The Chats, Weval + Fontaines D.C. are equally strong on the first day of the Netherlands' Lowlands Festival 2019
Cai Trefor
15:02 17th August 2019

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Dutch music festival Lowlands is off to a monumental start, with performances from De Staat, Weval, The Chats and Fontaines D.C. the highlights.

The festival site in Biddinghuizen, an hour from Amsterdam, starts filling up on Thursday with every inch of grass coated in cheap tents or more luxury glamping spaces. It’s an annual blowout vibe, with people cracking open cans as soon as they wake up, and eager to see some of the biggest acts on the planet. Day tickets aren’t sold and the rambunctiousness of the occasion serves Aussie punk band The Chats very well on Friday (16 Aug).

It may only be 3pm when they’re playing their set, but that doesn’t stop a constant stream of pints being flung, crowd surfing and scrappy little moshpits flaring up. The band revel in it: “Well this is fun isn’t it?” says guitarist Josh Price. The Sunshine Coast band’s in between song patter is part of their appeal: the way The Chats introduce songs is deadpan, blunt and they seem genuinely a little bit twisted, in a good way. Songs are about going on a smoke break (‘Smoko’), STI’s, disease, their “scumbag” acquaintance in Queensland. The lyrics are of a stoner punk humour and delivered in their heavy Aussie accent with the singer’s ginger mullet a feature. They’re caricatures, maybe. But perhaps aren’t acting; they seem genuinely like uncompromising, feral music loving guys.

Next up for me is Ireland’s Fontaines D.C. – an act that cleaned up at the annual fill-yer-trolly-with-bands-for your-stage showcase event Eurosonic in Holland this year, and have been incredibly hyped all 2019. It’s easy to shed scorn on an act who are popular so quickly it feels artificial and marketing driven, and at first I’m a little sceptical, thinking people must be caught up in the hype, and hindsight 20/20 will prove otherwise. But Fontaines D.C. do seem like a band who will be around for a long time and earned their spot. The drawled poetic lyrics of villainish moody frontman Grian Chatten underpinned by stylish post-punk basslines, atmospheric and hard-hitting valve-driven guitars and a very intriguing drummer is powerful. The bearded drummer Tom Coll is very much in the zone and his calm expression is juxtaposed with a fierce pounding sound that is the lifeblood of this band. The kick drum goes right through your body. Sonically, it’s an engineering triumph and a handshake from the singer to the sound man upon exiting is an indication perhaps he felt it went well. The Chats guys are rocking out on the side of the stage, too, egging them on in what feels like a genuine new wave of great guitar bands.

Live electronic Dutch act Weval, meanwhile, give a masterclass in organic, jam-led synth composition and show what magic there is in electronic music not being sequenced and overly compressed. Having the human touch and old hand wired synths interact with acoustic drums and live bass set to a mesmerising psychedelic visuals and light show is stunning. They have an interesting structure to their set, where the foreplay of the more atmospheric dreamy beginning – with minimal neo-psych-ish vocals smothered in effects – soon gives way to hard-hitting beats and cosmic synth sounds. The act, who are a duo at their core, have a cluster of musicians on stage this time. The band are at their best when stark melodies weave with the industrial sledge hammer beats. Yet the crowd get going most the most with the kick drum and bass put to the most belligerent setting with little else to offset it. This is the set I’d most likely pay to see do a headline show out of everything at Lowlands this day.

Dutch rock band De Staat start their set by giving their take on 'Firestarter' by The Prodigy as the crowd flood into the main stage to see them. De Staat do this because Prodigy were going to take this this headline slot before the tragic death of Keith Flint. The festival management were trying to find a global act to take the spot but they tell me directly that all fitting acts were taken. So, they offered De Staat, who are a big band here, but play regularly so it wouldn’t necessarily be a selling point to see a regular show. In order to counteract it, they put a lot of money, saved from not having a more globally recognised act in their place, into the visual aspect of the De Staat show.

A stage ramp, which lowers from the ceiling on demand with floodlights, allows the singer to walk into the middle of the crowd and makes for a dynamic canvas for the band to be photographed on. At one point, De Staat innovatively take this bombast into their own hands in a cool way: besuited singer Torre Florim has a camera on a tripod at the foot of the ramp that he sings into; the screens are filled with a bold, dorky selfie image and the stage, metres behind, dwarfed. Florim then takes the camera off the tripod walks back along the ramp to film the crowd and gets a couple of them to sing with him. It's a change from normative angles projected at shows.

Another highlight is the guest appearance for longtime dormant nobly-riled-by-social-injustice rap duo Opgezwolle – Holland’s Public Enemy, perhaps. Meanwhile, the best song in their set is the earworm pop off-kilter pop banger ‘Make The Call, Leave It All' as it showcases the group's knack for composing clever vocal melodies to lead the song. Throughout, the strange Occident-meets-Orient, pan-genre lead guitar lines are a sonic boulder to hang on. 

Lastly, ‘Witch Doctor’ is the big moment – a tune where they made a big famous circle pit video for. With Florim out on the raised ramp in the middle of the crowd, with lights beaming down on him, he casts a holy figure. The crowd spiralling around in the thousands, it is incredible; a spectacle. Ultimately, De Staat earn the headline slot, and hats off to them for rising to the occasion and collaborating with Lowlands to create something that will go down in Dutch music history.

Lowlands continues this weekend with performances from James Blake, Johnny Marr, New Order & many more still to come.

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Photo: Bart Heemskerk