Heaven on Earth: Why my first European music festival was the highlight of my life
Picture Osheaga, on an island beach, on the other side of the world, with the love of your life, where the sun never sets, everything is free and Trap Wiz is performing “We Dem Boyz” two feet away from you. I call that heaven. I also call it the highlight of my life. Because it happened.
Just when I was finally able to take a moment’s rest from the insanity and utter bliss that was NXNE this year, it was time to pack my bags, say goodbye to my fam in the 6 and fly seven hours into the future (Eastern European Time Zone) to cover my first European music festival. Ruisrock, one of Europe’s oldest music festivals, which takes place in Turku Finland on an island every year, just passed, and I want to frame my media pass forever.
Although I wrote show recaps from the weekend’s festivities for Urbanology Magazine, there was too much happening behind the scenes not to #Samantics the hell out of the overwhelming experience.
I’m used to covering Canadian music festivals where I have a schedule of events that I know I will be covering beforehand, all of them hip-hop related at the same venues that I have covered endless shows at the entire year leading up to festival season. I love it, but I know what to expect from everything like who will be working the door, who I will be seeing dancing on the couches at Tattoo, which acts will be opening and how many hours after the designated set time that the headliner will finally make it on stage.
At Ruisrock, everything was new.
It was like I was a child and everything was shiny, like when I first entered the music industry three years ago. Here’s why Ruisrock was the best weekend of my life and why Canadian festivals need to take notes:
1. It never gets dark. In Finland, during the summer it just never happens to be nighttime. When the sun finally sets around midnight, the sky is still light blue and the reds, pinks and oranges left from the amazing sunset linger in the bright sky until the sun rises again at 3 a.m. This ensured that not only was it a breeze to stay up all night dancing to performer after performer, but it never got cold and I never got tired. The turn up never ended during the festival from start to finish.
2. Scandinavian people know how to turn up. It’s actually a known fact. There are two things people from Finland are known for, drinking and suicide. (Sad, but true. People told me themselves.) Just like the sun never officially sets in the summer, it never rises during the winter months, so during the short summer, Finnish people make the most of every second of sunlight, chugging down drinks from the moment they wake up to the moment they pass out in a bush somewhere on the Ruisrock island. By late afternoon, people could be found laying face first in the ground all over the place with no care in the world. Ultimately free.
The only job security had during the whole weekend was to bring water to those passed out under trees. No worries all around. An island of hippies. Like a European Woodstock circa ’69, not ’99.
3. There was no drama. No police patrolling the grounds, no fights, no thefts and hip-hop got the same love as rock and electronic music. Everyone came for a good time. The only job security had during the whole weekend was to bring water to those passed out under trees. No worries all around. An island of hippies. Like a European Woodstock circa ’69, not ’99.
4. I didn’t pay for anything. In fact, I actually made a side-hustle profit. Finland has this rule that, since littering during festivals is such a large problem, the festival provides 1 Euro for every empty beer can/bottle you return after you’ve drank a Koff (Finnish beer, which isn’t half bad). That means that a beer only technically costs 5 Euros. That also technically means that if you spend 10 minutes collecting bottles on the beach, you can make back every Euro you spent that day, no matter how much you ate/drank. It also means that if you spend 20 minutes collecting bottles on the beach, you can earn a major profit. Let’s just say I walked away from the festival with double the cash that I even brought to the three-day festival. Laughing to the bank with a purse full of Euros.
I was 100 per cent focused on the sun on my skin and the music that resonated through the large open space. No distractions.
5. People barely spoke English. I guess for some that may seem like a negative thing, but in a crowd of thousands upon thousands, it was liberating to be in my own little world. I was 100 per cent focused on the sun on my skin and the music that resonated through the large open space. No distractions.
6. Hip-hop hooks and rap flows are catchy no matter the language. I got a chance to cover Finland’s Drake, the biggest artist in the country who goes by the name of Cheek. Every single song was in a language I didn’t understand, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t good. I learned that proper hip-hop is universal.
Sometimes journalists write themselves into a bubble when it comes to their genre-specific focus, but Ruisrock gave me the opportunity to pop the bubble I’ve been stuck inside of and focus on great international music.
7. Other genres opened my eyes and ears. Usually during festivals, I’m glued to where the rappers are, but the diverse mix of genres and close proximity of stages gave me a rare treat of taking in acts I would never have seen before. UK’s The 1975 raged during day three, Canada’s electronic Caribou jammed during day one and I was able to witness the Studio Killers’ first ever live performance, which was an experience I will honestly never forget. Sometimes journalists write themselves into a bubble when it comes to their genre-specific focus, but Ruisrock gave me the opportunity to pop the bubble I’ve been stuck inside of and focus on great international music.
8. The festival treated media like royalty. There was no attitude from security, no special lists media had to be on to get into certain media pits and no area was off limits with a media badge. If you’ve covered festivals in Canada, you understand why this was so rare. I made my own schedule, took shortcuts backstage to get from one stage to the other and got some incredible coverage of the amazing live shows.
9. The view was a dream and the vibe was immeasurable and I didn’t take a moment of it for granted.
Canada, I love you, but Ruisrock taught me a lesson in music liberation that I have never experienced, proving that sometimes there is brilliance in the chaos.