Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Lowlands 2005 pt5 - The Return

After the rigours of getting in, getting out was relatively easy. It’s not a regular holiday where people come away with more than they took, no way. Maybe you bought a T-shirt or a CD, but probably not. Most people go back with less than they took. Many even without their tents. The trend amongst the tent-leavers is to set fire to them before you go, and a small squad of security bods rush around putting out tent fires and crushing down those tents that have not been burnt to make them less attractive to would-be pyromaniacs.

Those of us who value (or are borrowing) their tents lugged them out of the field. Past the toilets (now closed); past the entrance to the performing area (now being dismantled); past the ‘supermarket’ (now almost closed, but receiving last chances for people to spend their Lowlands Muntjes (the irredeemable local festival currency (which may get its own write-up some day)). So with our coffees and teas, we met up for the last time just inside the entrance to the camping area. Minus J and N who had to go to work that day and had left at the crack of dawn.

And then the train half of us was in the queue for the bus and those travelling by car in the line of cars waiting to leave the car park. And slowly, as the bus transferred us to the train and the train transferred us to Amsterdam and there the trams, metros and bikes took us home, we began to return to normal. Our brief period as social refugees in a land where there is nothing but the pursuit of pleasure and coffee was at an end. And the only souvenirs are a little bit of extra mud on the tent, some blurry photos from my phone and the remnants of a temporary tattoo that started out as a Chinese dragon, and soon resembled a snake in a pile of rubbish and now increasingly looks like an ancient, abstract mosaic of something that could be a frog or maybe a king falling on his sword. In some lights, if you squint, it looks just like a small group of people in a cosy huddle of tents.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Lowlands 2005 pt4 - Sunday

First band we looked in on were The Editors, a popular choice for 3:30 in the afternoon. Which is quite early at a festival. The Editors should team up with The Features to start a newspaper or maybe an Interpol fanzine.

Next up (with rocking Alkaline Trio providing the sound track for part of the walk) are Boston-Irish punk rockers, The Dropkick Murphys, who know how to entertain a crowd and sing about (American) Football and (Irish) Drinking.

The Dresden Dolls cancelled shortly before the shebang and were replaced by Scotland’s Sons and Daughters. This four-piece manage to sound like Siouxie and the Banshees and feature a singer who dances on stage the way drunk women do when they want to be seductive. It made for compelling viewing.

The next meeting point for most of the group were The Queens of The Stone Age who took the main stage and rocked the tent. It was great to find out this band were even better than expected. And fom the songs I knew I was expecting greatness. One for buying more of.

Due to a particularly slow coffee machine and serving practice, Only the last few numbers of Heather Nova’s excellent repertoire was heard. But I have heard the Bermudan lass let forth her tunes on many occasions and was fine to let her mostly pass me by this time. There will be other dates. Whilst we were sitting on the grass outside the tent, and extraordinarily handsome man wandered along carrying a baby. He pointed out the band playing on the screen to the child and then wandered through to the backstage area. I was glad I was not some obsessive fan, as I had to conclude this was Heather’s newishly-sprung sprog being shown mummy at work.

Next up on at the tent were sat outside of was Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. So we hung a round. A few people wondered over to see The Jam. The Modern Jam as they could be called, or the Future Heads as they exactly are called. The look, dress and sound like the Jam, but since Oasis made it okay to sound entirely like another bad from way back, there has been little shame in it.

Nick Cave put on a good show. Nick is not so much a rocker as a twisted balladeer. He sings songs of love girls he’s just murdered and profiles the sinister men in the shadows. We did however have to leave him early because a strange phenomenon in the shape of The Foo Fighters was drawing us to them. Sunday’s headline act did not disappoint; Did not put a foot wrong; and made you realise Dave Grohl is a musical marvel despite the world-wide success which usually suggests otherwise.

This being the last night, the feeling was to enjoy the night. The best dancing was to be had at the Silent Disco. If you don’t know this phenomenonal new way to club, you have missed out. It’s a Dutch invention and involves the attendees all receiving headphones which have 2 channels, meanwhile two DJs play different tracks and you can pick which one you dance to. This means people watching have no idea what you are dancing to, other than when you shout out along with the song (as does happen more than at a normal disco) and also that the person you are dancing with may not be dancing to the same song.

There is something about the Silent Disco that makes people dance that bit more theatrically, knowing as they do many of the onlookers can see them dancing but not the music. This tendency to dance sometimes camply as well as the fact I had my sleeves taped up to reveal my soak-on dragon tattoo made one guy come up to me and ask, something like “heb je ooit een pennetje van mij?” It seemed to mean have you ever been a pen of mine, so I queried the meaning in particular the word pennetje. The chap did a quick mime of taking several thin, blunt objects in his mouth. Basically he had asked me if he had ever blown me before.” I had to regret that situation had never occurred before but thanked him for the history lesson and bounded over to the little woman to pass on the benefit of my new-found knowledge. Not sure I’ll ever use the line, but next time it is used on me, I will not pull such a lost expression.

It was, in short, a great festival. In particular because of the large and very agreeable group. Even the wild card, James, who none of us knew that well except that he had good taste in music as is evidenced by what is played at the club he DJs at, was a great asset to the group.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Lowlands 2005 pt3 - Saturday

Throughout the weekend, the festival god kept us believing by keeping the sun out for much of the time, but occasionally throwing down a little rain. Not too much, just enough to let us know who was boss, and who could easily ruin the festival if he or she so decided. Saturday morning was hot again to wake up all but the comatosed. Even our small group had a couple of those.

We wandered into the ground early to pick up caffeine and (late) breakfast. We caught a little of pretty-boy Dutch rockers 2nd Place Driver, who were pleasant.

The first music we made after a period back at the tentstead was the end of El Pus. El Pus are crunk (Southern rap/hip hop) with guitars and were lively and requiring of more investigation. A little bit of Zita Swoon accompanied some food, but it wasn’t so long ago that I saw this great dEUS spin-off band at the Paradiso in Amsterdam, plus Death From Above 1979 beckoned. Death From Above 1979 are two seventies homosexuals who beat seven shades of shit out of drums and guitars to make interesting music. Compelling because it’s not often you see a full-on live rock group with own two members. Don’t expect to hum too many of the tunes.

Before the end, after a brief meet up, a very small contingent made their way to see Bad Religion. Bad Religion are one of the greatest bands ever to grace this small planet. Intelligent, tuneful punk with a social conscience. I could go on forever about how good this band is, but I won’t. Just to say that they still rock, performed well and did an interesting version of Generator.

Another brief meet-up to the tunes of The Arcade Fire, who are best described as Interpol. Nine Black Alps who had intrigued at London Calling cancelled at the last minute and were replaced by Art Brut, knowing, mischievous Art Punksters with the difference of being more 60s influence than 70s influenced. Best appreciated intellectually than any other way.

From here, it was time to speed over to the Grolsch tent for The Pixies. This time fully reunited (unlike last time which was only a partial reunion). The Pixies churned out their great old classics and were even enticed back for an encore for an enthusiastic audience. A definite walk down Nostalgia Alleyway.

The next destination was the Alpha tent for today’s headliner, Marilyn Manson. Marilyn’s inspired industrial phase has given over to a more mediocre Goth phase. Even people with their faces Marilyned up were leaving during the middle. He did 4 cover versions, none of which were surprising. In all it was a little disappointing, as I had high hopes for an entertaining show. Perhaps it would have been better if we were IN the tent. And huge fans. And on something.

Much of the night after this was spent enjoying (and later being annoyed by) the kitsch irony of dancing to 90’s dance classics of the kind that used to play in the clubs your friends forced you to go to. But it was nice to end the night chilling and dancing at the same time to the wickedjazzsounds DJs.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Lowlands 2005 pt2 - Friday

In the morning, the sun bore down on the tents baking the inhabitants and forcing them to rise early. Following the refugee feeling outside the border to ‘Paradise,’ it has to be said the camping at festival very much resembles a refugee camp. Thousands of mismatched tents packed close together. The major difference is that the festival goers are very happy, healthy and don’t fear leaving because of persecution. Although some of them will have to tidy their rooms when they get home.

We kicked aside the cold barbeque to realise that it had cooked something. A small square of burned grass outlined where it had stood. It seems the design of the barbeque was to cook what lay underneath it not, what we put on top. It wasn’t a good start to the day. Nor were the queues for the toilets and showers.

Lowlands presents you with a dilemma. At most festivals, the toilets are unvisitable after the first hour, and showers, if there are any, are so rare and delicate that if you queue for one the moment you arrive you might get one by the end of the weekend. At Lowlands, the toilets are cleaned regularly and the showers work. There is the matter of queuing for them, but it is maybe 20 minutes or something like that – nothing for people who queued for 4 hours to just get in.

This means that you actually want to have a shower, whereas at a festival, people usually just say, “Oh, It’s impossible,” and feel content to not be as fragrant for a few days. After all, everyone is in the same boat.

The first band of the first day was the perfect warm-up band. The Beatsteaks, German punksters with a sense of humour who aren’t ashamed to show their influences. They woke up the crowd and did great versions of both Rappers Delight (ironically as far as I could tell from that distance) and Sabotage by the Beastie Boys. The latter being a faithful barnstormer done without samples.

The Polyphonic Spree (hippy musical band – think Hair) and The Magic Numbers (Fat 60s retro group (think Mamas and Papas) who don’t like being called Fat, so don’t say the word ‘Fat’ in front of them) were wandered by before a little time was spent watching KT Tunstall, Scottish balladeer with some good songs.

The Kaiser Chiefs were next up, and as ever were their usual cheeky selves. Good songs, entertainingly delivered. The Bravery were too far away to make and eat, so were skipped. But think New Order in their rockier moments. The second Germanicly-name Cheek-rock band to take he Alpha stage were Franz Ferdinand, who proved why they were further up the bill than the Kaizers. It was good to finally see the Ferdies live.

The next band we saw were aging punksters Social Distortion, who I knew a little but had failed to really get into. They came on and said “Hello Belgium” and acted so much like they had something to prove that they were somewhat of a disappointment. Fortunately The Prodigy, who are always at festivals, and expected to find nothing special this time, thoroughly rocked the joint in a way most rock bands would kill to do.

Plans to party all night were abandoned for at least my small party in favour of obeying my protesting body. Others did party all night, but that’s their story.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Lowlands 2005 pt1 - The arrival

August 2001 is when I last used my tent and made a pilgrimage to hallowed ground near Biddinghuizen where annually is held the Lowlands festival. This sacred place (right next door to Wallaby World) is attended by 50,000 of the most faithful followers of good music and outside camping.

This year a group of 11 people went. Who will be designated A, B, C, D, I, J, N, P, R, S, and T. Or referred to by their names: Peter, Catherine, Rebecca, Nadja, Ian, Trista, Dave, James, Sarah, Ben, Andrea (not in that order).

The advance party (consisting of ABCJNPRandT) arrived on Thursday evening having travelled on the train from Amstetrdam. From the train, there was a longish queue to wait for the busses especially laid on to ship the festivallers from Lelystad to ‘Paradise.’ The queue moved quite quickly and everyone was too excited with anticipation to be got down by it.

Then came the coach journey, which lasted a lot longer than anyone had expected - longer than the train journey, but through this, spirits were high. We were all looking forward to the BBQ we had planned for the period immediately following the erection of the tents.

Now there was an advance advance party consisting of N’s flatmate and several of her friends. They were intending to get in, set up a base camp and have us join as reinforcements later. Alas the best laid plans of mice and festival organisers very often gang a-gley. It seems everybody turned up Thursday late afternoon / early evening, and outside the door there was a huge throng of people doing what the Dutch would call queuing and most other people would call laying siege. But being mostly Dutch, it was a good-natured siege. Whereas in many places a riot would have ensued, here the people waited like refugees at the border. Impatient, but not daring to surge forward for fearing being turned back to the horrors of war, genocide or their day job.

N’s flatmate, N, reported she had been in the throng for over 2 hours and was only just getting close to the front. We joined hoping it would move forward as somehow they must be able to cope with the number of arrivals some how. Rumours flowed through the throng - they ranged from ‘everyone was being thoroughly searched’ to ‘it was really some sort of extermination camp.’

The mood in the throng was that of perseverance in adversity. Humour was relatively high and the sought-after prize of a new life in the ‘Paradise’ of Lowlands, as well as the barbeque we had planned, kept us going.

It took us 4 hours to get into the camp. There was no ‘search everyone’ policy, just the logistics of trying to squeeze 10s of thousands of people through 8 doors one-at-a-time.

We were unable to camp near the advance advance party as we needed an area big enough for us to be roughly together and with spare space for the not-so-advanced party.

It was the wee small hours when we pitched out tent. Thank some wondrous deity it was not raining and we were soon tented and despite our tiredness, sat in a huddle hoping to prepare our much hoped-for feast. That same benevolent god can also mock. Due to some sort of design flaw or a lack of functioning brain cells at that time to understand the instructions, the disposable barbeque failed to take. Despite repeated applications of lighting fluid. We began to wonder was this coal or just black rocks. Eventually, we gave up: the coal was starting to glow a little, but it would be dawn before it would cook anything.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Flighty to Blighty

Recently I went back to the UK for a long weekend. Having done some calculations, it works out that the last time I was back in Blighty was nearly a year ago. Shocking considering how close it is and how cheap and convenient flights can be. Easyjet, if you book them far enough in advance, practically pay you to fly them, and Ryan Air tickets cost less than sweets, although the tax rate then is about 5,000%.

Ryan Air flies to and from Eindhoven rather than Schiphol airport. Schiphol is 15 minutes from Amsterdam, Eindhoven over an hour. However, given the amount of taxiing time the airplane needs, I do wonder if the plane drives to Eindhoven to actually take off and land.

In the UK, they have long since found the solution to needing more runways to service the city - make out that any airport within a 300 mile radius is IN London. Not only is Stansted in London, but so is Luton and I am looking forward to the day when I come in to Glasgow Airport, London. Or even when I take off from Schiphol Airport, London to fly over The New Thames (formerly The English Channel) and land at Heathrow East Terminal (formerly Gatwick Airport).

Monday, August 22, 2005

Karne-foul Time

As with most countries, the Dutch have a national anthem, dress and colour. The Dutch also have a National Milk. It is called Karnemelk.

How you make Karne milk is a mystery, but from what I have tasted, here is the method:

1. Take one carton of regular milk.
2. Leave it to stand at room temperature for 2 days.
3. Add cat vomit.
4. Break open one cockroach and pour in contents.
5. Stir with dirty finger in the clog of a tramp.

Serving suggestion: leave in carton.

The verb Karnen is the churn, which is exactly what it makes your stomach do.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Out the Navy

Amsterdam's Gay Parade is the time when the Gay men and women of this great city commandeer (or is it commandear?) every canal-worthy vessel they can lay their hands on and cruise (yes that's the word I mean) through the city. The straight members of the city line the sides of the canals, cheer and accept the free condoms.

As you can guess, this is not staid, naval parade. The boats are usually highly decorated, although never more so than the crew, and music blares out ranging from camp disco classics to over the top opera. Actually, that is not much of a range, really, but what is most important is that on every boat everyone is having fun, dancing and otherwise shaking their thing (or things).

It's nearly always a very bouyant day, if you'll forgive the pun. It was marred last year by an American gay activist being beaten up by a gang of youths from a culture not as understanding of things not straight (which is actually all other cultures). But you'll noticed the gang picked on one man, not a boat full. Poofs!

This year I went to a party at the flat of a girl who was not there. She was on holiday and kindly allowed it to be used for a party on this day because of it's proximity to the canal. We have a great view which was only spoilt by the fact the parade was on a different canal.

But we had a good time none-the-less, and saw about three boats, two heading home and one lost.