Music editor Emily Barker heads back to the Netherlands to see if the 26th edition of Lowlands can match last year’s festival
Last August, I left Lowlands convinced that they had thrown everything they had at the 25th anniversary, resulting in a seriously impressive event. This year, I spent the forty-eight hours following the festival, while regaining semi-consciousness and -sanity, slowly concluding that that cannot have been the case. At the 26th edition they threw more, resulting in probably the best festival I have ever attended, certainly in terms of line-up. It is true, festivals worldwide have benefitted from a number of the industry’s biggest names releasing incredibly successful albums and following these up with a summer circuit, but as soon as I spent the opening day of Lowlands madly weaving my way from Little Simz to Dutch hip-hop giants De Jeugd van Tegenwoordig to Brockhampton to Tshegue to Gorillaz, all before the after parties had even begun, I knew this was going to be something special.
Having seen a couple of Little Simz’ opening sets and cameos for the Gorillaz in the last year, my hopes were high for her long-awaited solo slot. She did not disappoint; clearly buoyed by her turn-out in such a large tent, so early on the opening day, she bopped her way through banger after banger, filling the Bravo with her characteristic energy and downright, for lack of a better word, coolness. She appeared once more briefly that evening on the main stage for an encore of ‘Garage Palace’ during the Gorillaz’ set, making herself the source of another impressive lift in energy for those brief two and a half minutes. The Gorillaz themselves delivered a predictably solid and popular set, sadly bereft of the stellar Vince Staples collaboration ‘Ascension’, but making up for this with classics ‘On Melancholy Hill’ and ‘Feel Good Inc.’, as well as a touching Aretha Franklin tribute, one of the weekend’s many.
Upholding Lowland’s reputation for otherworldly hip-hop sets were Brockhampton, Stormzy and N.E.R.D. (Kendrick requires his own paragraph). Brockhampton and Stormzy I was prepared for and accordingly positioned in mosh pit central, but I left N.E.R.D. feeling a little stunned and retrospectively naïve at just how damn hard they, and their crowd, had gone. Pharrell and co. left no second spare for breath-catching, inciting raucous moshing and madness well beyond even the 15,000-strong confines of the Alpha tent. What seemed like easily another 10,000 Lowlanders crowded the surrounding field, unable to fit into the venue itself, but unperturbed by this and certainly unwilling to let it hold them back. ‘We see you in the back! We see you all the way back there, making your mosh pits!’ Pharrell encouraged, before launching right into ‘Rock Star’. The only slight disappointment was the unfulfilled expectation that Nile Rodgers, given his presence with Chic only a few hours earlier, would join N.E.R.D. for ‘Get Lucky’, but both artists included the smash hit in their sets, and held down the fort easily with their respective bands.
Just like last year, I was somehow caught out by the assumption that Sunday would wind slowly down. Not so. First came a pleasant afternoon of watching Rag’n’Bone Man and pootling around the non-music-related activities, including a Build-A-Bear-esque hat-making tent, the luxurious glamping area, (complete with sauna, massage treatments, and private swimming in a section of Lake Lowlands), and the ‘Tegenlicht Talks’ (Backlight Talks), a virtually unmentioned and unnoticeable tent with fascinating talks and documentaries on everything from Bitcoin to technology addiction to efficiency in large-scale farming and food production. It seemed an odd choice to hide this in a corner, drown out its content with the nearby main stage, and not include it on the program or map, but it was rewarding to stumble across and I hope to see it develop and gain more recognition in coming years.
Then came the night, along with $uicideboy$, Dua Lipa, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, and, finally, Kendrick Lamar. What was a damn near perfect festival night (pun very much intended), was only slightly marred by the terror that was queueing for the front section of Kendrick’s audience. Unfortunately, crowd control only seemed to cotton on to the chaos once the gates were opened, and even then exerted very little control over the swarm of people desperate to squeeze through by any means. It was the least fun half hour of the weekend, with people having panic attacks from being so squashed that they were unable to move or breathe properly, let alone leave the queue. I found myself periodically lifted off the ground, wedged in with my feet dangling in mid-air, held up by the gigantic Dutch boys all around me.
Luckily, my friend kept my spirits high and self calm by turning, as much as he could, and saying with a deadpan expression, ‘We gon’ be alright,’ and, once we were in, we quickly recuperated. The number allowed into the section was strictly capped, (hence the desperation of late-comers to push to the front of the queue), so it was merely cosily full, no longer claustrophobically so. Everyone with the dedication to get in was there for one reason and one reason only: to scream and cheer and rap (badly, in most of our cases) and mosh and adore Kendrick. I challenge anyone to find a more exhilarating experience than seeing one of your favourite artists in a group of their die-hard fans, with whom you chant along to every word of every song, bash shoulders during exuberant pogoing, and leave, bruised and hoarse, but utterly, utterly happy.
The remainder of the night and early morning was rounded off by the mother of all after parties, especially at the Hacienda, and the Heineken’s Fiesta Macumba. If you were lucky, you caught a couple of hours of ‘sleep’ (sporadic dozing with bassy background noise) before the early-risers attempted to beat the outbound rush. But, as my favourite stickers adorning various of the festival toilets reminded us, ‘Slapen doe je maar op Pinkpop.’ (‘You can sleep at Pinkpop’). Lowlands, I didn’t think it could get any better, but it did, and I will be back to be proven wrong again.
To keep an eye on Lowlands’ upcoming 27th edition, you can follow their Facebook page.