Performances, Placentas and Politics

Performances, Placentas and Politics

Here’s what happened at Roskilde Festival 2022.

It feels almost redundant to write about a festival — it’s something that simply has to be experienced. The vast array of multi-sensory delights, stretched out over long days and nights, are impossible to distil down into mere words. After all, that’s why we go to them — the liberating atmosphere, the infinite sense of possibility, the escape from everyday life. After two years of cancelled events and being confined to the indoors, every festival or mass attended event this summer is not to be taken for granted. 

When I mention the name ‘Roskilde’ to anyone based in London, I am met with a puzzled stare. I can’t say I can blame them, with the UK having an overwhelming and ever-growing amount of its own festivals. However, celebrating a 50th anniversary this year, welcoming roughly 130,000 attendees and with headline acts Post Malone, Dua Lipa, Tyler The Creator and The Strokes, Roskilde isn’t exactly under the radar.

This confusion goes both ways, as throughout the four day period I’m asked by Danes “Why would you come all this way?” and “Don’t you have Glastonbury?” Despite my best efforts, across multiple screens and years in a row, I have never been able to secure a ticket to embark on the holy pilgrimage to Worthy Farm. And with new research emerging last month showing that Glastonbury is now the most expensive festival in Europe, a one hour RyanAir flight to Copenhagen doesn’t seem that far-fetched.   

"The acts move fluidly around the festival, which makes everything feel like a discovery"

This aside, what is Roskilde actually about and what can you expect as a punter? Whilst not reflected in the headline acts, the gender balance across the rest of the billing is refreshing. As someone who spent their formative teenage years at Reading and Leeds festival, which was dominated by pale stale male rock groups, it feels pretty seismic to see acts like Megan Thee Stallion, Fatoumata Diawara and Haim grace the main stage of Roskilde. The sheer variety of music on offer is impressive — on the Thursday night, I went from watching Alice Phoebe Lou, to Little Simz, to Zulu, to H.E.R.. Another point to note is that there aren’t obviously designated genre stages. The acts move fluidly around the festival, which makes everything feel like a discovery (you also get your step count up).     

Photo courtesy of Flemming Bo Jensen

There’s clearly a broader emphasis on diversity, with a large art and activism programme running alongside the musical performances. This year it featured 68 contributors, from climate activists to artists, political bands and youth movements. A lot of these activities took place on the first four days of the festival, before the main listings started (for the committed campers out there, Roskilde runs for eight days) but plenty of art was embedded into the festival experience itself. A wide, hut-like building called the Gloria stage was emblazoned with a painting of a dark, red vagina on one side. A paragraph of scratchy words were scrawled across it, gradually building in size, until they ended on the statement “Fuck all you fucking rapist motherfuckers in the brain / Die rapists, just fucking die”. It was a bold and arresting statement, made even more so by the fact that the artist Carolina Falkholt was sexually assaulted whilst at Roskilde festival when she was just 17 years old. She tells me over FaceTime from her native Sweden: “I never wanted to go back after those bad things happened there. But when I got asked to do the work, I thought it was like the perfect revenge.” 

 Photo courtesy of Kasper Soeholt Kristensen 

The festival’s graffiti curator initially reached out to her to do a performance and a mural, which is where the text came from. “But then the performance didn't get booked, only the wall got booked. So I was thinking about a way to merge these two works.” Carolina says she wasn’t sure if Roskilde was aware of her experience when they got in touch with her, but when she put forward her idea, they were supportive. “I just presented the vagina to them for the painting part and then I left it at that. And I then I spoke to the curator like a week before I was going to come down, and said that the text was going to be about rape and assault and being critical towards festivals and rapists. And he was totally with me.” However, a new perspective came to light when Carolina began painting the mural onsite. A different curator flagged that it was a potentially “dangerous work”, which might affect people negatively. Carolina says: “Afterwards I thought about it more and more, and I understood them. I realised that as soon as you read the word rape, if you have been raped, it could really trigger you.” As the festival’s website acknowledges, Carolina’s work put them in a “difficult dilemma”.  

After taking advice from several sexual violence and rape organisations, Roskilde didn’t paint over the mural. Instead, they added signage warning of its content and intermittently covered the mural with curtains, so as to “provide a space for the testimony to unfold in a context where festival-goers have the possibility to opt in or out.” However, these curtains were torn down by Danish politician Rosa Lund, who was attending the festival and felt the artwork should not be censored. Carolina says this was a “very, very powerful action” especially as Rosa was involved in passing the Consent Act in Denmark. Whilst Carolina understands the confrontational nature of her piece, she says the intention behind it was to activate the viewer. “It’s not only my story, it's countless women’s stories. It needs to be said, it needs to be written, it needs to be read, it needs to be out there for things to change, for young people and people in general, to talk about sexuality and intimacy in new ways.” This is a sentiment the festival echoes, writing on its website: “Such work is important because we know that testimonies are necessary for us to learn more and, ultimately, to bring about change.” Despite the understandable concerns, Carolina says the response to her work has been overwhelmingly positive. “People have contacted me and reached out to me on social media and been really thankful. Others have also been sharing their stories about being abused and raped at festivals, so it's been really empowering to find that there's a community around that.” 

"It’s not only my story, it's countless women’s stories. It needs to be said, it needs to be written, it needs to be read, it needs to be out there for things to change, for young people and people in general, to talk about sexuality and intimacy in new ways."

Photo courtesy of Sister magazine

On that community note, the students of DTU (Technical University of Denmark) had set up shop near the main stage, with a huge sanitary pad and bronze vagina sculpture bringing one of their many studies to life. The study, initiated by Quantitative Biology and Disease Modelling students, involved mapping out the behaviour and needs of menstruating people at Roskilde festival. The sanitary pad was handmade by one of the students, Freja Dahl Hede. She tells me: “The whole idea was for people to draw and write on it. We deliberately brought red pens only, so that it would look like blood stains on the pad from a distance.” She continues: “The reason was both that it gave an interaction between us and the people drawing on it, but also with a hope of normalising menstruation and initiating the conversation about it at the festival in general.”

“We decided to create the vagina, because we want it to be as normal in society as the penis is.” 

The vagina was created by a different collective of students called GELina. One of the group, Laura Tramm explains: “We decided to create the vagina, because we want it to be as normal in society as the penis is. The vagina is 3D printed in 13 pieces, which took around a week of printing 24/7.” When I follow up via email to find out the results of their study, they tell me they spoke to over 200 people throughout the duration of the festival. Based off these conversations, their key suggestions for improvement were: special toilets with sinks (to wash your menstrual cup in), toilets/curtains at the showers to change menstrual products with privacy, signs/information on the Roskilde app on where to get menstrual products (and to have a wider variety and lower price for these), more frequent checks on bins in the toilets, and in general more focus and conversation on the topic of menstruation. They will formally present these findings to Roskilde festival for future use, and with their stats showing that approximately 17,000 people will have had their period during at least one of the festival days, it’s something other events (and honestly, day-to-day life in general) should learn from too.


@sistermagazine Some of the educational, informative and beautiful artwork we saw at #roskildefestival #roskildefestival2022 #womenshealth #womeninstem #sculptureart ♬ Blade Runner 2049 - Synthwave Goose


Perhaps it’s the way my brain works, perhaps it’s a sign of the times, but Roskilde did seem to be dominated by vaginas. There was artist Marie Munk’s giant Placenta, an inflatable sculpture created in collaboration with the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Bikuben Foundation, which surprisingly seemed to be a popular destination for eating burgers from nearby stalls. Inside the aforementioned Gloria stage was Anna Aagaard Jensen’s ‘WombRoom’ described as “an enlarged and mutated uterus” which encouraged you to meet other festival goers as wandering eggs on fallopian tubes that also doubled as seats. On the Friday, there was a midday performance by Nanna Lysholt Hansen under her ‘Mood Goddess’ sculpture. Naked and covered in sand, she chanted along to haunting soundscapes whilst freely menstruating.

With the overturning of Roe Vs Wade a couple of weeks ago, musicians continued using their stage time to air their frustrations. From Megan Thee Stallion proclaiming “They keep trying to tell us what the fuck to do with our bodies!” Before leading the crowd in a chant of “my body, my choice”, to St Vincent raising a fist in unison with her band and stating “They’re trying to take us back to dark ages”, it felt contradictory to see so much freedom within the realms of the festival when the wolves are closing in on women’s rights in the outside world. 

Photo courtesy of Katharina Gross

Even with all the studies and politics, there was plenty of room for fun. On the first night we discovered Dream City, an apparently notorious part of the festival which has been running since 2012. As told by two Danes we befriended in the crowd, this is the place to see “the real Roskilde” once the music in the main arena is over. Set in one of the many campsites, Dream City is made up of community built structures that mimic Western saloons, sky scraping towers and even a post office. Different music blasts from each of them, with accompanying light displays and disco balls. A video on my phone (taken at 3.37am nonetheless) shows a crowd singing along to Robyn’s ‘Dancing On My Own’ playing from an upraised DJ booth, a neon illuminated bicycle attached to the roof, with a big sign underneath reading ‘The Sports Centre’. No explanation necessary. 

Photo courtesy of Bjoern Budden Bohm

Musically, the highlights are difficult to choose from. Shygirl, who was one of the last acts to perform on the final night, was the surge of electric, dance, feel-good, club energy that all of us flagging party goers needed. H.E.R. covering Lenny Kravitz’s ‘Are You Gonna Go My Way’ was a moment, as was the return of Sky Ferreira in a floor length PVC Matrix coat and Mitski’s bold interpretive dance moves in the pouring rain. Megan Thee Stallion’s set was a masterclass in how to play a festival, from the choreo and backing dancers, to the Hot Girl crowd interaction, to the smoke cannons — it was quite literally flawless. And the fact that we got to hear ‘WAP’ live after its lockdown release was *chef’s kiss*. Fatoumata Diawara was partly joined onstage by French-Israeli singer Yael Naim, who in the words of a middle aged Danish man stood next to me, was “quite Kate Bush-ey”. The pair made for an interesting duo, and created a mellow interlude to Fatoumata’s riotous and joyful performance.

Photo courtesy of Christian Hjorth

Not being able to muscle my way into the tents for Little Simz nor TLC was slightly disappointing, however, just hearing them from the packed outskirts made standing in the rain worthwhile. The Haim sisters gave a blissfully humorous performance as expected, even making a local joke about the Roskilde lake (which I had been warned several times not to go anywhere near). Plenty of Danes were complaining about the line-up being sub-par compared to the cancelled 2020 one, however, at the risk of sounding like a package holiday salesperson, it truly felt like there was something for everyone.  


@sistermagazine Some of our highlights from #roskildefestival2022 🚺✨ Who’s your fave? #roskildefestival #festivalseason #livemusic #womenartists #womenmusicians #queens ♬ original sound - Sister Magazine

Roskilde is a non-profit festival, and have donated all their proceeds to various charities since 1972. The organisation is heavily supported by volunteers, of whom there are around 30,000 each year. This communal spirit can be felt in the atmosphere of the entire festival. And whilst indisputably unacceptable things have taken place there, it’s clear that a conscious effort is being made to improve the festival experience for all — be it through the programming, art or facilities available. As with many other areas of the music industry, longer running festivals need to recognise that it’s time to look forwards and make space for those who previously weren’t included or welcomed. Roskilde not only feels like it’s doing just that, but it also gives me hope for the future generations who will grow up with this kind of festival as their norm. 


 Words by Beccy Hill. See more of our festival coverage on TikTok and Instagram. More information on Roskilde can be found here.

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