It’s big. It’s green. It sells out in about seventeen minutes. Is it Glastonbury? No, it’s Lowlands Festival in the Netherlands. A couple of weekends ago my bandmates and I found ourselves there to play a early slot. As we’d done playing by about nine a.m. (not much of an exaggeration) there was nothing left to do but enjoy the sights, the sounds, and the smells, of a hard-working Dutch rock festival… read on, and discover eight things you might not see at Reading…
1. SECURITY MEN ON BICYCLES
The Dutch being the Dutch, two wheels are central to all the festival staff getting around the site, and the security guards are no exception. “Aw,” you’re tempted to remark, “they’re so cute.” As indeed they appear, wearing their jolly blue tops and tootling about the site on their mountain bikes. But don’t be fooled. I witnessed one of them scrutinising a lesser known British indie popster who had forgotten his pass and was trying to get backstage, and it resembled an interrogation in one of those windowless rooms at JFK Airport.
No, this is not the Dutch word for someone not very good-looking. Munten are little plastic tokens, like mini casino chips, which the happy Lowlander may exchange wads of cash for, then use to pay for beers, food and whatever. The reasons for employing this system are mysterious. Some say it’s to cut down on petty crime, some mention the hygiene of food vendors handling smelly coins. Others say it’s mainly to cut down on bar queues, as vendors don’t need to worry about change. All I know is that if you’re stuck without any munten at midnight whilst thirstily off your face watching Aphex Twin, it’s an arse.
3. SENSIBLE TIMETABLES
Quite how they manage it is baffling, but bands do not clash at Lowlands. So you can flit happily between stages watching The Wombats and Anna Calvi and James Blake and The Horrors and Friendly Fires and Ben Howard and Frank Turner and so on, without having lots of those nailbiting “can we make it from the Pyramid Stage via the John Peel to the Other in twenty-five minutes and still have time for a poo?” moments one enjoys at Glasto.
4. INOFFENSIVE DRUNKS AND INVISIBLE DRUGS
My bass playing colleague, no invisible taker of drugs himself, spotted this one. Drugsmust have been present: we were in Holland and Aphex Twin was headlining one of the stages, for heaven’s sake. But were they ever apparent? Did one get offered “hash weed” at every available juncture? Did people seem off their tits? Did we ever smell anything being smoked? Not really. But everyone was lively, positive, dancing and generally having a jolly good time, which means they were either surreptitiously caning it, or Lowlands is actually a born-again Christian festival and no-one told us.
Booze-wise, Grolsch being the main sponsor of the festival, beer was clearly consumed by the lorryload, but there was no puking, fighting, staggering, pissing or passing out to be seen anywhere. Could this be because the ale was sold in those dinky 33cl servings that our continental cousins are so fond of? After you’ve necked one, you often can’t be arsed to schlep back to the bar until you’ve finished watching whoever it is, so you drink at precisely half the pace you would back home. The mornings were appreciably easier as a result.
5. EDIBLE FOOD
Again, Lord knows how they do it, but Lowlands manages to exist entirely without any of those rubbish chip or noodle vans staffed by spotty oiks from Doncaster. Instead, wholesome looking nosh is served up by young ladies who wouldn’t look out of place in a Gap advert. That said, towards the end of the night when all we wanted was a greaseburger and a coke, this wasn’t necessarily seen as an improvement.
6. NO (OR AT LEAST, INVISIBLE) CHILDREN
Reading and Leeds aside, it’s unarguable that the huge UK festival market hangs on the fact that indie popsters of yesteryear can still party like it’s 1992 – as long as they don’t mind having a toddler on their shoulders. You can’t move at British festivals these days without seeing some brightly dressed weirdo leaping around entertaining a herd of six year-olds while their cider-sipping parents lurk nearby trying to catch barely audible wafts of Gruff Rhys from the main stage. Lowlands, the Keith Wildmans of this world will be pleased to note, is not like this. In three days the only person I saw perceptibly under the age of eighteen was a strange bespectacled ginger child in the backstage catering area who I’m still not convinced wasn’t part of a comedy act of some sort. Family-loving though they are, the Dutch have clearly decided that kids and festivals ought not to mix.
7. NO MAIN STAGE
That’s right. I wandered around for hours looking for the familiar mothership-style centrepiece where the more mainstream end of the pop world might bash away, but no. There’s a slightly larger tent called Alpha, where the likes of Skunk Anansie and Arctic Monkeys appeared, but in general Lowlands stages operate under a sort of Animal Farm-style communism: all stages are equal, with Alpha maybe being a speck more equal than others.
8. NO TRAFFIC ON THE WAY THERE – OR THE WAY BACK
How did this happen? On the way there: a peaceful drive along a Dutch lake. On the way home: a peaceful drive along a Dutch lake. How did everyone else arrive and depart? Helicopter? Wait… no… bicycle? All the way home? With a tent on their back? Did we miss the teleportation unit at the other end of the car park? Or does the whole festival just materialise, Brigadoon-style, every August, complete with audience? Dunno. One thing’s for sure though. I’ll be back.
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