For most people, a festival could either be all about the music or all about the atmosphere, with little leeway between the two. At Dutch weekender Down the Rabbit Hole, the line between music and relaxation is almost non-existent. Even if you’re not checking out bands on any of the three stages, there’s always something to do at the Beuningen-based festival. Its second day built on the successful opening day, with performances from Goat, Alabama Shakes and headliner Iggy Pop all setting the Groene Heuvels alight.
Americana blues rocker JD McPherson had the honour of kicking off proceedings over on the Teddy Widder stage, with him and his band having driven through the night from Glastonbury Festival to make it for their early start time. The long hours and exhaustion didn’t seem to faze them though, putting on an energy-filled set which leant heavily towards February’s Let the Good Times Roll. Frontman McPherson’s vocals are traditional rock and roll at their best, perfectly complementing the exquisite skills of his band, among them an upright bassist and guitarist-cum-sax player. McPherson’s music has got one sole aim, and that’s to get people up on their feet and dancing as if it were the 1950’s. The lunchtime set drew a reasonable crowd of people who received the set rather well, warming them up well for the (hot) day ahead. Whereas JD and his band simply wanted to get the summer vibes started through active movement, London slackers Happyness did the opposite. The Benji Compston-fronted trio’s sarcasm-filled slacker rock saw them play for a half-full Fuzzy Lop crowd who were led to believe that “three Californian sisters reinventing classic rock” would take to the stage. This is how the band described themselves to the stage announcer before their set, with the final result being very far from the truth. Their music certainly leans towards to the sun-kissed side of proceedings, but it’s by no means classic or polished. Set closer Montreal Rock Band Somewhere, their most well-known track, eventually saw the band go crazy as the song came to a cataclysmic close. “I’m wearing Win Butler’s hair; there’s a scalpless singer in a Montreal rock band somewhere” sang Compston during the track, a lyric which was crowned the best line of 2014 by NME. Happyness have still got a long way to go, yet their sun-kissed slacker vibes certainly do have swathes of potential nestled within them.
Over on the Hotot stage, it was up to Cali duo Rhye to open the festival’s biggest stage. A reasonable crowd showed up to hear what frontman Milosh, instrumentalist Robin Hannibal and their accompanying live band had to offer, yet it just didn’t meet the standards of a great performance. Milosh has a spectacular voice which syncs perfectly with his band, yet despite this there still seems to be too much difficulty in really encapsulating the crowd. Sole studio album Woman was drawn from the most, but it wasn’t enough to make for a memorable show. It might not have been necessarily down to the music, though, but more down to the stage they were put on. The Hotot, which fits around 10,000 people, is far too big for Rhye’s intimate R&B. Had he been programmed later in the day on a smaller stage, chances are that the set would’ve gone down much better. One band who didn’t have to worry about the size of their crowd whatsoever were Oxford quartet Glass Animals, a band who are fast becoming massive. Their sickly sweet electro rock (akin to contemporaries such as Alt J) drew a huge crowd to the Teddy Widder stage, consisting particularly of teenage girls who claimed the barrier as soon as spaces came free. Opening their set with the hypnotic Psylla, taken from 2013’s self-titled EP, the Dave Bayley-fronted four-piece quickly found themselves standing in front of a jam-packed tent. Debut album proper, ZABA, was drawn from heavily as the set climaxed with standout track Gooey. Glass Animals’ electro indie hybrid sounds exactly like the love child of a more futuristic Alt J and modern day Radiohead, which isn’t an all too bad combination. There’s definitely a gap in the market for bands like Glass Animals, and it’s a gap which Dave Bayley and co. are definitely filling quite nicely.
Back on the Hotot stage, an overwhelming stench of marijuana filled the front rows of the crowd as Damian ‘Jr Gong’ Marley spent an hour reliving his dad’s classic back catalogue alongside some tracks of his own. It took a while for Marley himself to emerge though, with his band first playing a long, drawn-out reggae jam which made way for Marley’s hype man and another man whose sole job the whole show was to wave a Rastafarian flag in the air. Once Marley and all of his hair took the stage, the crowd went wild as he kicked straight into Bob Marley & the Wailers’ Confrontation. The set featured a handful of his famous fathers’ songs, including classics such as Get Up, Stand Up and Could You Be Loved. Skrillex collaboration Make It Bun Dem also appeared, receiving raucous cheers from the crowd. Marley and his band closed their set on Welcome to Jamrock, bringing a successful hour of reggae and reminiscence to a vibrant finale. The Fuzzy Lop stage proceeded to play host to grisly Southampton-duo Dolomite Minor, the latest in a long line of two-piece rock bands making waves. Their shorter set featured a mixture of songs from recent EP Girl of Gold, as well as some newer, unreleased output. Whereas popular tracks Talk Like an Aztec and Let Me Go featured dark, brooding riffs and monotone vocals, one new song did things differently and found itself walking down a relatively Queens of the Stone Age-esque path. Just like Royal Blood, who are now clear frontrunners in the duo-department, Dolomite Minor are extremely good at balancing out accessible choruses and melodies with dark, gritty instrumentals. Watch this space, because it definitely isn’t the last you’ll have heard of Dolomite Minor. Alabama Shakes followed them back on the Hotot stage, with frontwoman Brittany Howard showcasing her ever-impressive vocals. Opening on older track Hang Loose, the blues rock quartet (now with added live members) pulled one of the biggest crowds of the day as sophomore record Sound & Colour featured heavily. Set highlight Gimme All Your Love proved exactly why Howard is one of the best vocalists around right now, her voice soaring throughout the tent during its spectacular chorus. Breakthrough track Hold On unfortunately didn’t feature, yet this was more than made up for by the likes of a punky The Greatest, groovy Don’t Wanna Fight and set closer You Ain’t Alone. It’s unlikely that we’re going to have to wait much longer before a band like Alabama Shakes tops the bill at a festival, because they certainly have the output to do so.
Back on the Teddy Widder stage, Australian eight-piece The Cat Empire more than got the full tent partying as their infectious funk echoed out of the PA. Walking onstage full of smiles, the band kicked straight into standout track Brighter Than Gold, with the whole crowd singing along to its catchy refrain and chorus. “All night awake, in the moonlight I’m with you” sang co-frontmen Felix Riebl and Harry James Angus, almost being completely drowned out by the crowd. The whole live set-up of The Cat Empire is quite fantastic, with each member having more than one instrument or talent at their disposal. Whenever Angus took over vocal duties, you’d find Riebl behind his percussion set, and vice versa whenever Angus blew his own trumpet. The band are extremely popular in Holland, and this is something which definitely became evident during their hour-long set. The Cat Empire like nothing more than to see everyone up on their feet having fun, and today they certainly succeeded. Another performance which succeeded in getting the crowd hyped up and dancing was that of eclectic Irish musician Roisin Murphy. Her Hotot set preceded that of headliner Iggy Pop, meaning that the tent was already significantly filled up. That wasn’t without good reason either, because Murphy knows very well how to work a crowd. Her most recent studio album Hairless Toys may not be the most accessible record ever (at least in comparison to her work in Moloko), but she definitely got the crowd moving as if it were 4am in a downtown Berlin nightclub. David Morales cover Golden Era opened the set, with Murphy taking to the stage dressed as an old pensioner ready to go on a shopping trip. As the track progressed and bled into the opening notes of Moloko track Familiar Feeling, she’d already taken off her guise (which was completed by futuristic black sunglasses) and made her way through a whole array of vibrant headgear. Murphy’s costume changes didn’t take away from the music thankfully, which was partly due to the fact that she did everything on the spot whilst still singing. Her stage set was adorned with plastic baby dolls and her live band were very much on top of their game, making Murphy’s set one of the best of the day.
If you thought that the weirdest costumes of the day appeared during Murphy’s set, then you had a whole other thing coming once the Swedes in Goat took to the Fuzzy Lop. Dressed in full-on tribal dress, all seven members of the live set-up powered through an hour of experimental fusion rock, which also encompassed elements of world music, afrobeat, funk and acid rock. Set opener Words, taken from 2014’s Commune, opened the set in manic style as explosion of styles rocketed in and out of consciousness. The nameless frontwomen (sans identity altogether, in fact) sang their way through the track as they further proceeded to stomp across a smaller triangle fronting the Fuzzy Lop stage. It’s quite a remarkable sight to see, and also one which the crowd absolutely lapped up in their masses. Tonight, the full tent were witnesses of something heroic and majestic. Goat are a band absolutely shrouded in mystery, with their haunting back story and live voodoo vibe only making for an even bigger spectacle. Standout track Run To Your Mama’s gritty riffs and caterwauling percussion intertwined intrinsically as Goat proved to live up to their reputation as best live band in the world. Once Goat rounded up their mesmerising set, the whole tent emptied out and descended upon the Hotot for what was unarguably the most anticipated set of the weekend – headliner Iggy Pop. He’s been a living legend for nearly four whole decades now, still full of energy and touring at the ripe old age of 68. Opening track No Fun, an old Iggy & the Stooges classic, made for loud cheers from the crowd as Pop and his band followed it up almost immediately with fellow classic I Wanna Be Your Dog. Halfway during the track Iggy decided to take his leather jacket off, spending the rest of the show performing topless (as he’s best recognized). Set highlight The Passenger received the biggest sing-a-long of the whole show in what was a defining moment of the whole day. “Oh the passenger, he rides and rides” sang Pop as he bounded about stage filled to the brim with energy and enthusiasm. Perhaps there was a little bit of alcohol involved in that too, likely playing a part in the amount of expletives Pop shouted out. 1977 hit Lust for Life’s gritty riffs and straight up rock kept the pace flowing nicely, even if the set did experience a slight drop towards the middle. Stooges track 1969 featured later on, before a cover of Johnny O’Keefe & the Dee Jays’ Real Wild Child (Wild One) proved popular. The main set closed on Mass Production, before a four-song encore climaxed in a massive rendition of Neigbourhood Threat. Later that evening, the DJs responsible for the Teddy Widder’s Rabbit Radio party spun the song once more, with the whole tent singing along at the top of their voices and proving exactly how much a legend Pop is. Just like with Patti Smith’s set the day before, Pop proved that age is just a number and that he certainly still has more than enough energy to pull off a stellar set.
As the second day of Down the Rabbit Hole came to a close, it was very evident that the second edition of Down the Rabbit Hole is already far more successful than 2014’s debut edition. The final day continues with performances from Seasick Steve, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard and headliner The War on Drugs.
Click here for more pictures from Down the Rabbit Hole 2015.