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20 Days of European Summer

Four festivals, three countries. Our resident electro fan, Gaurav Narula, returned from Europe all buzzed

Rolling Stone India Aug 13, 2013
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 Crowd waiting to watch the Kraftwerk 3D show at Latitude Festival 2013. Photo: Danny North

Crowd waiting to watch the Kraftwerk 3D show at Latitude Festival 2013. Photo: Danny North

Two years of wishful thinking and two months of intensive planning, and here I was at the start of my much awaited European holiday – four festivals, three countries, 20 days. My first stop was Henham Park in Suffolk for a weekend of debauchery at Latitude, one of the friendliest festivals in the UK. 

Driving to the venue in a friend’s grandfather’s orange and white VW Campervan with a peace symbol stuck bang in the middle of the headlights, I realized that it couldn’t get more 1960 than this. An endless supply of beer and wine, a bottle of absinthe, sausages, a portable barbeque, a mini stove, extra sleeping bags, an inflatable double bed and a tent; if it were to get any more hippie and happy I’d have to be back at the Woodstock ’69 . Three days of pure nirvana were about to begin.

At the venue, festival organizers, visitors, artists or volunteers, were all plagued by one question: What does the weather forecast say? Thankfully, Latitude, was replete with sunshine, multi-colored flocks of sheep wandered around (PETA didn’t object), a bridge over a swan lake and over 12 performance stages.  

Some of my favorite sets from this year’s Latitude were I am Kloot, Yo La Tengo, Willie Mason, Bloc Party (it was also rumored to be their last performance), Foals, Beth Orton, Cat Power, The Tallest Man On Earth, Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaries, Daughter, Disclosure, Rudimental, Daniel Kitson. The list is quite massive.

But I was all charged up for Kraftwerk who were headlining the main stage with their much-hyped 3D-show, and of course the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, that most people seemed to be waiting for as well. Kraftwerk delivered a spectacular and theatrical performance, creating the most technicolor moments of my life with their two-hour set. 

The best thing about Latitude is that it lives up to its claim of being ”˜more than just a music festival,’ which it exactly was and I cannot wait to return next year. The three days merged into a blur of pure happiness; binge drinking, eating great food, laughing, dancing, a lot of walking, meeting crazy people, late night ”˜in the woods’ parties, watching stand-up comedy and some cutting-edge theater.

Tomorrowland

Tomorrowland

My next stop was across the English Channel to Belgium, where I was headed to possibly the most-hyped festival of the year. 
Tomorrowland was also the biggest myth buster for me as far as electronica was concerned. 

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If Latitude was three days of awesomeness, Tomorrowland was three days of madness with a stellar lineup. Throw a stone and you’d find a superstar stage ”“ from David Guetta to Axwell, Armin Van Buren to Richie Hawtin, Carl Cox to Tiësto, from Infected Mushroom to Benny Bennassi. Believe this: the festival was sold-out in straight eight minutes of the tickets going live.

The biggest eye opener for me was when I showed up at the main stage listening to artists that I never thought I’d like because I believed they were all hype or “too commercial.” But here I was, like thousands of others, with my jaws hitting the ground at the music, lights and the magnitude of this stage and people. Tomorrowland also had couple of lessons for me. Firstly, never judge a festival by its lineup. Each stage had a special and an exclusive theme or a story to share (it changes every year). Secondly, with such a massive lineup, you have to accept that you will miss out on some of the big guys, even if you’ve ticked off a certain headlining act on the schedule, but couldn’t make it in time or a change in schedule. It’s moments like these that teach you to slow down wherever you are and let music happen.

Gent Music Festival 2013. Photo: Stad Gent

Gent Music Festival 2013. Photo: Stad Gent

My next stop was rather abrupt and unplanned. I arrived at a big festival, in a small town called Gent in Belgium. The Gentse Feesten [Gent Festival] was recommended by friends I was crashing with in Brussels. A quick search on Google and Wikipedia and a 30-minute train ride later, I found myself alone, with thousands of festivalgoers flocking the streets of Gent, trying to find our musical spot.

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The festival kicked off in 1843, and this year, a staggering 1.5 million visitors attended the festival, making it one of the biggest cultural events in Europe. Gent is an all-day, all-night festival with all kinds of music flowing out onto the streets. I managed to catch some really cool bands – Leon L’Hoëst Singersnight / Flat Nine de Luxe, The New Planet Jazz Band, Mozes and the Firstborn amongst some other local acts.

Gent is a rather small, but gloriously charming town lined with canals and a fairytale castle built right in the middle of the city. The people, I learnt are extremely friendly and one such helpful Gent resident, Fieke, who was a student of music, volunteered to show me the city on foot. There is nothing like exploring a city at night. It was magical. For a town built in the 11th century, it lights up incredibly with a stage set up on every corner for bands. The best part? It’s absolutely free! 

Wacken Open Air 2013

Wacken Open Air 2013. Photo: Gaurav Narula

My last stop was Berlin. With almost no money, and an overdrawn bank account, I was left with one last press pass (perks of my job) to the loudest and the blackest metal fest in the world. Wacken Open Air.

Ganesh Krishnaswamy from Kryptos, who played at the W.E.T stage on the last day, and Devoid manager Roydon Bangera, whose band played at the Headbangers stage on day one of Wacken

I knew exactly where I was headed as soon as I showed up at the festival site. I ran towards the Wacken Black Stage where Deep Purple were performing. “Hush” kicked in as soon as I made it to the stage. The set ended with Steve Morse playing the opening riff of “Black Night” over and over again in sync with thousands of people singing along.

The headliner for the loudest night to remember was Rammstein. I only knew few of their songs including “Du Hast,” “Engel,” “Asche Zu Asche” and “Links 2 3 4.” The fact that they sang only in German has never put off a single fan, I realized. Rammstein was welcomed with the loudest cheer and earsplitting pyrotechnics. I don’t remember the last time I jumped, screamed, head banged or enjoyed metal like this. There was a crowdsurfer every time I looked up.

Four festivals in one trip. This high is showing no signs of fading anytime soon. 

 

 

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