The moniker Brumlive has never stopped us covering lots of events outside of our West Midlands home base. Katja Ogrin took on the mammoth task of shooting and reviewing the bands at the Best Kept Secret Festival in Hilvarenbeekas well as capturing the atmosphere of the whole event:
Having covered a lot of British music festivals over the past few years I thought it was time to check how things are done over on the mainland and after doing some research to find what would most suit my taste I decided that Best Kept Secret festival in The Netherlands is the one. Compared to some other more established festivals, BKS is still a baby, this year being its third instalment but it already gained a good reputation for its carefully curated line up in a beautiful setting at Beekse Bergen in Hilvarenbeek which is only a short drive from Antwerp. I didn’t want to travel or camp on my own so I teamed up with my good friend Ken who is also a photographer and was reviewing the festival for another music website.
The festival site opens on Friday morning so we left Birmingham on Thursday evening and drove to Dover to catch a ferry to Calais and from there we had another four hours’ drive across France, Belgium and finally arriving in The Netherlands and shortly after at the festival site. We got caught in the morning rush hour traffic around Antwerp and not surprisingly missed the right exit from the ring road which added an hour to our journey. By the time we parked our car, dragged all our camping gear to the entrance, collected our passes and made our way to the camping site we were well and truly knackered and as soon as our tents were set up we went to sleep for a few hours. Very rock’n’roll!
Luckily Friday’s timetable worked in our favour as bands only started playing after 3pm and we made our way from the camping site which is about 15 minutes’ walk from the main festival site just in time to catch FIDLAR playing on the second stage. If I was still feeling a bit sleepy when the four-piece from LA hit the stage I sure wasn’t feeling it any more by the time they finished their set.
This catchy garage-rock band knows how to get the crowd going and as soon as the lead singer Zac Carper opened his mouth the crowd went crazy, jumping and crowd surfing all over the place. This was also when I noticed the first major difference between this festival and the ones I’ve been to in the UK. There was only one security staff- member in the pit and he was standing side of the stage looking rather bemused observing the havoc in front of him and showed absolutely no intention of getting involved or pulling crowd surfers over the crash barrier. Over the remaining two days I learned that security definitely is a lot more relaxed and unless absolutely necessary they tend to stay away from all the action and leave people do what they want to do as long as it looks relatively safe. Lucky for them the crowd attending BKS was rather well behaved and therefore easy to control.
After the energetic start of my first BKS experience I headed over to stage five to check out Yak. I saw them play at Liverpool Sound City festival a few weeks back and I thought they were really good fun so wanted to see them again. Plus, the lead singer Oli Burslem comes from Wolverhampton (‘one of the top five worst places in the world’ according to him) and I felt one should support the locals. Yak haven’t been around for long and they only released their debut single Hungry Heart earlier this year but their tour with Palma Violets and appearances at The Great Escape among others clearly infused them with plenty of confidence, almost bordering on arrogance which I can easily forgive as their heavy-riffing with the snarly vocals of an early AC/DC are a joy to listen to. It’s a performance that’s psychedelic, intense and warm.
Next on was Earl Sweatshirt, an American rapper-producer and member of the Los Angeles-based hip hop collective Odd Future. I must admit that rap really isn’t my thing, I don’t know much about it, I get bored of it really quickly and the reason I turned up for Earl was mainly to see if he will show up in the first place and to hopefully get some decent shots as from my experience rappers are notoriously difficult to shoot due to pacing about all the time and wearing baseball hats or hoods obscuring their faces. Much to my surprise the lighting was really nice so I got the shots I wanted and I was certainly in the minority as far as my lack of interest in rap goes as the crowd was loving what Earl had to offer.
Circa Waves was the first band I went to see on the main stage. Same as Yak, I saw them at Liverpool Sound City but only briefly so I was keen to give them another try. They are a four-piece band from Liverpool and they play catchy upbeat indie-pop songs with infectious melodies. In one of his interviews the frontman Keiran Shuddall said that he loved music the most when bands like The Libertines and the Strokes were in their prime, and you can hear the influence of both of these bands in Circa Waves’s jittery guitars and pulsing rhythms infused with teenage angst. It is quite appropriate that they are playing on the same stage that The Libertines will be headlining later that same day.
A quick visit to stage two for something a bit different in the form of Nick Murphy aka Chet Faker, the Australian poster boy for the zeitgeisty genre of electro-soul. After the slightly heavier start of the day I really enjoyed a bit more mellow set. In the scorching instrumental opener, he’s a zealous knob-twiddler but comes to the mic eventually and lets his voice shine. He appears both quietly confident and genuinely humbled by his effusive fans who filled every inch of the space in the tent.
I have a bit of time before The Libertines close day one on the main stage so I decide to explore the festival site a bit more. The setting really is beautiful, the main stage sits on what appears to be a beach by the lake surrounded by trees and grass, there are little paths through the trees that offer cool shade when the sun is out and there are wooden plank swings hanging everywhere that people can sit on and feel like kids again.
There are plenty of benches and tables for those who don’t want to sit on the ground whilst having their drinks or food and everything is very clean and tidy as festival goers seem very conscious of throwing rubbish in the bins so there’s practically no litter to be found anywhere which is a stark contrast to UK festival sites that tend to be covered with rubbish within hours of opening. People are drinking but I don’t see anyone stumbling about, everyone is smiling and chatty and clearly there to have a good time but not at anyone else’s expense.
Same as some of the other festivals I’m familiar with BKS is also running a cashless system for the second year now. It is a great idea as long as it works in reality. The problem I had (and I certainly wasn’t the only one) was the fact that you could only use cash or maestro card which I’m told is the most widely used type of card in The Netherlands but if like me you only had VISA or MasterCard and no cash on you then you’re stuck. There were no cash machines on site so we had to drive to the nearby town the following day and withdraw cash to top up our wristband chip and be able to buy food and drink at the festival. I could survive without buying any food at the festival as I brought enough pot noodles to last me a week but I would be very disappointed if I didn’t get the chance to try at least a few tasty options available. The food on offer was rather impressive, from junk options like pizza, burgers and fries (as someone who had plenty of fries before I can say the ones I had at BKS were one of the tastiest I’ve ever tried) to healthier, vegetarian and vegan options, salads, soups, freshly squeezed fruit juices, different ethnic cuisine and traditional Dutch waffles with a variety of toppings. There was also a stall selling food containing a variety of insects. They claim is the food of the future but I wasn’t entirely convinced and gave that one a miss.
It’s 10.30pm and The Libertines are due on stage for their first live performance in 2015. I’m not a massive fan of the band and never really understood the hype around it or the whole Doherty/Barrat saga and their bust-ups and problems although it’s difficult to avoid hearing about it if you have even the faintest interest in music press. Apparently Pete Doherty has successfully gone through rehab treatment and I really hope he doesn’t stray again, he certainly looks a lot healthier and happier on stage tonight and most importantly he looks present.
They open their set with The Delany and continue with their back catalogue, playing in the same haphazard way that we expect from The Libertines. Doherty and Baratt share a microphone but it seems more like something they are expected to do than something they actually want to do so comes across a bit forced rather than natural. Meanwhile bassist John Hassell looks like the unhappiest man on earth. I honestly can’t remember ever seeing a musician on stage looking more miserable. Maybe just one of those days, who knows.
They end up playing one of their new, unreleased songs which according to them they shouldn’t really but end up doing it anyway and then finish their set with I Get Along much to crowd’s approval.
Then it was back to the tent for some welcome sleep, looking forward to what Saturday and Sunday had in store.
Words and photographs: Katja Ogrin