, childish joy. Watching them absolutely crush to a packed main stage was incredible.
This band was a total surprise.
Their website calls them "Galician Forest Folk," and that's as good a description as any. All I know is that I wandered in mid-set (they played multiple times throughout the week) and was instantly spell-bound. I couldn't even see the stage (I was too far back) - ended up closing my eyes and swaying back and forth for 30 minutes. Magical.
All of these musicians are deeply deserving of your attention, money, or support. Check them out however you like to check out bands.
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