Festivals

Lowlands 2015

21st - 23rd August 2015

Kendrick Lamar stakes claim over the stand-out set of the entire weekend

Under the shadows of a whacking great set of smoking chimneys, Lowlands has the feel of a self-sufficient utopia, with its own currency and never-ending supplies of meatball sandwiches for sustenance. A rammed line-up is the biggest draw of all; though, on a practical sidenote, Lowlands’ gleaming, shimmering portaloos defy physics for the entire weekend. They should win awards.

In equally shiny-clean fashion Years & Years kick off proceedings for the weekend, Olly Alexanders’ crystalline vocals cutting crisply across the top of an an overspilling Heineken tent. The paired back ‘Foundation’ offers an understated and minimal start, but once ‘Desire’ and ‘King’ hit, Years & Years are at the helm of a one-way party boat.

Meanwhile Shamir is on exceptional form across the site. “This one’s called ‘Hot Mess’” he quips, “it’s an autobiography”. An unlikely twisted-disco cover arrives in the shape of Joyce Manor’s ‘Christmas Card,’ and elsewhere, his backing singer’s vocals playfully pitch-shift across octaves, while Shamir springs nimbly into the jittering cowbell of ‘On The Regular.’ Shamir ends his set by hopping the barrier for a mass hug. Nearby in X-Ray, Ben Khan makes a rare live appearance, skillfully bending beats around a strange odd-ball shaped prism of his own invention.

Closing Friday night is left to Caribou, the unofficial reindeer shaped mascot of 2015’s festival season. His set sticks closely to his usual trajectory, his smoky, back-lit live band clad in their white uniforms, building gradually up into the euphoric peak. Mind you, it’s hard to imagine an ending sequence sweeter than ‘Can’t Do Without You,’ in heady combination with ‘Odessa,’ and a super extended closer ‘Sun’. Though Dan Snaith has spent much of his summer gracing open air and main stages, Caribou seems far more suited to being squirrelled away in the hyper-intensive darkness of gloomy, thrashing retreats like Lowlands’ Bravo tent.

Ho99o9 leave X-Ray scarcely standing the following day, conjuring up a rare beast from thin air. A rarely sighted phenomenon - the moshpit whirlpool - turns up to play; one particular Dutch man ripping off a suit jacket, and running into the epicentre with a tie knotted round his head. Though Ho99o9 seem to unfurl like Black Flag being scorched by a poison flamethrower - with a menacing, confrontational, aggressive presence - it’s meticulously controlled, too. Underneath all that chaos, there’s a great deal of hard-to-nail nuance.

Fuelled by an arsenal of new material - last year’s Elliphant collaboration ‘One More,’ and her recent work with Major Lazer - MØ swaggers and winds her way through a relentless set backed by Windows 98 beach screensavers, and black and white visuals, that splice Breakfast At Tiffanys together with video-clones of the Danish high-riser swaying along. The whole show is larger than life.

“You guys seem nice,” comments Courtney Barnett to her packed tent. Nice is something of an understatement - adoringly hanging onto her every word being perhaps a better fit for tonight’s crowd. Thrashing, drawling and swinging her guitar around like a piñata with six strings, her debut album proper, ‘Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit,’ morphs into an even more formidable beast live. Ending with an unhinged take on ‘Pedestrian At Best,’ Courtney Barnett might not be keen on those nuisance pedestals, but she still establishes herself as one of the most vital voices in music right now.

Having maxed out on their luggage allowance with cowbells, Formation hot-wire the final day of the festival into life. Though the assembled punters at X-Ray start out fairly reserved, they’re soon yanked into life by frontman Will Ritson’s magnetic draw. Bounding at lightening speed through the wonky-funk of ‘Hangin’ and ‘Back Then’, the introductions - “this one’s about hangin’ out” - may be to the point. His chat is as succinct as Formation’s tight, locked-together live show.

Sunday seems to be the designated day of the big hitters with exceptional new records to air, The Maccabees picking that particular baton up on Lowlands’ biggest stage, Alpha. ‘Marks To Prove It’ spirals out with anthemic ease, and somehow, it brings the rest of the bands’ back catalogue into clearer focus. Third album highlight ‘Pelican’ shines brighter with an extra potent glint, and the quieter pockets of ‘Marks To Prove It’ grow to epic, plaintive proportions, too.

Later on, Kendrick Lamar stakes claim over the stand-out set of the entire weekend. For the most part it centres around his second album ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’- already an established classic. Kendrick keeps his surging crowd balanced on tiptoe, shifting verses deftly around ‘Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe,’ and stalking the stage to the most unhinged screams of the festival. Then, the gears firmly shift in the direction of ‘To Pimp a Butterfly,’ and a whole valley screams every word of ‘King Kunta’ right back. Few artists can command a crowd quite like Kendrick Lamar.

Complete with a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday,’ Tame Impala embrace the most playful strains of new album ‘Currents’ across the site. ‘Let It Happen’ - complete with its broken-record meltdown into the vortex between undiluted pop and psychedelia sets the tone aptly, and from then on, Kevin Parker and co. play from their own space-dust sprinkled realm of the universe. ‘The Moment’ saunters and jaunts, the arch ‘Cause I’m A Man,’ sways knowingly, and ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backward’s - Tame Impala’s out of control, runaway train of a power ballad - wrenches every arm in the tent upwards on invisible string. Lowlands ends on a technicoloured high.

Photos: Bart Heemskerk

Tags: Courtney Barnett, HO99O9, Shamir, Years & Years, Lowlands, Festivals, Reviews, Live Reviews

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