Photo: Peter Troest
If one band had the largest singular impact on Roadburn 2022, it’s Dutch alt-rock group GGGOLDDD. Having debuted their powerful LP This Shame Should Not Be Mine at the festival’s online Redux event in 2021, they returned this year not only to play the album in full, complete with string quintet, but also acted as guest curators for the entire weekend, securing acts as wide ranging as Duma and Midwife to play for captive, curious audiences.
We spoke with Milena Eva and Thomas Sciarone, the partnership at the heart of the band, to discuss their performance, curation, and what it takes to convince a Finnish techno act to play a heavy music festival.
So onto Roadburn. Let’s take ourselves back there. And specifically to your amazing set which has been talked about so much since. Did you get a sense that you played one of the most talked-about sets of the festival in the immediate aftermath?
Thomas Sciarone: Yeah, it’s always weird. It was not as weird as last year because there was only the online event [Roadburn Redux], which took maybe a little bit more time even to sink in and to get a grasp of the impact that that show has. But I think the one thing we did notice was how respectful and quiet the audience was during our set. And especially in the Netherlands (although of course, Roadburn is a very international festival with a very international audience) that means a lot, and I think, for us, that already gave us an idea of how people experienced it.
Milena Eva: I mean, I was already happy that there were people in the room, so for me that was already a win! I don’t really remember noticing that it was that quiet. I mean, everybody told us afterwards, but I didn’t really notice it when we were on stage. I mean, [I was] just trying to focus on everything else you have to do.
TS: I had the luxury to be side-stage for one song. And that was ‘On You’, the second to last song. Which is probably also the quietest song of the set. So I could experience that as an audience member more than as a band member. So that’s how I noticed the focus among the crowds.
ME: I mean, Roadburn is a very special place to play. To me, it’s the best festival in the world. It really is. And people are so respectful yeah, but also, I think, just really into it, and they just really want to enjoy every second of everything they go and see and that’s the best thing you can have. I mean, sometimes you play shows as a support act for other bands or whatever. Or there’s maybe a few other people in the room that don’t even know who you are. So it’s really special to play a set like this.
TS: It’s the base where small bands go to live their dream, that’s how it kind of feels because for us to play live for like, what, 3000 people? That’s, at least up till now and probably for the nearby future, a once in a lifetime opportunity.
ME: I saw these stories on Instagram yesterday, Meshuggah and Zeal & Ardor playing the 013 venue this week, and I was really impressed by how big it was and just noticed like, “oh yeah, that’s where we played”. To me these are huge bands who can play big venues. But we did that venue as well, which is really cool.
TS: For them. It’s their daily reality – for us it was a very special thing.
From the audience perspective, it’s nice that there is that respect at Roadburn when there is a show that has more space, or more quiet moments in it, because people will go from watching, you know, a crazy black metal band to going to see you guys or Emma Ruth Rundle, and people seem to be able to just switch gears.
ME: It’s really impressive, too. And I also like that, at some of the shows that we curated, we didn’t really know what was going to happen, but still people with battle vests would go and watch Kamiel Thomas. So really I love that about the festival as well this year, nobody’s really stuck between boundaries of genre or something. Which I love. Because I’m like that, too. I think everybody more or less is turning into that person nowadays. So that was really nice.
Regarding the practicalities of the set, and accommodating the extra players that you had on the stage, can you just tell me a little bit about what that entailed and the process behind it?
ME: Well, when we wrote the music for this album, we, at one point, had this discussion about this melody line that we wanted to create. I wanted to make something that would sound like the violins were played in reverse, and we couldn’t make it work. And then Thomas tweaked a lot of stuff using software violins, which he called drunk violins. And those are the sounds like on the album, so it’s a bit like tweaked weird violins. But after the set last year at Redux, we spoke to Walter [Hoeijmakers, Roadburn co-founder and artistic director] after the set, I think like half an hour after the set or something. And I just told him like, what if we do it next year, but then with people in the venue and with actual actual violinists? And he said “yeah, I think we can make that work”. So we just kind of said it out loud, and then it happened. It’s a super special thing. On the album, it’s a bit of a weird alien kind of version of what violins can be. But at Roadburn it was super special to play with actual violins. I mean, when we rehearsed with them for the first time, it was really heartbreaking to me. And really sent shivers down my spine because they go right through you. I don’t know what it is with strings, but somehow it has like an effect on me. I’m not sure if everybody has it, but to me, it was super emotional to hear it.
TS: We got some help from Jo Quail to actually find the violinists which was amazing. And in no time we had these five players together, and we only rehearsed twice. That’s the great thing about playing with professional musicians. It was just really cool. It’s kind of weird especially because you only rehearse twice. You don’t really get to create this group feeling or this band feeling which you have if you play together every week for years and years. But I think it worked out really well.
ME: It was like an extension of my voice. That’s also why we put them in the middle of the stage. Because it was nice to have this backup of five women giving the extra push.
TS: I read a review which kind of said this – that the whole show was about your voice and violins and the rest of the band was just like [there] *laughs*.
ME: I mean, this was a very special thing, I don’t think we’ll be able to do it more often but it was really super special.
So you touched upon the fact that it’s not even the first time you played the album at Roadburn because of Redux the year before. As part of Redux, it felt like This Shame Should Not Be Mine was a real focal point of that event. And it was statistically incredibly popular. So having now had the experience of running a stream versus playing to the people in 013, I’m interested to know about the differences. What was it like getting involved in the stream, and were there any particular advantages to each?
TS: It’s kind of weird. Because I anticipated it to be completely different this year, because last time was very stressful. Of course, Walter called us in, I think it was September 2020. To ask us if we wanted to do a commissioned piece for Roadburn 2021.
ME: Yeah, late September. Let’s say we started October.
TS: We confirmed in October because Walter gave us a mandatory thinking time of two weeks. So it was mid-October, probably end of October. When we confirmed we wanted to do this, which gave us about half a year to write the whole piece. And we had some ideas…
ME: And to be ready to perform!
TS: Yeah to write and rehearse it, and especially also for me to get comfortable enough with all the new instruments, because all the synthesizer stuff was new to me to actually be able to control them in a live setting. So that was a very, very stressful period, especially towards the end of the period, leading up to Roadburn Redux. And out of that stress, we just started playing the show when it was showtime. And then it was done. And it was a huge relief, we had done it. And we felt that we had nailed it as well. And now this year, we thought, okay, we’ve done this a year ago, we are very well rehearsed and well prepared. And still we had the most stressful changeover we ever had just just before the show. So again, just some technical stuff that had to do with the patch list that was patched incorrectly, and therefore our whole in-ear mix was totally messed up. So we had to fix that for the whole duration of the changeover that we had. And we weren’t even sure – Milena, I had no idea how her ears would sound when she went on stage. But we were like, okay, we can start 15 minutes late, or we can just rely on it and wing it. And that’s what we decided to do.
ME: You just said that, “let’s just wing it”, and I was like seriously? But we did.
TS: So the awkward resemblance between the two sets was how stressful they were!
ME: With Redux and also with this, we kind of felt that it was going to be important. I mean, with Redux, we didn’t really know what was going to happen, because we didn’t know if anybody was going to watch the livestreams at all. It wasn’t just really clear to us yet. But we knew that we were going to do something special because it was so different from what we did before and because of the story that is attached to it. And when we released the statement in the morning, it was obvious that there was this kind of buzz and that people were going to be ready to watch the show. So we knew that there were people that were willing to watch it, which made it different, I think. And with this show I just really hoped that there were going to be people in the room. Technically, it was very stressful. But I mean, the story is already out there and that helped a lot. I think I got a lot of really amazing responses over the year, and especially right after Redux. I mean, I was okay with telling the story and so the response from Redux was really overwhelming as well. But the biggest difference, obviously, it’s feeling the energy in a room with so many people in it, that are looking forward to see it and responding to it at the moment you’re doing it, which is different from the Redux show, of course. I think that’s the most wonderful thing. And probably one of the reasons we first started playing music was to have that experience of people in a room experiencing this one thing. So that was very, very special.
You’ve said that what are the unifying themes of both sets was stress, and maybe just to give yourself an even easier time, you also acted as curators at the festival. On paper the curation sounds like it’s this incredibly fun job to do. But what are the practicalities of it? How do you balance inviting every artist that you want to share with people versus maintaining a cohesion and saying what you want to?
ME: I think what happened was that we just told Walter what we’d really like to book while he is also trying to filter what he wants to actually add to the festival. So there were things that are just impossible that you ask for, I mean, financially, or logically, there’s always bands that are not touring, or are indeed financially too complicated, or whatever, to be booked. He kind of immediately knows because there’s a lot of things that he already knows about, or that he already tried or whatever. And then I think what we really wanted to do is broaden the vision of what Roadburn is. And that’s also what Walter asked from us he said hey, could you help me with this “redefining heaviness” element of the festival? And being the music lovers we are, we were really super psyched to do that. So we kind of pushed the boundaries. I think sometimes we pushed it maybe a little bit too much for Walter, for example Amnesia Scanner was one of the acts that we wanted to book from the get go. We said that in our first conversation, I think, and he was very open to it. But he didn’t really know, he had never heard of them. And he didn’t know if it’d be the perfect match. I mean, it’s always a bit of a gamble, of course, to see if people like it as well. So he took a lot of risks. He just trusted us, I guess.
TS: Everything’s a conversation. And Walter has a lot of sparring partners, people that he talks with, and some of them confirmed that yeah, Amnesia Scanner would be a very interesting addition to the festival. It’s about communicating with each other and throwing out ideas.
ME: We also just wanted to book artists that we didn’t understand why they hadn’t played Roadburn yet. There were also bands like Liturgy for example that we really were like, why didn’t we see them in the last couple of years? Walter jumped right on that because he really wanted to have Liturgy as well.
TS: He was like, “I always thought they are such a love-hate band, I’m not sure, but if you say ‘do it’, then let’s do it.” So we did it and I saw a lot of divisive reviews about the Liturgy set, some people really hated it and some people didn’t. So Walter was right, but I think especially during the Origins Of The Alimonies set–
ME: Fucking hell, yes!
TS: Right? For me that was an absolute highlight of the festival, so sure you can hate it but then it doesn’t take anything away from the quality or the experience of the people that loved it.
But also something like Duma, which was just a cathartic party-like experience, a lot of people. And I think quite a few people knew them, probably even more than Amnesia Scanner but to see this purely electronic artist making a festival like this their home… I think that’s the way forward.
ME: For their show the setup of the crowd or the venue was super cool as well. And very quiet as well. I thought that was really impressive.
To answer your question a little bit – I don’t think it was that stressful for me. At the festival itself, when we had to run from band to band it was a bit stressful but booking the acts over the past few months was a really nice experience. Walter is a really good guy, we just talked to him every week, I had a phone call for an hour or more than an hour. We just talked a lot.
TS: We just felt like friends working together on something beautiful.
ME: It was really laid back. I think the stressful part of booking everything was not on our end. So I mean for Roadburn obviously, there’s all these contractual and technical logistics that you have to organise. But we were just like kids in a candy store.
TS: We could say we would love to see Liturgy doing Origin Of The Alimonies as an opera! But we were not involved with the whole production of that…
ME: Which was really a lot of work. So we got updates every few days. But I mean, it’s not like we have to do anything with that. So that was a very luxurious position to have.
On a personal level – Amnesia Scanner, such a good band and I’ve never had the opportunity to see them before, so great call! With acts like Amnesia Scanner, or others who really come under the ‘redefining heaviness’ banner of the festival. Did you have to approach them in a certain way to explain, you know, maybe on the surface, this looks like a heavy or a metal festival, but like, you’re gonna go down well here!
ME: Especially Amnesia Scanner! Most of the bands said yes, immediately. But Amnesia Scanner needed to have like this introduction, which I kind of understand if you know where they’re coming from, and what scene they normally play in. They were just like, we love all the bands that play there, but I don’t we don’t see a fit. So we kind of had to convince them.
TS: Yeah, we really had to convince them to play. And that took quite a lot of work not only from our side, but also from Roadburn, from 013. But even from their own management and their own booking agents.
ME: Everybody was like “do it”, but the guys themselves were a bit like, “I dunno, are we going to have a good show?” And I mean, fifteen minutes before the show started, we weren’t even sure if it was going to be a good show. I mean, the show was going to be good, obviously. But the venue was totally empty, fifteen minutes to go, empty. We were just like, let’s hope that people show up because I really love them. Yeah, but then, five minutes into the show, it was just ridiculous. So many people were enjoying it so much. So definitely a good fit for Roadburn but I mean, I always think that if I like it, why wouldn’t anybody else? So I understand that it is a bit weird from the whole perspective of what Roadburn can be. But I really loved that we booked some acts that worked. I mean, probably not for everybody, sadly, but maybe for a lot of people who weren’t sure that it was going to be something that they’d like.
TS: I’m just really happy that the Roadburn crowds delivered for Amnesia Scanner because if you go to such a festival, and you’re kind of reluctant to say yes. And then you can have people on their phones, it could’ve been a whole shitty experience.
And how many of the acts that you curated did you manage to watch from the side of the stage or from the audience?
ME: We caught everything. Yeah. And met everybody afterwards or before the show, so that was really nice. But I mean, we saw everything. So it was a bit of a stressful weekend in that regard.
TS: Roadburn is the kind of festival where you don’t want everything to be too planned out for you because there’s so much to discover. But yeah, for us, a lot of stuff was planned out. It also made it less of a headache of “what are we going to see now?” and “where should we go now?” Because we just had a lot of obligations but in a fun way.
ME: Best obligations ever.
Given what it took to get everybody there, having had Redux and also the year before where there wasn’t really much of a Roadburn presence. Was there a moment in the run up to the festival where things kind of tipped and you both felt “oh shit, this is actually going to happen”?
TS: Yeah, I think probably six weeks before the festival or something like that. I think in February when we were still probably kind of locked down here. We weren’t even sure if there was going to be a festival at all.
ME: So we were rehearsing a bit with the set of course, we were doing something but we weren’t sure if there were going to be shows at all.
TS: Even when we got the Amenra dates offered that we did in the lead up to Roadburn. We got them offered quite late, and still at that point we were like are we can say yes, but we have no idea if they are actually going to take place. Because you didn’t know, also because of the different situations per country COVID wise. So everything was quite uncertain until somewhere in March.
ME: In February, we were both like, let’s not pin our hopes on it going ahead. It’s just going to be super nice if it does. And if it doesn’t happen, we won’t be that bummed. But then I think when we released the album, 1st of April, something like that, we were totally convinced that it was going to happen. And then it started to really be like, let’s hope nobody has to cancel, obviously Backxwash as one of our curated artists had to cancel. But that was the only cancellation we got. I mean, it really went well, there weren’t that many cancellations, which was something they obviously anticipated. There were a lot of bands that toured the UK before coming to the Netherlands. And then they had to test everybody, of course, coming from the UK to [mainland] Europe again. And that was really like a thing that they were really anticipating to be a problem. But it wasn’t somehow so.
The last question I have for you is about the lasting synergy that GGGOLDDD and Roadburn seem to have developed over the years. You’ve played the festival more than once and you’ve had these incredible marquee shows, and then there was Redux, then the curation – do you feel that there are still unexplored opportunities for collaboration between yourselves in the festival? What would be next?
ME: I really hope so. I mean, I don’t think we’ll play it next year. I mean, you can’t do it every year! But if we could, we would.
TS: Yeah. And Walter announced this during Roadburn at the Q&A so I’m comfortable saying this, but I will be part of the creative team of Roadburn from now on. So yeah, there’s definitely this symbiosis almost. That’s come to spring in the last three, four years.
ME: Yeah. I mean, Walter also called us especially to ask for things that were not on our curation. But just to ask the question, like, “what if I want to book this? Do you think that’s going to be a nice act to add to Roadburn?” So it kind of was, in that way, it’s really good teamwork between you and Walter and the rest of the team.
TS: But we’ll have to see, when it comes to GGGOLDDD and Roadburn. We’ll just have to see, because what I love about Roadburn is that it’s so forward and future minded. And I think GGGOLDDD is also very forward and future minded. And as long as it makes sense for us to bring those two together, why shouldn’t we?
ME: And as visitors? I think we’ll definitely be there every year. I mean, we’ve been there the last ten years. I think we missed one year. We’ve been there for so many years, every year. I mean, It’s easy, it’s an hour by train, it’s super easy to go there. So if the best festival in the world is so close to home, then we will definitely be there every year, if we’re not on tour. But I think for us, I feel like Roadburn is a place where we can really feel safe and at home.
TS: But I have to say, with all that we did with Roadburn, it kind of feels like we completed the game if you understand what I’m saying? Or the level – so which level is next?
ME: And it’s definitely the place if you want to do something special or something smaller or something new. I mean, it’s definitely a place where we can experiment with stuff as well, which I really like. I mean, it’s kind of what we did with writing this piece of music. We felt kind of free to just experiment with everything we wanted to do with electronics and everything.
TS: We haven’t been an Artist In Residence yet, maybe we should!
ME: We should talk to Walter, make a commissioned piece with Amnesia Scanner and Milena. That would be amazing.
That would be amazing. I feel like a set with you guys and Thou would probably be the most Roadburn thing of all time.
ME: That would be wild. Yes.
This Shame Should Not Be Mine is out now. Order here.
Words: Luke Jackson
Live Photos: Peter Troest