It seems increasingly hard to stand-out in the sea of European festivals, who often peddle similar line-ups across indistinguishable sites near almost every major city across the continent, but something about Lowlands just feels special. Located in Biddinghuizen (don’t try saying that after a few beers…), about 70 kilometres east of Amsterdam, the festival boasts being the Netherlands’ largest music festival, attracting over 50,000 people each year, an array of big name talent to match and a relaxed, peaceful vibe on a site located around a picturesque lake.
Cut to the music though, and it’s Australian bands causing a scene early on on the first day of the three-day. First case in point: Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever. The Melbourne five-piece seem genuinely surprised at the impressive turn out for their set, with the band’s Fran Keaney telling the crowd it’s good to be back in the country he once called home. “I lived here for six months…your English is way better than my Dutch!” he quips before launching into ‘An Air Conditioned Man’ from debt full-length ‘Hope Downs’. A set equal parts melodic and energetic, filled with sunny, memorable hooks and a humble stage presence, it’s the perfect soundtrack for a hazy early summer afternoon.
Second case in point: Amyl and the Sniffers. Another Melbourne band beginning to make a name for themselves on the global festival circuit, the band make ferocious 70s-inspired retro rock and their live set is full of an uncontainable energy; from almost the moment they enter the stage, the crowd is an ever expanding mosh pit, beers go flying and lyrics shouted with an unrelenting energy. Frontwoman Amy Louise Taylor (the ‘Amyl’ in their band name comes from the first four letters of her name) is a tongue wagging, loose limbed ball of fury, writhing around on the floor and screeching her lyrics into her mic with an insane energy. Throttling through their set at 100mph, it’s hard not to be impressed by how far the band has come in such a short space of time.
Detroit’s Protomatyr bring a dose of darkness to the festival next. Donning sunglasses, can of Heineken in hand, frontman Joe Casey baritone vocals are delivered in almost dead-pan way at moments, then almost screaming at others and the set’s sludgy guitars binging a sombre tone over the festival tent. Angst-ridden and gloomy, it’s not exactly a set full of lighthearted fun, but it’s still pretty powerful.
German composer Nils Frahm makes an inventive genre-blending mash-up of classical and electronic music and it’s a perfect fit for the cavernous, dome-like structure of the tent he performs in next, filling it up almost like the way choral music might fill up a church. Creating ambient, haunting soundscapes from the array of synths and pianos he’s surrounded by, his hour-long set is both moving and uplifting in equal measure.
Then there’s Brockhampton, everyone’s new favourite boyband/creative collective, who prove why all the hype around them is justified. Wearing a uniform of black jeans and white t-shirts, their stage presence is a highly co-ordinated affair, each of the band’s six on-stage members winding round each other, performing dance routines with an ease that makes what they do look easy.
Their strength though comes in the mash-up of their sound. One moment they’re hitting the melodic high notes like some sort of Boyzone tribute band (which is way better than it sounds, we promise) and the next they’re spitting high energy raps, flitting between genres with ease. By the time set closer ‘BOOGIE’ comes around, the tent is full of an unstoppable buzz of energy. “We’re Brockhampton and we’re the greatest boyband in the world,” founding member Kevin Abstract announces just before the band leave the stage and, judging by the way the crowd stick around to chant ‘we want more!’ for several minutes afterwards, it’s kind of hard to disagree.
It’s clear the recent release of new album ‘The Now Now’ has brought a slightly different feel to Gorillaz live shows. Damon Albarn’s decision to move away from the rotating cast of collaborators he brought on stage throughout the band’s set in their ‘Humanz’-era shows feels refreshing, but there’s a few select guests still in their show tonight. Little Simz bounds onto the stage, a bundle of energy, for her rendition of ‘Garage Palace’ and De La Soul join Damon on stage for their ‘Plastic Beach’ track ‘Superfast Jellyfish’ and, of course, ‘Feel Good Inc’, but overall their headline set tonight doesn’t seem one intent on being a straightforward show of crowd-pleasers.
Over the course of their whopping 2 hour, 22 song set (including a four song encore), there’s a few surprising omissions from their set - arguably one of their most famous tracks ‘DARE’ gets the cut, as do new album singles ‘Sorcerez’ and ‘Hollywood’ - which feels a little odd. By the time they launch into set closer ‘Clint Eastwood’ though, it hardly matters, the field erupting into a dancing mass of bodies, day one of Lowlands coming to a triumphant close.