There’s an old adagio that we all Portuguese people know: wherever we go, no matter if is an uninhabited Pacific island, or an inhospitable Siberian village icing its lungs by inhaling temperatures below -50ºC, we will surely meet a fellow countryman. The Portuguese have this thing of being omnipresent, ubiquitous, even capable of remarkable feats in world conflicts in which we were officially neutral. And, to fulfill the adagio, Roadburn Festival has a rather known Portuguese as well: José Carlos Santos. A penman at Terrorizer, Rock-A-Rolla, LOUD!, etc., he is trusted by Roadburn HQ for his underground knowledge and overall expertise. José knows his stuff. And I can see why they regard the man’s word, as I’ve learned quite a lot myself back in the day, with his old onewinteronly blog, which had these amazing Top 100 at every year-end. I miss that. Oh, well, enough with this intro and let’s move on into the chat we had about his bond with Roadburn and what makes him always looking forward to that weekend in April.
Let’s start by a classic, yet unavoidable, question: how did you become aware of Roadburn’s existence?
I think it might have been around 2005 that I first saw the name thrown around, it was still a small one-day thing, but Sunn O))) played and I remember reading a couple of reviews. It sort of stayed on my radar for a couple of years as it grew and developed, but it was only later that I actually took the decision to go – I had already been to foreign festivals like Tuska and Wacken and a few of other smaller events but I was looking for something a little more outside the norm. My good friend and colleague Ricardo S. Amorim then went to Roadburn 2007 and came back full of good things to say about it, so I just thought fuck it, and decided to go in 2008 for the first time. One of my best decisions ever – I’ve been back every year since.
What was your first Roadburn and what was the very first gig that you had the chance to witness in Tilburg?
As I just jumped the gun on the previous question, it was Roadburn 2008. I clearly remember the first moments: getting there, entering the 013, being extremely impressed with the venue, and walking into the main stage where Capricorns were just starting. They were opening the Thursday which was still a “pre-heat” day, and on that occasion it was dedicated to Rise Above‘s 20th anniversary. Funnily enough, it comes full circle in 2016 with Lee Dorrian curating… but yes, everything about it was a “whoa” moment. I had actually seen Capricorns in Portugal (a kickass show with Lair Of The Minotaur, incidentally one of the bands still on my Roadburn wishlist) the year before, but just that whole atmosphere, the being there, the sound, the room, the people around, even the enveloping weed smell (it was still allowed to smoke inside, in fact it was the last year it was allowed) made it feel like an entirely new experience. As you can see from the schedule, it was still a much smaller event than it is today, but it felt like entering another planet for me.
I remember my first concert in Roadburn – it was Christoph Hahn from Swans playing at Het Patronaat’s ground floor. It had not even started and I immediately felt that I was in engulfed in a rather special dimension, cause Michael Gira was there between the crowd calmly talking with Guy Pinhas. I mean, what? And, for you, what made you instantly realize that Roadburn was something else?
Apart from that first impact I just described, it was exactly that vibe you felt on that occasion too. We probably sound like starstruck teenagers, but it is not at all usual to feel so close to not only the artists, but their crew, and the festival people themselves, as you do at Roadburn. You might hear all about it being one big family, but it’s only when you’re actually there that you really get it. On Friday, in that 2008 edition, I have a very clear memory of walking down the Heuvelstraat, going past Scott Kelly and Aaron Turner and then almost bumping into J Mascis when I turned the corner. Bloody hell, right? I think Steve Von Till really put it best when he tried to describe it, and Roadburn itself thinks so too.
Can you cite some other unique moments, beside the concerts, that you deeply cherish and that could only take place at Roadburn?
Going on my ninth year, they are truly way too many to mention. In fact, each year is so packed full of little experiences that they’d be way too many to mention even if I had just been there once. But a few do stand out, yeah. For instance, the moment when we realised everything was screwed up in 2010 because of Eyjafjallajökull – to this day I still know how to spell that fucker. I have close Icelandic friends whose names I have trouble with, but that bastard is stuck in my brain forever. Walter (the festival’s director, as most probably know) came on stage to explain what was going on, which bands were definitely off the bill and which ones were still a bit touch and go because of all the transportation chaos caused by the volcano, and he was visibly shaken. The spontaneous outpouring of love and support from the crowd in that moment, with applause and words of appreciation and a little “we love you Walter” chant was something I’ll never forget, and I suspect neither will Walter – who is, by the way, the nicest and most knowledgeable person I’ve ever met in the music business. There was a general feeling of “fuck the volcano”, and whatever else the outside world throws at us, even if there aren’t any bands at all until the end of the festival we’ll just stay here and have a great time anyway. We won, in the end – every band we missed because of the volcano played there the following year, and Walter even got to show Eyjafjallajökull how he felt about it in person a couple of years later.
Also, and apologies for sounding like an elitist prick, but the press meetings at Roadburn are always hugely fun, like no other festival I’ve been to. Participating in a metal quiz (and winning it, ha!) with your fellow scribes, devouring free sushi or having Conny Ochs play you and three other people a few requested songs are some examples of things I wouldn’t mind doing again.
As time went by, you became closer and closer to Roadburn’s HQ. These days, you’re a well-known and respected penman within the festival’s realm, steadily giving your insight to it. How did that happen?
I’m still trying to figure it out myself. 🙂 Seriously though, I guess it’s just a question of being passionate about things. I’ve always felt a rather abstract debt of gratitude to Roadburn for all the unforgettable moments it has provided me over the years. Not only have I seen bands and shows there that I never thought I’d be able to, not only are most of my musical highlights taken from there, but it’s also become a place where I can see most of my dearest friends from around the world gathered every year, and that is priceless. So I have always strived to give something back, which in this case is easy, because, having said all that, in the end I don’t really do any of these things due to any obligation or debt of gratitude, I do them because I think Roadburn and the people who make it happen really deserve the recognition, and because I believe every serious music fan should go there at least once and realise how much this event, and everything around it, contributes to the music scene. So, I’ve always tried to spread the word about the festival as much as possible, reviewing it and taking photos for all the mags I work with, giving the bands that play there a shout out in the months prior to each edition, that sort of thing. I’ve also gotten to know Walter and Jurgen and some of the festival staff over the years, I already knew Becky from before too, and I like giving them a few (well, way too many, probably) suggestions and help out in whatever way I can. So whenever an opportunity has arisen to actually be useful to the festival itself I’ve taken it as a huge honour, be it contributing for the festival fanzine, the wonderful Weirdo Canyon Dispatch where JJ Koczan does a fantastic job, or helping out with a few press releases and write-ups as I do now, it’s all good fun and basically the favourite part of my job.
Now, what’s your favorite drinking spot in the beautiful Heuvelstraat?
This will sound really cheesy, I know, but since they’re all pretty good, my favourite is the one where my friends happen to congregate at that particular time! It’s actually becoming ridiculous, in a funny way, as my girlfriend can attest – every year it gets harder and harder to walk ten meters on that bit of street without bumping into someone I know, and probably haven’t seen in months. So I believe I’ve sampled the liquid delights of every single place in that street, and yes, off the top of my head a couple of them do stand out – the Cul de Sac, for obvious reasons, but that one was already awesome before turning into a Roadburn venue. There’s also a strangely recent discovery, the first one on the left when you enter the street coming from the main square, the BuitenBeentje if I’m not mistaken. It doesn’t look half as fancy as any other place in that street, it’s totally an old man pub and clearly the least assuming of the entire street. Most people seem to block it from their brains as I’ve talked to many usual Roadburners who have never been there, and I myself have only gone there two or three years ago for the first time. But the beer is amazing, it’s cheap, and the atmosphere is really unique, especially at night. Outside of drinking, I have to say the Polly Maggoo does a mean burger, and the new ribs place in front of it is to die for too. I’ve also started a yearly tradition with my pal Ralf from Hypertension Records of sampling the dishes with the Roadburn theme on that restaurant in the corner of Heuvel and the 013 street – I remember the Napalm Death ribs were particularly wonderful!
And, of course, what are your favorite gigs ever on your Roadburn’s resume?
Again, way too many to list, but I’ll play nice and give you a few. I’ll try to pick a couple from each year. So, Scott Kelly in 2008, my first time seeing him, and I got goosebumps during the whole show. Black Shape Of Nexus were also crushing that year, on the small Batcave (afterwards renamed Stage01, and now non-existing), I hadn’t heard them before I went into that gig. Wolves In The Throne Room laying waste to the Green Room in 2009, the same year I saw Neurosis for the first time, as they launched into a terrifying ‘Through Silver In Blood’ at the end. Goatsnake were tremendous in 2010, as was the moment when Nocturno Culto stepped on stage to sing “Dethroned Emperor” with Tom Warrior‘s Triptykon (mind: blown!). 2011 might have been the most insane edition so far, I never thought I’d ever see Winter play live and that might be the one moment I’d pick from all my Roadburns so far. But also, Swans destroying everything, Pentagram with Victor Griffin, Wovenhand with David Eugene Edwards alone on stage being shit-your-pants scary, Trap Them creating the first Roadburn moshpit and of course, Candlemass playing ‘Epicus Doomicus Metallicus’ with Johan Längqvist! To this day I still pinch myself wondering if Roadburn 2011 really happened. Voivod playing ‘Dimension Hatröss’ and the total chaos of Doom at the Het Patronaat (with YOB‘s Mike Scheidt giving the best stagediving performance by anyone ever) were great 2012 highlights, and I confess I wept a little during 40 Watt Sun. The sweaty, savage Lord Mantis show at the packed Stage01 in 2013 was awesome, and that was also the first year with Portuguese bands on the bill, the awesome Process Of Guilt and Black Bombaim, which made me rather proud. The best show that year was however on the Afterburner, when Nihill left me and PA’s scribe Luís Pires in complete and utter stunned silence for minutes afterwards. A few personal favourites of mine almost tore down the Het Patronaat in 2014, like 16 and Indian, and seeing Noothgrush for the first time was also a personal life achievement unlocked. In 2015 nothing really beat the excitement of Gnaw Their Tongues‘ first live show, or in a completely opposite direction the grandiosity of Fields Of The Nephilim‘s Friday show – everyone was watching it, from Walter himself, to important record label bosses, to fuckin’ Mike IX Williams, who was down the front taking pictures with his phone ten minutes before Eyehategod were set to start on the Patronaat!
We all know how RB has this special gift of turning dreams into reality. Is there still anything that you wish to happen there?
Oh man, there’s a whole bunch still on my wishlist, and just like the highlights, that list only gets bigger every year, as poor Walter is acutely aware too! One of my wishes, one that I actually never voiced in public, is being fulfilled in 2016, and don’t bother trying to guess because you’ll never get there – trust me, you’ll know it when it’s announced. I do dream of impossible things like a Khanate reunion (or at least Gnaw!), or Pyramids‘ first live show, but also Planes Mistaken For Stars, Autopsy, William Elliott Whitmore, or even recent wishes like this fantastic Chinese band called Zuriaake which you have to listen to (and see!) to believe. I also have the firm conviction that if Darkthrone ever play live, it should be as a Roadburn surprise show. The list goes on and on, and surely Roadburn will too, and whatever the future editions hold, I’m sure we’ll have a blast. As long as it exists, I’m there!