While the UK festival market might not have experienced the best of years, its European counterpart continues to go from strength to strength. With more events taking place across its mainland throughout the summer than ever before, most of which offer a range of activities far beyond just watching a bunch of bands playing in a field, it's easy to see why so many festival goers from this part of the world would rather venture to foreign shores.
Take Lowlands for example, one of the longest running events on the continent having started in 1993. Set in the huge Spijk-Bremerberg forestry park which is situated in the Flevoland village of Biddinghuizen approximately 70 kilometers east of Amsterdam, Lowlands can also boast being the Netherlands' largest outdoor music festival, attracting 55,000 people every year. Having once again sold out well in advance - something festival director Eric Eerdenburg tells DiS he takes great pride in - its testament to their foresight in putting together both a stellar line-up while treating its customers respectfully in the process.
The opportunities for growth are there, but rather than spoil the vibe of its regular clientele for the sake of a few extra thousand people, Lowlands knows its place and knows its audience. It's also unique in allowing each punter to bring in up to 5g of marijuana in line with the country's relaxed drug laws which makes for one of the most peaceful and welcoming environments DiS encounters all summer.
Walking around the vast confines of the festival site there are areas dedicated to scientific research where Lowlands attendees can submit proposals then participate in experiments while an Armadillo structure situated in the middle of the park boasts all kinds of food stalls and bars where punters can lose their shit or just sit back and relax. There's also a compound at the rear of the site called Stichting Vluchteling where festival goers can pay for luxurious shower and toilet facilities with all monies raised being donated to the global refugee crisis. Venture onto its many campsites and you'll encounter a community spirit reminiscent of Glastonbury three decades ago, or the many free festivals that emerged as part of rave culture at the tail end of the 1980s. With a cashless system that's easy to use not to mention affordable food and drink prices, it's clear to see why Lowlands has maintained its popularity for 25 years.
Nevertheless, it is the music first and foremost we're here to see, and with 10 stages in operation across its three days, DiS is spoilt for choice. Australian outfit Methyl Ethel kickstart Friday's proceedings in typically hazy fashion, their effervescent take on shoegaze and chamber pop proving a big hit with those paying homage to the band's two excellent long players Oh Inhuman Spectacle and Everything Is Forgotten, or just finding refuge to escape the torrential rain. Playing to one of the largest and appreciative crowds the India Stage witnesses all weekend, the Perth trio's arrival into big league status looks imminent.
Employing such a diverse range of music across its stages makes exploring the site an enticing prospect, veering between acts from opposite ends of the musical spectrum such as heavily politicized ska act The Talks and dancehall sensation Sean Paul, their only common link being both originate from Kingston, albeit one in Hull and the other Jamaica. With so much on offer it's difficult to plan who to see at any given time so inevitably acts on our wishlist such as Feist and Parcels fall by the wayside while experiencing some of Lowlands non-musical activities.
Having been sceptical of the critical acclaim bestowed upon both Knowles sisters in recent months, I'm persuaded to witness the younger sibling Solange perform on the Bravo Stage and pleasantly surprised at what I see. Although marketed as sassy pop, there's more of an old school jazz vibe musically with a dazzling visual element to match. Unsurprisingly, the tent fills up to almost bursting point for the arrival of Iggy Pop and the self-proclaimed godfather of punk does not disappoint. 'I Wanna Be Your Dog', 'The Passenger', 'Gimme Danger' and 'Lust For Life' are all reeled out consecutively early doors and from then on it's nothing short of a riot as the now seventy-year-old legend delivers what can only be described as a masterclass in subservient rock and roll.
With day one drawing to a close, it's left to German techno DJ Dixon and Chicago house pioneer DJ Deeon to provide a hedonistic finale and welcome the early hours of Saturday morning in the process. After a few hours sleep greets us with the weekend's first rays of glorious sunshine, Swedish pop princess Tove Lo enthralls a packed out Bravo tent with her enticing brand of intelligently crafted pop.
However, it's local four-piece Canshaker Pi that really set the standard not just for today, but the entire weekend as a whole. Having recently signed to the Eat Your Own Ears label, their fiery grunge inspired post punk reminds all and sundry of indie rock's halcyon era and its no surprise to see the X-Ray Stage bouncing incredulously from the bars of their opening song. Forty minutes later, they're the talk of the festival and rightly so.
Over on the Heineken Stage, The Shins also appear to be having a whale of a time. Backed by a relatively new line-up, frontman James Mercer looks confidently contented as he and his band tear through a career spanning set. Drawing on material from all five of the band's albums, they're another of the weekend's undisputed highlights that reaches a triumphant climax during closing number and long time fan favourite 'Sleeping Lessons'. It's also a pleasure to witness one of the most hardworking bands in recent years' continued success in foreign territories whilst reaping their rewards in the process. Editors popularity in mainland Europe - particularly Belgium and the Netherlands - is something few other UK acts can match and their headline slot on the Alpha Stage sees several thousand devotees brave yet more unrelenting rain storms to witness a grandiose performance worthy of such a status. Playing a fifteen songs set that includes three new numbers off their forthcoming sixth long player, the adoring reaction of the crowd to the likes of 'Munich', 'The Racing Rats' and 'Papillon' would suggest they're not likely to be shifted from such a lofty pedestal any time soon.
Sunday might be known as the day of relaxation back home but here our first musical encounter of the afternoon belongs to legendary punks At The Drive-In who could be described as anything but relaxing. Strangely playing to a half empty Bravo tent, they're no less incendiary on stage, particularly hyperactive singer Cedric Bixler who breaks numerous mic stands in between delivering classics from the ATDI archive like 'Pattern Against User', 'Napoleon Solo' and 'One Armed Scissor'. Cypress Hill also take us back to the future in more ways than one. Playing on the Alpha (main) Stage adjacent to the onsite naked sauna overlooking the lake which runs through the site, Sen Dog's unmistakeable tones giving 'Hits From The Bong' and 'Insane In The Brain' a new lease of life in such salubrious surroundings.
It's left to Belgian artist Baloji to provide Sunday's highlight, his unique mix of African rhythms, Western psychedelia, and improvised hip hop paying dividends in front of a hugely appreciative crowd on the Lima Stage. By the end, chants of "one more song!" ring around the tent and he duly obliges treating the audience to one final number. In between, overly hyped UK six-piece HTMLD fall short in the tune department while techno overlord Nicolas Jaar delivers a note perfect set that lacks charisma which Warp Records mainstay Clark duly provides later in the evening.
Having celebrated its 25th birthday in style, it's plain to see why Lowlands is still highly regarded as one of Europe's top festival weekends that even the weather couldn't hamper. Here's to another 25 years of hedonism, excess and first class musical entertainment from all corners of the globe.
Photo Credit: Bart Heemskerk