Nothing But Thieves

LOWLANDS 2023: Beats & Groove Take the Helm, But It’s Still the Bands Who Come Out on Top

Sometimes the best festival discoveries are the ones you didn’t even know existed a few hours beforehand. At Lowlands Festival, the Dutch weekender was full of such examples, most notably so Water From Your Eyes‘ beautifully abrasive songs, They Hate Change‘s energy and plenty more. We spent the entire weekend scouring the festival terrein for the best of the rest, both old and new.

Some 60,000 visitors descended on Biddinghuizen this weekend, tasting the immense variety of entertainment Lowlands has to offer alongside its six music stages. Dutch artist and former Eurovision contestant S10 kicked off the day on the church-like Bravo stage, commandeering a sizeable crowd with little difficulty as we’ve come to expect. The Haunted Youth have been one of Belgium’s success stories in recent years, defying the doubters early on by proving that the Bravo stage was by no means too big for them. With the tent packed beyond its means, Joachiem Liebens and his band took the crowd on a shoegaze pop-filled adventure that never seemed to let up. Highlight Teen Rebel cemented his status as one of the most exciting artists to come out of Belgium since, well…Balthazar? Over on the Alpha stage, Joost smashed it as per. It was around this part of the afternoon that New York’s Water From Your Eyes took the stage in support of new album Everyone’s Crushed (out on Matador). Although they didn’t pull a full crowd to the intimate Lima stage, the duo still pulled off the most impressive set of the day. Equal parts abrasive and beautiful, Water From Your Eyes managed to become the highlight of Lowlands’ first day whilst going under the radar for a good 98% of visitors. Case in point: Barley‘s nonchalant energy transforming into a sonic powerhouse. Case closed.

Nothing But Thieves delivered an incredibly solid headline set over on the Alpha stage moments earlier, drawing heavily from new album Dead Club City and demonstrating exactly why they were billed so high in the first place. Some eight years after their first appearance, Conor Mason and co. have still got it. Speaking of those who still have itPusha T left no stone unturned in his quest for greatness after pulling off similarly impressive shows at the Paradiso in Amsterdam earlier this week. Headliners of the night Underworld do exactly what they say on the tin (ie: bedazzle crowds), with it up to Aussie hellraisers Amyl & the Sniffers to tear up an unfortunately sparse Heineken tent.

The Lowlands Saturday took everything which made the Friday musically exciting and threw a load more on top. As was standard across the board this weekend, the biggest crowds were pulled by the artists who put on the biggest parties, jazz outfit Ezra Collective hammering this home with an early afternoon set which was just fun, fun, fun. The opposite of fun turned out to be the stunning yet eerily demure Boygenius, an absolute highlight of the entire weekend. The supergroup (consisting of Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker) had the Bravo crowd in the palm of their hands for the best part of an hour, seamlessly merging indie folk and grungier elements with beautiful harmonies. Their spot on the line-up was relatively early in comparison to other festivals (early afternoon vs. evening headliners), but that didn’t matter a thing to the trio’s fanbase. Over on the renovated X-Ray stage, Texas’ Liv.e battled a small crowd and ultimately came out victorious.

There was a lot of uncertainty as to whether or not Viagra Boys would make it to Biddinghuizen, having cancelled a show in France two days earlier through illness. But lo and behold, Sebastian Murphy and co. made it to Lowlands, bringing their absolute A-game in the process. Murphy expressed his gratitude at feeling amazing, after having spent six days “shitting and crying“. He didn’t hold back in between songs, sharing stories about nebula’s and the solar system before he and his band launched into a barrage of frantic post-punk. Viagra Boys’ live show does exactly what you expect, and then some, with highlights Ain’t Nice and Shrimp Shack sending a decently filled Heineken tent into a frenzy. Aussie hellraisers King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard watched the entire show from the side of the stage, before causing carnage of their own as Bravo headliners a mere two hours later. Stu Mackenzie and co.’s hour long set leant heavily on music released in the last eighteen months, opening on a triple whammy of songs from May’s Petrodragonic Apocalypse. Gila Monster, Converge and Witchcraft formed a sonic three punch knock out, with Oskar from Viagra Boys joining on sax later on for the monster jam Hypertension and proggy behemoth Magma. You never know what to expect from King Gizzard, with their third Lowlands appearance the heaviest and most captivating yet. Saturday’s nightlife featured the likes of Job Jobse and Avalon Emerson.

As the temperatures rose, so did the amount of interesting acts on Lowlands’ final day. A day which was notably full of contrasts: exciting, tastemaking bands playing for sparse crowds, and beat-driven bands with packed audiences. They Hate Change fell somewhere in the middle of this, filling the X-Ray to a decent extent but giving what might have been the show of their lives. One to watch, without a doubt. They raised the bar so high that Lancey Foux‘s set on the India stage afterwards fell flat and was honestly just a massive disappointment. At one point, Foux nearly set himself on fire after not quite clocking the fact that he had his own pyro during the first song. It was entertaining, but for the wrong reasons. Franc Moody packed out the Heineken with lilting, funky soul that was reminiscent of fellow Londoners Jungle, unfortunately forcing Dry Cleaning to play in front of far too small a crowd in the India tent, despite giving a great show. Turnstile – one of the hypes of the weekend – hit epic proportions in the Bravo, the only gripe being that it was far too big a stage for the band. There was too much room to move around the audience for a band who thrive on sweaty masses. Newest album GLOW ON is a near-masterpiece, and live its songs are elevated even higher. The final day of Lowlands 2023 was headlined by Billie Eilish, whose show may have been predictable but still a sight to behold. She’s come a long way since her last appearance in Biddinghuizen, and it shows in her immense growth. And if Billie wasn’t your cup of tea, then at least you had the choice between Moderat and Heilung.

Lowlands is one of the Netherlands’ most iconic and longstanding festivals, having now reached a point where it sells out within twenty minutes or less year after year. It may have turned into quite the corporate affair (let’s not start on the prices), but unlike its big early summer competitor Pinkpop, there really is something for everyone at every single moment of the day. 24 hours a day, quite literally. If you go to Lowlands and come home bored, then you’ve been doing it wrong.