Pinkpop vs. Best Kept Secret vs. Down the Rabbit Hole – The June Festival Report

June 2015 can easily go down as one of the best and busiest festival months in Dutch music history, with established behemoths such as Pinkpop dealing with the surge in popularity of contemporaries such as Best Kept Secret and Down the Rabbit Hole. All three of these festivals can be considered as the biggest in the country, all taking place in the space of three consecutive weekends. Alongside August’s Lowlands, these weekenders form what many now call the ‘Big Four’ of Dutch music festivals. All Things Loud was present for all three of the big June festivals, and so we’ve decided to put them all up against each other to see which one ultimately was the best. 

Featuring: Muse, Robbie Williams, Pharrell Williams, Elbow, The Script, Faith No More, Placebo, Avicii, Slash ft. Myles Kennedy & the Conspirators, George Ezra, Rise Against + more
Cancellations: Sam Smith, Foo Fighters

Pinkpop 2015 may not have lived up to the line-up of its preceding edition (which featured headliners The Rolling Stones, Arctic Monkeys & Metallica), yet it still managed to live up to expectations despite two huge cancellations. Vocalist Sam Smith pulled out of his slot ahead of the festival due to vocal issues, his 3fm Stage headline spot being filled up by Placebo. Sunday headliners Foo Fighters, however, cancelled one day before their show due to the unfortunate breaking of Dave Grohl’s leg. This gave little time for a suitable replacement, meaning that Pharrell Williams ended up as headliner. Pharrell may have had the hits, but his headline set ensured that Pinkpop had its weakest and most downbeat ending ever. That Pharrell seemingly didn’t know which city he was in also displeased the audience, even if many of them were overjoyed to hear him play the hits. Elsewhere, the spectacular Robbie Williams pulled off one of the best and most bombastic sets of the weekend, his superb show only being held back by Muse’s headline set in becoming the best performance of the weekend. Muse were well and truly the highlight of Pinkpop 2015, with the band returning to Landgraaf for the first time in 8 years on the back of new album Drones. Their show, which featured pyro, c02 and balloons in abundance, kicked off with the exuberant Psycho and culminated in a fierce
Knights of Cydonia, proving exactly why Muse are the best band in the world right now.

Positive Aspects
Although the line-up didn’t live up to 2014’s stellar quality, it still attracted plenty of visitors thanks to the big names. Even though two of these cancelled, the festival remained sold out and also featured Elbow, The Script, Faith No More and Avicii. These big names were ultimately a plus point for Pinkpop, proving that the Dutch festival can still attract huge names. Another positive aspect that Pinkpop had this year was its wide ranging variety of food and drink and offer, in particular in and around the Kalm aan Laan. This ensured that, if you weren’t interested in any music, you could go and find somewhere to relax and unwind.

Negative Aspects
The one main aspect which ultimately ended up costing Pinkpop was its lack of strong day programme. Whereas the likes of Haim, Twenty One Pilots and Biffy Clyro all filled up the afternoons last year, this year saw a majority of Dutch acts take over. One other issue which the festival had in regards to its line-up was the odd division of artists across stages. For example, the massive Faith No More were handed a mid-afternoon slot on the second stage, as opposed to a main stage slot which they’ve been used to across the rest of Europe.

Festival Top 15
15. East Cameron Folkcore; 14. Placebo; 13. Counting Crows; 12. Body Count ft. Ice-T; 11. Eagles of Death Metal; 10. Lonely the Brave; 9. Elbow; 8. John Coffey; 7. Peace; 6. Twin Atlantic; 5. Rise Against; 4. Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls; 3. Faith No More; 2. Robbie Williams; 1. Muse

Overall Mark:

Featuring: The Libertines, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Alt J, The Jesus & Mary Chain, The Vaccines, Royal Blood, Ride, A$ap Rocky, Temples + more
Cancellations: BADBADNOTGOOD

Even though Best Kept Secret didn’t achieve its aim of increasing their ticket sales, it didn’t stop them from putting out a strong line-up in both its headliners and day programme. From Alt J’s spectacular closing performance on Sunday night to the return of shoegaze heroes Ride and The Jesus and Mary Chain, Best Kept Secret had something for everyone. Alongside its commonplace mix of alternative rock and indie, the safari park-based festival also featured various exciting rap and hip hop courtesy of Future Brown, Typhoon and A$ap Rocky. The cherry on the cake came in the form of Best Kept Secret’s emphasis on new music. Two stages, THREE and FIVE, were purely dedicated to stellar performances from the likes of Alvvays, Eagulls and Outfit. All these great performances couldn’t have taken place in some old, dodgy industrial complex, though. Best Kept Secret takes place on the picturesque grounds of Hilvarenbeek’s Beekse Bergen safari park, one of the most beautiful festival surroundings you could ask for. The main stage, ONE, is positioned right next to water, meaning that you could easily take a dip whilst starting an underwater mosh pit during Marmozets. The great thing about Best Kept Secret is that, unlike the mainstream audience-baiting Pinkpop, it aims to attract people who truly love and are interested in good music. Best Kept Secret is, and most likely will always be, Holland’s best kept secret.

Positive Aspects:
Virtually everything about Best Kept Secret is special, from its line-up (which caters for everyone all at once) to atmosphere, and even the food on offer. The festival places a heavy emphasis on food, presenting a special food line-up each year which draws heavily on the more refined fields of catering. Its payment system is also very forward-thinking, replacing the traditional consumption coin with a cashless system which incorporates wristbands that you scan and load cash onto. This, as well as the hard plastic cups you can refill, mean that the festival site is extremely clean in comparison to other festivals. These aspects alone are what makes Best Kept Secret so unique.

Negative Aspects:
When you consider everything, it’s hard to find much wrong with Best Kept Secret. The only thing which really does dampen the festival experience is the long-winded walk from the festival entrance to the actual site.

Overall Mark:

Festival Top 15
15. Alvvays; 14. Sue the Night; 13. Ride; 12. Circa Waves; 11. First Aid Kit; 10. Future Islands; 9. Drenge; 8. Marmozets; 7. Johnny Greenwood & the London Contemporary Orchestra; 6. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds; 5. The Vaccines; 4. The Libertines; 3. Royal Blood; 2. Alt J; 1. Temples

Featuring: Damien Rice, Iggy Pop, The War on Drugs, Patti Smith & her Band Perform Horses, Ryan Adams, Roisin Murphy, Alabama Shakes, Seasick Steve + more

Completing a busy month of Dutch festivals was the Nijmegen weekender Down the Rabbit Hole, which forms a part of Lowlands Festival and aims itself at a more obscure, specific line up. Elements of ‘big brother’ Lowlands are everywhere, from the weekend-only tickets to only putting up tents and not using open air stages. The tents all vary in sizes, with the largest one (Hotot) fitting around 10,000 people. Compared to Pinkpop and Best Kept Secret, Down the Rabbit Hole’s line-up focuses on people who either, a) want to have a good time or b) place a great emphasis of their festival experience on discovering new music. The latter option is very important at Down the Rabbit Hole, with new music and obscure discoveries constantly around the corner. The likes of pop newcomers Børns, psych weirdos King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard and Swedish voodoo masters Goat all shone brightly last weekend, laying claim to all the hype that surrounded them. Alongside these musical discoveries, Down the Rabbit Hole was also full of other non-musical surprises. Areas such as Het Idyllische Veldje, Vuige Veld and the waterside Desperados boat all ensured that there was plenty to see and do, with the festival nightlife being filled with obscure indie discos and weird forest raves. Down the Rabbit Hole is the kind of festival you only go to if you want to combine a good time with proper, serious musical discoveries. Thankfully, Down the Rabbit Hole (almost) has it all.

Positive Aspects:
There’s always something to do at Down the Rabbit Hole. If crying your eyes out to the sound of Damien Rice doesn’t float your boat, you could literally go and dance on a floating boat. You’re also able to build your own raft, go for a swim and spend the day hula-hooping in the Vuige Veld. This abundance of things to do might sometimes mean that you’re too spoilt for choice, but most of the time it means that you’ve always got something to fall back on if your Plan A derails.

Negative Aspects:
Although Down the Rabbit in general is a pretty solid festival, its lack of food and drink on offer will always remain a problem. For example, if you’d want to get stuck in to a Black Angus burger, only one food stand would suit your tastes. The food and drink prices also held people back often, with one consumption coin amounting to 2,60eur. The fact that there would be just one (two, at a push) stand for a particular type of food meant that there were long queues for the most popular dishes, something which the festival could’ve acted better on.

Overall Mark:

Festival Top 15:
15. Roisin Murphy; 14. Natalie Prass; 13. Death From Above 1979; 12. The Cat Empire; 11. Dolomite Minor; 10. Alabama Shakes; 9. Birth of Joy; 8. Omar Souleyman; 7. Jungle by Night; 6. Børns; 5. Goat; 4. Patti Smith & her Band Perform Horses; 3. Iggy Pop; 2. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard; 1. Seasick Steve

So with all three festivals now accounted for, we can conclude that Best Kept Secret have come out on top and proved their worth as the best festival Holland has to offer. Down the Rabbit Hole’s tight programme and abundance of opportunity (both through the day and overnight) followed in at a close second, whereas Pinkpop Festival came in at third. Muse’s headline set at Pinkpop was still the best headline performance we’ve seen in a long time, though.

The Dutch festival season continues this weekend with PITCH, Metropolis, Woo Hah Festival.