Caroline Godin, my good friend from Canada today had her going away party. With around 25 other exchangers, we all travelled to Waregem. After the typically long train rides around Belgium, we arrived there to meet her and her awesome host father who had a legit Pedo-van that we all climbed inside and off we were to stock up and head off to her house. I almost tripped with excitement when I arrived at the house and I saw a fully set up drum kit, along with a decent guitar. The host sister who I eventually had a conversation soaked with music with played all these, and had for a while. So that’s what I did when I arrived there, was to give the drums a good thrash. We went down in the garden, and there was a sound system, a trampoline, and a tent for all our stuff to shield it from the unpredictable Belge weather.
That’s where we basically were for the afternoon, just having catch-ups and reflecting on the times we’d had with Caro. It was pretty sad for her, because she left the next day, so it was her last night with exchangers. As
night came, the conversations turned into drinking games, and we built a campfire and sang campfire songs around it. Some people headed off to bed around 12, but a small group of around 8 of us lasted until we saw the sun coming, which is when we thought it was probably time to get some sleep. Because we couldn’t be bothered finding a bed inside, a few of us slept outside. No tent, no pillow, just a few rugs and sleeping bags. It reminded me so much of when I’d been camping in NZ, or when I’d slept outside on occasions. The next day had a nice slow start, and after a bit of a clean-up, we all headed back to the gare, and said our goodbyes before a last team pic.
ROCK WERCHTER !!!!
Literally could not contain my excitement as I headed out in the early hours of the morning to Leuven, where one of the most well-known and biggest music festivals in Europe was about to go down. Four days of some of the biggest names in music performing live across 3 stages….. This was my scene. Today was the hardest of them
all, lugging all the gear all the way to Leuven, across 2 different trains, and having to wait in massive ques of festival-goers to wait your turn for the bus. But not was all bad, as while I was waiting in line, I befriended 4 dudes that came from the Netherlands. They spoke great English, and shared their amazing ice-cold beer with me. We decided to camp together, and so for the next 4 days we all camped out together in the same spot. With around 90,000 people at the festival, the majority camped on-site, and this requirement of space meant that there were massive camping grounds in which to base camp, and not too far from the festival either.
So after we’d unpacked, we headed to the festival, where I met Emma. From there we got in the very front for the “All American Rejects”. They were great, and if the frontman wasn’t on some kind of drugs, I’ll be danmed. But it didn’t affect his performance negatively at all. They started with “dirty little secret”, and proceeded to play all the well known ones, ending with “Gives you hell”. I was on the massive festivals screens during
“it ends tonight”, and so in a few months I’m going to check the uploads from rock Werchter (because every year they record and produce live music videos of all the main acts from Werchter) on YouTube, and see if I’m there with my flag.
After this, we headed off to see Cyprus hill, who were really well suited live. During them, Rise Against was playing, and we made their last few songs which were of course hard and fast. Blink 182 was after them, and the members were so immature, it was hilarious. They played all their classics, and all the time making sexual references and jokes that defined their type of live charisma. After this was Netsky at another stage. But it was different from when I saw them last year at RnV, because for one of the first times ever, they had a full live band, and not just a DJ set (some guy on the decks). The drummer of course got a massive work out, playing an hour of fast and accurate drum and Bass, and the guys on the synths were loving it, and you could tell that they weren’t just a studio band
after all. Skream ft. Sgt Pokes was after them, and Sgt Pokes was his usual crowd-raising self, working and moving the crowd in a way that not many other front men can do. After this, almost everyone in the festival came to see Skrillex, who had the coolest, most original set I’ve ever seen. He’d prepared awesome graphic illustrations to go along with his music, and he blended some of his most well-known songs together seamlessly that gave his performance a polished feel. We walked out of the three acts sweaty and disgusting, and heavily dehydrated because of the fact we stayed at the front for all three and had not water or sitting breaks.
What followed were after-parties at the camp ground, where we found other groups of people from all over the place.
Waking up, sticky hands from spilt beer and dehydrated, the shower line looking impossible, we washed our faces and hands from taps we found, and this trend would continue over the next few days, with there being literally no time or opportunity to take a shower at the camping ground. I found my way to Morgan, Karamea and Jennas tents to
try scam some breakfast, which was Nutella on bread. When after a good afternoon of chilling, we finally made it to the concert, we saw Jack White who was a great frontman, and played all his hits from “Steady as she goes”, “Seven nation army”, and “sixteen saltines”. The next band we saw was Deadmau5, a Canadian DJ who is really well known for his mouse themes and electro house music. I was expecting better than was delivered to be honest. Maybe it’s because Skrillex the day before set my standards too high for electronic music, but many of his drops and choices of mixes weren’t really well placed in my opinion. And from talking to other people who’d gone to the same show, they generally felt the same that they were expecting much better from him. But never the less it was a great day, the majority of which we spend chilling out and listening to random bands we didn’t really know play.
Today’s morning was a replay of last nights, and the whole camping site looked like a beer-can, paper, random-articles-of-clothing bomb had just gone off. There was stuff EVERYWHERE. To combat the problem of too much plastic waste on the ground at Werchter, the organisers did a really smart thing. If you collected 20 empty plastic cups from the ground and handed them in, you got a free drink of your choice from the bar. As you could find 20 just like *that*, everyone was doing it, and the park stayed reasonably clean. There was no such initiative at the camping, and the general filth pits around just grew expedientially until the last day. But today was a super hot one, so we all slapped on some sunscreen, and headed off to Leuven for the day. So basically what happened is that there were busses all the time from Leuven to Werchter (where the festival actually was), and we could take it for free to and from. Genius. There we stocked up on alcohol, had some danm nice McDonalds after two days of cold, non-perishable food. There we relaxed in the awesome weather waiting for the concert to start.
We headed back at around 3:00, when Noah and the Whale was starting. I’d never heard of them before this, and I was impressed by how great they were. Really catchy songs from a 7 piece band, and with a really unique singer and a general good band presence. Definitely going to download some of their stuff once I get home. After them was Wolfmother, who when they played “joker and the Thief”, the crowd just sang their lungs out to it. Remembering that English is NOT the main language here. Dutch is, then English, then probably French. They were wild too, running around the stage and playing all sorts of awesome looking guitars, like a white Gibson Les Paul, with two necks. After them was Ben Howard on another stage, so there we went. Another guys I didn’t really know a hell of a lot about, other than a few songs. But he had mad skills for progressive blues playing, and a great strong voice. As usual, he played an hour set list, which to his stronger fans I’m sure wasn’t enough. That’s the one thing that sucks about festivals. The artists you’ve waited to see for almost the whole of your musically mature life, only can play the equivalent of one album, when they might have 5. So they cheery-pick the most well-known songs to play, which despite the fact seeing them live is incredible for any true fan, the inevitable fact that they’ll leave out ones the real fans really want to hear is ever-present.
We hurried off early to get in the front of the mosh pit for one of the highlights of the festival, Mumford and Sons. By going early, we caught the better songs of Kasabian, who were pretty good too. Nevertheless, we got really close for Mumford and sons, and after waiting the necessary 45 mins for a set and amp/drums/lights change, out they came. Marcus (the lead singer/guitarist) had broken his right hand three weeks earlier, and they were considering cancelling. Luckily they found a replacement guitarist, and the show was amazing. All their well-known songs were brought out, and they even gave little stories of some of the more well-known songs before playing them. The fact that they didn’t take themselves too seriously was evident, and the resultant sound was, with lack of other adjectives, honest.
The next act we saw, (after a drinks and relax break), was Regina Spektor. Another that I hadn’t heard of before, she played piano and sang with a small group of another pianist, a viola, and drums. The awesome thing she did, that I thought was breath-taking, was an acapella vocal piece at the start of her set, using her fingers to beat a heart-beat on the grill of the microphone, she sang a bluesy sounding number reminiscent of muddy waters, using just her fingers and her voice. I’d never seen anything like it before, and judging by the sheer applause she won from it, I’m guessing neither had a lot of other people.
About half way through her set, I left her show to go off on my own agenda, to a band I’d literally waited around 8 years to see. Getting there early, I immediately recognised the stock-standard set up this band always used. The Pair of Mesa/Boogie Lonestars (with 2x12 cabs), the DJ decks with a Macbook Pro attached, The clear drum sets, with all drums low-set, and of course the big ol’ Bass rig. I fought to get to the already full place, despite the fact they didn’t come out for another 45 mins. Time passed, and finally the lights dimmed, and a sweepy guitar sound filled the room. Then out strolled Incubus. Mikey with his Musicman, Ben with classic black rimmed glasses, and Brandon with an easily removable shirt on. Jose was a little late coming on, but he played the drums like no other. This was the reason I came to the festival. As I said earlier, it really sucked they only had an hour to play, because they could only sneak in “adolescents” and “switchblade” off their new record. Other songs they did was Drive, Made for TV Movie, Love Hurts, Pardon Me, A Kiss To Send Us Off, Anna Molly, Megalomaniac, Talk Shows on Mute and Nice To Know You. Coming to their last song, even knowing they hadn’t played ones like Stellar, I Miss You, Circles, Aqueous Transmission, Summer Romance, and so many others, I was wondering what they’d finish on. They made my night when instead of playing Wish You WereHere, they played the really underground song Sick Sad Little World, which live is around 9 minutes long. Basically this was the highlight of my entire weekend. After watching almost every concert recorded of them on YouTube, being able to see them live was amazing, and I made sure I was completely sober so I could fully take in everything coming at me musically.
Going from here I went to The Editors, and then finally a full, live version of Chase and Status was on show at the main stage for around an hour. After this we went and found food, and headed back to the after-parties at the campsite.
This was the biggest day of the festival, and people came from all across the country, holding “I Need a Ticket” signs on the road, in hope of finding someone who needed to sell their ticket for the last day last minute. We kind-of tidied up our hole of a campsite in the morning, and then taking a few luke-warm beers into the concert, we sat down and watched The Vaccines, and a little of The Dropkick Murphies, who do the intro song to nitro circus. Then we went to the barn to see Die Antwoord, who was his normally weird-as-hell self. After this, Jack and I headed off to see Ed Sheeran, who I also didn’t know much about. He turned out to be one hell of a great performer. After the festival I researched him a bit more, and he’s HUGE. Couldn’t really understand why I hadn’t heard of him until now, but I was happy I did. Anyway, he played a full set with just him, his guitar, and a clever vocal/instrumental looper that he could lay down bass melodies and vocal harmonies, and then cut and re-enter them back into the mix when he pleased. He also did a cool exercise when he used the audience like a choir, and chose two different melodies (5ths apart…) for both sides of the audience to sing. As difficult as this may sound for un-musically trained people to understand and to stay with their parts, it worked great after a while, and definitely taught me that crowd involvement is a great tool to use, and this unique approach is definitely an effective one.
We hurried out a little early in order to get a good spot for Florence + The Machine. After a few complications, we got JUST outside the gating system for the mosh pit (a new initiative, which actually works well if you need to get out of the mosh quickly for any reason), which meant we had to wait until the next act before we got in. Well out she came in a long black, flowly dress with ends attached to things she wound around her middle finger, which made her drastic, near mesmeric movements all the more graceful and elegant. She sang with near perfect vocal pitch, and the use of a full size harp in her band was the highlight for me. After she finished, we finally got in and eagerly awaited the arrival of Snow Patrol, the next on the list. They finally came out, and among the screams, Gary (lead singer) humbly stated the fact that he himself was so excited to see the RHCP play live, and that he was basically the warm-up act. They kicked off the set with well known songs all round, with a few off the new record of course. They were also near impeccable live. But not being a major fan, I could only sing along to a few.
Last of all, and for many people the highlight of the festival, was the Red Hot Chilli peppers. They had a massive array of professional recording for them, and there were people literally suspended up by the lights with cameras to capture the madness. The one dommage of the concert, was the absence of widely celebrated lead guitarist of the Chilis for years, John Frusciante. His replacement guitarist Josh Klinghoffer was actually really impressive, though he couldn’t fill the massive shoes John left behind when he left in late 2009. However, Flea (the bassist) was an absolute riot, and he was all the time cracking jokes, saying weird as things, and just slapping his signature “flea-bass” bass like no other. Of course they did work from their new album, but having a one and a half hour set list, they covered all the well known ones, and even gave two encores. It truly was a once in a lifetime experience, and I’m so happy I got to see them while they’re still around. Some of them are looking pretty old now, not that you’d hear it in the music though…
After that wrapped up, it was just gone 12. This sucked bad, as other nights it went much later, and everyone was still pumped from the Chilli’s. Also, all the food and drink stalls sneakily closed during the RHCP, a shitty move from the Organisers, because most people were intending to have a drink and eat after the Chillis, but they couldn’t. Our remaining tickets were rendered useless. What these two things resulted in were fires all over the festival grounds, and general hysteria. From here we moved back to the campground, found some Belges to party with, and found more excuses not to sleep.
Today started with a tiring pack up off all our stuff, and a weary walk to the train station to wait for the trains. It did mean that very soon we’d have fresh food, showers, comfortable beds, and complete comfort again. On the train back, I slept most of the way, and it just sank in how lucky I was to be able to go see so many great live acts at Werchter. Another unforgettable moment of my exchange for sure, and an experience I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Upon getting home, I had three priorities. To shower, eat, and sleep. And I did just that.
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