Lowlands Festival 2011 review
'Stylised and stylish, there is a sensation of being elsewhere'
Emma Ritchie Downes - 22 August 2011
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In front an imposing Lowlands entrance installation, thousands of over excited Dutch (foreigners are extremely few and far between) queue impatiently to exchange their Euros into Munten - the festival’s unit of currency.
The small plastic squares, which equate to 2.5 Euros each, are a cunning device that instantly renders the ridiculously over priced food and drink seemingly affordable. Combined with the highly stylised, and stylish, festival design (no independent franchise stalls allowed here) the use of the Munten contributes to the sensation of being elsewhere, suspended for a brief weekend in a fantasy theme park where normal rules and worries do not apply.
That said the Dutch are a conservative, if boisterous, bunch and despite the plethora of entertainment genres on offer, Lowlands is mainly about the music. Both Rise Against (3/10) and The Offspring (3/10) draw big crowds, only to go through the motions, while self-styled “purveyor of blues, hokum and jungle music” C. W. Stoneking (8/10) is victorious over a tough Friday afternoon spot, stunning a small hoard with music reminiscent of Louis Armstrong and the bayou.
Anna Calvi (8/10) skulks alone into the India arena like a moody, child-like doll but transforms into a beautiful and fiercely mesmerising artist, snarling in red and black. Chase & Status (10/10) bite too, triumphantly making 3,500 sweltering fans go bonkers and rivalling even the later brilliance of the headliners, the Arctic Monkeys (9/10). Almost in defiance of critics who assert that their star has waned, Alex Turner, newly reinvented as a lip curling fifties-style rocker, defiantly owns the stage skilfully blending material from ‘Suck It And See’ with older classics.
Flogging Molly (9/10) bolt a jolt of Celtic energy on Saturday afternoon, after a limp performance by Bombay Bicycle Club (5/10), who are rescued only by the hot sun and the free flowing lager. Seasick Steve (7/10) reliably provides an upbeat blues set, which predictably entertains on all fronts. Equally foreseeable and moderately enjoyable, posh boy turned indie/folk singer, Frank Turner (6/10), churns out his usual skilfully poetic set.
At opposite ends of the talent scale neither Elbow (10/10) nor Crystal Castles (1/10) can be accused of promoting audience indifference. Elbow provide a beautiful, uplifting headline act to crown Saturday night but Crystal Castles cause the audience to leave in droves within minutes of starting. Alice Glass screeches and yells over an ear-splittingly discordant synth, flinging herself into the crowd in an apparent attempt to commence the chaos.
She should take tips from overwhelming Skunk Anansie (8/10) frontwoman Skin who capers around the stage, eyes bulging and tongue gratuitously licking instruments, disturbingly resembling a large predatory spider with incredibly powerful vocals.
Where Skin terrifies her band mates into silent submission, Alison Mosshart of The Kills (8/10) has Jamie Hince to watch over her like a benevolent uncle. She paces like ferocious caged feline, all wild black hair as she snarls from ‘Blood Pressures’ with flawless vocals, surging guitars and an insistent drumbeat.
Without doubt Lowlands has something for every taste, from dance music to cinema to the lofty heights of the National Ballet yet, as a foreigner abroad, the festival lacks the quintessential touch of eccentricity, which makes British festivals so special. That aside, it is prohibitively expensive in terms of travel and once on site, and overzealous security and clueless stewards leave a lasting and foul taste in the mouth. But points are certainly scored for facilities, aesthetics and excellent stage management.
By Emma Downes.