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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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