Pukkelpop most definitely was the best festival I have ever been to. From the lineup to the setup, to the food, and of course the company. Even the one organisational thing that didn’t go according to plan actually worked out really well.
That one organisational thing was parking our campervan and staying in the campsite we’d “booked” with our tickets. For a variety of reasons we ended up getting there really late. While it was a shame to miss Snoop Dogg, or Snoop Lion. I was really curious about how one changes their name, musical style and entire persona when they are already booked to do shows and festivals as their former selves. Is that misleading conduct? Would people have claims under their versions of Fair Trading Acts? I’ll never know. Unless maybe I google it. Anyway, we arrived a few hours later than the first acts and found all the main carparks were full. We circled around trying to find our campsite and decided we’d best actually park first. Almost all of the farmers/landowners in the vicinity were not only renting out their spare space for parking, but in fact many of them had even put up bathrooms, showers and water fountains so camping was possible there. Given we had a campervan, we realised it was the ideal situation as we could then camp next to it, cook food on a BBQ, drink out of glass bottles etc. Far better than the official campgrounds, I would strongly advise anyone thinking of going to Pukkelpop that has a campervan or even just a car to just plan on staying at one of theses spots instead. Perfectly walkable distance to the festival too.
Once there, I found the whole thing to be exceptionally well run. Plenty of space, even bar and toilet lines/conditions were totally manageable, the variety of food was great, and most importantly it seemed absolutely no effort was spared to set the place up with a great vibe. From tent roofs entirely covered in fairly lights, to multiple rows of speakers all the way through tents/ crowd areas (I counted 5 rows in the Boiler Room) so the sound quality was great no matter how far back you were, to some seriously mind blowing light shows, it was a brilliant experience.
Another notable factor that made for an amazing few days were the festival goers themselves. At many a music festival in Australia/NZ you come away with really mixed feelings on the crowds. I mean for one thing going to a massive party is fun, but you get so sick of drunk, obnoxious people, huge lines, not being able to get close to the front without fear of being constantly elbowed in the face. At Pukkelpop everyone seemed to be a lot more respectful, crowds seemed noticeably more sparse – there was barely any “mosh pit” factor where everyone desperately wants to be up the front, more just an attitude of ‘so long as I can hear the music and have some space to dance I’m all good.’ Perhaps having really visible stages and speakers spread throughout the crowd is the cause of that. One of the tents was actually two massive marquee’s joined together by a roof made of fairy lights, with screens and speakers throughout and that one especially felt more like a big party than actually being at a show. We also met a fantastic selection of crazy Dutchmen.
Finally though, and the main reason I loved it, was the lineup. And more than just great acts, they played decently long sets (The Foo Fighters for example went for 2.5 hours), and often artists like Dizzee Rascal who has a number of songs featuring a number of artists would actually whip out that extra singer, even just for once song. I would say location probably has more to do with that!
My only qualm was the use of scheduling as a form of crowd control. Putting two really great acts on at the same time is really heartbreaking, especially when it is the main two you are excited to see! I have no doubt that Snoop Dogg/Lion was on at 2pm on the first day to encourage people to get there early, but it was still annoying. I could understand it to some degree though, when I showed up late to The Black Keys and the crowd was so huge I could barely see the stage. And the main stage is huge. Or the Foo Fighters where people were climbing all over the roofs of the food stalls down the back. I could also understand why at the end of Miike Snow’s set (who were scheduled for the same time as the Black Keys and played to almost no-one) the lead singer looked like he was going to throw the microphone down on the ground in disgust as they all sulked off at the end without even really addressing the crowd.
Some of my favourites were Hot Chip, Nero, Dada Life (I think, one of those “who is this, they’re great” acts), Eagles of Death Metal, Magnetic Man (who had these three synchronised Djs going on which were really awesome, and right at the end informed the crowd that two of them were actually Skream and Benga), Miike Snow (minus the tantrum). Sub Focus, A Trak, Sleigh Bells and Django Django were also great. As for the not so great, Netsky and Chase and Status were a real let down, even though I’ve seen Netsky before and really enjoyed the show. And while her dancers, the costumes and the background screens were intriguing, I just don’t think I’ll ever get into Bjork.
There were also tonnes of other acts I really wanted to see but didn’t make it to. To see just how ridiculously long the list of acts was, click here.
One of the reasons I didn’t see so many of them, was that Pukkelpop seems to be the festival of extreme weather (a statement I’m really only basing on 2011 and 2012). The year before was a sudden, freak storm which stopped the festival, injured many and killed five people (wind speeds got up to 170 km/hr). This year there was a heat wave sweeping through Europe, and Hasselt was not spared. On the third day we kept getting up to go but the minute we would step out of the shade (which was very limited) we would start to feel faint and make excuses to wait another hour. I think I had heat stroke for a while there, and no amount of water seemed enough! Couldn’t bring ourselves to turn the engine on and wind up the windows sheltering in the air conditioning like many other cars around us though.
Also, it seemed none of the bands could pronounce the name either.