A music festival is a completely different musical experience to a normal concert. One is no longer reviewing the purely musical aspects to a gig but the entire festival experience. A warm shower in the morning is almost as important as a Jack White guitar solo. So it is with great enthusiasm that I review this festival of which I have become a veteran (this was my sixth year) which has a stellar line-up and facilities that put British festivals to shame.
Due to the British government’s over-reaction on terror, the day starts early for me with a scheduled three hour wait for a plane before an additional three hours are added on with no reason given other than the fact that British Airways are running late. By the time I get into central Amsterdam it is 1am. The next day the journey to the festival ground goes without a hitch. Trains run regularly from central Amsterdam to the town of Lelystat from where it is a thirty minute taxi ride to the festival site. As we get to the station, our large group is automatically attracted to the white limo waiting near the taxi rank. Thanks to this vehicle, the drive was smooth and cheaper than an equivalent taxi fare and we sat down ready to queue until the gates opened.
At 3pm, the gates were opened and we got through to our preferred camping spot relatively easily and had all of our tents and pagodas up before the rain started. Ultimately, it was an early night for me as the toll of the days drinking and lack of substantial food now took its toll. I had another three days of partying, I didn’t want to peak early on.
On Friday, the festival started with a bang. Wolfmother were first on the main stage (called ‘Alpha’) and they presented prog-rock of the highest quality. The Australians have a real guitar virtuoso and singer who obviously takes his inspiration from Robert Plant. It was an almost perfect start to the day. A brilliant rock performance and one that will make me check out their record. Razorlight were next up, on the slightly smaller ‘Grolsch’ stage. They were by far the most disappointing act of the weekend. While songs like ‘Golden Touch’ are undeniably excellent, their new material is weaker than an old ladies bladder. The only redeeming feature of their new album is the great guitar riff in ‘In the Morning’, and even that was stolen from an Arcade Fire song. I think that the weakness of the new songs is in part masked by the cult that now surrounds lead singer Johnny Borrell. As he takes his top off and the women in the crowd scream, the quality of the songs becomes almost irrelevant. This poor performance is even more frustrating when one remembers the storming gig that Razorlight gave at the same festival in 2004, albeit to a smaller crowd.
We decided to catch the Dead 60s who while we were there played some pretty standard dance/ska tunes but there was little there to keep me interested and I decided to catch the end of the Magic Numbers. This is a band that I’ve seen countless times before and it is for this reason that I initially decided to give them a miss and catch the Dead 60s. But after catching the end of ‘I see You, You See Me’, I realise what a dunce I’ve been for missing them. The set ends with a raucous new song that was premiered at Lowlands in 2005. It has now developed into a massive guitar jam laced song which goes on for what seems like twenty minutes but it never feels too long.
After the Numeros Magiques, some refuelling was required. This necessitated a trip to one of the numerous eateries on site. The food at Lowlands is amazing and beats an English festival hands down. There are Dutch specialities like pancakes, chips and mayonnaise, beenham, and frikandel. In addition to this there are foreign specialities like Vietnamese food, Indian curry, noodles, pizza, falafel, and kebab. Sweet snacks are provided by the Ice-cream, fruit, and candyfloss stands. The food really is special at Lowlands and relatively cheap for a festival. My tip if you go next year, always start the day with a pancake.
The other acts of the day were uninteresting to me. I had no desire to see Snow Patrol’s cheesy climax involving lighters aloft in the sky which must be boring the band to shreds now, nor indeed did I want to see Hard-Fi’s distinct brand of chav-rock I decided to see Placebo from the slopes which surround the sides of the Alpha tent. Their act was a relative surprise for me as they were much more proficient than last time they played the festival. Their new material, especially ‘Meds’, went down a treat with the festival crowd, although the biggest cheer was reserved for their older songs. The evening finished with some dancing at the ‘Never Mind the British’ night. Perhaps this was a tribute to the ever-growing numbers of Brits who make the hop across the channel to Lowlands, but whatever it was it was a perfect mix of British pop and rock music and it even included ‘You’ll never Walk Alone’.
This is the big one for me! A heavy day of music is expected and I prepared this by eating a pancake and then drinking a beer at around 11am. When in Rome and all that! The first act that I caught was Urban Dance Squad whose music so blatantly inspired Rage Against the Machine that it is a travesty that they were not the ones who became mega-stars. The Guillemots were next and were the first relative surprise of the festival. The small tent was packed as the band played their songs. Their music reminded me of the Arcade Fire mixed with Britpop. They do weird stuff on stage (like play the guitar with an electric drill) like Arcade Fire and their songs also have that epic sonic quality but they have a ‘popiness’ that Arcade Fire lacks. This is definitely a band worth keeping an eye open for.
We then took in Be Your own PET who provided enough energy on stage to make up for the weary-eyed festival goers. Their punk music was energetic and well crafted and the singer is indeed a passionate performer. However, their set lasted for only twenty minutes. Still, that’s kind of a punk thing to do (I guess). It gave us enough time to bag a good spot for the Raconteurs over at the ‘Grolsch’ tent.
Let me please preclude my review by saying that I will probably be drooling over my keyboard as I type this as this was one of the most amazing musical performances that I have ever witnessed. Jack White simply stole the show. The band as a whole were brilliant, their songs amazing but it was two songs that really stood out. Firstly, the cover of a song made famous by Nancy Sinatra and the film, Kill Bill, ‘Bang Bang’ which was absolutely astounding. The craftsmanship showed not only by Jack White but also the other members of the band was beyond compare. The singing by Jack White was absolutely mesmerising, his vocals were pure rock and roll. Secondly, the final song, ‘Blue Veins’ allowed Jack White to show off his guitar skills. His amazing guitar work puts other bands to shame and I spent most of the time after the gig asking myself how someone gets so good at guitar. The only logical conclusion that was reached was that Jack White is an alien from outerspace.
The Raconteurs was an amazing experience that I want to replicate as soon as possible. I can only hope that it won’t be too soon. Also, in case you’re wondering, the Raconteurs are better than the White Stripes. Fact. With the Raconteurs finished it was time to sit and recover one’s thoughts. Iggy & the Stooges was on stage next. His performance did not disappoint and was raucous and surprisingly energetic for a man his age. The highlight was, of course, ‘I Wanna be Your Dog’, although a close second was when Iggy pulled fans from the crowd onto the stage and they danced and took photos and laughed as if there was no tomorrow. I bet that this was their moment of the festival and it was a great Lowlands moment. Iggy left to much applause with his trousers nearly falling from his skinny waist and revealing his love organ, but Iggy didn’t care. Punk fuckin’ rock and roll.
By the time Iggy finished we decided against visiting Massive Attack on the main stage and instead listened to the gypsy punk of Gogol Bordello from the nearest bar. I wasn’t paying complete attention but it did seem to be a very active set with the crowd loving every minute of it. Unfortunately, to fully enjoy a festival one has to miss some acts (its just the way things go) otherwise you end up seeing part of a band’s set from the back of a large crowd and spend most of your time marching between stages. That is no way to enjoy a festival.
A rainy Sunday morning started with a shower (they have hot-showers at lowlands!) and then Nizlopi – mainly because I wanted to be out of the rain. They did that JCB song that went to number one at Christmas which incidentally also makes me want to kill. Then the talented guy (the one with the double bass and who also did human beatbox) started doing a Metallica guitar riff with his voice and Lowlands went wild, but he then stopped to do some crappy rap song. The other bloke is the singer/rapper. Well rapper is probably the wrong word, he is downright awful and this was proved when he got a random guy from the crowd to rap over a beat and he was byfar the better rapper.
With Nizlopi well and truly over (despite playing 15 minutes more than their allocated slot – rock and roll!), Forward Russia! came onto the stage and played their distinct brand of punk music. Their music was a mix of punk and the more musical elements of Radiohead. Along with the Guillemots, it was probably the most experimental style of rock music that I witnessed, yet it maintained its aggressive punky edge. A good festival band that I’m glad to have witnessed if only for the reason that I’d probably never pay to see them at their own shows or buy their record.
Broken Social Scene come from Canada and played music which I could describe as ‘stoner rock’. The songs were mesmerising and had that knack of sticking in your head. Ultimately though they were slightly disappointing, a lesser My Morning Jacket or Wilco, who seemed to dress in Gap clothes. Perhaps they are sponsored by Gap? Who knows.
The Kooks were on next. They seemed to attract thousands of teenage girls. Their songs have proved to be quite popular on the radio in the UK. And quite rightly so, these boys from Brighton seem to have the knack of writing a good pop-rock tune. Their bass player was also impressive and the set as a whole was a lot more funky than I expected but ultimately, it was a little disappointing. Perhaps I was expecting too much but I seemed to get bored in the middle of their set for some reason. But they were a popular act and one that may well return to play lowlands on one of the larger stages.
The rain then started to downpour in torrents as I caught Pennywise and got absolutely soaked. Pennywise are a heavy metal band who have a song which involves lots of chanting. The chants are heard every year at Lowlands and the various rock DJs of past festivals know that they are onto a winner when they play this song. So I stayed in the rain to hear one song and the crowd sang along, and I guess it was good but I was so wet that I didn’t really care. It was time to head over to the Arctic Monkeys.
The Arctic Monkeys were again in fine form and put on a top show. They seemed to be much more musically accomplished than they were when I first saw them in February. They even had some musically interesting ideas, bridging two songs with a bongo solo. However, it was all about the songs and the band delivered their now classic hits to an ecstatic crowd, with the crowd singing in unison – Dutch and Brits alike. The highlight was at the end of the first verse of ‘When the Lights Go Down’ where the band stopped to allow the crowd to cheer which grew into an amazing raucous noise which lasted for what seemed like an eternity before the band continued the song. The Monkeys have moved on and are now accomplished second billers of a major music festival. They seem to do no wrong and even showcase a song “off their next album” in a completely nonchalant manner.
The final act that I witnessed was Belle & Sebastian. The band showcased both their new and older material. However, they were being difficult and had a tantrum by lowering the volume which meant that their music remained inaccessible to most in the tent. They have done this in the past to reward their loyal fans who will be at the front of the gig, but at a festival it is a silly thing to do. They still managed to win me over with some passionate performances, a girl called Annick who was pulled onto the stage, and the application of mascara to the lead singer’s eyes, but I couldn’t help thinking that their set would have been better received had they turned the volume up.
And so ended Lowlands for 2006. The festival was, as always, a brilliant one with some excellent musical performances and a lovely atmosphere which, despite the increasing numbers of Brits, was never threatening. The food and facilities are second to none and it really opens one’s eyes as to how poorly festival-goers in the UK are treated by the major festivals.
Musically, it will take a lot to top the performance of the Raconteurs where I was only inches away from Jack White’s amazing guitar solos. This now feels like one of those musical moments that I will tell my grandchildren. Arctic Monkeys and Iggy Pop and the Stooges were also excellent shows which will be remembered for a long time to come. The quality of the bands on the line-up seems to improve year-on-year and the excellent festival facilities make this an excellent festival that is well worth discovering. Overall, it was a bargain at €110 for the weekend, and one which I am sure I will do again in 2007.