Strolling through the campsite, hunting down a spot to pitch our tent, I began to notice many Belgians were shooting dirty glances at my feet. Clearly, my wellies were not going to be accepted as part of Belgian festival fashion.
With the journey to the city of Hasselt taking over 12 hours, on arrival we delved straight into the Boiler Room which allowed us to dance our energy away. While my friends and I bounded around with no inhibitions, the locals were much more reserved and appeared somewhat baffled by the conga chain we created. However, despite the difference in dancing styles and the earlier welly-glares it was clear that the Belgians were happy to have us a part of their festival, getting ridiculously over-excited when they discovered we were English and constantly asking for impressions of Geordie Shore, regardless of our Oxfordshire accents.
Opening up the Main Stage was a Belgian band, School Is Cool. The number of fans that had ventured across to the festival sight before 11.30am just to see them, is evidence enough for how good they were. Whilst I am sure they wouldn’t be such a big hit in the UK, their catchy tunes provided some easy-listening entertainment on Thursday morning, with the highlight of the set being when all six members of the band played the drum kit together! Following on from School Is Cool were Imagine Dragons, a band I have been wanting to see for a while now, and they didn’t disappoint.
Headlining on Thursday was Eminem, I dragged myself along to the Main Stage with very little motivation to see the famous rapper. I was not expecting to enjoy his music anymore live than I do recorded, nonetheless I found myself feeling guilty for my previous opinion of the best selling music artist of the 2000’s (UK). The ambiance created during ‘Lighters‘ when the crowd all put their, well their lighters, in the sky was fantastic.
For me, the highlight of Thursday was Crystal Fighters. Following the lack of energy in earlier crowds, the crazy dancing by fans during their late night performance came as a slight surprise. I guess the Belgians just need a drink or two to free their boogie spirits. The Crystal Fighters set replicated a mystical beach side cave and with lead guitarist Gilbert Vierich’s inspirational quotes it was easy to lose yourself in the sparkly atmosphere that had been shaped in the covered stage, known as The Club.
Friday brought out the sun, and plenty of good music. After enjoying Nina Nesbitt and Noah And The Whale, we waited at the front of the main stage for Fun. to come on. When Major Lazer appeared instead, initially we were disappointed, having not really listened to the American DJs before, but the disappointment was soon replaced with appreciation as they got the crowd going absolutely berzerk with a show full of giant party poppers, lasers and stunts that built up an insane interaction with their fans. The climax of the show was undoubtedly the massive audience based ‘Harlem Shake’.
The final day of the festival brought a wide array of musical talent to the stages, with many memorable performances, not solely due to the music. The Noisettes attracted the crowds to the Main Stage early in the morning, and lead singer Shingai Shoniwa seemed as intent on giving us a display of her low level acrobatics as she was singing. Next up was Regina Spektor. For about 5 minutes. Then technical difficulties prevented her from finishing her set, and though she did eventually get back on stage for a couple more songs, by then many people had lost interest and had wandered off elsewhere.
Music was the clearly the focus at Pukkelpop, with only a few other things to do in between acts, unlike Bestival for example, where you can find yourself in the middle of an aerobics class or inside a tree trunk. That said, Pukkelpop never bored me; I attended a workshop in Bollywood dancing, got a Henna tattoo, a temporary ink tattoo, you could have your hair styled and your body painted in the Petit Bazaar & Salon Fou. Besides this there were many carnival attractions from fairground rides to people walking around on stilts.
From the little I can remember of Saturday night, I can conclude it was by far the best of the festival. The xx got everyone nicely warmed up before they went their separate ways. From what I heard through the grapevine, Goose were brilliant and perhaps the most popular choice of late night entertainment. However, I chose to head to the Boiler Room for the ‘Closing Ceremony’, where the dancing had been taken up yet another level and everyone was really going crazy to DJ Michael Midnight.
It’s easy to say that Pukkelpop was just like any other large festival; a few days full of magnificent music and really friendly people. So is it worth the travel? I think so. It’s hard to put into words just what makes it unique. Perhaps it was the contrast between the chilled ambience during the day and the crazy atmosphere at night or maybe it was simply the lack of mud and wellies? Find out for yourself next year. I’m going back.