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If there are still any regular visitors of this neglected bit of interweb left (hi and thank you!), they will have noticed a severe lack of content over the last months. Rather than apologising I shall point the finger of blame shamelessly at the blog Lowlove.nl, where I have been contributing my two cents on everything and anything to do with the Lowlands festival. Which has been rather wonderful.

But seen as Lowlands took place last weekend (I have just barely been able to scrape the mud and dust off my aching body), it is high time to inject brokenbranches with some reviews! Here’s a day by day roundup.

FRIDAY

To kick off Lowlands 2011 I went to see the wonderfully sultry Anna Calvi, who delivered her seductive roars while cradling her guitar close to her chest. It was all a bit too spacious and spun out to really captivate me musically (more suited to a Tarantino soundtrack as a friend of mine noted), but miss Calvi is a sight to be seen all the same and a few songs really did hit the mark.

In the new festival lay out I walked the longest stretch of terrain all the way from India to Charlie stage to catch the indie pop creations of Wolf Gang. Although the set definitely leant heavily on the few singles, the supremely catchy Lions In Cages in particular, it was an enjoyable show overall with plenty of light-hearted pop goodness. The gold earring sporting guitarist seemed to be having the time of his life at least, singer McElligott was a bit harder to gage.

Next up were the prodigal sons of Dutch hiphop, De Jeugd Van Tegenwoordig, who were finally allowed to take seat in the throne of Lowlands: the Alpha stage. They pimped up their act with ballerinas and a horn section, but in all honesty those weren’t necessary to have the entire tent jumping up and down and singing along to every word for an entire hour. Each member was allowed their moment to shine in the second half of the set, but it never dragged on too long before Bas Bron threw on the next beat to keep the crowd entertained. It was a seemingly effortless homerun of a show. The next two days the line ‘Waar is het feestje? Hier is het feestje!’ (Where is the party? Here is the party!) was heard throughout the festival.

Not as cheeky but definitely as danceable were the synth dripping songs that Friendly Fires served up in the newly positioned Bravo tent. These boys definitely know how to pull the stops out in a live show and the new songs fitted right in. Although I was standing at the back all around me were happy faced girls shaking their hips, their male companions awkwardly attempting some form of appropriate movement. The Pala visuals on the screens were beautiful too, but I would say Friendly Fires are best enjoyed in a small sweaty venue.

Speaking of sweaty venues, my Lowlands theory is that you should see at least one act in the boiling X-Ray cauldron a day, as it is usually filled with pleasant surprises. I wanted to see Japanese act Trippple Nippples from an arthouse freakshow perspective, wondering if it really was as bizarre as I thought. The answer is yes, it was as bizarre and then some, with the singers prancing around in diapers, white duct tape boobcoverage and glowing wings, but combined with the thrashing electro screamfest they produced it actually worked really well.

I wandered over to Noah and the Whale for a little while but I couldn’t really get into the music. A guy behind me said “there’s a lot of suppressed tension but it’s not coming out” which seems a good analysis. The understated Lou Reed style singing of Charlie Fink became monotonous after a while and failed to hold my attention. Many young girls wearing jeans hotpants and Ray Bans were having the time of their lives though. I decided to try The Naked And Famous in stead, but the tent was so packed I couldn’t get in, same story for Beardyman. Seems you really have to get to the smaller tents like India and X-Ray well on time these days.

Luckily there was still loads of space in the Grolsch at the start of Fleet Foxes, but they managed to fill it up in no time with their warm folky glow of goodness. I was worried if their sometimes delicate sound would hold up in the big tent, but the band were on a roll and played a great festival set. Sometimes they would churn out a few songs back to back, one flowing into the other, really keeping the energy high. Pecknold was giving it his all, with his eyes closed and tilted head almost hanging from the microphone stand. This was definitely the highlight of festival Friday for me.

Time to close the festival day with all my friends gathered round, no better place to be than at the laid back Lima stage with Edward Sharpe and his Magnetic Zeros. It was chaotic on stage with 10 people joining in, making for a bit of a messy performance that dragged on somewhat here and there, not helped by Sharpe’s vocals being hardly audible for most of the gig. There were a few songs that stood out but it was plain to see that everyone was there for the flower power finale Home. Everyone joined in from opening line Alabama, Arkansas and made the most of it, but it could have been so much more.

SATURDAY

First band of the day for me was Young The Giant, with a performance like the one they gave a few months ago at the Walk The Line festival in The Hague: solid, energetic, polished and ready for the rock arenas of Europe. Nothing wrong with that, sometimes you don’t want wholesome leafy greens for dinner, you just fancy a juicy fast food burger and chips that will hit the spot. And what better festival anthem than My Body?

My expectations were high for Bombay Bicycle Club, but I left the India stage feeling distinctly underwhelmed. The performance lacked energy and drive, was a bit all over the place and the indie magic I was hoping for was nowhere to be found. I would definitely give them another chance in a club show though, there’s plenty of gems on those records.

After I was lucky enough to get a back stage tour of the festival (Guy Garvey waved at me! *swoon*), I felt a craving for some Syrian house beats and so I headed over to the X-Ray sauna for Omar Souleyman. Strange how an act with zero stage presence (a bored looking synth player and Souleyman himself, aloof with his mirrored sunglasses and the occasional hand gesture) and lyrics hardly anyone can make out can cause such a frenzy in its onlookers. There were quite a few people who donned tea towel head dresses for the occasion and there was a lot of yelping and shaking going on, the nervy thumping Arabian sounds worked like a dance virus and infected all present. Jalla jalla!

After the disappointment of BBC earlier in the day I was a bit hesitant what Cloud Control would deliver on the same spot, but the complete opposite happened. Here’s a band that I only know two songs of, but captivated me the entire set. None of this quietly cool indie jingle jangle, this band is came in for the win, guitars amped up and ready to go. The perfect soundtrack to the end of a sunny Saturday afternoon. Also quite funny to hear loads of people singing they want to buy a gold canary.

We stayed at the India stage lounging around in the grass outside during Cage The Elephant. Obviously not the best way to enjoy their music, which you should probably consume while moshing fiercely or crowdsurfing, but I enjoyed it all the same. You could feel the manic energy well outside the tent, with a roaring crowd to boot. I was attempting to save some energy for the next stop, must be getting old…

Making sure to get to the majestic Alpha stage in plenty of time to get in the front section, it was time to get ready for the last band of the day: Elbow. I had been hyping up this show to my friends for ages, promising a lovefest of epic proportions, a joining together of hands and voices of all present. Big promises to make, but somehow I was completely sure it would turn out this way, and I am glad to report that it did.

Guy Garvey has the magic ability to have a multitude of thousands eating out of his hand from the moment he sets foot on stage. Guys want to join him in the pub for a pint, girls want to crawl into his arms and be safe and loved by this smooth voiced teddy bear. I myself have only been converted to the church of Elbow recently and stood in awe at the ease and confidence with which the band slowly builds a set that ends in a euphoric climax of togetherness. I see how a non believer (as I was until last year) might vomit in their face a bit reading all this luvvy duvvy goo goo talk, but it is the best way I can describe it.

When Garvey asks if everyone is alright, when he gets the people inside and outside of the tent to great each other, when he says that we’re going to do festival things together and gets everyone to raise their hands and wiggle their fingers, he is walking the thin line of cheesiness. But he gets away with it easily because he, and the entire band, are so goddamn down to earth and likable. When the obvious closing song One Day Like This sets in and we all sing ‘One day like this a year would see me right‘, I look around to see little pools of water brimming in the eyes of most of the people standing there. Elbow understands the need for uplifting pop songs in times of chainsaw dubstep noise and I welcome it.

SUNDAY

Sunday was a horribly humid, sticky day and I think it did De Staat no favours. They were the second band on the bill in the massive Alpha tent, which had a fair amount of people in but very spaced out. There were loads of people hanging around on the grass outside like zombies, probably exhausted from 2 previous days partying and the heat. However, you wouldn’t be able to tell from the performance of the band who rocked it regardless, frontman Torre strutting his rock moves and belting out their hits. The set took a bit of a nosedive towards the end, but the short cover of Snoop’s Drop It Like It’s Hot going into the majestic Sweat Shop was a high light for me.

I decided to skip the frenetic stylings of Crystal Fighters to check out Other Lives at the Charlie stage and was not disappointed. Wonderfully mellow dreamy pop songs drifted across the stretch of water to the bridge where I sat listening, completely contented. This is a band I would love to see in a small venue, hopefully they will head this way again soon. Across the way The Roots started up, their soulful funky hiphop sound a welcome change from most of the Lowlands lineup. Sadly I had to leave early and missed my old-time favourite You Got Me, but they tore up the stage from the opening minutes so I’m guessing it was a stomper of a set.

Still in a hiphop mood I headed over to Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All a bit later, anxious to see if they would bring down the Bravo tent, get taken off stage for indecent behaviour or encouraging kids to crowdsurf or anything else remotely dangerous. None of that happened, it was a surprisingly polite affair with Tyler The Creator even thanking the Dutch audience for being so great and hugging every single security guy at the end of the show.  This is not to say the gig was boring, the energy on stage was incredible. Tyler himself hardly held back by the fact his leg was in a cast, jumping and cycling (!) all over the place ignoring his specially placed bar stool most of the time. Not everyone in the extensive OFWGKTA crew managed to wow the crowd and the gig was a bit messy at times, but nobody in the front seemed to care. One guy whose face was bleeding after a mosh pit encounter came right back after being patched up to mosh on some more, that’s dedication.

After the manic mayhem of the Odd Future gang I was in need of some soothing sounds, and who better to dish them up than the ethereal ladies of Warpaint? Stretched out in the grass, the waves of dark psychedelic harmonies and spaced out guitars made for a pleasant drug free trip in the late afternoon. So much so I almost drifted off to sleep, though festival fatigue was probably to blame for that.

Right, back on my feet for some dancing moves I was off to see Lykke Li, whose second album I have played many a time over the last few months. I was all set to go, but found the first twenty minutes very bland and stand offish. Lykke seemed a million miles away in her own artistic black bubble, mumbling through her songs. I was almost about to leave when all of a sudden there was a major turnaround in energy. Two big drums featured centre stage and woke everyone up with some thundering percussion and from then on Lykke got her groove and so did the audience. We were treated to crowd pleaser I Follow Rivers, a version of Youth Knows No Pain with a sample from Kanye Wests’s Power, a bit of The Knife’s Silent Shout, and of course Get Some to top it all of.

There was some more drama to be enjoyed over at the Charlie stage with Wild Beasts, where singer Hayden Thorpe expressed his gratitude to the people there for choosing them over the likes of Aphex Twin (“we’ll show those electro people how it’s done!”). Wild Beasts seem out of place at the Charlie stage with a few albums already under their belt, so it’s a nice privilege to see them up close and personal. Their music can come off a bit cool and posh sometimes, but their set remained interesting in large part thanks to the variation in vocals between Thorpe’s lofty voice and guitarist Tom Fleming’s unexpected husky warm sound. Definitely another band I would be interested to see more of.

The final bands of the final festival night jostled for position, but I wasn’t in any mood for the dated punk pop greatest hits of The Offspring or the dark and uncomfortable beats of legendary Aphex Twin. In stead we opted for an plain and simple party to end this wonderful weekend, and that’s exactly what CQMD (Ceux Qui Marchent Debout) were dishing out at the Lima stage. This happy bunch from Paris brought lots of horn, lots of funk and plenty oom-pah-pah that had everybody shaking their groove thang (or dancing like your embarrassing uncle). They even took the entire band off stage to play a few songs in the middle of the audience. Lima is the place to be at the end of the festival as far as I’m concerned!

ROUNDUP

This was the seventh Lowlands festival I attended and it won’t go down in the books as most memorable or most impressive edition by a long shot. Aside from Elbow and perhaps Fleet Foxes there were no extreme highlights, astounding surprises or overwhelming discoveries to be made. Overall it was a mellow, relaxed weekend for me. Not to say it was a bad edition at all, I wasn’t bored for a moment and there was plenty of great music to be enjoyed. Hopefully next year the organisation will have a few more gems touring Europe at the end of August to choose from, to add that extra bit of sheen to an already wonderful festival.

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Lima area

When you wake up on day three there is always a slight feeling of panic. Surely this cannot be what my face looks like? Why am I not able to stand up straight any more? Where did I leave my voice? Three nights with at most 4 hours sleep, lying on a wafer thin ‘self inflatable’ mattress really take their toll. But there’s still so much to see, no rest for the wicked.

SUNDAY 22-8

I decided to start my day off with a touch of hippy and headed straight for Yeasayer. I didn’t really know what to expect live as some of their songs are better suited to a state of mantra meditation, but I was pleasantly surprised. Their set was really diverse with more hits than I realised and the band sounded great, with both singers pitch perfect.  Even though their music can be a bit complicated for such a big stage there were plenty of anchors to hang on to: Sunrise, Ambling Alp, ONE and 2080. A wonderfully melodic and smooth start to the day.

Yeasayer live at Lowlands 2010 (photo Nick Helderman via 3VOOR12)

Even though The National is not necessarily my cup of tea I decided it would be worthwhile to have a peek and indeed it was. I was treated to a beautiful rendition of Bloodbuzz Ohio and heard a well oiled band playing intense songs with understated emotion, but it still didn’t grab me. A friend of mine said that if I love Radiohead I should love The National as well, but I’m going to have to let him down.

And now for something completely different: Die Antwoord, completely off kilter rap techno hip hop Zef  beat threesome from Cape Town. I had high expectations for this act, bringing something completely new to the festival lineup. It turned out to be a very entertaining show with special mention for the tiny and talented Yo-Landi Vi$$er, but it didn’t blow me away. The beats were there, the X-rated lyrics were all over the place (Jou ma se poes in a fishpaste jar!), the hits were there (Enter The Ninja, Beat Boy, Wat Pomp), but somehow it didn’t reach the next level. A lot of the material was still rough around the edges and friend & fellow Zef man Jack Parow did a much better job of connecting with the audience. And where was Parow during the hilarious closer Doos Dronk?

Die Antwoord at Lowlands 2010 (photo Jelmer de Haas via 3VOOR12)

On to Manchester new rave alumni Delphic, who delivered exactly what you would expect: a whirlwind show of synthesizers, beats, strobe lights and aspirational lyrics (Give me something I can believe in), brought with a lot of energy and conviction. The crowd enjoyed it and so did I, but somewhere in the ‘rave’ part of their music I lose interest. Maybe it’s the Manchester thing, never really got any of the bands with that sound, bands like Foals speak to me a lot more.

On the other side of the dance spectrum we find the straight laced but seductive London synth sound of Hot Chip. I’ve seen them a few times now and enjoy them more each time, they understand perfectly how to build a festival set and have the crowd jumping around in no time. With a hit packed catalogue of material to choose from it’s almost too easy: Over And Over, One Life Stand, Ready For The Floor, One Pure Thought, Hold On... Shame that Joe Goddard wasn’t with the band this time, although they used video images to produce his essential warm vocals.

Hot Chip

After the steaming Hot Chip crowd flowed out of the sauna of the Bravo tent I wandered over to the India stage for a spot of Two Door Cinema Club and was amazed to see a huge crowd stretching far beyond the tent joyfully dancing and singing along to every song. How did that happen? Did Something Good Can Happen get so much airplay that everyone bought the album? The Northern Irish boys are still a bit shaky in parts but are playing with loads of gusto and the crowd is clearly loving it. It’s cheerful and cleverly made pop music at it’s best, perfect little festival band but I’m curious to see if they have anything else up their sleeve.

At this stage of the day, hitting 9 PM and the festival slowly coming to an end, I find myself calculating the chance I will be able to make it through the next gig standing up. And so I decide to enjoy Massive Attack from the sidelines with some much needed refreshment. Not a decision I would usually make, as this is the kind of band you need to experience from within the dark brooding belly of the beast, way up front in the tent, where Martina Topley Bird’s bewitching vocals surround you. Sadly I was surrounded by kids in their late teens – early twenties who hadn’t the slightest idea what Massive attack have contributed to music.

Fool's Gold

Then comes the crucial moment: deciding which act will be your last one of the festival. Go the obvious route and head for Queens of the Stone Age at main stage Alpha? No, seen them before and not enough of a fan to brave the masses. Go out with the festive gypsy sounds of Shantel? No, not in the mood for Balkan beats. We happily ended up at the intimate Lima open air stage where Fool’s Gold gave the perfect end of festival performance. The musicians seemed to be having the time of their lives, the music was appropriately sunny and upbeat with a lot world music influences (African, Israeli and hometown Brooklyn to boot). I enjoyed it immensely and so did everyone else considering we were all still singing the last song for ten minutes after the band left the stage. They even came back for an extra bow and to take pictures of these crazy Dutch people who didn’t know when to stop.

Our little gang ended the night with the completely mental party cooked up by legendary Dutch DJ Kees van Hondt with his special brew of insane German and tiroler folk beats (where does he find this stuff??) and all the partygoers bringing attributes to the tent (mainly broken branches, inflatable animals and any unsecured piece of festival furniture). Then back to the camp sight to spend roughly three hours dreaming of what a wonderful edition 2010 was. Let’s do it all again next year.

Lowlands at night

angelic Lowlands visitor

After a semi-relaxed schedule on Friday the tables turned on Saturday and the running-around-like-a-blue-arsed-fly-phase announced itself. I even missed out on a couple of promising acts, but one must make tough choices in these harsh circumstances…

SATURDAY 21-8

Starting your Lowlands day at 1 PM pretty much feels like 5 AM on an average week day, but it was worth it for the silliness that was “Lowlands Sings“. The biggest festival tent was completely packed with people excited to start their day with the ultimate in cheesy communal karaoke. On stage: a few comedians presenting and about 30 people handpicked to be the choir, in fetching outfits. We sang classics the likes of Killing In The Name Of, Rammstein’s Die Sonne (choir dressed in lederhosen) and Hey Jude. The crowd was not having any R&B though, Alicia Keyes’ New York tune was relentlessly whistled to a halt. Guitars please!

Foals showed they can whip up a storm in any setting with their sublime brand of funky eighties electronic indie. I went to see them a while ago in Tivoli (much smaller venue), but they still managed to create the same atmosphere in the big Bravo tent. With a pang of pain I left before the end of the set in order to go and see Jack Parow and his Zef tunes. He was playing in the X-Ray and before he even started there was such a crowd they could have put a Y-Ray beside it. The tube-style venue was wafting fumes of body odour and stale beer in the heat, but people were sticking it out all the same. No wonder, Parow gave a very entertaining performance with massive beats, cool artwork and most improtantly, his trademark witty lyrics.

guy with Parow-style cap

As I walked across the festival terrain I decided to buy those protective ear plugs I used to snigger at (I’m getting on a bit) and it proved to be not a day to soon: the Blood Red Shoes gig was set to volume level ‘destruction’ I reckon. I’ve seen them a few times so it didn’t come as a surprise that they’re loud, but many of the people around me were covering their ears for fear of brain melt it seemed. The band was in good form, energetic and smiling at each other, giving it all despite the intense heat. Still I couldn’t help the sneaky feeling that their songs are starting to sound a bit ‘samey’, both musically and in the often repetitive lyrics.

Blood Red Shoes at Lowlands 2010 (photo Jelmer de Haas via 3VOOR12)

Time for some peace and quiet, some poetry, some contemplation: Villagers. Their debut album has steadily been growing on me over the last weeks and I was excited to see them. The setting was perfect, the sun just dipping behind the Charlie open air marquee, and Conor O’Brien taking the stage without band to do a ballsy acoustic performance of Twenty Seven Strangers. He had me at hello. I was struck by the heart felt and decisive delivery of O’Brien’s lyrics, for instance in I Saw The Dead and the sublime Becoming A Jackal. But the band is also well able to pick up the pace, with some of the songs ending in a howling O’Brien and band members frantically flailing arms at instruments. Part Elliott Smith, part Bright Eyes and a dose of Patrick Watson, sheer beauty.

Villagers

Hanging onto my mellow folky mood I was in luck: Local Natives were up next. I was amazed at how wonderful their harmonies were live, such a warm sound that reaches out to you. I can’t say anything to fault this show, they were just spot on. Warning Sign sounded like a classic seventies folk song in their rendition, with a taste of west coast peers Fleet Foxes. There was an absolute goosebump moment with the beautiful Airplanes. Can’t wait to see there guys in a full concert.

Local Natives live at Lowlands 2010 (photo Nick Helderman via 3VOOR12)

Here comes a little brokenbranches confession. Despite strict military planning I wasn’t able to go and see the LCD Soundsystem set in the tent due to the inability to stand for another minute. Running across the festivalgrounds takes its toll even on me, and so it happened that I was singing along to Drunk Girls whilst munching on a curry in the neighbouring food area. Slightly annoyed with myself, but what can you do.

I managed to recharge my batteries just about enough to go and see Beach House for a wonderfully dreamy end of the evening. The band took their time to get going, but at some point you could see they had the audience won over and I saw several lovey dovey couples canoodling during gems like Heart Of Chambers and Norway. One thing that’s even more astounding live: how did Victoria Legrand get her voice to be so husky?

Beach House

Collateral damage of the day: I wussed out at LCD, I missed the apparently great gig by La Pegatina and the Bloody Beetroots’ grimey beats. You can’t win’em all. This is also true for the Lowlands organisers who had a slight blemish on their otherwise immaculate festival: playing a late night film (The Expendables) in a tent with 8 massive pillars obstructing the view from about 75% of the possible seats in the tent. Fail.

Lowlands chewed me up and spat me out four days later with a voice like a sorority girl after spring break and in a general state of physical decay, but what a glorious experience it was! Before I fall into a complete coma it is time to line the festival highlights up for inspection: who did I see and were they everything I ever dreamed of?

FRIDAY 20-8

I was determined to kick off Lowland 2010 with Triggerfinger, but right off the bat I was distracted by Cymbals Eat Guitars playing the Lima stage on the way there. I was lucky enough to stumble right into Wind Phoenix, perfect sunny song of distorted genius to start the weekend! But the pull of the massive Alpha stage was strong and on I went to the rock raunchiness served up by Belgium’s finest Triggerfinger. Who can resist the loin-stirring voice of singer Ruben Block and those primordial guitar licks? Alpha responded from the gut, screaming along Aaaaaa-aaahhhhhh in Deep Purple style. Great choice for opening headliner on Friday, including the nice touch to bring Selah Sue on stage for their revved up cover of Duffy’s Mercy.

Triggerfinger at Lowlands 2010 (photo Tim van Veen via 3VOOR12)

Sticking around main stage Alpha what followed was a hero’s welcome for the cream of the crop of Dutch hip hop label Top Notch: The Opposites, Dio accompanied by indierockers Go Back To The Zoo and Flinke Namen. I figured it would be a good show, but I couldn’t have predicted the massive mayhem that followed, the crowd was lapping up every song, encouraged by increasingly stomping beats. Can you get a few thousand people to crouch down on the floor and then start jumping? Can you get them to scream out that they’re hookers (D’r zijn hoeren in de tent dus we gaan nog niet naar huis)? Yes you can, if you perform with the raw energy and enthusiasm these boys brought. Great show, I was already flogged at 4 PM on day 1.

The Opposites at Lowlands 2010 (photo Tim van Veen via 3VOOR12)

Already a broken woman, I stumbled across the way to the Charlie stage to see Frightened Rabbit. Although everything seemed in order and I like their brand of indie, I couldn’t get into the gig. Maybe my brain was still set to hip hop mode, but it lacked a bit of magic for me. I decided to soak up some sun whilst listening to Broken Bells. Why they were programmed in the Alpha tent is beyond me with such a mellow sound and a new project too, the tent was only half filled as was to be expected. But it was perfect lounge music for lying in the sun. I enjoyed the beautiful alt country nostalgia of Band of Horses a lot more, “No one’s gonna love you more than I do”. Although in fairness, both bands don’t offer much in the way of stage antics, best consumed with eyes closed perhaps.

Enough of this main stage fodder! Off to the dark depths of the sliced-in-half-tin-can that is the X-Ray stage. Canadian electronic beatguru Caribou was cooking up a slow intoxicating mixture of psychedelic soundscapes. Just when I was feeling a bit hypnotised by the video graphics he shook it up with the amazing Odessa and after that there was a kind of extended foreplay that erupted in the irresistible pulsating seduction of Sun. The man knows how to build a set. If I was a smoker I would have lit up after that one.

Caribou live at Lowlands 2010 (photo Nick Helderman via 3VOOR12)

Walking past Air I did a double take but really couldn’t find the oomph to worm my way into the tent just to see two guys on synthesizers play Kelly Watch The Stars again, I pass. I did arrange to meet up with friends for a reliable boogie with Groove Armada, but we were disappointed. A routine uninspired set with choppy starts and stops to songs and random shouts to ‘hype the crowd’. Even dance floor favourite Get Down sounded lackluster, shame. All the more because I missed Tame Impala to be there!

We ended the night in good spirits though, joining the masses for the Zer00’s Heroes party: enough of the Doctor Alban and Haddaway ninieties crap, in with the naughties: Gaga, Britney, White Stripes and De Jeugd van Tegenwoordig!

First things first: I expected worse. I was prepared for Sophie’s Choice galore, but turns out this year’s Lowlands timetable is not altogether horrendous! So I guess, as opposed to my ‘letter of complaint’ of 2009, this year a Thank You is in order for the timetable people at Lowlands. But let’s get down to the nitty gritty.

FRIDAY

We kick off with a dilemma. To open the festival experience with the fierce rock raucus of Triggerfinger, or Band of Skulls? (why on earth give these two the same time slot!?)  Seen as Triggerfinger hail from Belgium there will probably be plenty of opportunity to see them live, so the Skulls might just win it. Off to Alpha for a date with Holland’s hip hop finest The Opposites & co, should be a great gig to get the festival atmosphere going. Then one of my must-sees for this year: Scottish band Frightened Rabbit, with a quick dash across the road to Broken Bells (although I have no idea why they booked BB for the massive Alpha tent, that does not bode well…).

Bit of a conundrum around 7 when Caribou, Jonsi and later Ginger Ninja and Air collide… Caribou will definitely get a look in though! For nigh time entertainment Groove Armada is always a safe bet, although I don’t expect to be surprised by their set. Might go and check out the trippy Australians from Tame Impala first.

Frightened Rabbit

SATURDAY

There is a remote possibilty I’ll be up early enough to catch Dutch laid back groove doctors The Q4, but being realistic it will probably be Laura Marling who wakes me up with her gentle folk mumblings. Then there is a road block. Go to see one of my faves Foals, who I already caught in Tivoli a short while ago, or head over to the X-Ray for a close encounter with Jack Parow‘s addictive Afrikaans raps?.. I know I know, I’ll just run back and forth between Bravo and X-Ray! Yeah right. Even I can’t resist the banjo storm that Mumford & Sons whip up so that will be the next stop, then some punking out at Blood Red Shoes and some voice acrobatics with Marina and her Diamonds. The next major decision will most likely be determined by my mood. I would love to see Villagers in Charlie, such an appropriate spot to see their precious songs, however… If it’s manic beat frenzy I’m after there’s only one place to go: to Bravo for some ear drum abuse with the Bloody Beetroots!

Local Natives is high up on the must-see list in India, which means yet again I’ll be missing Anouk. Won’t be losing any sleep over that one. However: how to choose between LCD Soundsystem and Miike Snow? I was really looking forward to mr. Snow and companions, but LCD is bound to be a party of ginormous proportions in Grolsch! The only thing that is beyond any doubt, is that Beach House will be singing my bedtime lullabies towards the end of this frantic Saturday, can’t wait.

Beach House

SUNDAY

No rest for the wicked! It’s up on onwards and if there’s any energy left in me I want to start the day dancing with my fellow Lowlanders in the Bravo with Maxim Hartman (a bit like this). And continuing along the lines of cheesiness, something I have to see is Serj Tankian‘s ridiculously pretentious rock opera with the Metropole Orkest, should be amusing at the least. Something tells me I’ll appreciate Surfer Blood or Moss even more after that experience, all leading up to one of the festival favourites: Yeasayer. I have to get a look at the Pendulum mosh pit later, and then get into a moody melancholy mode with The National. Only to be shook up by the zesty zef rhymes from Ninja and Yo-Landi: Die modderfokkin Antwoord!!!

If my route allows, I will be sure to throw some rotten tomatoes at Jared Leto and his Thirty Seconds to Mars outfit on my way to Delphic. Or should I pop into Grolsch to see The xx after all? No, I think this is a bandwagon I’m skipping. I’d rather scrape together what oomph I have left for some serious dancing with Hot Chip! But then: mental beats with the nutty Hudson Mohawke or peppy pop with Two Door Cinema Club? Oh well, all will be decided by the time I head over to Massive Attack (Tear Drop with Martina Topley Bird pretty please!!). As for the piece de resistance, the festival closer, there is a final choice to be made: exotic upbeat tunes from Fool’s Gold or the grimy groin rocking goodness of Queens of the Stone Age? Argghh… I decide… procrastination!

Hot Chip

What a fantastic idea: a midwinter kick off mini festival to get the Lowlands juices flowing! That’s exactly what LLaunch was all about last night at Paard, a prelude to Lowlands 2010. Kudos to the organisation for creating that Lowlands feel, from the banner and greeting committee outside to the artwork and props inside. Oh and my ultimate geek moment: we got a llaunch bracelet! True to the usual Lowlands routine I’d lost half my friends after 15 minutes, who all spread out to check different things and texted me all night for directions. Some things never change.

The evening started off with the delightful Selah Sue, a young Belgian girl with candyfloss blond hair who manages to belt out some impressive heartfelt Jamaican jams on her acoustic guitar. Just a shame the newly arrived llaunchers were so excited they chatted straight through her set. If you’ve never heard of her be sure to, a sight (sound) to behold. Fyah Fyah!

Then we peeked in at Holland’s latest rising star in the singer songwriter department, the boy you could have sat next to in maths for years without noticing, Tim Knol. I couldn’t find anything to fault him or his solid band, and if Dutch grown rootsy Americana is your cup of tea you’ll be more than satisfied by what he delivers. I guess I was just getting too excited for Blood Red Shoes to really take it in myself.

Apparently Blood Red Shoes called the organisers beforehand to check if thy realised their music was rather loud and if that would be ok, what a charming notion. Although there were definitely some who might have been unpleasantly surprised by the sheer blast force of the band, namely the first 4 lines of small young girly girls already firmly positioned for Florence + The Machine, next on the line up, as Laura-Mary herself also comically remarked.

Their set was a mix of new material from the upcoming album Fire Like This and the tried and tested songs from their first album. Most of their new material seems to depend on the same successful formula of kinetic drums and guitar, alternating vocals and short punctuated verses well fit suited for anthem like yell-alongs. This is what attracted me to the band in the first place, but I’ll be interested to hear if there is some more variation on the new album. There was definitely one track taking a different, more subtle and mood building approach with Laura-Mary on vocals,  sadly I didn’t get the title.

After everyone wiped the blood red sweat from their brow and enjoyed a beer or two it was time for the band that completely bowled me over at Lowlands last year: Florence + The Machine. When Florence herself came on stage, sadly dressed a bit less vampy than usual, hordes of little florences in front of me squeezed each other’s hands and giggled with excitement, “there she is!!”. She had them at hello.

Having seen her two times before I would say it took her and the band a bit more time to get into the swing of things, but later she explained that it was only the first date of this tour. She played quite a similar set to Melkweg a few months ago, but you can tell they have really worked out the preferred way to play the songs. My Boy Builds Coffins is the best example and now easily outdoes the album version as far as I’m concerned. Towards the end the band seemed to be feeding off the energy and warm response from the room and the encore was the the icing on a great gig and a wonderful evening.

Our lowlands-posse spent the rest of the night dancing their butts off to the great tunes courtesy of the Lowlands dj’s, with every track they put on I wished it was August already! Just waiting for that paycheck to come in and that Lowlands 2010 ticket is mine.

Sunday, the last day of the festival, absolutely crammed with must sees. Still sunshine galore and sweltering heat, but there’s no time to work on my tan, the race begins!

Fanfarlo

First stop of the day is the charming Fanfarlo: “We’re missing half our band because they missed the plane, we fucked up!” said frontman Simon Balthazar with an apologetic grin, “will you help us with clapping and singing?”. Not a problem!
With no drums or strings they had to adjust their set a bit, but it made the gig ll the more spontaneous and the crowd loved it. In fact, they wouldn’t stop cheering until they came back for an encore, at the Charlie stage! Unusual and justified. I enjoyed their Bonnie Prince Billy cover of A Minor Place too.

Vampire_Weekend
photo: 3voor12

After that there was some more Brooklyn based indie on the menu: Vampire Weekend. I’d been looking forward to their show as I missed them last year, but have to say I was a bit underwhelmed. They play their songs adequately, all the hits are in there and some new stuff too (bit more electropoppy it seemed), but therejust wasn’t any magic. Was it the heat? Or their lack of stage presence? They could do with a bit more livening up as far as I’m concerned.

Snoop_Dogg
photo: 3voor12

Next stop: the dogg pound in the Alpha tent. As there wasn’t really anything else decent on at that time, absolutely everyone was headed to see Snoop Dogg. I decided to admire from a far, but was still entertained by the greatest hits machine on stage. It would be nice to see Snoop’s darker side a bit more, but in this case it was a well oiled crowd pleasing festival set.

Little_Boots
photo: 3voor12

After heated internal debate I decided to go and see Little Boots in stead of Patrick Watson, who were programmed in the same slot. Reason being I’d seen Patrick  four times before, but never miss Boots.
As I stood listening to her in the half empty India tent though, I got cold feet. Sure Little Boots gave a solid performance, but there wasn’t much excitement there. You can see the potential in songs like New In Town and Remedy, the rest is a bit bland and needs polishing. So after about 4 songs I couldn’t resist any longer, Patrick wait for me!

Patrick_Watson
photo: 3voor12

I rushed into the front of the Grolsch tent which luckily had enough room for me to wriggle in and felt immediately at home. Truth is I could go and see Patrick Watson & is guys ten times a year and it still wouldn’t bore me. They had no problem mesmerising that big old circus tent right to the back with the clever build up of their songs.
For the encore Patrick asked the crowd if they wanted to hear The Great Escape or To Build A Home. What!? “TO BUILD A HOME!!” I yelled at the top of my lungs, but alas.. He let some girl at the front decide and the dimwitted child went for the familiar Great Escape instead. Grrr. Maybe I’ll get my chance at Crossing Border in November.

Florence and the Machine2

And now, for the most anticipated act on my Lowlands logistical schedule, Florence and The Machine. I went to the Charlie stage over half an hour beforehand thinking I could get right in front, think again! Obviously the Florence buzz has spread, there were already quite a lot of people sitting on the floorboards to mark their territory.
I find it hard to describe what happened the 45 minutes after she took to the stage. This is going to sound horribly cheesy, but it was as if everybody there was temporarily transported to planet Florence, where there is love, drama, fairytales, hate, moon and stars and twilight. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone, particularly at the age of 22 (!!!), be so vulnerable, real and compelling at the same time.

Florence and the Machine4

She stood there, red locks blowing in the wind, black dress floating up just enough to show gold sequined shorts, belting out one after another amazing song. The hopeful Dog Days Are Over, the tongue in cheek Kiss With A Fist, the hypnotising Cosmic Love, a more sultry version of My Boy Builds Coffins, each one a gem.
At the end of Drumming Song she spun around so vigorously she fell to the ground laughing. In between the songs she’s this slightly mad & chatty young girl, all giggles and funny stories. But then within seconds she has the ability to move you in a song. During her powerful version of You Got The Love a girl in front of me teared up and turned to her boyfriend for a big hug, I almost had a lump in my throat myself.
Florence seduced, mesmerised, shook, twirled, sparkled and sang her way right into my Lowlands 2009 no. 1 spot. My two “Florence virgin” friends who tagged along were also completely bowled over and gobsmacked. Can’t wait to see her full concert later this year!

The Maccabees

Still on a high, we stuck around Charlie stage to see The Maccabees. The first few rows are filled with jumping indie teenagers, by the look of them all Brits. They sure know how to get a party going and Maccabees guitarist Hugo White plays on this to great effect. They perform a crackling set that thrives on their specialty of suppressed tension building up and the cool vocals of Orlando Weeks.
Although the Brit brigade love the more jumpy early work, the songs off their last album get a great crowd reception too. It seems their turning the corner towards bigger and better, I’m interested to see where it takes them.

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As Lowlands draws to a close and pretty much everyone is on their way to see the Arctic Monkeys, I decide to take the road less travelled with a bit of Grace Jones (hula hooping her way through Slave To The Rhythm) and some festive Mongolian throat singing courtesy of Hanggai. Only at Lowlands.

After running around the terrain like a blue arsed fly on Friday I was very happy to see the Saturday lineup afforded me a bit more down time. I soaked up some sun for a while, listening to a floating opera singer dressed in umbrellas, how refreshing!

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DeVotchKa gave the musical kick start to my day, and what a great way to get in the festival swing of things again. Sunshine, the newly opened up Lima stage and a sousaphone, what more could you want? Frontman Nick Urata’s vocals were hard to hear, but maybe that was because I was right in front of the stage. As expected, they closed with the beautiful How It Ends, much to the crowd’s delight.

Devotchka2

When I looked back at the end of DeVotchKa’s show there was a strange sight to be seen, the entire field surrounding the Grolsch stage had become one congealed mass of immobile people all facing one way. Sure enough it was time for Lowlands’ worst kept secret suprise act, Them Crooked Vultures.
How strange to have such a massive turnout for a band nobody even knows yet. The only glimpses I got of the band were over a hairy nude back on the outside screen, but the sound had no problem reaching far and wide. QOTSA II anybody? It had that pleasing sharp and sturdy Homme sound and the animalistic Grohl drums, but I missed some catchy hooks to lure you into the songs. Memorable Homme quote: “It’s hotter than a klootzak in here!”.

Them_Crooked_Vultures
photo: 3voor12

I decided to follow a few friends to Maximo Park afterwards, who were optimistically booked in the Alpha tent to say the least: it was barely half full. I finally figured out why the Maximo Park bug never got a hold of me, the songs just aren’t that great. Which is kind of sad, as it’s a decent band and singer Paul Smith is a natural born entertainer. The tragedy of being a great frontman in a mediocre band.

Maximo_Park
photo: 3voor12

If there were any doubts about Dutch sensation Kyteman and his Hiphop Orchestra justifying an Alpha slot, they were smashed to smithereens by thousands and thousands of festival goers pooring in and spreading out all around the tent. Kyteman has arrived, and so has his massive on stage posse, including a huge choir for the occasion.
I watched the whole spectacle from the top of the hill, and even from there it was impressive. Even though musically it’s a bit all over the place, the sheer enthusiasm and collective talent of the people involved pulls you right through. They pulled it off with gusto, well done.

kyteman
photo: 3voor12

As Kyteman wraps up the sun sets on Lowlands and it’s time to shake some limbs, who better to shake them up for you than Basement Jaxx? Is their music a tad hysterical? Yes. Should producers Buxton and Ratcliffe refrain from singing temselves? Probably. Did anybody care on Saturday night? God no. They blew the roof off the Grolsch with their sample insanity and I jumped right the way through their set. They left the crowd begging for more, that’s how it’s done.

Here we go with part one of the brokenbranches Lowlands walk through: Friday 21st of August. Luckily enough the thunder and hail storm the weather reports had been warning us about for days only amounted to half an hour’s worth of heavy rain and a few flashes, we were happily unimpressed and managed to get our little tent camp up no problem.

Amanda Blank

Feeling a bit groggy from Thursday night’s celebratory drinks we stumbled onto the sundrenched terrain on Friday around two, and were immediately welcomed by the sassy rhymes of Amanda Blank (my get um girls!), dressed in what is probably best described as a black swim suit and sneakers. Even though the festival was just getting started she gave a really lively performace and got the curious onlookers dancing. Good start of the day!

la_roux
photo: 3voor12

Next we headed to the girl with the funkiest hairdo of the festival: La Roux. Her uncompromising brand of squealing is a bit of an acquired taste, but the songs are very well put together with rediculously catchy eithies synth and singalong lyrics. Enjoyable, but I wouldn’t have been able for more than a relatively short festival set. She wrapped it up with crowd pleaser Bulletproof.

bon_iver
photo: 3voor12

I was a bit afraid what to expect of Bon Iver playing in the big Grolsch tent as this is the kind of band you should really see as close up as possible. To compensate I snuck in the front and was not disappointed. The band managed to play a warm and intimate gig despite the setting, and with additional drums on stage they packed some more power into the songs which was definitely a good idea.
They played some interesting new material too (Beach Babies and Blood Bank among others), and got the crowd to sing “What might have been lost” during The Wolves, always a smart move during a festival.

Beirut
photo: 3voor12

Holding onto our laid back mood we stayed in the Grolsch to watch wonderboy Zach Condon and band, otherwise known as Beirut. I was suprprised by how receptive the crowd was to their Yann Tiersen meets mariachi style music, and equally by how shy Condon is!
They didn’t blow me away (even with all their horns and trumpets), but they played well and had the crowd lovingly swaying side to side. Perfect soundtrack for a sunny mellow afternoon.

Lily_Allen

Right then, time to wake up and follow the masses to the stage among stages: Alpha. As we walk in Lily Allen is already in full swing, trotting around the stage in her high heels, flirting with the cameras filming her. She knows exactly what she’s doing and she does it well. Whether it’s the tongue in cheekiness of It’s Not Fair, the order to all flip the finger during Fuck You or a clubby cover of Brit’s Womanizer, we’re lapping it up. And she hit every note, credit where credit’s due.

From a cheeky girl to a cheeky chappy, next stop: Dizzee Rascal. He had the Bravo tent filled up without it being jam packed, everyone there seemed very up for some dizziness despite the temperature inside approaching boiling point. He mixed the old with the new, threw in some samples and a lot of “make some fuckin noise!”.
Even though the sound of tracks like Bonkers, Dirty Cash and Dance Wiv Me is commercial miles removed from his early stuff, the two work well together and the audience doesn’t seem to mind one bit.

Grizzly Bear6

At the end of the day I left all my friends (and most of Lowlands) who headed to the Alpha to see The Prodigy and I joined the minority splinter group in the India tent to see my most anticipated act of the day: Grizzly Bear. I was stood right at the front and got a good look at the harmonious Brooklyn foursome.
Southern Point made for an amazing set opener building up and quieting down again ending in a big climax. Their set was a mixture of soundscapes, beautifully layered vocals and even noiserock, with the Veckamtimest material as standout tracks. However, it soon became clear that the audience didn’t have the necessary patience for a Grzizzly Bear gig at this time of the evening (or maybe it was the niggling knowledge Prodigy was a 5 minute walk away?) and the tent gradually lost more and more people.
It didn’t bother me though, Grizzly Bear was my Friday highlight and I can’t wait to see them again in November!

Alpha LL09

Almost forgot my traditional little post-Lowlands roundup! Well, traditional might be pushing it a bit, but I did one in 2007 and 2008. So here is a review of Lowlands 2009 in blurbs:

Best overall Lowlands performance (seen by me)
Florence + The Machine!!! Mesmerising. Overwhelming. Beautiful. Incredible.

Favourite glad-I-happened-to-pass-by-act
Hanggai. Who’d have thought inner Mongolian roots music would be so catchy! It was like Chinese polka with throat singing, quite the finale for the Lima tent.

Sad I missed…
Passion Pit, The Tenper Trap, Jack Penate, Metric, Peaches and most of all Fever Ray. So much to see and so little time!

Disappointing
Maximo Park. I now see why I never really got into this band, the songs just aren’t that great. Shame, cause frontman Paul Smith is obviously a born entertainer.

Most euphoric Lowlands 2009 moment
Saturday Night in the Bravo: Basement Jaxx blow the roof off with a frenetic performance of Where’s Your Head At.

Best crowd response
The Maccabees created an actual pit in front of the modest Charlie Stage, first I’ve seen there. And Fanfarlo charmed the socks of the audience who wouldn’t stop cheering until there was an encore, the only encore for a non-headlining act I witnessed.

Most fun had whilst dancing with friends
Lily Allen’s It’s Not Fair & Dizzee Rascal’s Bonkers.

Worst gig ending
Basement Jaxx. Everyone seemed to be stupefied it was already over. They could have kept it going for at least another hour I’d say.

Funniest on stage moment
Grace Jones’ amazing 61 year old hips keeping a hula hoop going for the entire duration of Slave To The Rhythm. Or Patrick Watson’s guitarist Simon Angell using an inflatable guitar thrown up from the audience. Or Florence spinning around so vigorously during Cosmic Love she fell down.

Most exciting outfit
There were quite a few! In passing I saw Patrick Wolf’s extravagant gold ensemble with blond whig to boot, there was Amanda Blank’s uncompromising bathing suit-esque getup and of course, Grace Jones takes it that bit further working it in a G-string and corset.

Best and worst covers
Best: Florence did a nicely customised intro using Fever Ray’s If I Had A Heart. I also really enjoyed Fanfarlo’s cover of A Minor Place by Bonnie Prince Billie’s. Worst: as much as I loved the Bon Iver set, I wasn’t that much into the drawn out cover of Talk Talk’s I Believe In You.
There was some nice sampling going on as well, Dizzee used MIA’s Paper Planes to great effect and Basement Jaxx even managed to work Somewhere Over The Rainbow into their set.

Funniest camping moment
That would have to be friend MBR stumbling into a stranger’s tent (slightly intoxicated) about ten metres from his own, crawling into their sleeping bag and konking out blissfully unaware, only to be woken up a few hours later by the rightful owners returning home! “What are you doing? This isn’t your tent is it?”

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