Following two extremely successful preceding days, the second edition of Down the Rabbit Hole finally came to an end in what turned out to be the strongest musical day of the weekend. It saw the introduction of many new bands who are more than likely to make it big in the future, as well as the first ever headline slot that The War on Drugs have played. Read on for a full round-up of day three.
The final day kicked off 12pm sharp with a powerful performance in the Fuzzy Lop from stars in-the-making Børns, fronted by the treehouse-bound Michigan native Garrett Borns. Their music is a far cry from some of the more obscure and inaccessible music which featured on the Fuzzy Lop, rather opting for a sickly sweet, pop-oriented approach to their catchy electro indie. The bar was set high from the off as the live quintet kicked off with popular single 10,000 Emerald Pools. “I’m diving deeper, deeper for you” sang Borns before a huge chorus saw his voice wail through the tent. The rest of the track made for a more low-key affair, with its surf-rock guitars and subtle synthesizers underpinning Borns’ unique voice. Newer single Electric Love picked up the pace substantially and saw the first people start moving and singing along. “Baby you’re like lightning in a bottle” sang Borns ahead of a massive, radio-ready pop chorus, before Seeing Stars lent further towards a side of electro which was more in vein with contemporaries Chvrches. If their set was anything to go by, then Børns are going to be the next big thing. There’s still a long way to go, with Børns’ debut album set to drop later this year. Americana folk singer-songwriter Natalie Prass followed in the Fuzzy Lop, using her set to live up to all the hype that has surrounded her in the last months. She’s already performed on Later with Jools Holland and has been signed to Matthew E White’s Space Bomb label, with her Down the Rabbit Hole set drawing a huge crowd. Ahead of her arrival, she asked the stage announcer to present her with a poem onstage, something which made Prass extremely happy when carried out. She ran onstage smiling, instantly making the crowd laugh with her broken Dutch. “Watskebeurt” she slyly said, in reference to De Jeugd van Tegenwoordig’s hit of the same name. Set opener Your Fool’s simple blues-meets Americana structure incorporated handclap-beats and subtle backing brass, making for a strong start to the set. Popular track Bird of Prey followed swiftly, its jazzy piano and bass combo adding a flair of swagger to proceedings. Prass also covered songs by Anita Baker and Janet Jackson consecutively during her short set, making way for standout track Why Don’t You Believe In Me. Natalie Prass may be the latest in a long line of up-and-coming singer-songwriters, but it’s her voice which makes her stand out more than anything.
Over on the Hotot stage, it was time for the day to start off with nothing less than a party. Amsterdam instrumental collective Jungle by Night opened the main stage with a 45-minute set of energetic afrobeat and funk lifted straight out of a downtown Nairobi nightclub. The band, a nine-piece, enjoy nothing more than getting everyone up on their feet by means of plenty of brass, percussion and movement. Set closer Attila made for the high-point in the set as their hit single was extended to ensure that everyone went absolutely crazy. The brass intertwined effortlessly with upbeat percussion as the trumpet melody took to the helm during the free-flowing ‘verse’ sections, before everything came together all at once. Jungle by Night are by no means a conventional band, and this lack of boundary that they operate within is exactly what makes them so unpredictable and fun. Thoughtful indie rockers Other Lives followed on the Teddy Widder stage, with their In Rainbows-era Radiohead-influenced rock drawing a considerable crowd. New album Rituals was drawn from heavily as frontman Jesse Tabish’s vocals sprawled in and out of consciousness throughout the set. A variety of instruments made an appearance throughout the set, including Jonathon Mooney’s trumpet and violin. Other Lives are not a conventional indie rock band by any means, their music sounding ever so much like Radiohead by the listen. That means it isn’t too surprising to hear that they’ve opened for the Oxford behemoths before, and that Thom Yorke has remixed Other Lives’ Tamer Animals in the past. Although their set was good musically, the energy did seem to be considerably void from the band themselves. There was so much focus on the actual music that the band almost entirely forgot about the crowd. This lack of energy or enthusiasm was a slight damper on an otherwise tight set.
Scottish hip hop trio Young Fathers took their Mercury award winning album Dead to the Fuzzy Lop, kicking off the set with a dark and brooding rendition of No Way. “AK-17 take my brethren straight to heaven” sang the trio simultaneously as they proceeded to showcase new record White Men Are Black Men Too. Whereas their music sounds devoid of any energy on record, their live show was considerably more upbeat and obscure than you’d expect. Alloysious Massaquoi’s weird vocal tone saw him stationed permanently behind the mic whilst fellow vocalist Kayus Bankole took it upon himself to venture nearer to the barrier. Their set may not have demonstrated exactly why Young Fathers deserved to win a Mercury award, but it did showcase their formidable energy and live prowess. The trio (plus one live percussionist) incorporate a whole range of vocal effects and a stellar lightshow to add a dark and grisly feel to the live scenario. Whether or not they’ll be the saviours of a genre well and truly swallowed up by the mainstream remains to be seen, but the signs are looking good. Back on the Hotot stage, minimal multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird and his band played their first show of the summer. New album Echolocations: Canyon was released earlier this year and its minimal, demure songs saw Bird take to the stage and kick off with a solemn, violin-led musical section. The majority of the set was very low key, perhaps not translating very well to a large tent such as the Hotot. Bird would’ve definitely been more in his element had they swapped him with Other Lives on the Teddy Widder (ensuring that his set was back-to-back with fellow minimalist Max Richter). One band who didn’t have any problems in keeping the crowd interested were Dutch trio Birth of Joy. Their Teddy Widder set absolutely tore the tent apart thanks to straight-to-the-point garage rock. The lack of a live bassist was made up for Gertjan Gutman’s Hammond organ skills, and was only further emphasized by Bob Hogenelst’s pounding drums. Hogenelst is the first ever person to graduate from the pop department of the Amsterdam conservatory with a perfect 10, and it wasn’t hard to see why. New live album Live at Ubu may be a perfect example of why the band are so sublime live, yet you still have to see it for yourself to believe all the hype. Standout track Prisoner ripped through the PA as frontman Kevin Stunnenberg’s voice soared through the tent. Birth of Joy will play the biggest show of their career so far at the Paradiso this coming December, and it’s a show which they have well and truly deserved to play.
Later on in the day, Che Sudaka had a go at starting another party in the Hotot, albeit with less success than Jungle by Night. The quintet, founded by illegal South American immigrants in Barcelona, have all the musical ingredients for a mestizo party, yet there was still something lacking – a proper rhythm section. The percussive and rhythmic elements of Che Sudaka’s music were all courtesy of a laptop, something which took away the ‘real’ element contemporaries and frontrunners La Pegatina revel in. This lack of physical rhythm section made for an ‘off’ feeling during the set, almost as if the fun was not as fun but more staged. Frontman Leo’s mainly rapped vocals added an upbeat element to the set, which was complemented nicely in places by fast Spanish guitars and accordion. Che Sudaka are by no means a boring band, yet the lacking rhythm section is still holding them back from being the band that they could’ve been. Back on the Fuzzy Lop stage, though, it was time for something truly weird – Australian septet King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard. If the band name wasn’t weird enough, then the rest will completely bedazzle you. King Gizzard consist of two drummers, three guitarists, a harmonica player and a frontman who also doubles up as flutist. Their fuzz-laden psych blues is exactly what we expect from Australian bands, with King Gizzard’s music taking a newer spin on fellow Australians Pond and Tame Impala. Walking onstage to a remix of Lord of the Rings’ They’re Taking the Hobbits to Isengard, the band immediately kicked into a sprawling, 15-minute long opening salvo of I’m In Your Mind, I’m Not In Your Mind, Cellophane and I’m In Your Mind Fuzz.
On record (2014’s I’m In Your Mind Fuzz), all four songs are conjoined, which means that their live performance is turned into one long song with no beginning, middle or end. “Everybody’s lazy when they’re tired” rang the first lyrics of the opening track, yet King Gizzard were by no means lazy nor tired. Their boundless energy for the duration of this opening salvo was enough to set the scene for an absolutely crazy set. Both drummers, who were positioned in front of the actual band, seemed at war as they attempted to find out who could drum the fastest and hardest. Frontman Stu took out his flute towards the end of I’m In Your Mind Fuzz, only adding to the oddness and obscurity of the set. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard are exactly what music want and need, with the band ticking all the boxes in how to make a truly magical experience out of something. The tent was absolutely packed, and it’s not exactly hard to see why.
Back on the Hotot, it was time for sub-headliner Seasick Steve, the unstoppable 74 year old blues rock cult legend. Steve arrived onsite a day early and spent the whole of Saturday soaking up the atmosphere across the festival site, so much so that spotting him somewhere became commonplace. His stage set-up was fairly simple, encompassing merely a beaten up drum kit and a wooden chair for Steve to sit on. He was welcome with open arms as he took the stage, opening his hour-long set with the bluesy Thunderbird. Between songs, Seasick Steve had plenty of stories to tell the crowd which are all related to the following song and have some sort of connection to his personal life. Barracuda 68 was, as Steve joked, about a barracuda and “not knowing much about what happened in 1968”. This sparked laughter from the crowd as the clearly drunk musician stormed through a powerful set which drew an even bigger crowd than headliners The War on Drugs. Don’t Know Why She Love Me But She Do saw him pull a young girl out of the crowd, serenading her with the slow-paced ballad. “All you gotta do is pretend that these people in the crowd aren’t here, and that I’m 50 years younger” he joked to the girl, before taking out time ahead of Keep On Keepin’ On to make a motivational speech about following your dreams. At the age of 74, Steve has reached his peak quite late, but it didn’t stop him from spending his whole life trying. He’s the perfect example who spent his whole life working towards getting what he wanted, and now that he’s got, he couldn’t be happier. Once the set ended, Steve went down into the crowd and walked along the barrier thanking people and cheering along with them. The cheering went on for a long time, proving exactly why people love Seasick Steve so, so much. If only the same could be said for Norwegian three-piece Motorpsycho, whose long, drawn-out 90-minute Fuzzy Lop set only saw people leave throughout. If these people were genuinely leaving to go see headliners The War on Drugs remains the question, because even the Adam Granduciel-fronted rockers struggled to attract a huge crowd. This isn’t much of a surprise when you consider that Down the Rabbit Hole was The War on Drugs’ first ever festival headline slot. Opening their set with the dreamy Burning, Granduciel and co. went on perform seven more songs from most recent studio album Lost in the Dream, which came out last year. The album features one of 2014’s best songs in Red Eyes, a track which couldn’t sound more like a dreamier Bruce Springsteen if it tried. It was by far the best received song of the whole show, its massive melody and hypnotic synths intertwining blissfully. Other than that, though, The War on Drugs didn’t go further than putting on a half-decent headline set. When you look at previous headliners Damien Rice and Iggy Pop (as well as The Black Keys, Damon Albarn and Foals last year), The War on Drugs seem to be a booking made on the back of one successful album which
doesn’t translate well into a space as big as the Hotot. Set closer Your Love is Calling My Name ensured that the show ended on an eerily hypnotic note as reverb and feedback accompanied their departure from the stage. Although it was rather packed in the first half of the tent, the rest of the crowd (i.e. beyond the sound desk) were almost non-existent. For a first attempt at headlining a festival, The War on Drugs did a decent job. However, there is still plenty of room for growth to ensure that they’ll become a more seasoned headline act in the future.
Once the ‘proper’ music line-up ended, it was up to festivalgoers to go find their own fun. Although a lot of people already packed up and left throughout the day, a sizeable chunk of people still descended upon the festival nightlife areas for one last bit of revelry. The best thing to happen all night occurred within the confines of the Vuige Veld’s metal cage, as The Deaf duo Spike and Mau spun all sorts of rock and indie tracks for a mental crowd. Two women dressed as erotic rabbits paraded around the decks as crowdsurfers, stagedivers and confetti cannons appeared seemingly out of nowhere. Elsewhere, a hidden onsite forest opened its gates for one last secret escapade (Friday night saw a secret rave set from De Staat) where the only thing you could expect was the unexpected. These ‘extra’ elements which counter the actual music are what makes Down the Rabbit Hole so unique. Alongside the three main stages, you could dance the night away on an iron boat, sit inside a massive whale and watch movies, improvise around a campfire or even build your own raft. Down the Rabbit Hole is truly a festival which takes all sorts, so let’s keep our fingers crossed that it can only get bigger and better.