I have finally found that which gives you the ultimate summer feeling: a music festival. Last weekend I spent 3 days in boiling heat listening to more bands and artists than I ever had in such a short period of time and had an amazing time and experience. This was my first music festival. I never went to any before because a) I had no one to go with or b) I hate having to sleep in a tent. I’m not one for camping and that is a severe disadvantage when you want to attend multiple day festivals. However, friends of mine had also decided to not go camping, so we got tickets, booked a hotel and it was time to enjoy some great music at Pukkelpop 2012 in Hasselt Belgium.
Pukkelpop coincides with a Dutch festival (Lowlands) so the line ups of both festivals are fairly similar. The festival consists of 8 different stages with a main stage, a big tent and a few places that have a specific purpose. There are 2 dance areas, one area where it’s mainly hardrock/ punk/ metal, one of Belgium bands, one with indie/ folk music and one strictly for electronic music. There is something that could suit anybody, which is why the festival attracts nearly 180,000 visitors in the course of three days.
I spent most of my time near the main stage, in the big tent or in the indie area, but I saw concerts in all 8 venues. The cool thing about Pukkelpop is the dance area. If you’re tired of the sound of guitars and live drum kits, you can go completely crazy to some of the best DJs out there. Not only is this a nice escape, but it also makes for a very mixed group of visitors. The atmosphere is great though. Because even though so many different people come together, there is a relaxed atmosphere and everyone is super friendly.
On Day 1 we first had to get to Belgium. We arrived around 2 PM after having taking the most tourist friendly of all routes, checking into the hotel and picking up our tickets. I ended up hearing a snippet of Bowerbirds’ set and right after that Snoop Dogg came on stage. A band whom I really wanted to see play, Alt-J, came on not much later so I set off for Castello to watch their set. The tent was crowded and stifling hot, so I left a bit earlier to see if I could watch Of Monsters and Men. I did hear a few of their songs, but it was too busy to get a good glimpse.
Bush was about to play the main stage and I really enjoyed their set. There was a lot of energy going around and they played all their major hits. I went on to watch Minus the Bear, an indie group that I know vaguely and I liked this too, but by now I have completely forgotten anything they played. My friends did see me on Belgian television Sunday evening, where they filmed me watching this show. Afterwards I decided to grab something to eat and chill in the grass while watching Santigold. I like her music, but I thought her set was not very versatile. By the end it all sounded the same.
Then came the highlight and my most anticipated performance of the entire festival: Django Django. I had been playing their record on repeat for months and I was so curious to see how the songs would work live. And it was amazing. The crowd was amazing, the band was great, though it didn’t always sound exactly like the record, but hey that’s why it’s a live show and I did think they brought something extra to the table. Django Django is easily one of my highlights of the entire festival.
Other bands/ artists I saw that day were Bloc Party (they’re back with a new album – and they’re great), Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (band that turns all songs into punk music – most fun I had in years), Bjork (mesmerizing and mindboggling performance), Isbells (dreamy Belgium indiepop), Feist (other hightlight of Day 1) and Laurent Garnier (trance DJ).
Day 2 came all too quickly and after a nice breakfast at the hotel we arrived at the festival around noon and saw Willis Earl Beal (soul fused with hiphop en breakbeats by a guy with an amazing voice), Blood Red Shoes (great rock music), Oberhofer (indierock which was too much same old, same old), a bit of Maximo Park (also same old, same old), Willy Moon (futuristic retropop by a guy who somehow manages to fuse Jerry Lee Lewis with Tom Waits and the footwork of James Brown), Com Truise (mellow chill wave) and Sam Sparro (funk & disco fused with dance rhythms).
My first highlight of Day 2 would be Band of Skulls. I had a ticket to see them in May, but couldn’t make it in the end. That is why I was happy they were at Pukkelpop. I really loved their first album, second not so much. So I was surprised to see how well the songs all worked together and how it sounded live. They of course ended the set with Diamonds and Pearls that had everyone singing along and putting their hands in the air.
Sunset at Pukkelpop
We chilled for a bit during Apparat Band (relaxing electronic music), Joy Orbison (which was quite boring), Lykke Li (all the major hits and more) so we would be ready for Tallest Man on Earth. That was hands down my second highlight of the day. Equipped with nothing but a microphone, a chair and a guitar, this little guy knows how to play, work a crowd and create a great intimate atmosphere all by himself. It helped that the entire tent knew every word and sang along at full force during all songs.
The night ended with Stone Roses (my friends were really looking forward to that one), Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires (Real classic soul by one of the most loving and grateful artists out there), Crookers (Italian house DJs who were dropping climax after climax right from the beginning of their set), and Digitalism (reinventors of French house and a bit mellow after the assault that was Crookers).
Time for a well-deserved shower, bed and getting ready for the hottest day yet: Day 3.
Day 3 was hot beyond belief. It was over 34 degrees Celsius at one point, meaning we had to drink lots of water and stay in the shade as much as possible. So we took it easy on ourselves. I spent the first four acts we saw sitting in the grass in the shade of a tree. Balthazar (Belgium rock band that I hadn’t heard of but sounded great), Oscar & the Wolf (Belgian indie/ folk group that makes me want to hear more), Joy Formidable (solid rock with a hint of pop and I love their album) and last but not least Jamie N Commons (impressive young guy that sounds like Joe Cocker who’s had too much whisky).
We decided to go to a tent when one of the acts on the main stage sounded abominable to us (The Cribs). So we headed to the Marquee and watched The Van Jets. Another Belgium rock band which sounded yet again very delightful. With the heat, we looked for another spot in the shade, decided on seeing Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks which sounded so relaxing that I slept through most of it. The Shins were next on the program, which could only be watched in the blistering heat so we did, only to head for safety again to watch Patrick Watson.
During the Patrick Watson show, there was a brief moment of silence. Last year’s edition was terrorized by a massive storm, which wiped out complete tents, led to a few deaths and many many injuries. It was impressive to see how all those thousands of people were quiet all at the same time. All you could hear was the ringing of the church bells in the town.
After Patrick Watson, it was time for The Hives (the lead singer talked more than he sang), The Antlers (slow folky indie pop) and Miike Snow. The latter I was also looking forward to seeing. I already knew a few songs by this group who fuse pop, electro and indie into this eclectic mix of uber catchy and even danceable tracks. I danced for a little while, but by now my feet hurt so much that I had to sit down halfway through. Nevertheless Miike Snow was also one of my highlights of Pukkelpop.
The finale consisted of Sleigh Bells and Foo Fighters. Sleigh Bells is noise pop, with influences of metal and massive droning beats. It’s not very subtle or nuanced, but it is damn catchy and the lead singer went completely nuts. Foo Fighters was crazy busy. We had a spot somewhere all the way in the back because pretty much everyone wanted to see them. We stayed until Break Out and left a little earlier because we would go back to Holland right after.
All in all I had an amazing experience. I definitely want to do this again some time soon. So hopefully I can go to a festival again next year. It all depends on when and where my friends are going and I will just play tagalong when my spare time permits. Thanks to Frodo, Petra, Jasmijn and Tomas for a great 3 days of fun, friendship and an amazing experience.