Dour Festival, Dour – Belgium
Over the last twenty-five years Dour Festival has become a mainstay in the Belgian music calendar; seemingly an alternative choice for those with a thirst for some big names but not tempted by the huge commercial behemoths, Pukkelpop and Rock Werchter. Hosting close to 150,000 people (over four days) and featuring as diverse a line-up as you could hope to find, Dour celebrated its birthday in style.
You can tell Dour has been going for a quarter of a century, not because it’s tired or predictable, but because it’s organised and well-thought out. The stage times are staggered which prevents a smallish crowd of 40,000 from ever feeling thin, as vast swathes move around the arena every thirty minutes. The site itself is probably the friendliest and safest I’ve attended, without the heavy security presence so common at UK events – massive joints and dreadlocks are on view everywhere, but drunken disorder comes at a premium. Best of all, Dour’s ‘alternative’ ethic means full weekend camping tickets come in at the very reasonable price of €130, unsurprisingly attracting people from all over Europe.
Dour’s biggest strength this year though is the stellar line-up. Headliners Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Wu-Tang Clan, Jurassic 5 and The Smashing Pumpkins are more than ably supported by huge names across a wide range of genres. Flying Lotus, Modeselektor, Simian Mobile Disco and Four Tet whetted my appetite, but there really was something for everyone – with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Klaxons, Kate Nash and even Hatebreed all playing well-received sets over the weekend. Sweltering heat didn’t temper a crowd who seemed determined to party hard across four days of music, particularly during the night time programme when the more reserved were pointedly crowded out of the tents.
Thursday night opened proceedings with a bang. After enjoying some relaxed early slots from ‘next-big-things’ The 1975 and US garage outfit White Denim, we were sorely disappointed by the much touted BadBadNotGood – a three-piece who for the most part play extended jazz-infused covers of popular blog-hits from recent years. ‘Limit To Your Love’, ‘CMYK’ and ‘Flashing Lights’ get warm receptions, but I am left contemplating the point of their endeavours. Their own material at least had some intensity but I don’t think I was the only nonplussed onlooker in the crowd.
After a short break in the sun with an overpriced Hoegaarden, we arrive at Gold Panda in the ‘Dance Hall’ tent. Make no mistake, the Belgian crowd are a discerning bunch, and this is the first of many UK sets which I am surprised to see draw so many into the large tent. My first time seeing the producer doesn’t disappoint. The more textured material from new album ‘Half Of Where You Live’ works brilliantly in a live setting, but the biggest cheers are reserved for ‘Marriage’ and the showstopper, ‘You’. Both given extended workouts, and rapturously received, it was refreshing to see such an energetic and happy performance from the producer, despite the stage obviously being turned down to accommodate The Horrors, who were playing in the next tent.
No sooner does he finish than we dashed to see Action Bronson, who takes the roof off the ‘Boombox’ tent with a set that includes hits from each of his three excellent mixtapes and his debut long player, Dr. Lecter. Foregoing hype-men and gimmicks, the 300lb ginger chef from Queens provides a raw but assured performance of someone with far more than his three years in the rap game. Incendiary and fun all at once, ‘Bronsolino’ is a real highlight of the weekend. We had no time to savour his performance though, as we raced back to the already bulging Dance Hall where Bonobo treated us to a typically composed and languid performance. New tracks ‘Cirrus’ and ‘First Fires’ are excellent and propulsive live, and Simon Green is quick to thank the crowd profusely for a gig that “they’d all been waiting for a long time”.
After nipping to watch the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ decent headline effort we head for ‘La Petite Maison Dans Le Prairie’ to catch as much of Modeselektor’s set as we could. Despite clashing with two of the biggest names of the weekend on the main stage, we arrived to find the tent overflowing. We couldn’t get anywhere near it, opting instead to join a thousand other revellers dancing on the picnic tables outside. While gutted not to be in the thick of it, particularly for such a bruising and uncompromising set, we counted ourselves lucky that we have some space to move. Modeselektor took the Thursday, no question, and our belief is reaffirmed the next morning when we find daubed on the wall:
“…a mettre Modeselektor ici, c’est trop petit!!! Et comme prevu ils tuent tout.”
Which I am not-so reliably informed means “Why did you put Modeselektor here, it’s too small! As expected, they kill it though.” Couldn’t put it better myself.