Set in the dazzling surroundings of Djurgården – the Royal Park of Stockholm, a stone’s throw from the city centre – Rosendal Garden Party 2023 celebrated its second edition earlier this June, establishing itself as one of the most interesting summer music festivals that the Swedish capital very much needed. The foundation of this four-day event is simple: eat, drink, and enjoy some timeless indie favourites. After last year’s inaugural concerts with the likes of Tyler, The Creator, The Strokes, and Cat Power, this latest occasion The War On Drugs, Fever Ray, and Aphex Twin have taken the lead at such a wonderful location under Stockholm’s everlasting bright summer sky.
It takes less than ten minutes by bus or tram to arrive at the festival venue at the heart of the Royal Garden in Stockholm, a very charismatic island which serves as a public park the year round. With the summer solstice knocking at the door, the citizens of Stockholm can finally enjoy a music festival with a rather quirky line-up, not necessarily filled with bands who just dropped a new full-length but some of the most interesting names in the independent and electronic music scene.
Furthermore, with a healthy selection of food trucks and the possibility to drink at any of the areas of the festival – in Sweden, drinking areas are usually limited just like smoking areas are at airports –, which aligns well with the concept of a festival: feel free, relax and enjoy some good music. Nevertheless, if you compare it to the first edition, the line-up this year had fewer big-hitting headliners. But better to play it safe and let the festival evolve in the upcoming years.
On Friday, The War on Drugs headed the bill. But first, LA female outfit Warpaint took off at the main stage, followed by Jehnny Beth, who seems to be taking a rest from her band Savages to pursue her solo career, which started back in 2015 with a performance at a David Bowie homage concert together with PJ Harvey. To Love Is to Live, her debut solo album was released in 2020. Despite this, Rosendal Garden invited her to the party. Her performance was intense, perhaps too early to get in that mood. All in all, Beth’s songs sounded wild and sharp, her companions on stage were a second singer and some synths and electronic basses that connected with an audience dancing scattered in the daylight.
After Sarah Assbring aka El Perro Del Mar played some records to enliven the afternoon, it was the turn of Swedish psychedelic pop group Amason. A band who rose to popularity with a couple of covers of Foreigner's I Want To Know What Love Is and The Mamas & The Papas’ California Dreamin', but they also had their own hit, Went to War. They have a dedicated fan base which actually set the tone of Friday’s audience, some sort of middle-aged, Swedish pop bourgeoisie.
At ten o’clock, Adam Granduciel and his bandmates of The War On Drugs took over the stage. Grauncel’s story is a beautiful one, teetering on the edge of a fairytale. Not long ago, around 2011, he was playing with Kurt Vile, who used to play in The War On Drugs, and then Kurt signed up with Matador and Granduciel toured as a member of Kurt Vile and The Violators during the Smoke Ring for My Halo days. Thereafter, he started a tour when he played in Stockholm for the first time at the hotel lobby of Scandic Malmen in front of about two hundred people. A couple of full-lengths after that – signed to Atlantic Records –, The War On Drugs’ album A Deeper Understanding won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Album in 2018. As the Grammy stated, the studio albums Granduciel himself helped to produce sound incredible as does their live performance. For over two hours, he played a repertoire including old and new songs to the Rosendal’s sun-kissed audience. I lost track of the number of times Granduciel changed guitars. This is yet another unmistakable sign which confirms The War On Drug are a big band and the days at the hotel lobby are long behind them.
In contrast to Friday, when most of the audience was in their forties, on Saturday rave kids showed up at the Rosendal Garden Party making it all a bit more dynamic. Certainly, the bands of Saturday seemed to draw a larger audience, at least partly because this was the first time Aphex Twin had ever played in Sweden. Furthermore, arguably, Fever Ray is the hottest Swedish live act currently on tour. Her second album, Plunge released at the end of 2017 by Mute Records has acquired praise internationally. She has tour dates booked both in Europe – attending all the main festivals such as Glastonbury, Sónar, and Roskilde – and the US, along with some other places such as Mexico City. Fever Ray also had a large number of fans in the audience. She’s popular for using masks and costumes on stage, but her new style is wearing makeup that makes her face pale with dark eye sockets and a white suit sort of like if David Byrne from the Talking Heads transformed into a zombie.
And finally, Aphex Twin rounded the night off: the man who makes everything inaccessible. A cage around him made it impossible for anyone to get a clear view of him; his face was covered by a net made of steel. His show is also quite obscure; he never plays a recognisable tune but it seems to be he’s just having fun jamming around with his gadgets. In fact, he has publicly admitted on several occasions, “Yeah, I just go on stage and twiddle knobs until people start cheering.” That’s why hardcore fans love him. Gigantic cubes and projections all over the main stage together with his signature sound made everyone, the rave kids and the bourgeoisie, dance and enjoy the evening as the darkness embraced the garden.
All in all, Rosendal Garden Party is a relaxed, small-scale day festival – as in you can go home to sleep with no camping involved. Hopefully next year, we’ll see a greater depth in the bill with more international artists and, why not, getting more involved in promoting local up-and-coming acts with small events during the year to build up to the summer event. Regardless, it seems to be doing quite well for being a new festival in turbulent times.