Lowlands Festival 2018: Review
Clean, serene, friendly, and with an excellent line-up, The Netherlands' Lowlands Festival is a rare treat
Established in 1993, Lowlands Festival is one of The Netherlands' biggest summer parties, attracting big names year-on-year despite its relatively small capacity of 55,000. This year is no different, with Gorillaz, N.E.R.D and Kendrick Lamar taking the three headline slots, with a quality dose of hugely popular artists such as Dua Lipa, The War on Drugs and Ritchie Hawtin propping up the timetable's across the weekend. The Skinny came along for the ride to find out more and here were our highlights:
Settled in from the previous night's silent disco and rain showers, Friday begins with a cleansing set from Detroit post-punks Protomartyr who despite the relatively early start still manage to produce a stirring set. One thing that becomes immediately apparent is that the Lowlands crowd can be fairly unresponsive to some acts, and Protomartyr is unfortunately not absolved of this problem. Despite playing a blistering set there's a notable lack of connection between band and crowd, which frontman Joe Casey deadpans about after a few songs.
Regardless, they power through an excellent selection from their back catalogue including some old cuts like No Passion All Technique's Jumbo's and the brilliant trifecta of I Stare at Floors, Violent and What the Wall Said. By the time of closing song Half Sister, those in the crowd who stick it out are treated to one of the best songs of last year and can't help but be won over.
Next up we visit the second biggest stage, Bravo, with its impressive, futuristic Cathedral-like structure for Nils Frahm to fill with his incredible organ sounds. Frahm plays to a beautiful sunset on the horizon and the crowd are overawed by his beautiful tones and beats. This year's All Melody is an absolute stunner from the Hamburg composer and witnessing all the pieces of his layered, slow-burning sound is something to behold. While the album's title track is especially great, Frahm treating us to a closing duo of Hammers and Says from 2013's Spaces is a simply wondrous ending to his set.
Following on from Frahm are the much-hyped "boy band" BROCKHAMPTON, whose noticeably younger crowd are teeming with excitement in anticipation for the Californian rap group. In this tour's current incarnation there are six of them, all dressed in white T-shirts and black pants, possessing a youthful energy that isn't even close to being replicated by anyone else over the weekend. Right from their set opener (1998 TRUMAN), taken from their upcoming Iridescence album, they have the crowd hooked on every beat and every word.
Over the course of their set each member takes turns leading the charge, all of whom are endlessly charismatic, creating an engaging and endearing stage show to accompany their hugely fun music. Closer, BOOGIE gives a pleasing and apt finale before they confidently announce: "We're the best boy band since One Direction."
Saturday requires a pick-me-up in the form of hardcore/metal hybrids Employed to Serve to blow away Friday night's cobwebs, and in fairness are perfect for the role. Generally speaking, Lowlands doesn't offer too much in the way of "heavier" music, though there are bits and pieces here and there, however, no-one else seems close to the Woking band's pure riffage and volume in the dense X-ray stage. While the Lowlands crowd, for the most part, appear to be electronic heads or fashionistas, a few metalheads emerge for this set, along with a few other curious travellers who don't seem put off by the sheer noise EtS create. The Converge-esque Brits play their latest record The Warmth of a Dying Sun in full, and for those that can hack it are an impressive spectacle.
Refreshed from that necessary shake up, The Skinny can proceed with the rest of our day starting with the legendary Nile Rodgers & Chic in the jam-packed Bravo tent. While there are some initial technical difficulties, the band are on incredible form once they get going. It seems trite, but it's easy to forget just how many incredible hits Rodgers has been responsible for, and after an initial run of Chic songs he announces: "We're gonna play just a few of my number one singles," with the kind of swag that only such luminaries can get away with.
What follows is probably the biggest party of the whole weekend as we're treated to Diana Ross's I'm Coming Out, Sister Sledge's We Are Family, Madonna's Like a Virgin and David Bowie's Let's Dance before closing on his own Good Times, throwing in a verse of Rapper's Delight which famously sampled it. Before playing his Daft Punk-collaboration Get Lucky (no Pharrell Williams guest vocal despite N.E.R.D performing later that evening), Rodgers speaks candidly about his battle with cancer – of which he is now free – in an incredibly moving moment, which makes the ensuing party all the more sweeter when the band strike up once again for Le Freak.
Lowlands' line-up is particularly impressive for the wide array of electronic music on offer over the weekend, with the Saturday night being particularly electro-heavy featuring the likes of Richie Hawtin, Daniel Avery and Charlotte de Witte. Floating Points receives one of the biggest slots during this run, proving the distance he's come in such a short space of time as one of the UK's best producers. Having toured with a live band for the relatively jazz-influenced Elaenia, Sam Shepherd is back to performing solo with a much darker, heavier set than his previous guise. This is perfect for the Saturday night mood and many get lost in his hypnotic beats and accompanying visuals, with most recent single Ratio being a real highlight.
Later still is Glasgow-born producer SOPHIE whose brand of hyperactive pop and rave music has garnered her the attention of one of the hottest tickets in the scene right now. Performing behind a constant veil of smoke, she creates an immediate big mood incorporating a similar style to St. Vincent's Fear the Future tour in both playing but also acting as if she were a mannequin come to life on stage. This is a heavy-hitting set in the industrial-like proficiency of SOPHIE's sound, but is equally emotionally draining in her frank depictions of her trans story across her lyrics. It's a rewarding set, but tough going so probably for the best that we call it a night.
Sunday kicks off with all-female, Seattle rock band Thunderpussy who are one of the few acts to rival BROCKHAMPTON in terms of F.U.N. While their sound is a complete throwback to all your favourite 70s guitar-rock acts, there's something massively engaging about this group, not least that frontwoman Molly Sides is perhaps one of the most entertaining we see of the weekend. But every member of the band – Whitney Petty (guitar), Leah Julius (bass) and Ruby Dunphy (drums) – is extremely talented. While there certainly isn't much in the way of originality here, their songwriting ability give this old genre a fresh spin, such as on set opener Speed Queen and ballad Torpedo Love, or their eponymous call-to-arms anthem.
It's not exactly surprising to see the members of Thunderpussy again not long after their set, crowded among many others all looking to watch the incredible Patti Smith from the wings. It's a shame that the incendiary Smith's set clashes with Aussie glam-pop goodies Confidence Man, but a rare appearance from Smith and her band is simply too exciting to pass up. Besides, despite being in her 70s, Smith is, and most likely always will be, still able to hang with the rest of them, performing with all the energy and vigour of the kids many years her junior wherever she performs.
Smith offers tracks from right across her back catalogue, but there's no denying the sheer power of Because the Night or Gloria some 40 years on. Smith is full of fire, even treating the crowd to a reading from her recent, politically charged poetry book and has the crowd hanging on every word before finishing on her rallying call, People Have the Power.
Closing the festival is Kendrick Lamar, who at this stage has more than earned his status as the "most important rapper" in the world today. So it would be fair to say that excitement is at fever pitch for Lamar's appearance. After an introductory accompanying film following the adventures of his DAMN. alter-ego Kung Fu Kenny, Lamar emerges from fire straight into DNA., the audience reaction finally breaking the Lowlands' Festival cool.
The energy felt (from two planets away) never lets up from Lamar's entrance right through to main set closer HUMBLE., on which Lamar pauses his band to sing the end a capella with the entire crowd rapping along word perfect; it's a sight and sound to behold. Across the set, Lamar touches upon most parts of his already canonised back catalogue, including his recent work on the Black Panther OST where Lamar's encore is the SZA assisted All the Stars, before promising the crowd "I will be back."
The next instalment of Lowlands Festival takes place in Spijk en Bremerberg, Biddinghuizen, The Netherlands, 17-19 Aug 2019