The second day of Lowlands Festival came and went faster than you could tell Pharrell Williams which city he was actually playing in. With the lacklustre and nostalgia-leaning N.E.R.D atop the bill with little headline-worthy material to show for, it quickly became clear that the best things on offer in Biddinghuizen would take place earlier in the day on stages smaller than Williams’ ego. Jack Parker and Marc Prodanovic are in Biddinghuizen to bring you every single noteworthy moment.
LUWTEN’s dulcet tones are the perfect start to any festival, and if her track record is anything to go by then Biddinghuizen was more than in for just a treat. And that turned out to be the case, with Luwten absolutely mesmerising the morning India crowd as her serene vocal echoed through the tent and lightly indicated that people should slowly start waking up. Accordionist MARIO BATKOVIC attempted something similar on the Lima stage, yet instead of using serene instrumental combinations to his advantage he ensured that it was all about eye contact and intensity. The Accordion can be seen as quite a daunting instrument, regardless of how fun it eventually sounds when you’re at a local fair or if the neighbourhood drunk gets hold of one. Batkovic was neither; rather, he was a true showman, using his instrument to set a high bar for the rest of Lowlands’ second day. If acoustic singer songwriters of Accordion masters weren’t your things, then chances are that you went to the X Ray for your daily dose of grim post-hardcore. The UK’s EMPLOYED TO SERVE are an absolute powerhouse, a force to be reckoned with of sorts, so much so that stage security had to stand at a distance due to their extreme noise. Set opener Void Ambition set the tone for the coming forty-odd minutes, incorporating brutal vocals from Justine Jones alongside a pummelling instrumental accompaniment which bordered on the djent at times, often retreating and reverting back into relatively destructive metalcore. The mosh-happy crowd seemed to agree 100% with the music, despite there being a considerable amount of gaps scattered across the tin-like X Ray tent.
Not everyone likes metalcore, though, and that’s why God created soul. JACOB BANKS took on the Heineken stage in the early afternoon, utilising his powerfully gripping voice as a means of hypnotising the near-full tent. “New” album The Boy Who Cried Freedom ranks among his best, and live it’s not hard to see why. DEWOLFF took all of Jacob Banks’ soulful efforts and blew them up tenfold into a frazzled fusion of rock’n’roll and blues. The trio (accompanied by three backing singers) have long been a mainstay on the Dutch, successfully operating on an often familiar sonic formula which does little to reinvent but a lot to impress. If it ain’t broke then don’t fix it, right? Dutch rapper LEAFS used tight rhythms and grooves to his advantage as he conquered the India stage with effortless ease, once again proving that not only is Dutch hip hop at the top of its game, but also that Leafs himself has the potential to be Holland’s (and beyond) next big rap star. Now, let’s talk about GAVIN JAMES. The Irish troubadour is perhaps most recognised for his lighters-in-the-air anthem The Book of Love, yet his set on the Lowlands Alpha stage went against all the odds in proving that he’s more than just a one trick pony. Accompanied by a solid live band and his own trusty acoustic (a special mention must go out to techie Keith Killen here), James managed to keep the Alpha crowd in the palm of his hands. We’ll be honest and admit that, at the end of the day, James is still very much a by-numbers singer songwriter, but this didn’t take away from the fact that he played a great set which took more of a fun approach to the much fathomed world of singer-songwriters.
Do you, as a reader of this article in 2018, still like ska punk? Yes? Good, because then you’ll love GOGOL BORDELLO. The New York balkan ska punkers are masters of their trade, one which essentially boils down to having lots of fun and drinking shitloads at the same time. There’s nothing remotely special about their hyperactive ska punk, but there’s no denying that they know how to get the crowd up and raving like there’s no tomorrow. Just look at early set highlight Wanderlust King, to name but one of many examples: its tight mix of chanted lyrics, upbeat tempos and unrelenting frontman Eugene Hütz make the New Yorkers such a pleasure to watch live, preferably on the back of quite some strong alcohol. For those who left ska behind in the early 2000s, RHYE seemed the place to be. Just as with Jacob Banks, Rhye operated on a very soulful wavelength which did little to surprise but plenty to mesmerise. Not that everyone is meant to take to the stage with the intention of being a wonderful surprise, though. That’s unless your name is SOFI TUKKER, the surprise of the day. The duo – aptly named Sophie and Tucker – know how to get the party started with their frenetic blend of EDM and latin house, a combination so fruitful that it landed hit single Best Friend a spot on the FIFA soundtrack. This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, though, because Sofi Tukker are a perfect festival band who seem to have been born solely to serve this purpose. Sometimes it’s good to be a lot less serious and just have fun. Someone who didn’t seem to have much fun was SAM FENDER, a boy whose by-numbers radio indie packed out the Lima stage but didn’t wow those beyond the first three rows.
What you see is what you get, and with BONOBO that means you get a dreamy set which relies just as much on captivating visuals as it does on the London producer’s minimalist and progressive back catalogue. Oftentimes, acts like Bonobo seem too much of a hit and miss at festivals, something which often boils down to a set top-heavy with slow-jams, yet at Lowlands everything seemed to go right. It also went right for GRIZZLY BEAR, who battled the Heineken’s sparse crowds to still put on a show which showcased their best side. All these popular indie groups are all fair and well, but if you look at what really stood out then you’ll find yourself staring some incredibly solid rap and hip hop right in the face. Enter STORMZY, the London rapper whose lyrical genius and brilliant flow has made him one of the biggest names in modern day grime. It’s not difficult to understand why, especially if you take just one glance at his set on the Bravo stage in support of new album Gang Signs & Prayer. Show highlight Shut Up set the Bravo on metaphorical fire, demonstrating Stormzy’s ability to whip up a storm in front of even the toughest crowds. The same applies to Brooklyn’s batshit HO99O9, who emerged in wedding dresses and tore down the India to the sound of cuts from last year’s United States of Horror. There’s not a lot you can say about Ho99o9 without understanding the context of their crazy performances, but just picture this: Death Grips meets Bad Brains meets politically charged catharsis.
Remember DE STAAT? You know, the Dutch band who went viral with their CGI-defying Witch Doctor? Yes, them. Well, they’re back! Torre Florim and co. utilised their hour on the Alpha stage to showcase a handful of brand new songs from their as-yet-untitled new studio album, and if the opening salvo of tracks is anything to go by then you could suggest that the band made good use of their time on the road with Muse. Although untitled as yet, the new songs sounded like listening to the Teignmouth trio on acid in a haunted house, with a pinch of Florim’s own lyrical wit thrown into the mix for good measure. 2016’s O was a decent album, but nothing more. These new songs, though, have more promise than anything De Staat have ever done prior. Ok, moving on. We need to talk about how incredible NILE RODGERS & CHIC are. We all know Rodgers as the face behind some of the biggest hits of the last four decades, his guitar tone and production value unmistakable as he and his band Chic career on into the 21st century with a brand new studio album (It’s About Time, due next month). During their Bravo set, though, it was totally not about new music: it was about the hits, all of them. Everybody Dance kicked off proceedings, syncing straight into a salvo of some of Chic’s biggest tracks: I Want Your Love, Dance Dance Dance (Yowzah Yowzah Yowzah) and My Forbidden Lover. This was just, the beginning, though. A mid-set Diana Ross medley (featuring the impressive I’m Coming Out and Upside Down) raised the bar even higher than before, allowing for Rodgers and consorts to really capitalise on the massive crowd by injecting hit upon hit into the set. Sister Sledge’s We Are Family, He’s the Greatest Dancer and Lost in Music all featured in splendid fashion alongside Madonna’s Like a Virgin and a brief hint of Duran Duran, all of which made way for a truly memorable moment: Nile Rodgers’ announcement that was officially cancer free. He used this moment to talk about life and luck, before kicking into a trio of songs which sent the crowd home on an absolute high: Get Lucky, Le Freak and Good Times. The energy in the crowd was so electric that you could nearly physically feel it, and boy was it special. Nothing comes close to it, and it’s unlikely that anything else at Lowlands 2018 will. There are no words to describe the absolutely immense impact which Nile Rodgers has had on music, so let’s cut straight to the chase: Nile Rodgers is a literal god amongst men, a musician who (together with Chic) has made such a massive imprint on modern day pop music that it’s nearly impossible to imagine a world without him.
Over on the India stage, BØRNS took on a relatively sparse crowd and treated them to cuts from new album The Blue Madonna, a decent yet predictable record which sounds better suited to the live stage than it does to a recording studio. JAMES BAY experienced a similar phenomenon on the main stage, where he unveiled his brand new rockstar look with cuts from raw new album Wild Love. Early peak Pink Lemonade showcased Bay’s ability to still write a banger, even if he has ditched the aesthetic which sent him to the top of Spotify viral playlists a few years ago. THE LEMON TWIGS followed on the India, treating the crowd to cuts from upcoming album Go to School alongside a selection of cuts from debut album Do Hollywood. The brothers are now joined by a brand new live band whose members hail from across the world and each bring their all to the game. Previous The Lemon Twigs have been hit and miss, but their Lowlands show was most definitely a full-on hit. The same applies to RICHIE HAWTIN, whose Close show on the Bravo stage saw him hit a new level of notoriety in front of an audience which hasn’t always been totally receptive to the producer. MILES KANE headlined the Heineken stage around the same time, setting the crowd on fire to cuts from brand new album Coup de Grace, a record which puts Kane right back on top form following a spell with buddy Alex Turner in the Last Shadow Puppets. Alex may now be back in the spotlight with his primary band Arctic Monkeys, but that hasn’t stopped Kane from learning a thing or two about showmanship from the Sheffield native. Speaking of spotlights, has anyone seen Pharrell Williams out of one lately? His set with the new reunited N.E.R.D. seemed morel like a new episode of the Pharrell Williams show as opposed to the N.E.R.D. set many had hoped for and – to be very frank – expected.
N.E.R.D. brought a big part of the day’s line-up to a close, but that wasn’t before a blistering night programming featuring the likes of FLOATING POINTS, PEGGY GOU and audiovisual wonder SOPHIE sent various pockets of Biddinghuizen into their own self-contained frenzies. A solid second day, one which was most definitely spearheaded by the legend that is Nile Rodgers.
Lowlands concludes today with sets by Patti Smith, Kendrick Lamar and King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard.