Thank you Digital Screen of Cheerfulness! I survived and thrived during Days 1 and 2 in the marathon known as Flanders’ Belgium’s totally rocktacular music festival. Day 3 of Pukkelpop was ahead of me, and I melted within 30 seconds of gaining consciousness. It was HOT in Kiewit.
I mean, seriously, HADES + MERCURY hot. But the Digital Screen of Cheerfulness had our backs. Pukkelpop, able to go with the flow of drenching sweat down our cleavages, adjusted its water prices.
And reminded us not to get dehydrated.
Like, really reminded us not to get dehydrated.
Like really, REALLY, REALLY reminded us not to get dehydrated. But it’s okay! I got this! I get to escape the heat by heading into a giant, enclosed rubber-draped tent without any air supply! At least there’s an unageing indie rock vampire in there!
It’s Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus! Not pictured: “& the Jicks”. It is, as noted above, ridiculously hot and Malkmus is glistening. In my indie rock dreams, he does this anyway. I am worried he might be getting dehydrated, though.
It’s a metaphorically (alas, not literally) chill set, erring on the side of noodly, as the band trips through stuff from mostly the last two albums. I wanna really love Malkmus’ solo efforts but last three times I’ve seen him I find my mind wandering to how his participation in Fantasy Basketball helped to fund the Iron Maiden he uses to drain virgins of their life force, so that he can bathe in their blood and maintain his looks.
I think James Mercer was wondering about this too, from the main stage…
I wandered over to stand in the middle of the scorched earth while The Shins took over. Yeah, all good. Not mind-bogglingly great, but I find I prefer listening to the Shins at home, not whilst attempting to bathe in a Callippo ice lolly. But enough, ridiculous sunfireball! Back to the impossible tent of doom! Why? Because Bob Mould is about to do Copper Blue.
And holy shit is he undeniable. He’s got Jason from Telekenisis on bass, and this denim-loving handsome drummer (and BackstageRider’s advice columnist) from Superchunk, Mountain Goats, and about 176 other bands. I present: Jon Wurster…
Jon’s powering through the songs and there’s just this great hunger on stage, and the songs sound as unaged as Steve Malkmus.
STANDING ON THE EDGE OF THE HOOOOOOOOOOOOVER DAM! and the hairs on my arm go up. Bob Mould completes one of the highlights of the entire festival. So SO good. But now it’s time to decamp to a smaller, hotter tent! Why?
I flee here through the wreckage of discarded water bottles out in the bright open day. Because there`s totally different brand of deep dark lush awesome awaiting. It’s Lower Dens. (If you’re all ADD, read a] why I love Lower Dens and b] how I spent Thanksgiving with them.) Baltimore-based Texan Jana Hunter has this uncanny ability to bend her voice around synth and guitar layers.
She’s also lucky and is not just rocking out in this pic I adore, she’s got a fan in her favour. And she’s also got beer. I go backstage behind the tent and we hang out for a bit catch up and, well, to be precise, meet each other for the first time. But we bond instantly and decide to go nerd out to my Weezer Cruise buddies The Antlers. Jana and I fight our way across the burning expanse and through the hordes of fans – it’s like a 45 minute walk to the tent where PeterDarbyMichaelTim are playing – and Jana takes up position in the photo pit so she can nerd out over their pedals. Awww, bless.
Even in the hot tent, rammed full with dirty sweaty music fans, The Antlers always seem to sound pristine. One of the best bands out there, anchored by the voice and connect of Peter Silberman.
“I Don’t Want Love” sounds amazing here; as does pretty much everything else that comes through the speakers.
But all good things come to an end and the main stage is playing host to a a two-piece who never plays rock festivals. (I’m totally kidding, it’s like THEY PLAY ALL THE FESTIVALS.) “Who is this band?” Jana asks as we walk to the backstage village (where I am denied).”Dunno. But I’ve heard this song before,” I reply in all seriousity.
It’s the BLACK KEYS AND THEIR EVERLASTING LIGHT. Or just the stage lighting. Whatever.
It’s getting dark so I head over to the Dance Hall to check out the last few songs of Portugal’s Buraka Som Sistema. These cats have the right idea. They’re having a water pistol fight with the unarmed audience. But now it’s time for food and waiting.
And ferris wheels! There’s a ferris wheel here at Pukkelpop and while I’m walking by, I happen to notice these two cuties….
…who of course salute me in the most appropriate fashion. Not sure how you say “ROCKHANDS” in Flemmish but I find a way to communicate.
Then I pull up a patch of grass and listen to Sleigh Bells for a bit. I’m about 17 miles from the front of the main stage and it’s seeming like all 130,000 people at the festival have gathered here for these guys. Or rather, this guy, and this is really as close as I’ll get:
It’s Dave Grohl and his radio-friendly Foo Fighters! WOOOOOOOOOO! say all the people who care about such things. I don’t meant to knock Dave. He’s a) the nicest man in rock and roll and b) knows how to give ‘er but I’ve sort of reached an overload of arena rock. As the festival closers on the mainstage, they’re making a lot of people happy. But I’m antsy in the dustbowl, so head off for a boogie…
Mega DJ DIPLO is doing some mad crazy things in the Boiler Room, and the lasers are major. (Anyone get that?) But little could prepare me for one of my favourite highlights of the whole festival – the exact moment I walk into the dance floor when Diplo mixes “Tequila” and hundreds of tweaking kids start doing the Pee Wee Herman dance, before losing their shit to the d n’ b that comes afterwards. In the background, the Foos are still going, loudly. But MY Pukkelpop closer is about to destroy all stages, and all worlds.
It’s Dennis Lyxzén and 90s punk legends REFUSED. And they’re setting The Shelter tent alight. The place is raging with glee and pent up excitement and pure energy. EVERYONE there is happy that Refused are back, including me. I’m utterly gobsmacked.
It’s not just the intensity of guitarist Kristofer Steen and bassist Magnus Flagge, here. It’s not the long-winded but totally charismatic banter by Lyxzén as he talks about how angry he was in Refused’s heyday but how the song lyrics that were really full of shit then actually turned out to be really prescient. Or his celebration of the “Swedish Invasion” at Pukkelpop as he mentions Ghost and The Hives (whose Howlin’ Pelle surely cribbed all his moves from Lyxzén,( It’s not the looks on the faces of rapturous fans who are so very very happy the band are back. It’s not EVEN the fact that Lyxzén can throw a mic 8 feet into the air, limbo backwards a half-step and catch the mic on his CHEST before picking up the next move.
Well, actually, it is all of that. REFUSED nail the festival to the back of the still-hot walls. We’re sweaty, we’re dirty, few of us have slept but in that moment, the Swedes made it all worthwhile. (So worthwhile, in fact, that I’ll end up seeing the band two weeks later in Vancouver.)
And soon Refused ARE fucking dead…tired and spent and finished with their one-hour set closer. They bow and leave the stage and my Great Flanders Pukkelpop Adventure is over. But as I’m taking a breather in the VIP tent (read, I’m using the bathrooms), I spot Lyxzén . I sort of run after him and tell him that what I just saw was “fucking incredible.” “Was it?” he asks dryly, and thanks me. Because that set WAS incredible.
People of the world, Pukkelpop was ace. You should go, really. Please can I do it all again next year? \m/
With many thanks to Tourism Flanders for flying me to Belgium to experience their region’s great food, festivals and people. It’s an amazing place, I suggest you visit. For more info, check out VisitFlanders.com