With the Roskilde Festival team preparing to stage the 51st edition of the 130,000-capacity event, Access caught up with Anders Wahrén and Christina Bilde to discuss the future of one of Europe’s oldest and largest music and arts festivals.
Remarkably, Roskilde has remained resolutely non-profit since its launch in 1971 meaning the Danish festival has not only entertained millions of people during the past half century but helped improve the lives of many others around the world via its philanthropic endeavours.
Located just south of the city of Roskilde, 18 miles west of Copenhagen, every year the flat fields of the Roskilde Festival welcome 130,000 people, temporarily making it the fourth-largest city in Denmark.
Its eight-days of live entertainment action involves around 180 music acts, and this year’s 24 June to 1 July edition features a characteristically diverse line-up including Burna Boy, Christine and the Queens, Rina Sayayama and Kendrick Lamar.
Independently run since its inception, Roskilde has always been the product of a community rather than corporation, with its operations, management and production team involving an army of volunteers.
Year-round 2,000 people work for Roskilde full-time for free, and as the action ramps up prior to and during the event the number of volunteers reaches 30,000. The roles filled by them span the event’s entire operation, including programmers, production managers, stage managers, stagehands, stewards, artist liaison and caterers.
“We keep the event fresh by listening to young volunteers, and asking our audience what they want to see, hear and experience.”
The money saved by having so many volunteers has helped the event to funnel a huge amount of funding to charitable causes. Since launch, Roskilde has donated around €50 million (£44m) to organisations working on projects such as food, water and shelter initiatives for the disadvantaged. The funds are handled by the Roskilde Festival Charity Society, which donates all profits from the event to initiatives, with a particular focus on projects that benefit children and young people.
Christina Bilde (pictured), deputy director communications, partnerships, and philanthropy at Roskilde Festival Gruppen, says €2m (£1.76m) was raised at last year’s event, and the current focus is on supporting initiatives designed to improve the mental health of young people through cultural activities.
“We are having an open call to charitable organisations, where they can apply for money,” says Bilde. “We also invite charitable organisations to the festival so that they can raise money on site.”
She says the Roskilde festival ethos is based on listening to young people, working with them on the event to ensure it remains relevant, and engaging with them via external initiatives to ensure the charitable funding is reaching the right people.
“Having an open call for funding is a way for us to find out what young people are engaging with. In contrast to some other funds, we are focusing on the up-and-coming, and what is keeping young people interested,” she says.
Programmee director Anders Wahrén (pictured) believes the involvement of young volunteers on the programming team is a vitally important way of ensuring Roskilde’s line-up remains appealing and relevant for young fans.
“When looking at new trends and acts we push that out to the volunteer society, so we get fresh input, and the line-up is not just based on my taste or my team’s. We keep the event fresh by listening to young volunteers, and asking our audience what they want to see, hear and experience. It has always been a pledge from us to our audience that we will seek out new talent.”
He says that with Roskilde being a non-profit organisation it enables the team to prioritise creativity over profitability: “It means we don’t have to think about getting the best cent on the dollar; we can do things just because it’s enhancing the experience and not necessarily creating a better bottom line. It’s extremely important, it means we can be entrepreneurial and work in different ways to the bigger corporations.”
“We can do things just because it’s enhancing the experience and not necessarily creating a better bottom line.”
Costing the Earth
Like every festival, Roskilde has been impacted by rising supply chain and energy costs. As a result, organisers have had little choice but to raise the ticket price this year to help balance the books. With young ticket buyers being a priority, Wahrén says the aim has been to keep the rise as reasonable as possible so that they are not priced out.
The festival successfully made a cost-cutting move last year that has also helped to significantly reduce its carbon footprint. Roskilde was connected to the Danish electricity grid last year and Wahrén says the economic benefits of that were immediately felt: “That has made a big impact in terms of money, because we don’t have to hire in generators and spend as much on fuel.”
Other key sustainability initiatives include a sharp rise in the use of electric vehicles and the installation of more vehicle charger points for the use of both festival personnel and audience members.
There is also more focus on using environmentally friendly building materials. “We are constantly working to become a more sustainable, circular, festival,” says Bilde. “So, we are changing the materials we’re using and switching to more sustainable materials such as wood.”
When it comes to food at the festival, an impressive 99% of the produce served on site is organic. The Roskilde team recently began working with One Planet Plate to provide carbon footprint labelling on all items sold.
A tent hire scheme, introduced last year, successfully helped reduce the number of abandoned tents on site. As a result, the initiative will be expanded at this summer’s event.
“It was very well received last year,” says Wahrén. “We can use our buying power to create demand for tents that are made in the most sustainable way. If we can help the audience make the right decisions, and we put in large orders with suppliers rather than them using crappy one-time use tents, it helps.”
As a result of the switch to grid power, a big project this year is the careful planning of the site so that bars, stages and other major structures are not positioned far from power sources.
“If we put a stage 100 metres away from where the plug is, it means we have to dig in more cable. All of these small practicalities that go into the planning year-round do cause some serious head scratching,” says Wahrén.
Roskilde Festival owns its main stage but among the suppliers it has a long-term relationship with is Kayam tents, which has supplied the event with huge structures including its 6-pole Valhalla and 6-pole Kayam Concert-tent. Among Roskilde’s other long-lasting suppliers is Meyer Sound, which provides PA systems.
In terms of supply chain challenges, Wahrén believes 2023 will be similar to last year. “It’s tough,” he says. “We have long standing relationships with most of the suppliers we work with, and we do have good faith negotiations with them. We will try to be as forthcoming as we can because we understand that they are also in a tough position.
“It comes down to finding a way where we can all make it through. Hopefully, there will be some stability in the industry in the not-too-distant future.”
While hoping costs and supply chain issues will stabilise in the years to come, Wahrén says one thing is for certain – attracting new young audiences to Roskilde will remain the priority.
“Focusing on a young audience is key, we wouldn’t have been here for 50 years if we had just catered to the same audience that started coming back in ‘71.
“It has always been a focus to try and engage new festivalgoers, show them fresh talent, experiment with new content and ways of planning the festival while introducing green solutions that help protect the planet for future generations.”