If you ever wanted to test your IQ for free, you could try and remember all the bands one can see at one edition of Pukkelpop, Belgium’s biggest alternative festival. You get 20 starting points and then one point added per recalled band.
Yes, Pukkelpop did become a bit more expensive (€69 per day, €130 for 3 days), but one does get an extra stage in return. As well as several extra activities on the grounds.
Welcome to DV’s Pukkelpop review, from your knackered correspondent who spent three days on sacred grounds.
Because we don’t want to turn this into a novel but keep this review at an article’s length, all three days will be reviewed seperately.
Welcome to part one: day one.
Chronic hipsters had told us Bonde do Role (dance hall, 13.05) was something to look out for, but not even every single could fascinate me. Live this was even worse: if Bonde do Role is coming to your town, please bribe the people responsible for the sound to turn off the fat guy in the green T-shirt’s microphone. The noises he made could best be described as scrreaming, and definitely not of the pleasant sort. Bonde do Role are two boys and a girl. The boys were too macho on stage, the girl not impressive enough. Knowing I’d be able to stomach them better on record, I quickly headed to Gogol Bordello.
Super Taranta! The biggest criticism Gogol Bordello (main stage, 13.40) get is that their music is more appropriate on a stage than on a record. Which doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t have great songs: take “Supertheory of Supereverything” for instance. But yeah, Gogol Bordello is as much theatre as it is music. You’ll see members chase each other on stage, the singer will go and sit on a security member’s neck and have himself carried through the frontstage. All fun, all good. Musically not unlike the Levellers, only better and a lot more diverse.
The Cribs (marquee, 14.40) and Baloji (dancehall, 14.40) were playing at the same time as far from each other as one can get on the festival grounds, but personally I did spot a resemblance: both concerts went in my one ear and straight out my other.
Liars (chateau, 15.25) was nice, but it was still during the daytime and their set was shorter than a normal concert. Result: not the time for the band to play themselves in a trance and no time for us to get in one either.
But at least they made it to the festiva, which is more than could be said of the next artist to appear in the chateau: Willy Mason (17.05) had missed his flight and was replaced by… Willy Mason’s band. A band member took over from him and sang his tunes, while the rest did their usual business. See, that’s something I like, even if some journalists pilloried the performance as being ‘merely background music’: a band just doing their best, even if the band leader is not around. Was it a Willy Mason concert? No, but it felt like a good performance, so why pretend it wasn’t? Well, I guess that’s the difference between having to pay for a festival and being paid to write about it: you appreciate efforts.
Editors hit the main stage at roughly the same time (17.05), but it’s my love for watching people in chaotic situations that made me opt for Willy Mason(‘s band) and not Editors. I did catch a couple of songs, though, so here’s my verdict: good, but not exceptional. Still, they managed to keep their cool on the big stage. That’s gotta be worth a couple of bonus points, no?
Playing with plastic orcas (though Manuel called it an orca) and giant plastic balls or throwing them in the crowd, confetti dropping down from the ceiling… I’m From Barcelona (marquee, 18.00) made it clear: they were here to have a party with the audience. Lots of people in the marquee and lots of people on stage (I lost count at 14). Manuel told the audience to “get crasy”, but I felt like I was the only sober and casually dressed person at a dress-up party. It would be unfair to say this wasn’t good, but for some reason I’m From Barcelona just doesn’t touch me. And left me pining for Belle and Sebastian.
Off to the dance floor then… Riton (18.30) was the name of the DJ in the boiler room. Our verdict: energetic, but deafening. Nothing wrong with energetic beats, but does one need to play it so loud my ears start to bleed? (I’ve been to the boiler a couple of times during the festival and I think Riton was the loudest DJ there.)
So the two reasons why I didn’t stay very long in the boiler room were: 1) I could still think of plenty of occasions where working ears might come in handy and 2) Hayseed Dixie were next up (skate stage, 18.40). Many a skate fan looked a bit weirded out of the sight of these four hillbillies and were a little hesitant to listen to some country music. However, once the band covered “Ace of Spades” and “I Don’t Feel Like Dancing” (back to back, mind you) the audience really started to know who Hayseed Dixie were. And that’s when the band dug out their perennial classic “I’m keeping your poop (in a jar)”.
Lots of smiles and smirks on the skate stage.
I have plenty of reservations regarding the latest Dizzie Rascal album, so I decided to give Jamie T (club, 19.45) a shot instead. The verdict: at times good, but not enough to grip me. There might be a future for Jamie T, but at this point I’m just seeing a work in progress. I must say his mix of rap, reggae and funk worked better on record.
What is there left to say about Iggy Pop and the Stooges (main stage, 20.30) that hasn’t been said before? An Iggy Pop concert is an Iggy Pop concert. What you see is what you get. And you know what you will get. Yes, Mr. Pop looks leathery. Yes, he doesn’t stay still for a moment during the entire show. Yes, he invited lots of people on stage. Which he’s done so often, but it remains a lovely sight to witness.
Also lovely to witness, My Brightest Diamond (chateau, 20.35). Apparently realizing they were up against Iggy Pop on the adjacent stage, the band played a set that was a bit harder than their album work. Nevertheless, it was very good and you could see these people were into their music. You really had the feeling human beings were up on the stage, rather than the often witnessed singers who’re reciting some of their work. One of the bigger surprises of this Thursday.
And one surprise led to another: I’ve known Sharko (wablief, 21.20) for many moons now and a couple of years ago I had some correspondence with David (singer) and Teuk (guitar). At the time (2002) Sharko were complete unknowns here in Flanders, despite getting some foot on the ground in Holland and France. It even looked as if Germany and the UK would open up to this Wallonian band before Flanders would. The national radio didn’t want to play their singles, allegedly because the songs didn’t fit the profile. That never stopped the radio from airing similar tracks for foreign bands, though. Some people said it was because they came from Wallonia. Which might be the case, but would be odd as one third of Sharko is from Flanders. Still, who would believe the national radio would bother to look up some personalia?
Why this introduction? Because the wablief (Flemish for ‘begyapardon?’) might be the smallest of the eight stages, but it was packed during Sharko’s performance. And because people were singing and dancing along to Sharko and watching how David Bartholomé acts like a bouncing ball on stage. In his own lyrics: “No contest, I’m the best.” Honestly, I was glad to see that a couple of years ago the Dutch radio VPRO shared my slightly negative feelings towards the band: we’d seen them a couple of times and weariness was setting in. The band looked to be on a trodden path and even they themselves had some reservations towards their third album. Then a new album was released and Sharko revitalized. What we witnessed on stage at Pukkelpop 2007 was Sharko in a better shape than I’d seen them before. There’s the energy, there are the oddball lyrics (” I went down to see the face of you in a bag down in the garage / I feel more myself with your skin on, it’s a big surprise”) … it looks as if one of Belgium’s best kept secrets are finally getting the break they deserved. Finally.
Ever wondered what it would sound like if two girls would be the only people in an empty factory? Especially if one girl would bring large drums and the other would shout through a megaphone? Meet M.I.A. (dance hall, 21.40) and the sound problems. If M.I.A. herself wondered why the dance hall was only half full: there were more people following the concert outside of the dance hall, where the concert did sound better.
M.I.A. also demanded quite a bit of audience participation, which is something I don’t like that much: not only because they are there to entertain us but also because – if a concert is really good – people will start to clap to the music or raise their hands automatically. Nevertheless, half of the bands in the marquee and dance hall asked the people to clap to their music. I didn’t oblige once. I am not your monkey.
M.I.A.’s concert didn’t have the punch I’d expect it to have and apparently more people felt like this afterwards. A small disappointment, but we’ll be lenient: it may have been better if she’d known how many people were outside or if the sound had been better. Plus, going straight from Sharko’s “I Went Down” to M.I.A.’s “Jimmy” was the best good song combination of the day. Bonus point.
I waved at M.I.A. as she was transported from her stage to the artist village. I was standing at the back of the skate stage, near the fences so I could call someone. And in the meantime La Coka Nostra (skate stage, 22.35) were playing. They brought rap music. Oldskool. For some reason, this felt as a relief. Yes, modern rap has gotten so awful one starts fondly remembering traditional rap artists. Hey, I’ll gladly pick anything that sounds more like Public Enemy than like 50 Cent, but not if there are several other stages. Me and rap will never marry.
Not that I was at the wablief… Fixkes (22.50) are a hype. They’ve released one highly popular track. And only one. They didn’t want to play a gig for the family-oriented radio station or for the commercial tv channel because they think they’re better than that. (Quote: “When you start a band, you want to be on a stage at Pukkelpop or Werchter, not on a stage of a commercial station.”) However, they did show up at the radio station’s award show when they heard they would receive a prize. They demand to be taken seriously, but they’ll dress up as The A-Team for another festival (not that anyone even closely resembled a member of the A-Team). Shameless opportunists!
And one could’ve turned a blind eye if the music had been okay, but it is not: their melancholic single is a third-rate track (mind you, they were playing that as I was walking past the Wablief on my way to the boiler) and another track (which I heard on the way back) was even worse.
Some journalists claimed the concert was good. Those journalists may be biased: especially if the singer is the editor of their sister paper. Let’s just state the facts: the Wablief is the smallest tent and the “Sorry: Full House” was not up during this concert (which did happen with the comics and Henry Rollins’ performance). Plus, of the 46.000 people present a rough 40.000 people chose not to be near the Wablief at the time (it was remarkably empty near the tent, usually there’s always some people chilling on the ground.) Not since 50 Cent was there so much outrage amongst loyal Pukkelpop fans of a band not deserving to be at the festival. And loyal Pukkelpop fans are always right.
Balkan Beat Box was playing at the chateau in the mean time (22.35). Their mix of traditional sounds and modern beats worked quite catchy at times, but not good enough to keep me in the chateau for 50 minutes. Which meant there was some time to see Kaiser Chiefs at the main stage (22.35). I’m not a big fan of the Kaiser Chiefs, but they’re one of the groups who I don’t really like but who can still have all the success in the world as far as I’m concerned. Some of their singles are okay, but generally I miss a certain something. However, if you see Ricky Wilson running through the frontstage crowd or if you see the main stage audience explode to the chorus of “Oh My God”… let’s grant them their success.
The Low concert (club, 22.45) was a typical Low concert: it started soft and just not boring (“We’re glad to be here, we hope you won’t fall asleep.”) and then there’s something that ignites the band. In 2006 it was when a fan shouted a request (Low’s response: “That’s our favourite song too.”), here it were Alan Sparhawk’s musings on being at Pukkelpop and being able to see Iggy Pop and the Stooges live for the first time. Alan was watching it gleefully in the frontstage, he told us. And that was the spark that made the Low concert from an okay set to a very good show.
One valid point of criticism: the band ended with a symphony of distortion that lasted several minutes. No problem with that, except that at a festival (if you’re running late) you might end up hearing the first sounds of the next band at the adjacent stage and your distortion will not sound as impressive. And except that, when it comes to distortion, you might want to throw in the towel early if Sonic Youth is also playing the festival. Oh, and except that it took so many minutes they could’ve played another song (how about “Monkey”? I missed that one and it would’ve sounded good at this venue). Yes, we’re spoilt and I did see Low’s excellent concert in 2006 in Antwerp (when they were playing behind fountains), so that will bias me a bit. Still, an 8 out of 10 is far from a bad score. See you next time, Low!
Lots of people on stage… no, it’s not I’m From Barcelona again. No, Iggy Pop didn’t do an afterparty in the chateau. It’s Australian band Architecture in Helsinki (00.50). Cheerful and good, quite a way to send the chateau audience to sleep on their first night of this three-day festival. And a decent-sized audience too.
Which is something that Basement Jaxx (main stage, 00.50) couldn’t say. The first culprit is Tiga, who was playing at the same time in the boiler room. Apparently Tiga is immensely popular in Belgium. Last year he was playing at the same time as Cassius and Cassius had to play in a dance hall he could only fill for one third or, during his luckiest moment, for one half. And this year Tiga made sure the main stage was only half full. As for the Jaxx themselves, the concert started without some form of commitment that would guarantee you 70 minutes of good time. After a couple of songs they did manage to get themselves in better shape and the concert started being good. A bit too late to save the night and to call them the deserved headliners of the first day. But if you stayed in the chateau for Architecture in Helsinki until the end and then made it to the main stage for the final twenty minutes of Basement Jaxx, you would’ve heard the Jaxx in top form only.
And at the end of the concert everyone left the stage apart from one of their singers. She went flat on the floor and asked a fan to get near the stage and then she kissed him.
Pukkelpop 2007, day 1: it ended with a kiss.
(to be continued)