Remembered through a haze, of dust, drink and sunshine, this was never going to be the most factual account. But it’s probably the most accurate, courtesy of Tom King and Adam Anonymous…
DiS is always staggered by the pulling power of paying to regress to a primal state and stand in a field for days. The Dour Festival brings 144,000 people to the middle of nowhere, South of Brussels. But the volume of people cannot hide the individuals; the clientele is freakish and consists largely of white dreads, those who need to be, in Adam’s words, “not so much cleaned, as _cleansed”. It sinks in that we’re to spend 96 hours with these ungodly degenerates, and we shudder. It may be a music festival but we wouldn’t wallow in the same filth as some of these people. With French limited to _“parle vous anglais?” and “une grande bière s'il vous plaît”, this is going to be a long weekend, and one we’re completely disconnected from, by language, hygiene, and, in some cases, species…
It’s raining. First we must navigate to the seriously secret press camping area, be convinced for several hours that every other Brit we meet is a dribbling idiot. Prevailing misanthropy, and tent, firmly set in place we head out for music, but such is the prevalence of afternoon Anglophilic-continental shit Thursday’s budget must have been spent almost entirely on the Wu-Tang Clan. (Today is actually _so_ all about one thing – the motherfucking Wu-Tang Clan – that we couldn’t be dissuaded by torrential showers of cow shit or 80,000 kids spending daddy’s money pretending to be anarchic. But, hey, at least this isn’t Glastonbury or the Carling Weekend.) Though the early evening breeze forces Pornorama’s set upon our place in the 90-minute cash machine queue, and we duly curse Mother Nature. There is little to do but drink and attempt to recite the entirety of _36 Chambers _to anyone within hearing distance, awaiting the first crackle and hiss at midnight…
We fill the remainder of the time with a pinch of stoner blue blood Om* (La Petite Maison Dans La Prairie; mighty) from afar, a faceful of *DJ Hype (La Petite Maison Dans La Prairie; average jump-up drum & bass, terrifyingly mental pill-stuffed crowd) and an oddly misplaced set from *Guitar Wolf *(Dance Hall; the inspiration for parts of Lost In Translation?). Come just gone midnight, kids are hanging from the sound booth and floodlights and it’s hard not to think hip-hop probably wasn’t built for this; this could only be for the utilitarian numbness of stadium rock. Eventually a looped sample begins cuts through the crowd, eight figures bound onstage, and_ this _is what all the fuss is all about…
Ghostface! GZA! RZA! The other guys! No reanimated ODB (boo!) or Method Man (missing, presumed “doin’ sum TV shit”). All of a sudden it’s like the Wu are just stalking out of Staten Island again for the first time and, despite a woeful mix that necessitates them to lead vaguely unwise chants against the “faggot soundman” who keeps “sabotaging shit” (the sound needs to be sharp as a RZA, but the bass hemorrhages across all frequencies, and words lose themselves on the evening winds), we’re talking all-star hip-hop heaven. ‘Gravel Pit’ elicits probably the largest cheer of the day and the customary Ol’ Dirty tribute reminds everyone what a crazily brilliant talent he was. The Wu-Tang Clan still ain’t nothin’ to fuck wit’, y’all, even if they are almost defeated in battle by a hired sound-guy goon.
Warhol sunglasses are lost in da ruckus, and the Stella goes to heads. Kid 606 and Sickboy only serve to glitchcore one of DiS’s already chess-boxed brain after a decampment to the Club Circuit Marquee. Kid606’s tech-house take on the IDM-jungle sub-genre he helped to forge is ultimately exceeded by Belgian hellraiser Sickboy, who throws Amen breaks willy-nilly, clad in an unsettling mask, ‘til DiS hits the hay.
Friday July 13 proves to be unlucky for some, specifically those (Adam: hi dere!) that imbibe enough alcohol to make up for the fact they were never actually students, thankyouverymuch. DiS’s half-hour walk to the nearby Aldi supermarché is vindicated immediately; salami sandwiches, Jupiter white beer (5.5% @ €4 for six = Mmmmmm) and a healthy dose of sunburn set us up for the ‘big indie day’. Adam seems completely oblivious to common courtesy as he meets the festival organizer topless and probably still drunk, but we manage to charmingly negotiate it with press passes intact.
The Main Stage is home to the indies, starting with Hot Chip. But they do nothing except throw DiS in a blinding rage at how far limp-wristed liberals from the home counties can go with nothing but a synthesizer where there should be a soul. The National awkwardly command The Last Arena with gawky charm and a whole repertoire of singer Matt Berninger’s quietly skewed takes on life, love, and life and love when they go wrong a bit. Unlike Hot Chip, The National have passion; smashing a mic-stand to low-tempo college rock and looking like an Oxbridge student isn’t in Vice… but at least it is honest.
Elsewhere, Converge clamber above a pit of generic angry shouters on the Eastpak Core Stage, catching us off-guard by starting early, but tearing apart the bones of latest, greatest LP No Heroes with savage economy. While some hear them as nothing more than brutal hardcore without a hint of originality or poise, livewire tattoo-mass Jacob Bannon breaks off from amusingly weird air-grabbing stage moves long enough to scream bloody murder like only he can, and proving his band’s worthiness in the process.
And now, a frank admission from Adam:
“At this point, the unforeseen intervention of a litre of vodka (starring cameos from two litres of Fanta, several bemused members of the opposite sex and some life-saving triangles of Laughing Cow) forces this correspondent into premature retirement for the night, leaving DiS’s non-future cirrhosis sufferer to take up Friday’s tale…”
Luckily, having finished his mid-afternoon Aldi Vodka, Adam is unconsciously winding up as many people as possible with his ridiculously OTT pidgin French before staggering off with a Dutch goth. I opt for some better looking ones, and watch The Horrors rip through a 20-minute set. Of course, it’s contrived to the point of hilarity, but faux garage-punk revivalism is infinitely preferably to any amount of semi-serious shoegazie/britpop derivatives. In situ, this is classic. And, after 36 hours, I finally see another pair of skinny jeans.
The sun is low to the side of the Main Stage, blinding all. All I can sense is rhythm. Jitter-punk, white funk, The Rapture: some things are always going to appear ridiculous on paper. But you can hear the ground rumble as our collective feet start to move, the cowbell starts to rattle, and the best performance of the weekend gets in full swing._ “Punishment!”_ shout they, “in higher places”. This will soon be the case for Adam, as he emerges from the press area with a stagger… and a terrified girl over his right shoulder. Three minutes later I tuck him up in the tent for a 14-hour sleep.
I duly made some new friends - the drunk-friend-routine is perfect for festivals - and ended up with Bright Eyes, who today are an 11-piece dressed fully in white. It’s not just the band that are monochrome; this music is so pale it could stand out in a snowstorm. Naturally, ‘First Day of My Life’ still sounds like the best song every written, dewy eyed and myopically romantic to the end, but beyond that there’s no rhythm, no interaction, no imagination. It’s clear the songs aren’t the problem, just the execution. The live visuals have no such problem, as fingertips, dead flies and polaroids swirl through endless colours projected onto the band and backdrop. Mid-song a chant of “WU-TANG-WU-TANG-WU-TANG” emerges in that breathless, syncopated manner common to foreign tongues wrapped round foreign words. I leave.
And then, for an hour, I’m back home, bouncing stage right at Brixton Mass. It seems like the festival’s entire English contingent is in the Marquee Tent for gawky cockney Skream. As his up-tempo dubstep cranks forward the PA struggles with the sub-bass. It strains, pulled taut, and in one collective high snaps on perfect cue with ‘Midnight Request Line’. Six minutes later and our chests need new cavities as we inhale our first non-vibrating O² for what seems like forever. From this obvious high-water mark it’s all a rollback as he struggles with scratched records and fatigue. Until, that is, his eerie remix of Klaxons’ ‘It’s Not Over Yet’, which is tearful and triumphant to the end. Bravo son. Bravo.
** Wiley** is introduced as “Willy”, and he never really recovers. The beats are lean but his flow is lost in murky vocal delay; words as elusive as catching smoke with bare hands. There’s a pogo pit and I get dreadlocks in my face. Grimey.
Aside from blistering but pretty forgettable sets by* Simian Mobile Disco and *Digitalism, I spend the rest of beautiful starry night spent wandering alone, trying to communicate in broken French with anyone who’ll listen.
We’re in a rut now, and realise there’s a good reason most festivals are three or less days long. A cumulative hangover will from now on threaten to swamp each successive morning, mounting on top of one another like a pack of horny rabbits, swaying and ready to collapse at any moment. The mud has turned to dust, and the ground resembles the surface of the moon, each gust adding to the filth clogging up my every pore. To make matters worse, sometime overnight the open air urinal troughs have burst their banks and a river of piss has begun to slowly snake downhill to the main stage. Bottles and glasses collect within its waters; crossing it seems near-suicidal. Thankfully, today the main stage is home only to lowest-common-denominator trash reggae and the Dropkick Murphys; anyone heading that way deserves everything they get.
With one exception: Part Chimp. Melody can be overrated, and it should be stomped on like the little annoying rat it is more often. Noise wins. Pure noise. There may be no bassist, but when the drums sounds like seven guitars you can just move your plain of hearing up 2.5 kHz, sit back and let your hangover slowly melt.
A days’ worth of avoiding terrible, terrible hardcore bands and catching up on food and rest comes to an end with Black Milk (an inexplicably early fixture at the Club Circuit Marquee: likable delivery and solid rhymes that should have been bumped up to sit alongside the midnight-astride thrills of the following hip-hop crew) and a Stones Throw Records party in the Marquee Tent. This is real hip-hop, that which doesn’t need to pander to the crowd to raise their hands every other middle eight. I’m pretty sure Peanut Butter Wolf and J-Rocc were involved at some stage, but all that stands out in recollection are beats, rhymes and paying respects to J Dilla and James Brown. The collective bring it correct, with party-starting results.
Elsewhere, Fugazi’s Joe Lally does his vaguely plodding solo thing with passably enjoyable results at La Petite Maison Dans La Prairie. The baldy bassist’s backing band Zu* hold the lion’s share of attention, mind, with visceral sax/nutsoid bass and drum trickery. The same stage serves up a buried highlight a little later: *Griots & Gods. Closer inspection reveals it’s a collaboration between New Jersey noise-hop heroes dälek and Swiss industrial pioneers The Young Gods. The soundclash is entrancing, the Gods’ ethereal pomp somehow melding perfectly with dälek’s spiraling backdrops and cerebral lines.
At the Eastpak stage Justice, SebastiAn,* Busy P, *Uffie & Dj Feadz become a pack of vodka-swilling mega-mixers, their sets weaving in and out of each other like a fine (night out at) fabric. They’ve even made 118-style team vests for the occasion, hung from the decks until duly waved in surrender to the march of their own beat. This, though, is the debauched wake before the funeral. Half-bowed over the decks like a hunchback taking a piss, Erol Alkan dies on our ears, lacking the enthusiasm of his continental counterparts. By this stage synapses have become immune to synth-bass-lead electro, and each bleep sounds like the one before. Individuals wander out of the tent disorientated by this newly atonal music.
Which, save for a quick chuckle at the Dropkick Murphys’ Oirish-isms in The Last Arena, brings us back to where we came in today: Luke Vibert dons his Amen Andrews hat for breakcore extraordinaire; Autechre turn all the lights out and chuck liquid balls of improv’ glitch at our ears; Venetian Snares damn near kills us ramping the BPMs up to levels where small animals spontaneously die; oh, and Otto Von Schirach manages to maintain a burgeoning reputation as a consummately rotten bastard, unleashing scattershot horrorcore and growling into an unfortunate microphone, a lot.
Shattered and deaf, the stumble back to the press area is made all the more enjoyable by an unfortunate hippy slipping whilst trying to cross the piss river. If you are reading, thank you.
DiS arises late and tired.
Days of sweat, spilt Stella, and lazy ravers pissing in the corners have led to the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ tent resembling the fifth circle of hell. Heated to a nauseous temperature by the afternoon sun, it is here we will spend the sunlight hours brooding like trapped bats.
The first act of the day, Merzbow is nothing more than a sadist. Mid-afternoon sun, milkshakes and Merzbow aren’t an obvious alliterative combination to properly blast Sunday into action, but that’s exactly where we find ourselves at the frightening hour of 2.30pm in La Petite Maison Dans La Prairie. Masami Akita attacks various mangled contraptions that were possibly once instruments used by the sane, his signature six-billion-killer-bees-humming-in-monotone detonations ripping incongruously through the heat. We conclude “Wow, ouch, ouch again, this is masochism”, in that order, then seek solace until The Thermals attempt similar volume levels with subtler nuances an hour later in the same tent. Spunking their best tune –_ ‘Here’s Your Future’ _– first does tend to expose they only really possess one song in structural terms, but it’s a grand song and executed with more enthusiasm than most bands muster in a career, so who gives a flying one…
Wolf Eyes are slightly more sophisticated a noise proposition than Merzbow: they recognise that including a beat amongst noise is not a concession to music, but more a necessary element. People are waving and dancing, but Tom onlys feel like drowning but as dread fills the tent…
Without even a hint of nepotistic intent, it’s all about the DiS-affiliated La Petite Maison Dans La Prairie on this final day: the aforementioned Wolf Eyes and Sunn 0))) drop their respective brainbombs with expected polarised modi operandi – that’s screaming metallic hell and insanely ridiculous, dry ice-shrouded, crawling doom. The latter play through a haze of smoke machines and evaporating sewage. This is slowcore; you need to lose yourself somewhere in the gaps between _the noise, the places other bands can never reach. It _can get too much, and Tom eventually sits on the bare pissy mud to fall in and out of sleep in time with the droning rhythm: before the grim reality kicks in he awakes certain he’s lost in the mines of Moria. Elsewhere, though, across on The Red Frequency Stage, the unexpected highlight of the weekend is in session.
Say what you want about Beenie Man, but the alleged homophobe/spawn of Satan/insert latest accusation here is a born entertainer. And while the weekend has its fair share of happy-clappy good vibes reggae (read: rubbish), in bringing his tiny part of Jamaica to Belgium for the evening, Beenie is nothing short of a revelation. You can spy his smile from fully 100 yards away, beaming above a fetching blue suit and white vest combo. And his proper, aggressive-yet-welcoming old-skool dancehall chatterings are arguably the perfect festival tonic.
Back at the La Petite Maison Dans La Prairie, 65daysofstatic maintain the momentum. Ordinarily impressive live but ultimately a weird laptop-backed exercise in post-rock karaoke (albeit a type that’s staggeringly tight and fucking volatile), here they buzz energy, drip sweat and, erm, indulge in unrivalled charisma-bereft between-song banter. The only thing more impressive in fact is the deliriously rapturous reception they receive. An attempted stage invasion results in two gawky kids lumbering over the barrier, only to be led off like cattle by the waiting security. There are forlorn cries for more, but when the drum kit is no more there can be no encore.
We stumble back out of the darkness and into the only slightly lighter shade of a Black Rebel Motorcycle Club set. For the first songs this primal swamp-stomp is brilliant, awash with enough feedback to make the sky seem to fall in. Aside from the singles, the rest is just one long arhythmical howl, more worthy of an Edward Munch than Ginsberg. After this, the 1990s are a relief; just a simple art-pop band with everything in its right place. They do sound quite a lot like the Yummy Fur, but when they share the same lungs and brain that’s probably expected.
After that, being unable to get anywhere near the overflowing Dance Hall for* DJ Shadow doesn’t even rankle – worst stage selection of the weekend, right there – and *Wilco, pleasant as they are, can’t compete. Dr Octagon, AKA Ultramagnetic MCs legend Kool Keith, comes closer, however, in the Dance Hall. Overcoming aircraft hangar sound problems by handing out specialist continental gentlemen’s mags and declaring “It’s masturbation time!”, the self-proclaimed Black Elvis, ahem, knocks out numerous cult classics from his raft of befuddling alter egos. And all while dressed in a cape. Respect.
Amon Tobin thuds thunderous shards of shattered drum & bass from The Last Arena that cut through wilting bodies like malevolent hot knives. Clark then gives La Petite… a final, fitting rave send off, resplendent with live drums, via his junglist glitches. And the only thing left to do?
Stumble away into the night pondering why no outdoor UK festival in existence even approaches Dour right now…
Photos: Greg Mead