“Take it easy for a little while…”. These are the seven pivotal words which form out part of Four Out of Five, the standout track on Arctic Monkeys’ latest record, Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino. It’s an album which was, in many ways, made as much for the live stage as it was made for intimate bedrooms. Yesterday, Alex Turner and his gigantic live band descended upon Hilvarenbeek for the first day of Best Kept Secret’s mammoth new edition, one which features The National and LCD Soundsystem elsewhere this weekend. The festival’s first day was packed to the rafters with exciting performances, pleasant surprises and a couple of general duds. Jack Parker and Steven Morgan are in Hilvarenbeek to bring you the best that Best Kept Secret has to offer.
It was bedroom popster Jay Som who had the honour of kicking off proceedings on Stage TWO, doing so in intricate and minimal as Som and her live band treated a sparse tent to cuts from last year’s critically acclaimed Everybody Works. It’s an album filled with introverted vintage jams, which only just manage to come to life on a big stage. You could suggest that the stage was a little bit too big for Som, though, as the music seemed to traverse through the tent with little lasting impact. Over on Stage ONE, rising star and birthday boy Tom Grennan took one a relatively full sandy field as he demonstrated the inner workings of his soulful and raspy voice. Grennan’s music is typecast ‘lad’, something which makes sense in the long run when you consider the fact that his music has become a staple of Sky Sports’ Premier League coverage this past season. Found What I’ve Been Looking For has thus become a bona fide festival anthem, one which packs enough punch to get a whole field chanting along. Best Kept Secret was the Bedford boy’s first proper Dutch festival, and when you take this into account you could strongly suggest that it was a success. Philadelphia indie folkers The Districts proved to be the first real standout performance of the day, packing a weekend’s worth of emotional intensity into a set just short of an hour. Set opener If Before I Wake might not be your typical festival anthem, but it most definitely comes close. Its makeshift chorus is an absolute powerhouse, and it set the bar incredibly high for the rest of the show. It drew heavily from new album Popular Manipulations, which served as a definite favourite in critics circles the world over. One glimpse of a Districts live show should serve as enough proof for this, too.
Future Islands never fail to be entertaining, though while their breezy electropop and Samuel T. Herring’s crooning voice may hit the right spots on record, it’s on stage that they truly excel. Herring’s stage presence is mesmerising as he punches the air, pounds his chest and accentuates every word with a devastating intensity. His journey through the emotions is so extreme, that after playing Spirit he even starts crying and it’s hard to tell why or if he’s being sincere. Top it all off with sudden and unexpected death metal growls and you’ve got one of the most unique frontmen out there. Though the crowd bobs happily along to tracks from 2017’s The Far Field, it’s those from their 2014 breakthrough Singles that get the biggest reactions. The moment that the opening synth notes of Seasons (Waiting On You) start, the entire crowd erupts with joy.
Texan rockers …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead’s set featured tracks from their critically acclaimed 2002 album Source Tags & Codes, played in order from start to finish. Though many years have passed since then, it’s the album which broke the band with every one that’s come since compared to it. It’s a pleasure getting the rare chance to hear tracks like Baudelaire and Relative Ways live, but unfortunately the set was plagued with sound issues from start to finish. Whether it’s broken guitar strings or no sound coming from the bass amp, there wasn’t one minute of the set where a roadie wasn’t running around looking panicked. Despite this, the band soldiered on, and closed out with a couple of tracks from their 1999 album Madonna. The crowd went wild during closer A Perfect Teenhood with the audience shouting “fuck you” back at bassist Autry Fulbright II in a moment of mutual intensity. Rex Orange County is by far the most intriguing bedroom producer of 2018, something which shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise when you consider the fact that it was modern day rap hero Tyler, the Creator who discovered him and give Alex O’Connor (his real name) the big break he had long deserved. The two since became more than just mentor and mentee, instead forming a friendship which became transposed in O’Connor’s impactful indie pop. During his set on Stage THREE in front of a full tent, Rex Orange County (which, live, comprises of O’Connor, a bassist and a drummer) proved that he was most definitely worth the hype as he treated the crowd to cuts from recent record Apricot Princess. Setting the bar high early on meant that O’Connor had a lot to prove, but he most definitely managed. Set highlight Loving is Easy is an incredibly slick slice of pure indie pop, and it’s one of the best songs you’ll hear in Hilvarenbeek this weekend from an artist who has a great future ahead.
We all know Tyler, the Creator from his manic project Odd Future, but those days seem to be long behind him when you take the introverted sonic direction of last year’s Flower Boy into account. It’s an album which has allowed the rapper to grow into his own and form a fresh reputation for himself which is worlds away from the bad boy image he had in Odd Future. Set opener Where This Flower Blooms featured a pre-recorded Frank Ocean blaring through Stage ONE’s PA, although this is as good as it got in terms of special guests. The bulk of the set saw Tyler onstage by himself with a DJ to the side, placing himself firmly in the spotlight as he ensured that all eyes were on him. And it worked, because Tyler, the Creator’s live shows are best when they’re all about him, sans distraction. Over on Stage FIVE, it was Dutch/Turkish collective Altin Gün who proved to be the surprise of the day, pulling off a blinding set in front of a packed tent as they treated the crowd to cuts from their brooding debut album, On. The prolific Bradford Cox has been relatively quiet the last couple of years, so with a tour only album, some live dates and news of a proper follow up to 2015’s Fading Frontier, Deerhunter fans have had their fears relaxed. Though Cox has a reputation as a wildly unpredictable frontman, once playing an hour long cover of The Knacks’ My Sharona after someone in the crowd requested it, this set was a relatively subdued one. It was a crowd pleasing setlist with tracks like Revival played early on and though some may miss the wilder tendencies, their back catalogue is so strong it doesn’t need anything more.
It was abundantly clear from the t-shirts of many who the biggest draw of the Friday was, and that was Sheffield rockers-cum-crooners Arctic Monkeys. With their latest album Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino having upset many who just want to hear the band rock out, there’s a weight of expectation for a festival headline slot which they’re experienced enough to be acutely aware of. Their approach is to almost sandwich the new songs between the rockers of the past with the exception of opener Four Out Of Five testing the waters. It’s clearly not enough for some, who look relatively bored during the new songs in comparison to the reactions to tracks like Do I Wanna Know, I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor or Brianstorm, but Arctic Monkeys have always been a far more accomplished and interesting act than the other generic-indie bands they get lumped in with. The sound for their set was one of the best I’ve ever heard at a festival, the aesthetic of their outfits and lighting reflecting the smoothness of it all. It sets the expectation from the start. The band finished up with old favourites Do I Wanna Know?, The View From The Afternoon and R U Mine?, which serve as great reminders of how the band became so successful in the first place, but this new direction suggests to me that the band aren’t ready to settle and still have some surprises left in them.
We’re not entirely sure what it was, but Scottish electro pop trio Chvrches just did not deliver. Their Stage TWO set seemed to fall victim to an overpowering bass drone, something amplified with greater threat to the ribcage during the band’s bass-heavy songs. Frontwoman Lauren Mayberry still possesses a killer voice – and she made good use of it – but something just did not seem quite right. New album Love is Dead is filled to the brim with pop bangers, so combined with their existing back catalogue you’d expect a stellar performance. Unfortunately sound issues meant that this just wasn’t the case. Shame, as it could’ve been a great end to an incredibly memorable first day.
Best Kept Secret continues today with performances from The National, Wolf Alice and Warpaint.