Rock Werchter proves a festival well worth travelling to

Rock Werchter 2014 review

By James Hyde | Published: Thu 10th Jul 2014

Thursday 3rd to Sunday 6th July 2014
Werchter, Leaven, Rotselaar, Belgium MAP
205 euros - SOLD OUT
Daily capacity: 85,000
Last updated: Fri 4th Apr 2014

A couple of things before we begin.

1. It's pronounced 'Verkter'.I think.
2. Don't travel by Megabus. Seriously.
3. Get used to drinking Juliper. It's pretty nice and is the beer of choice at the festival, despite the fact that the main Stella Artois brewery is just 15 minutes away.
4. Pick up lots of cups. Trading in 20 cups at Recycling gets you a free drink. And with drinks as expensive as these (€2.50 for 250ml of Coke for f*ck's sake), you're gonna need all the financial help you can get.
5. It's very good value. €180 gets you four days of quality music -  that's cheaper than V Festival, but twice as long and with less chavs.

Right, let's get to it. My festival began with me walking in on an old woman having a shit (for god's sake, how difficult is it to lock a door?) so, to quote 1980s musical legend Yazz (unfortunately not performing at Rock Werchter 2014) the only way was up, baby. But not straight away. I excitedly cruised down to the Festivalpark on Day 1 for The Wombats' set, but having forgotten to change my watch to Belgian time, I arrived just as they were finishing. Crushing. So, my festival began proper with a terrific set from Bombay Bicycle Club in the festival's largest tent stage, The Barn. The heat was almost unbearable, but the Australians delivered an engaging performance to keep everyone's minds off their sweat glands. I strolled down to the main stage to catch the end of Miles Kane, who in the 10 minutes I was there managed to pull out both a Rolling Stones cover and 'that song off Fifa 14'. Decent. White Lies were next up, and I've mentally filed them under 'Majorly Disappointing'. Having played 'To Lose My Life' and 'Farewell to the Fairground' within the first 15 minutes, I quickly got bored and started picking up cups.

Having acquired four free drinks, I returned to the Main Stage for Placebo. They're a bit morose for my taste, but I did find it funny when frontman Brian Molko yelled out, in the most Blink-182 American accent possible, "hey, we're Placebo from London!" Eeeeeerm... you sure? There was absolutely no chance whatsoever of me going anywhere near the front for Metallica's headlining show- most of their fans had arms bigger than my torso. Fresh from Glasto last week, the American rockers turned in a decent set, but it's all a bit Lord of the Rings: Return of the King - all their songs should end about half an hour before they actually do. I only recognised a few songs, but 'Whiskey in the Jar' went down smooth, before 'Seek and Destroy' brought their set to a close. I was going to stay to watch Skrillex, but I was tired and standing around for 90 minutes watching someone press PLAY every once in a while seemed counter-productive.

I awoke to the news that Puggy (anyone?) had cancelled, so having waited a while my day finally got started with a set from Brit indie kids The 1975. Frontman Matthew Healy spends more time playing with his hair than actually performing, though that didn't seem to bother the hoards of teenage girls that turned up with imaginative placards saying things like 'I taste like Chocolate'. Quality banter. At one point, Healy was cradling a bottle of wine in one hand and a fag in the other - he's basically just a pre-pubescent Shane MacGowan. To be honest, the whole set was pretty monotonous, but that may be due to the fact that all of their songs sound EXACTLY the same. Still, if you're reading this and you're 12 years old, go see.

By far the most talented performers of the week were Rodrigo Y Gabriela, who honestly push the limits of guitar-playing with some absolutely astounding ability. Playing a guitar with a beer bottle? No problem. Performing an impossibly complex sequence with your eyes closed? Why not. These are two phenomenally gifted people, and their likeable audience interaction and boundless energy just adds to the experience. I watched riveted from the front row. A spontaneous cover of Radiohead's 'Creep' was a roaring success, and I left convinced that I wouldn't enjoy anyone as much this week.

Ellie Goulding came next, and after an unconvincing start she got much stronger as the set went on. A sumptuous acoustic version of 'Guns and Horses' was the highlight (her vocals are exceptional), but she was generally great throughout. As were Foster the People, who garnered a brilliant reaction for 'Pumped Up Kicks', and a decent one for everything else. Paolo Nutini was up next, and he secured his reputation as the coolest kid on the musical block with a stylish 75 minutes. It was different, it was classy...very good. Headlining the Friday night were Arctic Monkeys, who continued their perpetual journey up their own arses. Any frontman, Alex Turner, that brings a haircomb on stage with him clearly has a touch of arrogance, and it was just a bit pretentious, really. 'Do I Wanna Know?' was a great opener, but it went downhill after that. And no 'When the Sun Goes Down' ?!?! Come on guys. Jack Johnson closed the day with a cute set straight after, very pleasant all round.

Saturday brought a downpour to Werchter, but the hammering rain was still nowhere near as irritating as Californian three-piece HAIM. Any band that encourages the crowd to 'dance their fucking titties off' is never going to be my favourite, and they were spectacularly annoying all hour long. Biffy Clyro weren't that great either- literally nearly sending me to sleep. Thank the lord, then, for Imagine Dragons, who delivered a banger-packed set in The Barn. Theon Greyjoy-lookalike (it can't just be me that's noticed this) frontman Dan Reynolds got the crowd going stupendously, getting everyone involved during 'It's Time', before bringing the house down during a rampant 'Radioactive'. A very solid performance from a band that will probably become headline-material in a few years.

My surprise disappointment of the week came from The Black Keys, who are one of my favourite bands but didn't really add anything with their live performance. Bit dull. Pixies saved the evening with an excellent showing straight after- letting their music do the talking and playing all their favourites - with 'Where is my Mind?' bringing it to a superb finale. I'd missed half of Pearl Jam's 3 hour set when I arrived at the main stage, and the gargantuan crowd meant I could barely see anything anyway. So, I left early and went to watch Holland beat Costa Rica on penalties with a load of ecstatic Dutch people. Which was good fun.

The last day of the festival, and once again I had to whip the mankini out as it was raining heavily. In the shock of the week, Babyshambles were late to arrive on stage- and once they were there, it took Pete Doherty approx. 0.95 seconds to crack open a beer. Babyshambles surprised me by actually being quite good, with Doherty an engaging lead singer - even refusing to leave the stage at the end of their allotted hour, before launching into a brief rendition of 'Seven Nation Army', whilst running away from the roadie, to amuse the crowd. Good fun.

There was nothing else on, so despite the fact I knew I'd hate it, I stayed around for Rudimental. I hated it. From sparkling audience interaction (one of them screamed out 'I love to spoon' at one point- cheers for letting us know) to performing a bunch of incredibly generic, yawn-inducing tunez with no charisma whatsoever, I was consistently unimpressed all round. Have they been told that arbitrarily bounding around the stage like puppies on Ecstasy, incessantly yapping their own names (do you do this during sex?) like a Tourettes-induced tic, is in any way, shape, or form entertaining? I can feel the love, can you feel it too? No. NO. No I can't. It felt like I was waiting all night for it to end.

I then fruitlessly attempted to squeeze into the tent to watch Passenger, but I was unsuccessful. So, I went to get a good spot for Birdy. And, well, she was spine-tingingly, goosebump-inducingly incredible. Birdy herself is captivating, an introverted, immensely likeable, seriously talented and seemingly very genuine person, appreciative of her band and her audience. The music is wonderful, incredibly emotive and stunningly performed. Her own songs are excellent ('All About you' was exceptional), the well-known covers are just as good ('Terrible Love', the gorgeous 'Skinny Love'), and it was just stunning in every way. As you may have guessed, I think I might be a little bit in love with her.

Despite the fact both Foals, and Lykke Li were performing at the same time, there was only one choice for me at 7.45 on Sunday night - Franz Ferdinand. And having managed to get on the front row, I was incredibly excited. I was right to be. Alex Kopranos is one of the best frontmen going- witty, energetic, a real showman. 'Take Me Out' predictably garnered the most mental reaction, but the whole set was incredibly well received. 'This Fire' brought things to a close, and the Scots left the stage to thunderous applause. I raced off to watch MGMT, and they played all the old favourites ('Time to Pretend', 'Electric Feel', 'Kids'). I don't have any idea what any of the other songs were, except 'Weekend Wars', but none of them were particularly memorable. Their visual show was pretty cool, but unfortunately that didn't extend to the band- understated is very much the word. Still, not a bad set all told.

I didn't want to see Kings of Leon again. I really didn't. I'd seen them twice before, despite the fact I don't particularly like them, and had no desire to make it three. However, I was way too tired to be jumped into by loads of drugged-up dickheads during Chase & Status, so I had to find an alternative, and Kings of Leon was it. I'm writing to a word limit, so I'll be succinct- I'd rather offer up my shoulder to Luis Suarez than watch them again. Dreary as ever. Then, the mediocre Interpol brought my festival to a close, and that was that.

Overall, then, should you go to Rock Werchter? Well, probably, yes. Travel may be fairly pricey, but the ticket cost is very reasonable, so you're getting good value for money. The line-up is consistently excellent (although I think this year was the worst of the past few), and you could get in 12 hours of music per day, if you're that committed. If you're worried that you're a pathetic linguist, don't be - almost everyone speaks English. And if you're worried that all they'll sell is burgers, pizzas, and chips... you're absolutely right there. Drinks prices are scandalous, but if you have a knack for picking up cups, you'll be fine. Oh, and there's not too many Brits there - but there's more and more each year. Any other questions? They have a twitter feed, ask away.

review by: James Hyde

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