Wandering through the woods on the approach to Best Kept Secret, it’s easy to lose a sense of exactly where you are. Snaking through the scenery, with the campsite ponds and the lapping of water in the huge lake through the trees, it doesn’t feel at all right that you have to pass through a subway beneath the busy N269 road.
A few miles away in Tilburg there’s an old royal palace, commissioned by King Willem II as a place of residence but never inhabited after a twist of fate saw the monarch die just three weeks before its completion in 1849. While the site in Hilvarenbeek might have been utilised for years – there’s a safari park right by, which you can actually camp in – as the traffic noise fades, it’s hard to imagine many places more perfect for a festival. A century and a half on from Willem’s death, Best Kept Secret is utilising the space that seems custom-made to be its home.
For the early festival crowd, Drenge are the perfect rude awakening, bringing Best Kept out of its leafy slumber as they launch in to ‘Running Wild’. In typical Drenge fashion it’s an utterly relentless act, hardly drawing breath as every crunch of ‘Undertow’ is replicated ten-fold on the big stage. As they embark on a journey through the murky depths of their set, Eoin’s snarl is only broken for the occasional wry smirk. It’s like that of a hyena, laughing as he sings about “twisting the knife” in ‘Never Awake’, and with the mics facing inward it’s like peering in on Drenge’s sick little joke.
No sooner has the dust settled and Eagulls are leaving their mark on Dutch soil. Again, it’s a no-holes-barred introduction, moving quickly through the crowd-pleasing ‘Tough Luck’, ‘Yellow Eyes’ and ‘Nerve Endings’. The band’s sharply conscious subject matter exhibits a pessimism that continues to feel as poignant as ever, but their performance transcends the gloom to leave them riding high. That’s it from last year’s self-titled debut though, and the always-tricky showcasing of new material meanders somewhat, giving an impression of an altogether more hazy, subdued direction on LP2. Whilst by no means badly received, after a charging opening it’s not the festival set that many had hoped for.
There’s no such conundrum for Chet Faker, who has the festival game down to a tee. ‘Cigarettes & Chocolate’ is, as ever, the perfect entrance, as he presents an engrossing one man live electronic show. His is a set that flits between this – his frantic arrangement of sounds – and a band dynamic, as he’s joined on stage for ‘Built On Glass’ cuts ‘Melt’ and ‘1998’. The onus is never on anyone other than the Australian though, with his evergreen rendition of ‘No Diggity’ proving a highlight that’s still got much more to give.
After Britain’s current crop set the stage earlier in the day, it’s a decidedly more nostalgic look backward for the remainder of the evening. 30 years to start with, as The Jesus and Mary Chain continue to bring debut album ‘Psychocandy’ back to life for its anniversary. As Jim Reid’s silhouette pours through the smoke, the celebratory air of this show is more ‘candy’ than ‘psycho’, but it doesn’t make the seeds sewn three decades ago feel any less revelatory today.
As The Libertines arrive for their headline slot to a video montage sound tracked by Vera Lynn, Pete Doherty’s clad in a trench coat, military medal and a flat cap, while Carl Barat opts for the Union Jack scarf with fag hanging out of mouth look – it’s that quintessential, gaudy Libertines spectacle that’s made them such a divisive figure in British music for the past decade.
“What was the first chord? Let me work out the middle eight,” jokes Barat as the band tease at airing a track from their upcoming return, but as the song plays out it becomes clear rather quickly that he wasn’t joking at all. It’s like a dub-indebted band practice, with heavily reverbed vocal and something close to a half-cooked rap. It’s nothing short of a car crash - and one that’s one acknowledged by the band themselves, too. It’s a shame really, because prior to that The Libertines had been more together than many would have hoped for, both physically, technically and in spirit. As they hit their stride with the mid-set ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’, they’re in full flow and clearly getting heaps of enjoyment from their time together on stage, which wherever you sit with The Libertines, is a warming sight to behold.
Photos: Carolina Faruolo
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