Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

What we did at Lowlands Festival 2015

27 August 2015, 10:20 | Written by Scott Riby

A short car journey east of Amsterdam, Lowlands is situated in the sparse rural village of Biddinghuizen - a location that has hosted some of the Netherlands’ most popular festivals. Succeeding one of their first national festivals, A Campflight To Lowlands Paradise (which is still used in their promo today), this year’s event was well attended by a predominantly Dutch audience and ran from 21– 23 August.

The site itself isn’t particularly big, no larger than Leeds or Reading, with each stage (12 in total) about five minutes walk from one another. It should also be mentioned that every stage is inside a tent too. There are no open-air ‘main stages’ as such; though the tents do vary in size. The campsite is close-knit and roughly 5-10 minutes walk from the main arena depending on where one’s tent is located. We were kindly invited to this year’s event to see how the Dutch do festival season.

The headliners

Ben Howard, The Chemical Brothers, Major Lazer, Underworld, Hot Chip, Tame Impala, Kendrick Lamar.

What we saw

Curtis Harding: The funk/ soul king of hip opened the festival on the Friday morning playing Charlie, a relatively small stage considering Harding’s recent rise to fame in 2014. Naturally the tent was heaving with hungry festival goers ready to kick start their weekend with a bang. People were singing along, regardless of knowing any of the artist’s music, and throwing beer everywhere as the sun belted down from above. The crowd seemed to really enjoy the set, particularly when the band soothed us with a cover of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” that even had the pissed-up waifs and stray outside the tent singing and swaying along.

The Antlers: Brooklyn’s hazy trio were the next band we caught on our travels through the festival site. After the excitement of Curtis Harding, this performance brought us back down to Earth from the musical stratosphere that we had been in moments before. While their sound has developed from being quite lo-fi and rough around the edges to being much more polished with orchestral arrangements, The Antlers haven’t lost any of their live flare, dragging us deeper into the array of soundscapes that entrap us with each performance. Michael Lerner provided some off-kilter hi-hat work while Peter Silberman and Darby Cicci wove in and out of colourful guitar melodies.

Shamir: It’s amazing how dead the crowd was for Shamir Bailey’s performance because it was certainly one of the highlights of our weekend; though it’s safe to say that everyone present absolutely loved it. The young 20-year-old has made huge waves in the music industry as of late, signing to XL recordings in the UK, on which he released his debut, Ratchet (2015), to critical acclaim. Singles “Call It Off” and “On The Regular” both went down a treat along with the majority of the tracks from his LP. He also provided a cover of a Joyce Manor track. In his typical “whatever” teen-like fashion, Shamir didn’t really provide much stage presence apart from a few pogos here and there when one of the bass driven beats dropped, and he came across as quite disinterested. This was soon forgotten, however, when the set closed and he jumped into the crowd to join the party, hugging nearly every audience member in sight.

Tove Lo: Swedish born Ebba Nilsson (AKA Tove Lo) opened the Bravo stage early Friday afternoon and despite this, she dragged in a huge Dutch crowd; clearly a popular artist in The Netherlands. As always, she graced the stage barefoot, confidently strutting up and down in her assured manner and really encouraging the audience, who didn’t need much persuading, to participate in singing along and pointing their “fucking fingers”. Two drummers and a keys player, who were all trigging samples and playing counter rhythms, fairly similar to a performance by FKA Twigs for instance, accompanied her on stage. Singles “Talking Body” and “My Gun” were particularly standout tracks, with Lo’s voice sounding angelic and sexy amongst the grit of the music provided by her band.

Four Tet: Later that evening, we caught Four Tet, who again played to a packed out Bravo stage. As always, (Kieran) Hebden brought us nothing more than sheer class, with consistent four to the floor bona fide bangers that were exactly what the crowd were looking for at the peak of the evening. This was followed perfectly by sets from Âme and Dusky who took us through to the early, bleary hours of Saturday morning.

FFS: The Franz Ferdinand boys are certainly onto a winner with their collaboration with Sparks. FFS played to a rammed Alpha stage, the largest stage on site or ‘main stage’; if tent sizes depended on it. Playing a mixture of tracks (“Call Girl”, “Piss Off” and the ironically titled “Collaborations Don’t Work”) from their self-titled debut, the sextet also covered a number of older tracks from their individual back catalogues, including “Michael”, “Take Me Out” and “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us”. The high point, however, was definitely when Ron Mael walked to the middle of the stage, following a whole set of looking serious and disapproving of the audience, and began dancing with glee. This went down very well with the European crowd.

: Karen Ørsted, the Danish superstar who recently collaborated with festival headliners Major Lazer on their number one single “Lean On”, hit the stage midday Saturday. Similar to her Scandinavian counterpart, Tove Lo, she had a minimal set up with a tight backing band that was comprised mainly of percussion and drum pad players. The band looked like a set of grunge rockers with their lusciously long Cobain-esq hair, while MØ herself was kitted-up as an urban garage diva with a long ponytail that she insisted on windmilling every time things ‘got heavy’. It came as quite a surprise, then, when she started singing, her voice sounding somewhere between Lana Del Rey and Ella Fitzgerald. A difficult combination to comprehend, it actually worked really well and singles such as “Red In The Gray”, with its trap-like hi-hit flutterings and arpeggiated synth melodies, was killer.

Father John Misty: What more to say about Misty than absolute hilarity and witty musical genius. I Love You, Honeybear (2015) has been one of our favourite albums of the year, so missing the chance of having Mr. Tillman serenade us would have been a sin; luckily this didn’t happen. The crowd didn’t seem to understand what was going on half of the time and Misty played up to the language barrier as much as he could, at one point replying to a bunch of drunken hecklers to the left of the stage, “It was always my dream to play to a bunch of sweaty, topless, drunken Dutch men”; the young men then cheering and clapping in response as though they’d been given a thankful shout-out. His band were shit-hot, rattling through tracks from the album with aggression and precision. They closed with “The Ideal Husband”, coming to a climactic end as the group thrashed away while Misty threw himself around the stage, like a preacher trying to raise a serpent from the depths of hell. It was also great to hear the canned laughter included during “Bored In The USA”, the Dutch crowd reacting similarly to the audience during his performance on Letterman; with utter confusion.

Allah-Lahs: Another top band that we caught over the weekend was LA’s Allah-Las. These guys just ooze cool, but must have been absolutely roasting in their denim jackets, skinny jeans and buttoned shirts, as the glorious weather that we had fortunately experienced all weekend was relentless early Sunday afternoon; particularly during their set. The band played a variety of tracks from both their debut, Allah-Las (2012), and their sophomore, Worship The Sun (2014), each track going down a storm with the half-awake/ baked long-haired fellows at the front of the audience pit.

Interpol: NYC’s Interpol are always festival favourites and they were no exception at Lowlands. Now 5 albums in and on the rise once again following the essential critical acclaim they received for their latest LP, El Pintor (2014), they blew away everyone in the Heineken tent with an eclectic mixture of old and new material. While they played a bunch of classics (“C’mere”, “Slow Hands” and “PDA”), they also threw in a few curve balls that, while being unexpected for a festival set, went down just as well. These included “Length of Love” and “The New”.

Tame Impala: It’s undeniable that Kevin Parker has made an absolute belter of an LP with his newest collection of Tame Impala material, Currents (2015). Following a strong Interpol set, the crowd hardly moved from the Heineken tent, even if a bombastic Kendrick Lamar was ploughing through huge tracks just meters away on the Alpha stage. It was well worth the wait, however, when Kevin and the gang finally arrived and shimmered through arguably the strongest set of the festival. Understandably, the band played the majority of the tracks from their latest record, while sneaking in some older numbers (“Alter Ego”, “Elephant” and “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards”) that had the crowd going wild. Parker’s voice was literally pitch perfect, as were the backing harmonies provided by multi-instrumentalist, Jay Watson (also a member of Pond and Gum), and drummer, Julien Barbagallo; the band on the whole being unbelievable tight considering the intricacy of the music. A fantastic way to end the festival experience.

How we survived

The food was particularly good at Lowlands, with a mixture of stalls that sold anything from hot and cold sandwiches to stone-baked pizzas and smoked fish. We certainly didn’t go hungry.

What were the lowlights?

In all fairness, it’s quite difficult to pick out any lowlights at all. Everyone was extremely friendly and we were bought drinks multiple times by merry Dutch men that just wanted to make sure we had a good time. If there was anything in particular to address, it was perhaps the price of food and drink. As was pointed out on several occasions, there weren’t many young audience members and this was perhaps the fact that they couldn’t afford to go? Food and drink all had to be paid for in tokens that could be exchanged at Munten points. 1 Munten worked out at around €2.5, so once you’d had a few beers, you were soon £20 down. In spite of this, one shouldn’t be going to a festival in this day and age without expecting to pay that kind of money for food and drink.

The verdict

Lowlands is an absolute joy of a festival and certainly one that we’ll be heading to time and time again in the future. The lovely Dutch people we met were super friendly and regarded it as “The Festival” to go to in The Netherlands. After the experience we had, it’s difficult to disagree. As with festival goers who have been visiting Glastonbury for the last 10+ years, this seemed to be the case with the Dutch nationals that visit Lowlands; they’ve never been anywhere else.

With a good, diverse line-up, there’s something here for everyone. Though the sun was out all weekend, it was easy to find shade (typically British, I know) and nothing was difficult to get hold of. The festival ticket price alone is cheap enough, so with flights included, one would be, near enough, paying the same as they would to go to a UK festival.

Find out more about Lowlands Festival.

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