Pukkelpop 2011

Another update was scheduled for today, but I’ve postponed that review to 25 August. It felt inappropriate not to dedicate a few words to the disaster that struck the Pukkelpop festival on Thursday. Regular readers may remember I’ve written several festival reviews of this particular festival. Thirteen years I’ve been to Pukkelpop, only 25 km away from the village I grew up in. At the time of the disaster I was still in Germany and noticed how Cologne was swallowed by dark clouds. I was The grounds after the stormunaware the storm had chosen of all places a music festival to let loose its worse demons. It lasted no longer than 15 minutes, but the magnitude was beyond description. Hail, the size of bullets, fell down on the crowds and chased Skunk Anansie away in the midst of their concert. Thousands of people looked desperately for shelter as the winds played with anything that wasn’t cemented in the ground. The DJ at the dance hall was told to get everyone out of the place, something not everyone seemed willing to do. Meanwhile, some festivalgoers managed to get backstage – probably because some fences had been knocked down – and hid in the back of a truck. Some seeked shelter in the backstage area of the dance hall and yelled like cowboys who’d just caught a wild bull because they’d arrived in a dry shelter and because the heavy rain had felt like a cooling shower after a scorchingly hot afternoon. At that point, people didn’t realize what was happening elsewhere.

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Soap&Skin (18/03/2010, AB, Brussels)

It’s not often you leave a concert hall with the question: “Did I just watch a concert or an exorcism?” Still, one day later no newspaper felt the urge to print the headline “Labile girl exorcises herself on stage”, so let’s opt for ‘concert’ then. For now.

Soap&Skin is the stage name used by Anja Plaschg, an Austrian girl only two weeks away from her 20th birthday. Her track “Spiracle” made it all the way to n°3 in this site’s Top 99 of 2009 and her October concert was rescheduled – due to Anja’s illness – to March 18. Soap&Skin promised to make it up to us by bringing an ensemble. And she also arranged for support act Nils Frahm, a 25-year-old guy from Berlin who played a couple of instrumentals on his piano. It was like listening to soundtracks with your eyes open.

Unlike Soap&Skin then. Theatre was never far away, from the beginning (Anja’s ensemble walked on the dark stage carrying fleshlights, stopping near their instruments to shine the light in their face) to the murkiest songs of the concert. During “Spiracle” the stage was dark, but the lights shone on the public, allowing the band to see the audience for once. In the meantime, Soap&Skin performed “Spiracle” as if it was something that needed to be broken. If ever there was a haunted song, this live version must’ve been it. Soap&Skin hit the piano as if force would make a bad thing good, as if something evil was dwelling inside the piano or inside the performer.
But it wasn’t all doom and gloom, some tracks were lighter too. Still, you’re bound to remember a Clint Mansell cover (Meltdown) if the stage is lit up all red and a singer starts walking around the stage before returning to the piano and – indeed – facing a meltdown. “Marche Funèbre” over, Soap&Skin ran off stage, her hands hiding her face. The ensemble was left on stage, accepted the applause and walked off as well. Then they returned, only as a set piece, because Soap&Skin re-appeared too, listened to the applause, nearly in tears and stammered: “It wasn’t very good. I hope you give me another chance.” Then she sang Sog Nit Keynol, a Yiddish partisan song, a-capella and hurried off the stage again.

After a concert that seemed like the bastard grandchild of Weill, Brecht and several expressionist movies, some wondered whether Soap&Skin had been sincere when asking for our forgiveness for a mediocre concert (though it seems she was the only one who found it mediocre) or whether it was all an act. Others suggested counselling. The truth will never be known. Whether is was an art piece in the shape of a concert (by the way, the Soap&Skin site has three art videos by Anja) or a homemade therapy sessions, most of the songs were very good. Though it wouldn’t hurt to bring some levity into 70 minutes of music if you don’t want to make it too heavy-hearted. And, because of Anja’s reluctance to accept applause, never before did applause sound so much as positive encouragement: “No, you’re wrong, it’s good. Do go on!”

Pukkelpop 2009: day three

Hi, I’d like to apply for a job as security at the Pukkelpop festival.
– Certainly, Sir. Are you unfriendly and arrogant?
Yes, I am.
– Good, good. One other question: 2 plus 2 equals how much…?
Erm… five?
– Congratulations, Sir. You’ve got the job!

Little BootsAm I getting grumpier or is Pukkelpop’s security becoming less mannered and less friendly every year? What a shame really that every year you have to spend the first minutes of the festival getting rid of your irritation after being treated badly by a monkey with a superiority complex? Then again, once you’re inside, the fun and the good atmosphere really start. This was my 13th visit to the festival and it didn’t bring me any bad luck.

This year we’ll follow the cliche “Time is money”. Why spend lots of time trying to come up with stuff to say about bands that don’t really deserve ten lines? Being brief can be a blessing too.

The Glimmers present Disco Drunkards (15.25, dance hall) is a dance project by a couple of DJ’s and Tim Vanhamel (Millionaire). I can’t say the couple of songs I heard tremendously impressed me, even though I did catch the moment where the Drunkards throw their cd into the crowd. You see, selling cds is so passé. Apparently it’s cheaper to distribute your cd for free to the fans who come to your (paid) gig. That is actually more noteworthy than their project.

Onto the Marquee then… Deerhunter (15.25) proved there’s still a place for melodious music in 2009. And had it not been for the genius of Wilco that played on the same spot two days earlier, we would’ve liked it even more. Now it’s just “good”.

I wasn’t the only one on the train going to the festival and some of the travellers were downright idiots. All of those looked forward to Rusko‘s concert (16.15, chateau). That – and the fact the tent was quite full – made me give that a pass. The Wablief tent did even better and had to hang out the ‘full house’ sign. So no Creature with the Atom Brain then. As a consolation, here’s a song:

Anti-Flag (16.05, main) was not an option and so it was time to visit the Shelter. Rolo Tomassi played there and the band was loud, friendly and energetic. The guys in the crowd may not have heard too much as they were busy wolf-whistling at Eva Spence, but it was a more than decent concert. Maybe Oh, Hello Ghost will end up in this year’s chart. For now, here’s another track:

This was the third time I’d see Hanne Hukkelberg (16.55, club) play live. The first time (on Pukkelpop, a couple of years ago) Hanne was too shy for words. She was more at ease the second time I saw here (at a regular venue) but now, on the third biggest stage of the festival, Hanne Hukkelberg looked really confident and played a great gig. It’s a bit odd for me because I still love her oldest songs most, but it’s nice to see her no longer making excuses when she receives applause. Hanne may be less experimental these days, but the songs are good enough to spend 40 minutes listening to them.

Do Ed Rush and Optical (17.30, boiler) live on the festival grounds? They play there every year. Anyway, nicely done, lads, once again, but don’t hate me for skipping to the next act… Dinosaur Jr played the main stage this year in the bright and sunny afternoon (17.40).

I saw the band before at the same festival (in 2007) and they were exciting to watch. From one of the best concerts in 2007 to this rather mediocre one. I don’t know why, though. Maybe the band had an off-day, maybe Dinosaur Jr is the sort of band which works/performs better in the evening in a smaller tent than at 6pm on main stage? Make no mistake, it was still a good thing to watch, just as long as you didn’t have their 2007 concert in mind.

At one point Lou Barlow said it was always nice to play at Pukkelpop. Mascis, unaware the camera was pointing at him (not that he might care though) gave an odd “Really?” look, a bit like Webster in Different Strokes.

Still, at a festival with (for once) older names like The Jesus Lizard and Faith No More, Dinosaur Jr was a necessary inclusion.

At the same time in the Shelter: Hayseed Dixie (17.50). Excellent fun to see once or twice, but this is their third performance at the festival and some of the introductions are still the same as they were in 2007 (e.g. the intro to “Poop in a jar”). Nevertheless, the duelling banjoes were good fun, I only hope they’ll write some new introductions if they’ll be at the festival again next year. Incidently, it was fun to see how the crowd had grown from 150 people the first time to a semi-packed tent this year. Let’s celebrate that with a song:

Onto Florence + The Machine (18.35, club) then. Florence, Last.fm informs me, is an art school dropout who was discovered drunk in a toilet, singing Motown covers. Her “Kiss With A Fist”, one of our 2008 favourites, suffered from overplay, not in the least because of a commercial it was used for. This show did what it was supposed to do: show Florence is so much more than this one hit.

Blessed with a good voice, she went from her own rock to poppy covers. And she might’ve been the only one in the tent who wasn’t hot, as a fan was blowing her way. Her hair blowing in all sorts of directions, her dress in Marilyn Monroe mode, Florence also made it a spectacle for the eye. But, first things first, she has a good voice and deserves the attention she’s been getting, overplayed single or not. So here, as further proof, her brand new video.

Another admirable thing about Florence is that she ended her concert five minutes early, which gaves us just enough time to leave the main stage and club field before 50 Cent (awful, always) hit the stage. More about this turd later on. Thanks to Florence, I also managed to catch the last five minutes of The Whitest Boy Alive (18.40, marquee), a band I’d hoped to see more of. Actually, I’d read the band had okayed their concert to be streamed after the festival, but they must’ve changed their mind. Well, the joke’s on you, guys, as this means you won’t get praise for your concert now.

As if eight stages wasn’t enough, Pukkelpop also has a Moroccan mini-village (where you can sample local food and tea) and a Petit Bazar. This is where you find a couple of performances (not stand-up comedians, they opened for other artists in one of the 8 tents) and a cinema. Amongst the screened movies were The Wrestler and Paprika, so it’s not just any old garbage they could find. As a closed dark tent proved to be the best protection against 50 Cent, I gave it a ago. Maybe I just don’t see enough films in real life. The film in question was the recent documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil. I might talk about it here, but I think it deserves a mini-review of its own. Here’s the film’s trailer to wet your appetite.

So, was I successfulin avoiding the excrement that is 50 Cent? No, the pompous twat found himself important enough to play ten minutes longer than scheduled. As if that in itself isn’t enough of a crime against nature, it also meant Little Boots had to cut her first Belgian concert (19.25, club) a bit shorter. Fatwas have been issued for less good reasons.

Victoria Hesketh a.k.a. Little Boots had jumped to our attention last year with her excellent performance on Jools Holland‘s show: she played the piano, sang, clapped and played the tenori-on at the same time. (In case you missed it, here’s the video.) This stellar performance gave her a n°8 spot in our 2008 list and a place in our heart. And even though some songs are weaker, her debut album Hands may contained some of the tracks I played most often this summer (rivaled only by Mowgli’s Road by Marina + the Diamonds).

So let’s face it, my expectation was way too high for Little Boots… or was it? No, it wasn’t. Little Boots had brought a band, her tenori-on (hurrah!) and an bottomless barrel of enthusiasm. Boots danced around on stage, was seriously surprised by the enthusiastic crowd, was blown away because someone had made a Little Boots sign (she said it was her first one – I find this hard to believe), whipped up the crowd when she’d gotten used to the enthusiasm (trying to get the audience to sing’n’dance along)… at one point she said Pukkelpop had beaten the concert in Austria the day before with their audience participation, near the end she dubbed it her best festival of the entire summer. Now as cynical as we normally are, for once I didn’t want to think this was the regular performer’s lie (you know, how bands like to tell you it’s the first time they’re playing a new song?), mainly because this was such an energetic, fun and frankly brilliant concert. It would’ve been even better if Little Boots had played my personal album favourite (“Ghost”), but it may not have fit the energy of her other tracks and, of course, there wasn’t enough time to play every track. Thank you very much, 50 Twat!

Have I said all about this concert? No, there’s two more things to mention. First and foremost, you should definitely check out her YouTube channel with bedroom performances of her songs and covers. Not only for the music but also for the lovely banter she uses in her descriptions. And the second thing is not really a statement, but a question: Victoria, would you like to marry me?

Pop quiz question: I brought a novel to the festival, Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon. Why was this a good choice? Answer: because another of his novels, Gravity’s Rainbow, inspired the band Klaxons (20.20, marquee). Due to complete overlapping with Little Boots (apart from the fact that Klaxons didn’t have to wait for 50 C*nt), so no review here.

Ellen Allien did a decent job of dj’ing in the Boiler Room from 9pm to 11pm (which is why you got to see the video above), but we also spent quite a lot of time in the Wablief tent where Nid and Sancy (21.15) were performing. Nid and Sancy are a couple (Belgian Bart and British Tania) whose raunchy beats were excellent to dance off your greasy dinner. What a shame though that Bart’s microphone was so badly tuned. It was impossible to understand what he was saying, which meant the tracks with less vocals were the best of the concert. Then again, the kidz won’t complain: they want noize.

dEUS had the wonderful opportunity to play at Pukkelpop twice. Their first gig was on Friday, the day I had to follow the festival via internet streaming. That isn’t a medium the singer of the band likes. A lot of bands didn’t like that, actually: hardly anything was allowed to be shown that day. Placebo were quite nice and changed their ‘no’ into a ‘yes’ at the last minute and even dEUS seemed to have a good day. We might not see the entire gig, but three songs were allowed to be streamed. And then the concert began… fifteen minutes of dead air before the first song was allowed to be streamed. Then it turned out the three songs weren’t back to back but spread over the entire 75 minutes. And while you can do other stuff while your stream keeps showing an empty page, it is quite frustrating. Especially if, after 70 minutes, it turns out the third song is not allowed to be shown in full (only just over a minute). Worse, that song is the band’s anthem and they’d invited some rapping friends for a mash-up (a bit like combining God Save The Queen with Lily Allen‘s Fuck You – it doesn’t sound good and it’s immoral).

Also, the ‘three’ songs showed there were parallels between dEUS and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. A lot of band members came and went, but at one point you realise The Bad Seeds don’t really sound as good now that Blixa’s gone. And so, in a stunning move that went completely against my musical history, I didn’t go to the second dEUS concert.

Instead, Tortoise (22.15, club). The band sounded talented and melodious, but it may not be too bad that they acknowledge there is such a thing as an audience. The entire 70 minutes (they also played 10 minutes extra, but didn’t force another band to wait… yeah, let’s bring up that accusation once again) the band had only eyes for themselves, keeping the audience participation to an ultimate low. Come on, guys, even Dinosaur Jr’s Jay Mascis managed to utter a ‘Thank you!’. Only at the end the band members joined hands and gracefully bowed to the audience. Still, they gave a pretty good concert (8/10, we’d rate it) and ain’t that the most important part?

Onto the headliners then. After Faith No More (day 1) and Kraftwerk (day 2) the choice for the headliner of the final day looked a bit bleak. No, we don’t dislike Arctic Monkeys (23.20, main), but are they good enough to be the closing gig of a festival? Personally, I’d have them as headliner of the second biggest stage or, more appropriate, the penultimate band, but that’s just me. Still, even their Nick Cave cover (‘Red Right Hand’) seems to be missing the final bit of quality Cave does manage to deliver. Overall, the Monkeys were okay, but I may be old-fashioned in desiring a bit more of a headliner…

… so this was as good a reason as any to spend some time in the Chateau. The people who turned the lights off there were Moderat (23.25). Moderat is a collaboration between Modeselektor and Apparat. I guess you can figure out where they derived the name from. The best way to describe them is as a B-grade Mouse on Mars with better video graphics. Just listen to the track below and you’ll understand what I mean. Thanks to their persistance, it did become one of the more suprising gigs of the day and a nice way to end the festival.

Well, not really… Pukkelpop isn’t over till some acrobats have given a performance and a tremendous fireworks display has made the ground tremble. (Even then, there’s still an after party that’ll last until 4a.m.) But we returned home, a smile on our faces. Pukkelpop 2009, my 13th visit, proved to be a good edition. There’s no need to say more…


1. Little Boots
2. Hanne Hukkelberg
3. Florence + the Machine
4. Tortoise
5. Moderat

Pukkelpop Unlive 2008

2008 may be remembered for a lot of things, but it’s the year we decided not to go to Pukkelpop. Instead, we watched it LIVE on our computer and wrote four articles about it. Given that the internet is full of pages trying to grab your attention, it may have been difficult to keep track of those pieces. For a time, my website’s frontpage led you to them, but those links are only there temporarily. So here’s a handy link to the reviews:

Prelude: Pukkelpop 2008 – The Home Edition
“if you look up “Pukkelpop 2008 line-up”, your second hit would be a blog saying this was the worst line-up in years. It is.”
(read more)

Pukkelpop Unlive (day 1)
The Subways gave me mood swings, Amy MacDonald is overhyped and Mercury Rev raise the bar for the next bands. That and reviews on Die! Die! Die!, Triggerfinger, Santogold, Tricky, Editors, Danko Jones and Stereo MCs.
(read more)

Pukkelpop Unlive (day 2)
In which we didn’t become fans of Robyn: “What’s the difference between me and thousands of people at the Dance Hall? They seemed to like Robyn, I didn’t. I listened for two and a half songs because I’d told myself I couldn’t dislike them more than ‘Who’s that girl?’. And while that’s technically true, that still doesn’t mean I liked them. Well, the second one was bearable.”
Reviews of State Radio, Dusty Kid, Spearhead, Girls In Hawaii, A Brand, Deadmau5, Foals, Robyn, Miss Kitten and the Hacker, Boys Noize and more than a dozen of video links.
(read more)

Pukkelpop Unlive (day 3)
Samim & Miguel Toro play percussion, Lykke Li is almost awake, The Black Box Revelation show their potential, The Rones are ynnuf, Black Kids are no Fiery Furnaces, The Wombats are the flavour of the month with an upcoming expiry date, Plain White T’s and Anti-Flag are clones, Girl Talk benefits from the rescheduled line-up, The Dresden Dolls are very good, Bloc Party are good and popular, Étienne de Crécy gives people who like cubes with electric light an erection, plus the jury’s verdict.
(read more)

Pukkelpop Unlive (day 3)

Day three and the uncontrolable urge to look across the border and see how the Dutch festival Lowlands is coping. We noticed bad reviews for Santogold’s concert and found Amy McDonald’s line-up eerily similar to what we’d seen at Pukkelpop the day before (now that’s disappointing). Never mind, it’s Pukkelpop we should review, so here we go for the third and final day of the festival.

Samim & Miguel Toro (Percussions) was what it said on the tin: those two guys on percussions. Ideal for those who wanted to dance but not too much early in the morning (dance hall, 11.20), ideal for intermission music, but how the hell do you review half an hour of percussions? So early in the morning the audience decided to soak it up rather than dance it off. Not much movement in the front rows. And no, we didn’t dance either: we hurried off to the Marquee…

But first an important question: can we ceremonially sacrifice the person responsible for scheduling Lykke Li at 11.20am? Lykke Li sounded and looked even more asleep than the audience and “Dance Dance Dance” sounded nowhere near the record version we so love. Nevertheless, the crowd applauded, a sound that seemed to awake Lykke Li and her band. Vocally she wasn’t in optima forma, but she was clever enough not to demand too much of her voice. As this was one of my most anticipated concerts I did feel a bit disappointed afterwards, but to be honest, so early on a festival morning I wasn’t even awake myself. The jury gave 5.5/10 as a verdict (though the execution could’ve been a lot better, we still like the songs) and commented: “Lykke Li’s next concert in Belgium will be at 9pm. We’ll be more awake. We expect the same of her.”

Lykke Li – Dance Dance Dance
Lykke Li – I’m Good I’m Gone (special version)

The Black Box Revelation followed in Lykke Li’s footsteps and awoke everyone present with a noon portion of rock. If sports and music are indications, the brand new Belgian generation is doing more than okay. The BBR recently played a couple of concerts in America and mentioned to get noticed there. Home again, the duo were keen to show this had nothing to do with promo talk and all with talent. A tight set and if you closed your eyes, you could’ve been fooled into thinking there were more than two people on stage. Yeah, they’re young and they still need to mature, but the room for improvement we’d like to see is potentially there. Best of luck and do us proud!

The Black Box Revelation – Set Your Head on Fire

The cancellation of the 5pm act was the reason all the artists could stay in bed another extra 80 minutes. Lucky bastards. Anyway, it was half past one when the main stage finally awoke. The bad on stage were Senor Eht, which is The Rones written backwards in an attempt to be funny. Sorry, ynnuf. The Belgian boys came to the festival to promote their new album, Sinner Songs. Listening to their album preview (which you can do here), I had to think of QotSA a bit too much and the same could be said about the concert (notice a vague similarity between Josh Homme and Rones frontman Lenn Van Meeuwen). Standing in the shadows of QotSA and Nine Inch Nails (“The Bitter Taste”), The Rones are good as a pleasant ersatz for when QotSA or NIN can’t make it to the Lowlands or if you want to listen to – as Last.fm would put it – “similar artists”. Not bad, not bad.

THE RONES – Nonsense & Crackwhores

Over to the Marquee… where Black Kids (13.40) were announced as “funny fun from America”. The first song sounded like they’d forgotten the soundcheck and wanted to test their equipment live on stage. Some of their songs may have brilliant names (e.g. I’m not gonna teach your boyfriend how to dance with you), but what I saw on stage wasn’t that brilliant. It’s rock with dance, but not enough dance. Or rock. It’s pop with experiment, but nearly not enough experiment. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to listen to a Fiery Furnaces album.

The Wombats (main, 14.50) asked if the audience was ready for some serious music. Yes, and we also want to know where you hid it? The first fifteen minutes are best described as “an abomination”, later came a few improvements (i.e. “Christmas comes early”), but the concert hobbled up and down. Right now, The Wombats sound like the flavour of the month and an expiry date nearing them at a fast pace. 4/10

Five o’clock and a raised middlefinger to yesterday’s line-up as all three stages allowed the cameras to have a look at their set: the hippies went to Plain White T’s at the main stage (16.30-17.15), the rockers and punks went to see Anti-Flag at the Marquee (16.25-17.15) while Girl Talk (17.00-17.50) in the Dance Hall catered to the beautiful people. Apologies to the insulted, beginning with the hippies. As you know sound is quicker than image and so I heard of Plain White T’s before I saw them. My initial thought: oh, have the children of Creedence Clearwater Revival formed a band of their own? A thought that never went away…
Before we head over to the Marquee, let’s open a brand new can of expletives. Yes, Anti-Flag is to punk what Plain White T’s is to the flower power: a cloned band that comes at least a generation later than planned. The tattoos, hair standing up with gel, a drummer with earrings rolling with his tongue and, above all, expletives. I counted five fucks and three motherfuckers in five minutes. Hey, at least they’re still relatively young and their anger sounds a lot more sincere than The Sex Pistols (currently playing at Lowlands). No complaints here, except I’m someone who is exposed to archive footage and has seen a lot of similar acts. But for now, it’ll do.

THE PLAIN WHITE T’S – Hey There Delilah
ANTI-FLAG – Turncoat

Also on stage: the “Anti-Flag Army”. Read: five girls with black dresses who looked freshly plucked from the audience. So not unlike Girl Talk then, where Gregg Gillis had himself backed up by a dozen people he’d picked from the crowd, dancing to the beats. Girl Talk wasn’t scheduled for this stage: he should’ve appeared at the Chateau (my beloved stage) a couple of hours earlier, but since he couldn’t make his 2pm appointment he found himself rescheduled to this bigger stage. Well, it looked as if he had no trouble filling the Dance Hall. (By the way, there are a lot of people who walk straight on past the entrance gates and never look back for three days. The Dance Hall and the Boiler Room have the most persistent audience, which is a bit of a shame if you’re in one of the other tents with dance-based music… they won’t budge.) Girl Talk was there to have fun: early in his set he loop voice and beats in his computer and dived into the crowd, to dance with his audience. Girl Talk is 50 minutes of samples, some of them slower or faster, but all of it organic. With occasional moments where Gillis programmed his computer, grabbed his microphone and boosted up the crowd. A welcome change, we must say.

Girl Talk – Bounce That

It’s 7.30pm and the Marquee invites another power duo, albeit a rather different one. And, speaking of differences, Dresden Dolls didn’t even look like their usual selves: gone is the make-up, now it’s just Brian on drums and Amanda on piano. (Well, there’s still some stuff underneath Amanda’s right eye.) Formerly described by themselves as “Brechtian punk cabaret”, the duo may be less cabaret but is still every inch as much Brechtian punk as they used to be. The absolute highlight was penultimate song “Girl Anachronism” played with so much power and at such a high speed you’d think Brian and Amanda had to catch a train. With Brian signalling he was out of breath afterwards, Amanda gave him a minute to recover by addressing the crowd and informing them of the upcoming tours of Brian (as part of The World/Inferno Friendship Society) and Amanda (solo album, Who killed Amanda Palmer?, coming out soon), but then it was back to business with an adrenalin-boosted finale. Almost the best concert of the festival.

THE DRESDEN DOLLS – Night Reconnaissance

Kele Okereke only has to raise his hands in the air to get thousands of people clapping, even if it is to one of Bloc Party‘s weaker songs (the one where Kele advises his audience to cut an arm off when it annoys you). The massive applauses (which sometimes sounded like a collective orgasm) may give the band a bit too much credit for their value, but Bloc Party are good and popular.

Headlining tonight: Sigur Ros on the main stage (with an afterparty by Soulwax), Elbow in the Marquee (we didn’t see their concert, but the next day in Holland they were apparently superb) and Étienne de Crécy in the dance hall. The light effects were minimal (image 3×3 cubes lighting up in variations, with de Crécy in the middle one), but played out with maximal effect (and in alignment with the beats). Did Kraftwerk perhaps design his set? If you’re the sort of person who rates a concert based on the visual effects, this was a triumph. If not, it was still a treat. And if you like to watch cubes with light effects, it was orgasmic.

ETIENNE DE CRECY – Live performance (excerpt)

And now for the jury’s verdict… The jury decided not to end this Pukkelpop with a top ten, but with a couple of prizes:
* Best concert we watched: Mercury Rev
* Best runner-up: Dresden Dolls
* Twat of the year: the idiot with the Flaming Lips balloon at the Ting Tings concert, with the message “The Ting Tings suck” on his balloon
* Least deserved headliner: The Killers on Thursday (this, by the way, seems to be a general conclusion by reviewers and audience)
* Most out-of-place headliner: Metallica
* Worst line-up in several years: Pukkelpop 2008

Pukkelpop Unlive (day 2)

Welcome to part two of our Pukkelpop review, which this year focused on only three stages: the main stage, the Marquee and the Dance Hall. Sadly this meant being unable to see a couple of concerts I really would’ve wanted to see: Tunng, Nina Nastasia, Martina Topley-Bird at the Chateau and The DØ and Blood Red Shoes at the Club? The latter playing on the same stage as The Ting Tings on Thursday night. As Friday’s line-up was unfulfilling, we moved (albeit virtually) to the Netherlands: the Dutch organize Lowlands in the same weekend as Pukkelpop (but from Friday to Sunday) and with often a lot of similar bands. Speaking of which, that this was an exceptionally poor summer for music is proved between how many bands appeared at Rock Werchter (Belgium’s biggest festival) and Pukkelpop (Belgium’s biggest alternative festival): Tim Vanhamel, Hercules and Love Affair, The National, Soulwax, 2manydjs, The Black Box Revelation, Hot Chip, Editors, Sigur Rós (yes, even the same headliners), Roísín Murphy and MGMT. The times when people cried murder when one band played two concerts are apparently over.

Anyway, Lowlands… in an interview with The Ting Tings the band said they’d feared they would have to play for an empty Club at Pukkelpop (because they played at the same time as The Flaming Lips). It turned out “okay”, the band reviewed their own concert and crowd. I hope they didn’t notice the twat in the audience with a Flaming Lips balloon with the words “The Ting Tings suck ass” scribbled on it. The Tings even played a session for the Dutch tv, reducing their songs to two vocals and two guitars (and sometimes even less). It proved that calling them just another poppy duo with a cute face is doing them unjustice. “Great DJ” and “Shut up and let me go” were okay, but “That’s not my name” became a cute lament when only sang by Katie and backed by Jules De Martino on guitar (and occasional backing vocals). Furthermore, I saw the footage of “Great DJ” being played live. Yes, the first minutes gave you the impression it would’ve been better to listen to the cd, but once the crowd interacted with the song, Katie and Jules found extra energy and gave the song a boost. From what I read, this was similar for the rest of the concert. Some critics said the band had their success because Katie is cute, which I hope is not true. Definitely not for me: I’d heard the record for a month before I saw their first video and her looks. Unless their songs contain a subliminal message: “I’m cute, I’m cute, I’m cute.”

Back to Belgium for day two of Pukkelpop, which was all about one band: Metallica. They’d claimed the main stage for nearly two and a half hour, but didn’t feel obliged to be on stage for the first twenty minutes. And to think this band made the tickets three euro more expensive. Did the people get good value for the money? Let’s review the Pukkelpop Friday.

And it’s good morning to you. The American band State Radio (marquee, 12.20) kicked off the concerts at the Marquee tonight, with rock music you’d forget the minute after it’d penetrated your ears. Until they dedicated a song against the current President of the USA. Which only proves that anger is good for rock.

Video proof:
STATE RADIO – Gang of Thieves

Raise your hand if you want dance for lunch (or breakfast)? It’s 12.30 and the Dance Hall’s second act (Autokratz didn’t allow footage – well, boo hoo to you) is Dusty Kid. The (live) addition to his name means he’ll tweak his buttons in front of the audience. There was cheering from the crowd and some danced their butts off, but a lot of them just nodded their heads and upper bodies to the sounds. The camera noticed the giant clock on Dusty’s table, which informs you of this guy’s biggest enemy: time. It was nice, but I won’t remember this forever. Let alone a week. And what does a Dusty Kid do when he thinks the audience could be more enthusiastic? Raise his hands above a semi-sour face (was it boredom or concentration?) and clap. And of course the crowd will follow.

Dusty Kid – Milk

One might be excused for thinking Michael lives in the fields of Hasselt because Michael Franti and Spearhead (main, 14.35) played Pukkelpop yet again. Even if the first notes weren’t in the key they should’ve been, one can forgive Franti because he was singing off stage. Which was a little odd. Anyway, Franti appeared on stage and managed to captivate the audience within the space of one single minute. The bravest question: “Is there anyone who likes reggae?” on a stage waiting for Metallica. And while the folks may not be big fans of reggae, they like Spearhead and its message of love and peace. One of the few bands who manage to combine a message with funkiness. Franti and band have been playing on status quo for several years now, but their level is high enough to keep appreciating the band and their message. Peace and love.

Michael Franti and Spearhead – Say Hey

The Wallonian band Girls In Hawaii (marquee, 14.40) greeted the audience in Dutch after being annouced as “the most stupid name on the festival, but one of the best bands in Belgium”. Just two hours later Deadmau5 would play and what about Plain White T’s? Those are my favourites for most stupid name. The Girls are the sort of band that are successful because they’re good, but not globally because most countries have a few of those good bands. Which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a handful of Girls In Hawaii songs on your MP3 player/iPod. And no disrespect to the singer, but the band’s best song… was an instrumental. I wasn’t sure whether this concert was a 6 or 7 until the singer explained that, due to having to drive to another concert in France, they weren’t able to see Metallica and he was gutted. So a 6 then.

Girls in Hawaii – This farm will end up in fire

Next up in the Marquee: A Brand (15.50). Their logo resembles an aspirin tablet, which was what I needed after the godawful introduction by the announcer (shouting bad jokes doesn’t make them better). Which reminds me: I neglected to complain about a late addition to yesterday’s line-up. Mostly because I tried to ban Adriaan van den H. from my memory. Yes, you can be an actor who hosts a tv show with stand-up comedians and you may think you are funny, but your stand-up lines are written by others. The main proof is that you hosted another festival with your own jokes and everyone I know who attended Werchter has complained to me about the incredible lack of comedy you displayed. Adding this **** to the line-up was what kept me from running after a ticket. Pukkelpop, you should know better.

A Brand (photo by Esther Kenis)Oh yeah, weren’t we here to talk about today’s line-up and more importantly the band currently on stage? Forget about the awful introduction, “Hammerhead” opened the set and created for instant good vibes. Though it is of course dangerous to start with your biggest hit. But it’s a good way of starting a concert on the day you release your new album (Judas): start with a hit, an uptempo song from the new album and a new song which is a slow starter. Everyone but the drummer dressed up in their best white suit and A Brand delivered a tight and professional set. Even if the highlights were the hits from older albums (“Hammerhead” and “Riding Your Ghost”) and some songs were a big letdown (I fail to remember the title of the track, but it’s the one with the lyrics “Would you like to hear a guitar?”), the band proved they were Belgian subtop hoping for a chance to get international recognition.

A Brand – Hammerhead

Over to the Dance Hall or was it the Kindergarten Stage? Some DJs try and conceal their identity: Dr. Lektroluv has an exuberant outfit and wears green paint on his head. And then there’s Deadmau5 (16.40). You move to the Dance Hall with a heavy heart because of the foolish name and then you see a guy with mouse mask on his head. Well, I deduct it’s a mouse’s head because of the guy’s name. It looks as if a mentally handicapped five-year-old was forced to draw a mouse after playing too much Pac Man. After ten minutes he changed his stupid mask for a stupid baseball cap. Sometimes it helps being blind, it would’ve kept me focused on the music. Now I just can’t…

Deadmau5 – This Noise

Foals (marquee, 17.20) is one of those bands who allowed live streaming and then asked to see the material so only the best songs would be kept. The first notes of the first song sounded technically more daring and okay than a lot of what we’d heard before. Still, it took me a bloody long time to get into this concert. But just when you’re thinking “Good: yes. Memorable: no”, the band geared up and gripped me.

Foals – Balloons

Meanwhile on the main stage: Cold War Kids, quite a popular band with kids these days. If the question “Did you see X at Pukkelpop 2007?” was asked ten times, nine times the X would’ve stood for Cold War Kids. The band’s biggest claim to fame is the single “Hang me up to dry” and this was the penultimate song of the concert. Like the last song (“Saint John”), all I could think of was: what’s the fuzz about? Did this deserve a 5.30pm spot on the main stage?

Which brings us to the next question: do Stereophonics deserve to be on the main stage at 7pm? Don’t ask me. The answer has always been no and my nickname for the band is Stereophoneys. Still, a large crowd watched them (though some were probably there to get a good spot for the headliners of the night), so good for them.

“Who’s that girl?” That’s what it said on Robyn‘s T-shirt. Reminds me of a Madonna song and so does Robyn’s poppiness. Combine that with the Roxette hairstyle. What’s the difference between me and thousands of people at the Dance Hall (19.55)? They seemed to like it, I didn’t. I listened for two and a half songs because I’d told myself I couldn’t dislike them more than “Who’s that girl?”. And while that’s technically true, that still doesn’t mean I liked them. Well, the second one was bearable.

Thank the Lord for the Dance Hall, the only stage that allowed those who couldn’t make it to Pukkelpop’s biggest day ever (a crowd of 57.000) to watch a bit of the festival. Before we continue, let’s boo Metallica, Within Temptation, Tim Vanhamel, The Breeders, Tindersticks and The Gutter Twins. Anyway, the time is 21.45 and the Dance Hall opens its doors to Miss Kitten & the Hacker. Behind their names the word ‘live’. Well, we’ll take their word for it: it was hard to see anything behind the light effects and enough fog to think you’re in Beijing.
Miss Kitten told the audience it was a long time since she’d been at Pukkelpop but that it felt like coming home. Good for her and to be honest, it’s good the Miss Kitten hype is over. Now people can see the act for what it’s worth rather than having to complain about the undeserved hype. Maybe not the best act in the Dance Hall today, but one of the most professional if you looked at creating an atmosphere (with the smoke and the lights). And as for a bit of self-awareness, here’s Miss Kitten to the crowd regarding their productivity: “We are preparing our second album. Better late than never, eh?”

Anyway, I don’t know if it was me or them, but after twenty minutes (when the hyperannoying track “Frank Sinatra” started) I felt I’d had more than my fair share of Kitten and her Hacker. Stupidly enough, I waited for the next two tracks which were equal insults to my ears. So the first third was okay, the second third annoying and the final third… don’t know, didn’t stick around.

Miss Kitten & The Hacker – 1982

Though I did return to the Dance Hall for the evening’s finale. Yes, the final minutes were just Boys Noize (dance hall, 23.00) playing a record (The Prodigy’s “No good”) but in order to get the audience to freak out you’d better have a damn good set in the previous 115 minutes. By the way, what a curious way to thank the audience: “You’re no good to me / I don’t need nobody” The Boys must love irony. Anyway, did the crowd like Boys Noize? No, they went berserk to a band that sometimes sounded like a punchier Daft Punk (e.g. & Down – see below). The crowd reacted as lyrical as that other crowd was probably doing at the main stage (Metallica), while over at another tent people revived the forties and fifties (you could listen to music or have your hair done to fit the soirée). Pukkelpop couldn’t be more different that night. As for Boys Noize, they didn’t do what I hate about this sort of act: stopping records all the time to get more interaction from the crowd. No, Boys Noize provided a two-hour-long rollercoaster, were quite successful and not undeservedly so.
Oh, and you couldn’t get these dancing teens to listen to some experimental music, but if Boys Noize mix some Laurie Anderson into their set (“Oh Superman“, of course), the hipsters lap it up as if were nectar from the gods.

Boys Noize – & Down

Day two of Pukkelpop: the biggest day if you look at the crowd, the most expensive day ever and the poorest if you look at the quality. Let’s go to bed and sleep this one off.


(Yep, nothing worthy of the n°1 spot, but then again here’s my top ten of missed artists:)
TUNNG – Bullets
THE DØ – On My Shoulders
THE DØ – Playground Hustle (no video, hence my cheating)
NINA NASTASIA – This is what it is
GET CAPE, WEAR CAPE, FLY – Find the time
DOES IT OFFEND YOU, YEAH? – We Are Rockstars

Pukkelpop Unlive

So here I am, feeding text into the internet. At home and not at the Pukkelpop festival where day 1 is taking place right now. The result of being unable to go on day three, rabidly hating day two with Metallica as headliners and weirdness surrounding the ticket sales for day one (see also this article). Never mind, my internet provider allows me to follow some of the concerts from the three biggest stages. Well, provided the artists allow them to stream the concerts (or even, occasionally, keep them online for a couple of months). In a way, it’s a sign of who the nice people are. Some fans just can’t make it and would settle for watching a concert online, even if this doesn’t have the wonderful feeling of watching it live in the fields. So this year, instead of Pukkelpop live, it’s watching the good artists online. Let’s call it Pukkelpop Unlive and let’s start with a picture of a band I sadly couldn’t watch (as they’re the headliners in the Club, which has to do without big screens and thus no feed for the provider): The Ting Tings.

No problem waking up today: if the loudness of Triggerfinger didn’t open your eyes or Die! Die! Die! over at the marquee, there was the aggressive electronica of The Shoes (dance hall, 11.25). I didn’t know them by name, but apparently I did know their song “AMERICA”. Loud and agressive beats, this French duo managed to wake up the crowd (or the small crowd that was awake and present) from the word ‘go’. One of the duo wore a hoodie and sunglasses. Erm, I’m sorry to disturb you, but you’re inside a tent. Why the sunglasses? Anyway, nothing exceptional, but great to wake up to.

triggerfingerWhich bring us to Die! Die! Die! (marquee, 11.20) from New Zealand. They got stuck on a ferry for “hours and hours and hours”, but finally made it to Belgium, which they thought was beautiful. The singer wore a Bob Marley T-shirt (the other two wore real shirts). It took him just one minute to dive into the front rows of the audience, then jump back on stage and roll over the stage. Within three minutes guitars were held near the amplifiers to create feedback. One member jumped on top of the amplifiers. One song was brand new and had never been played before. I missed Ikara Colt and Mclusky.

Belgian Triggerfinger (main stage, 11.55) may pass as a loud guitar band, but compared to Die! Die! Die! and The Shoes their first songs sounded quite soft. Five minutes later the band sounded more awake. Or maybe they were overwhelmed by the large crowd in front of them. Hell, it was only noon and the main stage was more than half full. Yes, the band’s greasy hair matched their dirty rock (and yes, someone felt the need to wear sunglasses – which sun did he see?). I don’t like watching this band because the image overpowers the music and standing with your back to the stage just looks odd on a festival. Good thing we also bring a book. In three words: dirty, loud, okay.

Triggerfinger were the first band to allow their concert to be shown on demand (only for the clients of the provider, but available for a couple of weeks). The first band to deny even a simple streaming: Midnight Juggernauts. Never heard of them and thanks to them we’ll keep it that way.

The SubwaysBecause I didn’t know The Subways either (main, 13.00) but they were available on demand, so we can give you a review. He has a guitar strapped to his bare chest and a couple of tattoos on his belly. She wears a bass over her top with some glitter, tight pants and pink shoes. There’s also a drummer in the background. They jump up and down on their music as if they’re intent to destroy the stage. People have compared them to Blood Red Shoes, which is unfair given that The Subways consist of three people and have been around longer (they already played Dutch festivals in 2004 and 2005, during which they were described as “still missing their own voice”). Another things, whereas Blood Red Shoes don’t go for crowd interaction (well, not during their last Belgian gig anyway), the Subways singer managed to whip up the crowd: “This may be our last song,” he said halfway during the gig, “but we’ll play it twice as long. And this is the chance for you, my side of the audience, to show them you’re as fucking good as the other side of the audience which went crazy during that last song.” Or by having screaming contests between the left and right side of the audience. Which, sadly, lasted more than two minutes. Heck, I can fill concerts like that too. Still, they managed to thank the crowd in Dutch (“Dank u, Pukkelpop!”) and the first part of the concert was okay. I mean the first ten minutes, that wasn’t a screaming match. Odd, I didn’t have any expectations when The Subways kicked off, found myself pleasantly surprised after two songs and hideously disappointed at the end. Mood swings à gogo.

In this day and age, it looks almost retro to see a girl on stage with a guitar, a backing band and a little chat with the audience between her songs. The name is Amy MacDonald (main, 14.30) and her concert at Pukkelpop came at the right moment: MacDonald received a golden record at the festival. A lot of people who were responsible for that happened to be in the audience, it Amy MacDonaldseems. And they danced and cheered throughout the concert. To be honest, I don’t understand what’s so special about MacDonald: you hear she’s successful thanks to the hype of girls with acoustic guitars. I like to disagree, mainly because it’s misogynist (you rarely hear that about male guitar bands) and because she sounds different from Adele, Duffy or Kate Nash (who played her first Belgian concert at Pukkelpop last year, in one of the smallest tents at 4pm – oh, how the times have changed). If comparisons must be made, I suggest Amy is the girl with the guitar who is for 2008 what Texas were twenty years ago. Like Texas, MacDonald can offer a welcome breeze if you’ve heard enough loudness for a while.
And yes, her concert worked itself towards a climax with a cover of “Dancing in the Dark” (okay) and her gigantic hit “This is the Life” glued together to “Let’s Start A Band”. In Amy’s words: “Give me a stage and I’ll be your rock’n’roll queen”. But also: “Give me a festival and I’ll be your Glastonbury star”. She could’ve turned that name into Pukkelpop and become the festival’s queen, but she didn’t, so she wasn’t. But hey, is there a better way to end a successful concert than by the suggestion “Let’s Start A Band”? The crowd may have loved her, I’m not sure they’ll still remember her in ten years. But for now, it’ll do and there’s no real reason to hate Amy MacDonald.

Another immensely hyped name: Santogold (dance hall, 15.15) and here’s someone who had to win me over. I’ve only been occasionally exposed to Santogold, but never got rid of my initial opinion. Which is “M.I.A. Lite”. Santagold now played the same stage on the same day M.I.A. did last year (albeit at 9pm) and you may remember we were gravely disappointed by M.I.A. So Santogold, this may be your moment to prove me wrong…
The verdictsantogold: the concert was a bit uneven. Sometimes I liked Santogold’s backing band better than the artist (when she sounded louder and/or crassier than her songs). On the other hand, “Shove it” sounded better than on the record. And truth be told, in the second half of the concert Santogold shouted a couple of times she was having a wonderful time. Which is often said by artists (even if they’re not serious), but the second half sounded tighter and better organized, so we’re willing to believe it for once. Alright, “M.I.A. lite” may not have been a good description, but I still would choose a M.I.A. record over a Santogold record, even if M.I.A.’s concert was one of the biggest disappointments last year. And if we’re comparing this year’s artists to those of twenty years ago: Santogold’s ladies who provided the backing vocals and dance steps looked as if they’d espaced from Salt’n’Pepa through a time loop.

Normally Danko Jones (main, 16.00) would’ve been when I had my lunch, so I cooked some spaghetti to get through during the concert. Make no mistake, Danko Jones are loud and will absorb energy (even if you’re just sitting at home). Danko introduced themselves as rock’n’roll for rock’n’rollers and asked the rock’n’rollers in the audience to raise their hands. Not content, he asked the people who didn’t raise their hands because they were already hungover even if this was just the first day to raise their hands too. Then he ordered the cameras to swing towards the guy in the crowd with a message. The text read: “Danko, I kiss on the first date.” (based on a Danko Jones lyric) Me too, Danko replied, but not dudes. And then it was back to the good mothership Rock’n’Roll. Danko Jones pleases the crowd and crowds please Danko Jones. No surprises, just rock. Nice. (Later in the concert Danko even ordered the cameras to two girls in the audience who, when shown next to each other, had the message “We Fuck On The First Date” on their chests. Danko applauded, but booed another girl, with the message “I Fart on the First Date” on her shirt.)
Sadly, Danko’s annual question whether the crowd like “this” (plays some rock) or “this” (plays some lo-fi, hippie style) annoys me terribly. Mainly for reasons mentioned in the previous article (some fan of loud music once disturbed a lo-fi concert by shouting “Bo-ring!” and then walking out). Sure, Danko Jones wasn’t playing that year, so they have nothing to do with it, but it’s that attitude I hate. Even from good rockers like Danko Jones. Which I why I left the main stage after that message. Looking for some hippie music.

The next act on the main stage didn’t allow their concert to be shown over the internet. The name is Serj Tankian and if that rings a bell, you know more than me. (But don’t get excited, I can name twenty acts that should’ve been on Pukkelpop but you may never have heard of.) I did see interviews with Serj and Infadels, another hyped band that didn’t allow streaming. Everyone trickytried to look cool. Noone had anything to say. Or show, apparently. Both of them could learn a lesson from someone who had no problem catering to fans who couldn’t make it to the festival: Tricky (dance, 18.30). Just when articles were mentioning how none of the nineties bands Tricky was often compared to (to his extreme annoyance) seemed to be around any longer, we were treated to new albums by Portishead and Underworld. And yes, Tricky released another album too. The man is still troubled by his soul and the happiness he found in real life and on his previous album seemed to have vanished. The new Tricky is so dark putting him in the dance hall didn’t seem the best decision. Those who came to dance may have been disappointed, but as a concert Tricky and his female vocals gave a good concert. Dark, brooding, mesmerizing, haunting. Who’s happy now?

Over on the main stage: Dropkick Murphys (19.00). Again. Good, more artists sound the same every time they’re playing, but there’s really no point spending some words on this band. Let me just refer to their previous passages. And if i didn’t mention them that year either, my thoughts haven’t been altered.
Which brings us to Ian Brown (marquee, 19.50). Do you know how it feels to go to a party and be the only one who isn’t drunk or on drugs? That’s what it was like to watch this Ian Brown concert. That, plus my occasional desire to poke him with a stick to see if he was still awake.

My site sucks, said someone to me a couple of months ago. The reason? I’d been negative about Editors. So here we go again: the Editors are back and managed to go from the late afternoon to 20.45 on the main stage. Did I like them better? Yes. Here’s my problem with the band: during their softer songs the band tends to get too mellow. Editors are at their best when louder and/or angrier (i.e. the singer banging on the piano). I wonder if my site has now become mediocre.

Mercury Rev managed to win me over before the concert started. How? The band had brought some wonderful visuals with them, complete with videoclips (Opus 40’s video played during Opus 40) and slogans (“Are you a hologram?”). But before the show the band showed part of a movie, the cult classic Daisies. The ballroom scene of Daisies finished, the band let us know via text “The show is about to begin” and yes, it did. Now Mercury Rev is one of those bands I can’t decide how much I like them. They’ve made classic tracks like “Goddess on a hiway”, tracks that are both hauntingly beautiful and incredibly annoying like “Opus 40” and some songs I dislike so much I willingly fail to remember their titles, mostly songs where Jonathan seems mostly keen to show how high he can sing (is the track called “Dreams”?).
 Now was it Daisies giving me a good mood or were Mercury Rev just brilliant? We’ll settle for the latter, mainly because at one point we saw band members laughing to each other. The smile you have when you know it’s good. “Opus 40” started as “Opus 40” (with the video on the background) but mesmerized itself into a cover of the Talking Heads classic “Once in a Lifetime”, complete with adapted lyrics (“And you might say to yourself, this is not my beautiful Belgian wife”) and turned into a rock song (odd to hear, but good). Speaking of good, this was not my first Rev concert, but this was the first time there wasn’t a single track I disliked. Not even the songs I generally hate.
And then a match lit up on screen, a quote told us to “Follow our bliss” and the Rev burst loose with a song from their forthcoming album, Snowflake Midnight. Odd to close a concert with a song that’s not even out yet, but it rocked like not many Mercury Rev songs manage to do. Incredibly pleased the band left the stage, having raised the bar so much higher for all the upcoming bands.

No feed from Roisin Murphy (main, 22.45) or The Flaming Lips, the latter being the band that were headlining in the Marquee (23.45). This was one of the problems of this line-up: none of the headliners were worthy of being called that. If you’d give a music lover the line-up, you might expect the response: “Great, but who are the headliners?” Erm, them. Them? Really? Yep, them. Paul Anka, not The Killers (photo: Bianca Diels)The biggest name on the festival today was – allegedly – The Killers (main, 00.50), makers of that one song I like, but can’t remember the title and many others I find less good. On top of that, the band were amongst the first to forbid the streaming of their concert. Here’s a little anecdote: the weekend before Pukkelpop the same crew organize a festival for music lovers over 50. The headliner was one Paul Anka, who had no problem with his concert being shown to those who couldn’t make it. As a bonus gesture, the concert was also broadcast in 12 resthomes. Many of whom could remember Paul Anka from long long ago. There was only one person who didn’t allow the transmission of his concert and that was some upcoming Dutch twat, who claims being socially aware. (Apart from old people then, they can sod off.) The no-go of The Killers is similar: they should be happy to be scheduled so late, they don’t deserve that bright spot. But that’s how it goes with pompous gits who are overhyped.

Headlining in the dance hall (00.35): them again. The main reason I know the Stereo MCs is because they were at a festival and so was I. They’ve aged, but the concert still sounded and looked like it did before. I don’t know if it is because I’m not a big fan of their music, but I’ve always found them sound formulaic. Anyway, their official site (read: a direct link to their MySpace) informed us of how much they remembered their previous visits. Apparently they were performing at the Pukklepop Festvial. Anyway, it looked as if a lot of people at the vial had made the effort to come and watch them, even if their audience looked a bit older than the audience we’d seen at the other concerts today. Let’s assume the young kids were watching The Killers. Silly people. (Speaking of which, had I obtained a ticket, you wouldn’t have heard me talking about the Stereo MCs either: I’d have gone to the Chateau for Holy Fuck. Are they good? Don’t know, but the couple of songs I’d heard made me crave for more.)
“Are you gonna bring the noise?” the singer of Stereo MCs whipped up the crowd. Several times. Here’s my thing: if a concert is good, the audience will automatically bring some noise. I’m not a big fan of bands who feel the need to whip out crowds just because they’re on a stage. No, give a good performance and the rest will follow. For some proof: after another intervention about how they’d like the people to respond to their music, they played the song  “Get On It” with lots of energy.  Result: good vibes from the crowd. After a while the formula was back and the singer felt the need again to ask for some noise. Technically, a yawn is a noise too.

And so the first day of Pukkelpop Unlive. No real discoveries (I guess Die! Die! Die! was the okayest of the bands I didn’t know), one great concert (Mercury Rev) and a couple of nice concerts. Here’s my top three:
5. THE SHOES (or Editors)

(to be continued – the next review will go online in a couple of days.)

Pukkelpop 2008: the home edition

1992, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007… those were the years I went to Pukkelpop. There’s one year missing: it’s 2002 and the headliners were Guns’n’Roses. A band that shouldn’t be on the line-up of an alternative festival, especially not given their attitude: the backstage needed to have gates between GnR’s trailers and the stage, so no one could get near pompous Axl. The concert started with more than an hour delay because Axl is a diva and thinks this is necessary. Fed up with this shit, one band (I believe it was Danko Jones) dressed up in black, blackened their faces and sneaked into GnR’s sealed-off area, lay down and hoped the twats would stumble. Give that band a medal.

2008 is a similar year: if you look up Pukkelpop 2008 line-up, your second hit would be a blog saying this was the worst line-up in years. It is. I had trouble picking a dozen artists I really wanted to see and thanks to Friday’s headliner the prices went up again. Although, in Pukkelpop’s defense they only make the day which costs them most more expensive. Apparently. I read last night today’s tickets cost €72 (and Friday’s €75), but nowhere on the site did I find the information how much tickets cost at the festival itself. And when I went to buy a ticket yesterday, I was told that the presale tickets were sold out despite still being available at the festival tomorrow. A bit confusing, no? (Also, the Pukkelpop crew also organize a festival for music lovers over 50 and the site also neglected to tell people the price, €14, was the presale price. At the festival the tickets cost €19. Still not much, but a real bummer if you go there and check the site just before you leave to see how much you’ll need to pay. Allow me to feel a little sad if one of my favourite festivals fucks up like that.) [Edit: checked again and today the ticket price is mentioned on the festival’s site. Apparently tickets at the venue itself cost a whopping 10 euros extra.]

And let’s not forget the headliner tomorrow: Metallica. A band that’ll bring a lot of annoying fans who won’t come for the other music. I hope this doesn’t make me look old and nagging, but my twelve years of Pukkelpop taught me that those bands and their fans tend to spoil the mood. I never forgot how a couple of years ago one of those rockfans stumbled into a lo-fi concert, yelled “Bo-ring!” and walked out again. I’m sorry, but I don’t pay lots of money for little twats to spoil concerts like that.
A Metallica fan told me the band doesn’t really care if other people exist, so there’s a 75% chance the Blood Red Shoes concert will be spoiled by the Metallica crew testing their equipment on the other stage. Especially if it’s raining and Metallica fans will go to the other stage to stay dry (whilst leaving the fans and people like me, who shop on all the stages, out in the rain).

You read my enthusiam? Yeah, so when I wasn’t able to get a ticket yesterday I felt sad for about two seconds and decided to spend my €72 on other concerts later this year. Plus, stay home and watch some of the bands on the internet (my provider sponsors the festival and allows its clients to watch the feed at home, provided the artists allow this).

So get ready for a scaled-down Pukkelpop review. Not at the festival itself, but from behind the computer. Let’s call it Pukkelpop Unlive.

In the meantime, if you’d like to read an older concert review, here’s the link to my review of Les Nuits Botanique. Written some time ago, but never published for some reason. It features Two Gallants, We Are Scientists, Timesbold, Forward Russia and Blood Red Shoes.

Pukkelpop Unlive reviews coming up: The Shoes, Tricky, Ian Brown, Editors, Mercury Rev (who kicked off with a scene from the cult movie Daisies!), Amy MacDonald, Danko Jones, Santogold and possibly more. The review of day one goes online tomorrow.

Rock Herk 2008

The 26th edition of the Rock Herk festival didn’t step away from its core rule: Rock Herk is and remains a free festival. Spread out over two days now, the first day focuses on dance (headliners were Blackstrobe and Alex Gopher) while the second day is the sort of Saturday one can expect from Rock Herk: as eclectic as it can get.

The headliners were Battles and Roni Size & Reprazent (live) on the main stage and Bane and AmenRa on the second stage. As always, part of the line-up was great for the game “shout if you heard of any of this names”, but it remains a festival with a great atmosphere. We also made new enemies: the band The Enemy.

futureoftheleft-03-bigThe second day of Rock Herk opened at 1pm with the Belgian band The Porn Bloopers. Apparently they’re good, but you won’t hear that from me as I only arrived later in the day. Books don’t write themselves, you know, so I missed out on The Porn Bloopers, Lagwagon (which we’ve seen enough of at other festivals), Creature With The Atom Brain (the band of one of the band Millionaire, with weirdness and schlock reigning high – see earlier reviews from more on the band or check their MySpace and part of Future of the Left. Future of the Left are what’s left (sorry for the pun) of the excellent and underrated mclusky. (Jon Chapple, the third of mclusky that isn’t in Future of the Left, also has a new band: Shooting At Unarmed Men.) In short, “Wrigley Scott” and “Manchasm” are great songs, but “Alan is a Cowboy Killer” or “To Hell With Good Intentions” they ain’t. We still often lament mclusky is no longer among us, but we’ll content ourselves with Future of the Left. Albeit semi-reluctantly. (Here’s their MySpace.)

Future of the Left – Manchasm
Future of the Left – adeadenemyalwayssmellsgood
mclusky – To Hell With Good Intentions

You may from remember from earlier editions that Rock Herk’s second stage is not much more than a gazebo. On Saturday that’s where the rougher bands play: one such example is Cutting Pink With Knives.Their MySpace announced it already: the band is splitting up and Rock Herk may’ve been their last concert ever. Generally I’m not a big fan of this sort of music, but Cutting Pink With Knives weren’t afraid to change a song’s tune at a rate only they and The Fiery Furnaces are able to. My verdict: nice for a couple of songs, but not for a full concert. (Maybe if I had known it was their last performance, I would’ve stayed a bit longer.) Anyway, check their MySpace for a sample of what the boys sound like. Oh, and how elitist their humour is (This band exists of a.o. Alex “dipping between the cock and the arse” Fitzpatrick.)

Cutting Pink With Knives – Laser Cannon

Back to the main stage then for Phosphorescent. Ever doubtful between being painfully out of tune and chilling to the bone. Yes, more than once Matthew Houck started a song still looking for the right key, but the lyrics coming out of his mouth sounded so sincere you’d instantly forgive him. And when Phosphorescent tried to hit you, they hit you right. Houck is truly a rock’n’roll version of a troubadour: he even walked all over the stage, his microphone attached to very long cables, continuing his minstrel songs about peoples and places.
PhosphorescentAnd yes, Phosphorescent proved at Rock Herk we were more than right when we made his song “Wolves” n°22 in the Kurtodrome’s Best 99 songs of 2007. Moving, endearing, chilling, fragile and powerful at the same time… in one word: gorgeous.

One of the nicest moments of the festival: a four-year-old girl sitting on daddy’s shoulders with headphones as big as her head and bopping along to the music, spreading her arms as if she were an aeroplane and Matthew Houck spotting her and unable to resist a smile.

Phosphorescent – Wolves (live at Luminaire, London, Dec 2007)
Phosphorescent – At Death, A Proclamation
Phosphorescent – A Picture of Our Torn Up Praise

Just before Phosphorescent it became clear The Enemy weren’t planning on showing up. Apparently the singer was ill. (Thanks for the comment, Wouter.) Sadly, this also wreaked havoc on the festival’s line-up. Phosporescent started twenty minutes later and every band on the main stage after Phosporescent had the chance to play ten minutes longer. While this sounds good, it also meant that you couldn’t go from one stage to another anymore. No disrespect to the Rock Herk crew, because it’s difficult to organize a festival. As for sick singers… Well, we saw Enon (also at Rock Herk) with one member missing (Toko had to stay at the airport because of problems with her visum) and singer John hooked on medication to struggle through the concert despite severe diarrhoea… That’s when we redefined dedication. One thing is for sure: The Enemy still need to get a lot more professional. Despite cancelling their Belgian shows, the band didn’t update their MySpace (or had it updated), so no reasons or apologies. By the way, they didn’t even bother to check the spelling of the name of the festival (their MySpace mentioned the festival “Roc Herc” – yes, The Enemy can’t even spell the word “rock”). So grow up, get professional, or else we’ll have to conclude what Future of the Left used as a name for a track: a dead Enemy always smells good.

BattlesMore bad news about The Enemy’s cancellation: I won’t be able to say anything about the bands Black Friday’ 29 and Fighting With Wire. Sorry guys, send your complaints to Coventry. The good news: this enabled Battles to bring an encore track. An encore that lasted ten minutes (yes, for one track). A powerhouse of energy and, let’s face it, the same can be said about the rest of the concert. Occasionally so a-rythmical the hipster teens who wanted to be as close to the stage as possible ran out as fast as they could (one has to love Battles just for that), but always sounding as a combo and knowing what they were doing. One inhabitant of Retardville had to explain to another inhabitant what the singer had meant with his announcement: “Hi, we’re The Battles and this is a track of our new album, Sergeant Pepper’s.” We understood Battles had also deserved their spot in that same Best of 2007 list (with the track “Ddiamondd”). And it were Battles who managed to come up with the best song of the festival: at no point did we see more people move to the music than during Battles’ song “Atlas”. Congratulations, people, it may not have won you an award, but the pleasure on your faces after the concert said more than enough.

Battles – Atlas
Battles – Ddiamondd
Battles – Tonto

Bane are Boston hardcore and proud of it.I don’t mind going to the second stage, but I do mind that a lot of the bands there think expletives are some form of art. Let’s hope Bane would fare better… erm, the band greeted their audience with two sentences containing the words “fuck” and “motherfucker” plus kicked off with a song that started with the word “fucking”. Okay, fuck it, I’m off! After a fucking visit to the food stalls, a fucking drink and a motherfucking visit to the toilet area I gave those motherfuckers of Bane (MySpace) a second chance and frankly, they’re not so bad. Their sheer enthusiasm had won it from the kick-ass attitude that had made the start of their concert a bit annoying. Which doesn’t mean the band had grown soft: during the penultimate number one of the band members broke his guitar. A bit irritating though… near the end they pretended like possibly maybe they could perhaps play one more song. One look at my watch told me the band still had more than five minutes. So a bit of pose, but underneath that quite some talent. What a shame though that, like so many other bands, their loudness turned their lyrics into “Aaaarghhh growllll rooowwwll grrrrr aaaaargghhh fucking gggrrrr” (Yes, for some reason the naughty words always stayed audible.)

Bane – Superhero
Bane – Can We Start Again

Roni SizeAs some readers may know, I’m not very impressed by Roni Size & Reprazent. Ever since I’d seen them live and it bored my socks off. This combination features a lot of talking about how brilliant they are instead of just playing the songs that could prove that to us without them having to rub it into our nose all the time. Having said that, Roni Size’s d’n’b sessions are apparently quite good. Well, a fan told us that. Someone who wasn’t too excited about this concert. To be honest, this time the band were not even half as annoying as the first time I was exposed to them. Yes, Roni still brought it to our attention every five minutes how good his band and the songs were, but then they actually started playing the songs (rather than still ramble on for so long you could have read Homer’s Odyssey in the meantime). “Brown Paper Bag”, the visual proof you’ll find below, was introduced once again by Roni Size as if it were the most important song ever written. Well, judge for yourself. I for once still hope that one day, instead of “Roni Size & Reprazent (live)”, I’ll go to a concert announced as “Reprazent (and Roni Size will shut up between the songs)”. Might be able to judge the tunes then…

Roni Size / Reprazent – Brown Paper Bag

amenraRight after Roni Size the Belgian d’n’b DJ Murdock would provide the after party, but for this weary reviewer the night ended with the headliner on the second stage. In Herk, when a Belgian band is allowed to be headliner, it’s not because of a sudden rush of nationalism, so let’s go over to AmenRa. Well, if we can find them… the band preferred to play with the lights out, which made their music only darker. “Slow, sturdy, repetitive sludge” is how the festival’s flyer announced them. I could agree if I knew what I’d just written. The fact is that despite the singer’s screaming (still the flyer) and loud riffs the songs still sounded like songs, something a lot of their predecessors couldn’t achieve. You won’t see me enter the Church of Ra (mainly because I don’t like these hardcore bands’ obsessions with religion), but it was good to listen to and not an unpleasant soundtrack on my way from the festival grounds to the car.Don’t forget to check out the visual proof of AmenRa, if only for the imagery by Dwid Hellion (Ritual) and Tine Guns (Visuals).

AmenRa provided my last sounds of Rock Herk 2008. See you next year!

AmenRa – Amkreuz
AmenRa – Ritual
AmenRa – Visuals

Les Nuits Botanique

Les Nuits Botanique offers a unique concept in Belgium: it’s a festival (in Brussels) that lasts a fortnight and allows lots of bands to appear in one of the venue’s rooms. There’s the Orangerie (the regular room), the Rotonde (a smaller and round room) and the Chapiteau, a big tent outside of the premises, just next to the majestical gardens. Tickets are valid for one room, which keeps the festival quite cheap: on average you’ll get to see three bands for 10 to 20 euro. And occasionally, Les Nuits Botanique raises the ticket price and opens all the rooms. In 2008 they did this for the line-up of May 9. For just under 25 euros you could watch I’m From Barcelona, Chrome Hoof, Minus, Get Well Soon, We Are Scientists, Two Gallants, V.O., Of Montreal, Blood Red Shoes, Timesbold, Nestor, The Germans and Forward Russia. We didn’t need that much incentive to get our asses to Belgium’s capital. Here’s an impression.

Two years ago ¡Forward, Russia! blew me away on Pukkelpop. Their concert may have been uneven, but the only way to describe the song Thirteen was “sheer brilliance”. Thirteen was the opening track of the album Give Me A Wall, which also contained the tracks Twelve, Fifteen (part 1), Nine, Nineteen… yes, the band didn’t bother to give their songs a name, they were named chronologically. So “Thirteen”, despite being the first track of the album, was the 13th song the band ever wrote. A gimmick for sure, but not as annoying as most of them.
Two years later the band has a new album, Life Processes, and decided there’s nothing wrong with giving a name to a song. (Suppose the band wouldn’t give up that trick and would even go as far as to name their children One, Two etc.) Last.fm allowed you to listen to the album before it arrived in the stores and my first conclusion was that the album had to do without mind-blowing tracks like Thirteen. Life Processes also contains a couple of songs that didn’t need to be on the album, but the hit and miss style of Give Me A Wall at least enabled the band to come up with excellent hits.
Add to this Tom Headwood’s peculiar vocals and you can understand why ¡Forward, Russia! annoys a lot of people. For my money, as long as they can come up with the occasional brilliant track I’ll love them. Hey, despite the uneven concert I even bought a T-shirt, mainly because it’s a beautiful shirt, but also because I want to believe there’s a future for a band like this. Even if a band’s member is called Whiskas (no really). Let’s hope there will be more tracks like Thirteen that are still on your MP3-player two years after the release (don’t worry band, I legally purchase my MP3s on eMusic and 7Digital). Let’s hope they don’t always feel the need to show off (occasionally that got in the way of the concert and the quality of the vocals). But let us believe for now…

Up next: the toughest choice. Of Montreal, Blood Red Shoes or Timesbold. Since Timesbold took longer to get started, my maths told me that if I went to Blood Red Shoes first, I could still get a large slice of Timesbold afterwards (well, if Blood Red Shoes were on time). They were. On stage just two people, Laura-Mary Carter and Steven Ansell. Steven’s conversations with the public were often kept at “Merci!” and the occasional word in French even some of the francophones near me couldn’t understand. Laura-Mary had apparently made a promise to herself not to look at the audience too much. Still, they promised themselves to rock’n’roll and that’s what they did. The concert was poignant even though it never became excellent and half of the songs sounded exactly like they did on the record. So at times you could’ve just stayed at home and played the album in random order, but you wouldn’t get to see these two young people who made an album on their own terms after touring the country from tiny venue to tinier venue and who were suddenly catapulted into stardom. Well, stardom… a lot of people were still unaware of the duo’s existence. Here’s to hoping their concert at Pukkelpop later this year will change them. For now, the record convinced me more than their live performance, but what a wonderful record Box of Secrets is.

Over to Timesbold. Definitely not the best concert of this band I’d seen, but then again, their concert at the AB a couple of years ago was extraordinarily good. I’m not sure whether the band had an off-day or if it was the room that bothered them. Timesbold admit they’re not the most professional band in the world and it’s always nice to see them have another technical problem (during which Jason Merritt will tell another story, funny and/or cringe-worthy). The Rotonde is, as mentioned before, a smaller room and very much round. This makes a lot of the concerts quite intimate. I’m not sure Timesbold like being so naked, surrounded by audience. A dark room with the audience in front of them becomes them better. Nevertheless, people who didn’t know the band might have picked up on the band’s greatness even if Timesbold had to do without it. Said someone in the audience: I can believe they’re very good, just not today.

Is it a concert? Is it a talkshow? It’s We Are Scientists. Whereas Blood Red Shoes managed to utter only twelve words during the entire concert, We Are Scientists said enough between two songs to fill a complete novel. I had no idea how popular this band was until I went inside the tent. Are they good? Well, they’re certainly not bad, but I tend to prefer bands that let the music speak (rather than egos).

Which is why I let myself glide off to Two Gallants, appearing at the same time in the Orangerie. That room is a lot bigger than the Rotonde and it seemed as if Adam Stephens and Tyson Vogel felt a bit intimidated. Their Wikipedia entry labels them an indie rock band, but don’t be fooled by that: much of this concert proved the band also liked their concerts lo-fi and intimate. Add to this large technical issues on which plug needs to go where or tracks that may be classified as background music and you may understand why I felt a bit disappointed.

I confess I didn’t know Chrome Hoof, but I’ve never understood why I’m From Barcelona is so popular (especially not after last year’s concert at Pukkelpop, which a lot of people seemed to like but I hated). And some genius had decided to cancel the last train to Antwerp, so it was either hoping Chrome Hoof would be excellent enough to spend the entire night in Brussels waiting for the morning train home or going home earlier and enjoy cocktails with a couple of friends. I don’t think I need to tell you what my decision was, let’s hope the clue my review ends here is sufficient enough.

1. Blood Red Shoes
2. Timesbold
3. ¡Forward, Russia!