It’s all about birthdays on the first day of this year’s Lowlands. The festival itself - complete with its wonderful full name, A Campingflight To Lowlands Paradise - is celebrating its 25th year, with all manner of new installations and activities across the site to mark the anniversary. It’s also the birthday of The xx’s Romy Madley-Croft. “This is the biggest birthday party I’ve ever had,” she grins half way through the band’s headline set.
The festivities are literally but not figuratively dampened early on, as a deluge of rain sends people scarpering for the nearest tent. Culture Abuse thrash through the storm though, introducing themselves as a band called “Fuck Donald Trump”. Not yer average birthday party. Recently signed to Epitaph, the band’s demonic rallying cries are infectious, sitting somewhere between hardcore and the most vicious moments of The Clash.
As the line-up at Lowlands will do consistently over the next three days, the mood shifts totally with Glass Animals’ predictably party-themed set. Pineapples have been banned from Reading & Leeds due to the band’s fans’ now-extreme penchant for bringing them along to anywhere the band step foot, but they’re out in full force in the Heineken tent today.
Dave Bayley is as boundlessly energetic as ever for the early set, orchestrating his band through highlights from ‘How To Be A Human Being’ with gusto and drama; he’s impossible to take your eyes off. A glorious, heart-wrenching rendition of ‘Agnes’ leads into the carnival of closer ‘Pork Soda’, and while Glass Animals’ greatest success still comes in the UK and particularly Stateside, Europe is more than catching on, and having so much more fun because of it.
Speaking of parties, Sean Paul’s playing on the main stage, and to the biggest crowd the Alpha complex will see all day. The sound may be murky, but the sheer cartoon character-like fame of the singer - and in particularly his voice - carries through, and keeps the party going.
Sound also comes to the detriment of PVRIS. The India tent is full for their mid-afternoon set, but songs from new album ‘All We Know Of Heaven, All We Need Of Hell’ are muddied. Lynn Gunn battles through it though, giving enthusiasm and fight to keep an energetic crowd on side.
The biggest tent at Lowlands is the enormous Bravo structure. Extending out like a spider, it gives consistently brilliant views of the stage and a more-than-solid soundsystem. Predictably, then, Mura Masa sounds absolutely huge. His recent self-titled debut album felt like a muddle of a few too many guests and ideas, but its cuts shine amongst a festival set. Barely any light is directed at the stage or the barely visible backdrop of Alex Crossan’s stage name. Instead, white light beams out onto the packed tent. No special guests and little fanfare, Mura Masa’s music does the talking, and is more than up to the task.
An hour passes in the tent before Solange and her band - all wonderfully dressed in red - stride out for another show on their run of festival dates on the back of ‘A Seat At The Table’. The singer has said she might not play any traditional shows in venues on the back of the much-lauded record, and today’s set feels extra special for the fact. Impeccably choreographed and silky smooth throughout, it’s an absolute joy to watch, and the sign of an artist doing exactly what she wants, and doing it fantastically.
Striding out of the Bravo tent, it’s a walk across the site to the main stage, one of the most striking main arenas of a European festival. A huge structure covers the front hundred-or-so rows of the crowd, before people spill out onto grassed areas either side (complete with a wonderful view of the crowd and stage). It’s the perfect setting for Moderat, who reveal it might be their last time at the festival. “For now though, hello Lowlands!” Sascha Ring yells out, and probing, shiny cuts from all three of the trio’s records get more than a few hands in the air and friends on shoulders.
As is now surprisingly customary for the band, The xx get largely the same reaction. Opening with ‘Intro’ into ‘Crystallised’ puts the crowd immediately in Romy, Oliver and Jamie’s collective palm, and the 80 minute set never dips. ‘Dangerous’ is a slinky hit-in-waiting, while ‘On Hold’ and Jamie’s ‘Loud Places’ are anthemic and worthy of shaking the last few drops of energy from the crowd’s hips. As the masses disperse to see the night out with all manner of DJs and discos, Lowlands is already well on the way to creating a classic 25th edition.
Photos: Sarah Louise Bennett