Live Review: Down the Rabbit Hole 2015, Day 1 – 26.6.15

Down the Rabbit Hole, the supposed little brother of August’s Lowlands Festival, kicked off its second edition yesterday with an (eventually) majestic headline set from Irish singer-songwriter Damien Rice. The opening day, which takes place in the Groene Heuvels (near Nijmegen), also featured performances from Death From Above 1979, Ryan Adams and punk rock legend Patti Smith, who performed her seminal record Horses in full. Read on for a full round-up of the day.

After Dutch singer-songwriter Blaudzun opened up the Hotot stage with his mix of accessible folk rock, it was up to Death From Above 1979 to rattle a fair few eardrums on the same stage. The Canadian duo, consisting of Sebastien Granger and Jesse Keeler, performed songs from throughout their 12 year back catalogue, with a majority of the set leaning towards 2014’s The Physical World. The record, their first in 10 years, is an eclectic mix of everything DFA1979 do best, including fast-paced gritty rockers and anthemic choruses. Set highlight Gemini saw Keeler sing of a girl who “cries on her birthday”, before set closer The Physical World’s long, drawn out bass solo (courtesy of Granger and his glass bass) ensured that their set came to a cataclysmic ending. The duo are not as well-known in Holland as they are in other countries, which explains their low billing today, yet they’re still a force to be reckoned with regardless. Following them on the Hotot stage (the largest of the three, alongside the Teddy Widder and Fuzzy Lop) were the Belgians in Oscar & the Wolf. Originally (and still relatively) a solo project helmed by the demure frontman Max Colombie, Oscar & the Wolf are slowly but surely making their way through the ranks and selling out massive venues in Holland. Their Hotot set drew a near-full crowd as Colombie and co. played songs from debut album Entity. The set climaxed in set-closer Strange Entity, Colombie’s biggest hit. Its sprawling electronics and reverb-laced vocals echoed their way seamlessly throughout the tent as it became extremely clear that Oscar & the Wolf are only the way up, whether you like them or not.

After Oscar & the Wolf finished their set on the Hotot, it was up to Cali producer Flying Lotus and his intricate stage set-up to destroy the Teddy Widder. His stage set-up consisted of two fabric structures which had trippy visuals projected onto them. Lotus himself, who has worked with the likes of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, took to the stage behind the structure wearing a lit-up gas mask, dropping beats left, right and centre. His set drew a half-full crowd of fans and intrigued festivalgoers, the latter group leaving once they realized that Lotus’ music really is quite specific and not for the faint-hearted music fan. Over on the smallest stage, Fuzzy Lop, Dutch post-punkers Rats on Rafts performed a messy-yet-energetic set which drew heavily from their new record Tape Hiss. The set drew an extremely sparse crowd which filled not even half of the tent, yet that didn’t stop the Dutch band from proving their worth by means of drawn out post-punk numbers, all of which were mixed with a baying sense of calamity and chaos. Classic rocker Ryan Adams followed back in the Hotot, taking to a stage covered in American souvenirs such as a large peace flag, two arcade tables and a (rather odd) plastic tiger next to the drums. The peace sign was equally important today, a day in which history was made as all 50 US states legalized marriage equality. He and his band kicked off their set with standout track Gimme Something Good, its huge chorus so powerful and classic that it could’ve been fingerpicked out of a Bon Jovi B-Sides collection from the 1980’s. Adams doesn’t talk to the crowd that much, generally sticking to the odd thank you or introducing the next song as his mass of black hair flopped over his face. Adams is a strong live performer by all means, yet it’s his lack of crowd interaction which ultimately pays the price when it comes to musicianship. Adams would’ve been a perfect headliner for a more intimate space, such as the Teddy Widder, which was left in charge of Patti Smith and her band.

Smith, whose seminal album Horses is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, is currently touring the world in support of said album, playing it in full at festivals the world over. The Teddy Widder was where she played host to a tent absolutely full to the rafters, with many people present who would’ve also been there when Smith was in her heyday. Opening the record with Gloria: In Excelsis Deo, Smith and her four-piece band rocketed through the track at lightning speed and in an extremely glorious fashion. She proceeded to rocket through the whole record at an extremely fast rate, with the popular tracks Redondo Beach and Free Money all making an appearance. Although Smith was battling a cold during her set, you wouldn’t have noticed it through her razor sharp vocals and energetic bounding about the stage. Her band, all similar ages to Smith herself (who’s 69), deserve some recognition too for managing to survive and keep up with the renowned vocalist. A cover of The Who’s My Generation appeared towards the end, receiving the biggest sing-a-long of the night as Smith’s memorable set sent people walking into the unknown completely star struck. Smith has still got, bloody hell. Her set was followed on the Hotot stage by Friday headliner Damien Rice, taking to the stage all by himself with merely a handful of instruments and a loop system in tow. The loop system is what evidently saved him from what was essentially a weak headline set. The crowd, albeit there in large numbers, was more interested in who was standing next to them than who was standing onstage in front of them. Thankfully it didn’t deter Rice from giving it his all, especially during set highlight I Don’t Want to Change You.Water races down” sang the Irishman full of emotion as his set seemed to be best-received by those in the first quarter of the tent. Set closer It Takes a Lot to Know a Man was the euphoric climax in his 11 song set, and was also the moment where Rice best utilized his loop system as he ended the song by smashing drums and cymbals before incorporating other instruments into the loop. The quality of his performance towards the end of the set greatly outweighed its lacklustre start, meaning that he eventually managed to pull off the inevitable and wow a tent full of 11,000 people. Tomorrow will see rock hero Iggy Pop take the headline spot in the Hotot, with the end of Rice’s set signalling the start of festival nightlife.

Although a majority of the festival nightlife consisted of indie disco DJs, there was one diamond in the rough who set Down the Rabbit Hole on fire – Omar Souleyman. The Syrian vocalist and his one-man band, a bloke with a beaten up Casio, proved to be one of the best sets of the day as the Fuzzy Lop made itself the place to be. If you’ve ever wondered what it looks like to see a man in Syrian national dress clap his hands like Ghost’s Papa Emeritus, all while droning dance music (with an obvious Syrian melodic twist) underpins this spectacle, then Omar Souleyman is the place to be. Songs like the fantastic Wenu Wenu are absolutely and undoubtedly reasons as to why Souleyman has become the cult hero that he is. The man has reportedly released over 500 albums in the space of 20 years, only five of which were put out through a proper record label. Most of them were released on cassette and featured live recordings of songs he performed at Syrian wedding parties. There was one moment during his Fuzzy Lop set which essentially defined the whole day – one young man on the barrier spent most of the show shouting, “Omar, Omar!” with his hand stretched out. Once Souleyman shook his hand, the whole crowd went ballistic in celebration as the man was lifted up by his friends. The party in Fuzzy Lop didn’t even finish when he left the stage, though, with DJ duo Hunee & Thomas Martojo also spinning records of all genres late into the night.

Day two of Down the Rabbit Hole continues today with performances from Glass Animals, Alabama Shakes and Iggy Pop.