Every once in a while I do an interview that kind of blows me away. Not because of anything special that I do, but simply because of how special the subject is. Sometimes you meet people writing about music who just impress you so much it moves you to tears. Sometimes you find people whose passion for the music is utterly unrivaled and whose hard work comes through with their every utterance.
Such was the case with Walter from Roadburn. A soft spoken man who seems unusually timid for a metal promoter, Walter consistently showed the sort of kindness we need in these harsh times. This is a guy who has crafted what is quite probably the best festival of its kind in the world, but still remains humble and above all excited about the music – making this one of my favorite interviews I have ever conducted.
So how are you?
I'm okay, I'm getting a little nervous for Roadburn 2017. Everything is coming together in these last few months so I always get a little nervous. The festival is such a big part of my life.
What drives you to keep making this festival happen?
That's a good question. I think it's an unbridled love. I'm such a music nerd, I love this kind of music, and have been for all of my life. I love the bands that started it in the 60s and 70s and I love all the bands that are carrying the torch right now. I'm always on the lookout for new kinds of music. That's what drives me. I want Roadburn to be open as a festival that is putting emphasis on this underground vibe. I want to offer bands a platform where they can excel and play the gigs of their lives and meet likeminded peers and fans. As long as I can preserve that feeling I will maintain the festival for quite a while.
How responsible do you feel for the heavy scene today? I feel like Roadburn is the main event!
That's a very good question and one that frightens me a bit. People have such a high regard for Roadburn. I want to keep it open minded and it's a hard question to answer. I want to give bands the opportunity to play for an open minded audience who are into the music. That's my main goal. I don't feel responsible for the scene but I feel that Roadburn can pave the way for people trying to do new things and bands and musicians and artists that try to keep evolving and are trying to put their own stamp on this music. It's rather weird to see that there are a lot of people trying to sound like their influences and I would rather see bands doing something of their own. In that aspect I feel responsible for doing Roadburn and giving those bands a platform to grow and break new ground and be noticed. They are very inspiring and pushing boundaries. You're the first one to ask me that question!
What bands on this edition are you especially excited about?
That's always difficult to decide. I believe in all of the bands with my heart and soul. I try and choose bands I love and bands that make a mark on the scene or bands that are breaking new ground. Or can inspire other bands to evolve. I am really excited with what is happening in synthwave. I'm looking forward to some of those bands. I'm obviously super excited about Coven too since they are one of the forefathers of everything that's going on. I'm looking forward to seeing Zeal & Ardour but on the other hand I'm extremely excited to have Deafheaven and Baroness. For me it's always hard to make choices about which bands you think are the best because the whole lineup is done with my heart and soul.
That brings in the question of how you sift through all the submissions. Is there anything that can confirm a bands place at Roadburn?
I get a lot of submissions like you said and I'm trying to keep up with a lot. Sometimes there are bands that I think are really good but don't fit the artistic outline for a given year but I keep them in mind for future editions. Sometimes I'm completely caught by surprise by some submissions because you didn't expect something. Some things are really good but unknown so I try to put them out there and put emphasis on them. I'm so overwhelmed that I want to share them with people. There are a lot of bands that try to emulate their influences and don't add anything to the sound or style and while those bands can sometimes be really good I'm not going to pick them up because I want bands that bring something to the table. It has to have a certain feeling. No matter what the genre. It always comes down to what the music does to me on an emotional level. That is always the most important factor in my decisions.
Do you feel like other festivals do this or do you feel like you are the only one?
For me it's hard to see. There are a lot of Roadburn inspired festivals that are doing a similar thing. Mostly they do it a few years after Roadburn does it and that's sometimes weird to see. I just hope they are thriving on the emotions and the belief system. I'm so in love with this kind of music and I have been listening to this for 35 years now. It's clear to me why some bands belong on Roadburn and why others can be good but don't fit the festival. It just comes naturally. Sometimes I wonder if other festivals feel it the same way or are working like this or if they are just putting lineups together because it needs to be like that for the money. I've been doing Roadburn from an artistic point of view. I want to make an artistic statement with the festival. It's different when you are trying to make money off of it or grow your role in the scene.
How do you decide who curates a day at Roadburn?
It's always an interesting process. All of our curators have made their mark in the scene. They have worked on landmark albums and created something really significant to the scene. They have influenced their peers and others. That's the most important thing in picking a curator. It needs to be someone who has played a pivotal role in Roadburn and metal. There are a lot of people who come to mind and I'm always looking for people that I would like to collaborate with. I choose a curator as someone who I'm going to collaborate with for a year. They tell me what they want and I build a Roadburn around their choices. In the end it's pretty clear who are the curators picks and what are mine but I try to make the festival fit perfectly around them. It's an interesting process and teaches you a lot about the curator who you are working with. It becomes really apparent why some of them make the music that they do or why they have their persona. It's so nice and rewarding.
Is there anyone you dream of being able to collaborate with?
I've always wanted to work with people like Tom Warrior and Voivod because they were childhood heroes so that was a dream come true. I would love to work with people like someone like Billy Gibbons. Sometimes I'm just too modest to approach certain people I think. How do you explain that you're some guy doing a festival and you want to get one of these well known people to curate your festival. Of course I had Lemmy from Motorhead in mind as like the greatest of all time, but I would never have had the courage to make that happen. King Diamond would be a great curator. There's a lot of people in the metal scene I would like to invite.
How did you even get Coven? How did that happen?
I approached them as a fan as well. Seven or eight months ago Jinx Dawson posted on her Facebook, “Hey if Coven were to do shows where should we do them?” I was following the thread and a lot of people wrote that they should play Roadburn. So I sent her a very polite message about what we do and some of the bands we've had. I told her about all the occult rock stuff we've done. We embraced these musicians when they first started their bands. So I wrote her his message introducing myself and Roadburn and explaining how much I admired Coven and how we had given a platform to this music and how I regard Coven as the band that started it all and the most influential band when it comes to this and I politely asked her if she would ever play live if she would consider playing Roadburn because we would love to honor Coven as the most influential band when it comes to this. Then a few months later I got a message back from her and before I knew it I was talking to her agent. Things were quickly confirmed and one and everyone was extremely happy about the invitation. There was a mutual respect, they regard Roadburn as an influential festival. We are all really looking forward to welcoming them at Roadburn.
That's a band I never thought I would see live!
Me neither! I still can't believe my very polite email where I explained in a poignant way why I thought they should play Roadburn actually opened doors!
Something that I noticed in the history of Roadburn was how between 2004 to 2005 Roadburn went from being a small fest in the Netherlands into a multi day thing. What triggered that?
In the early days we definitely did more club nights with a few bands and called it a festival. In 2005 we had already done 9 club nights. A friend of mine had already been a local promoter in Tilburg and asked if we wanted to do the 10th edition with his venue. So we invited 10 bands for the night because we wanted the 10th Roadburn to have 10 bands and we wanted to make something beautiful out of it. Before we knew it we had 16 bands and about a thousand people from all over the world coming to Roadburn. We were able to get Alabama Thunderpussy, Sunn0))), High On Fire and Electric Wizard all in one room. Those bands had such a huge momentum going on and such a huge scene that people from all over the world traveled to be in that room. On the main stage we also had Brant Bjork and Space Ritual and Roadburn was really rooted in that. There was magic in the air. That evening in that room cemented the reputation of Roadburn and how the festival developed. It was not something we really discussed or had a mission statement for. It just literally happened that those bands were in that room at the right moment in time so that something extraordinary could happen. Roadburn as we know it was born on that night. It was born through sheer luck and being in the right place at the right time. A thousand people came and that caught us completely by surprise.
What do you think of the heavy scene today?
I am extremely happy that it is open to experimentation. There are a lot of very interesting things happening in black metal right now. There are bands bringing new things into the genre but also bands that bring in the rawness of the first wave of Black Metal. It's an exciting time in the genre. I love how there are a lot of bands being influenced by more progressive elements. Thy are mixing prog rock into metal. I'm so happy that there are a lot of bands focusing on songwriting and having a go at conventions. A lot of progress has been made in the scene at the moment. Bands are trying to make something of their own and are being inspired by everything. They are extreme metal heads but they are super inspired by so many other styles and forms of music. I think that's really healthy. That means there is a whole new generation of musicians and artists keeping this scene alive and it's not just stagnating but evolving and I'm so happy to get to be a part of it and that I get to witness this first hand with everyone who comes to Roadburn. I'm very happy that people walk around and try to meet other people and share their thoughts and albums. I can not wait to see what the next few years have in store for us in terms of the evolution of heavy music!