What is it with girl students? Don’t they know it’s possible to be cute, charming and ever so slightly kooky without buying a clapped out 2CV and painting ladybirds all over it?
Haldern 2009 Day 1
Damian: Like a bunch of white rabbits fidgeting frantically with pocket watches, we were late. It wasn’t our fault, however. Yes, we’d embarked on our cross Netherland journey slightly later than planned, but unbeknown to us, the entire central portion of the country was at a standstill. Basically, Utrecht was unapproachable so after an hour of cooking uncomfortably in a traffic jam somewhere outside Amsterdam, we took our lives in our hands, left the motorway and decided to take the back roads, through the deepest, darkest parts of central Holland. We crossed dykes and bridges, we navigated our way through villages no man had set eyes on since the turn of the century and admired a range of garden ornaments the likes of which haven’t been seen since the Romans had an empire. It was a delightful trip, to be sure but it had, as I said at the outset, delayed us somewhat and so we crossed the border and arrived at Haldern too late to command our usual camping spot near the compost heap and beer stall and ended up having to sneak in beside the Citroen 2CV club, which wasn’t ideal.
What is it with girl students? Don’t they know it’s possible to be cute, charming and ever so slightly kooky without buying a clapped out 2CV and painting ladybirds all over it? Anyway, I digress. Building camp Incendiary is always a fun event in the annual calendar for us, if only to watch Richard have a complete meltdown. That man can put his hand to anything, so long as it doesn’t involve graphite poles and tent pegs. I tell you now, if you ever hear of Incendiary visiting a festival you’re attending, be sure to stop by when we’re erecting the fort, because it is truly a sight to behold. Every year we force Richard to attempt to build his tent and every year we have to rescue him after half an hour before he tangles himself in guide ropes and suffocates under a groundsheet. Eventually, with sweat dripping off us – it was damn hot I tell you – we managed to build some polythene living quarters, squeezed expertly between a volleyball court and a rotten kebab (I shit you not!).
The Germans certainly come prepared. The group beside us, who’d marked out the volleyball court – complete with net and poles- had not one party gazebo, but four, gaffer taped together to make a communal area, two sofas, a barbecue set and what seemed like a lifetime’s supply of liverwurst and kaiser broodjes. The 2CV club had five crates of pilsner, a barbecue, a log burner and a huge ghetto blaster. Impressive, you may think but to be honest, they seemed like they were ill-prepared. We must give special mention to the folks that brought a Patrick Swayze flag, and those that arrived with four sofas and a five foot inflatable knob, but first prize goes to the group who brought a road sign bearing their village’s name to hang on the side of their shipping container, which had been dragged across country by a tractor! The shipping container itself was decked out with rope lights and a couple of decks, powered by a generator and the kids in question spent most of the festival sitting on the roof of the container on white plastic garden chairs, stopping only to hop down and get a beer from the fridge. That’s right, they took their own fridge! Geniuses, all of them. Incendiary arrived with a blanket and a cool box which contained a packet of ham, a few bread buns and a packet of chocolate raisins. We felt ashamed and so ran, as quick as possible, to the festival ground proper, where we picked up wristbands, passes and beer tokens and headed straight into the Spiegeltent.
Ahh, the Spiegeltent. To say it’s a special venue wouldn’t do it justice but to say it was cool would be an outright lie because, although it is quite possibly the most beautiful little room ever to be found in a German field, it’s hotter than hell inside it. It’s still a very, very special place though. There’s nothing quite like standing in that tent, drinking a cold, delicious beer from a plastic cup, breathing in the sweat of 300 scantily clad Germans and waiting excitedly for the next band to arrive. It’s the reason we come here year after year, it’s what draws us back each time and it’s part of what makes this festival so great but unfortunately first on the bill this year were Baddies who made a decent enough racket but I doubt that anyone will remember too much about them.
Richard: Now that’s not entirely fair. They thumped along with aplomb and some élan. Now I’m no fan of straight, no frills rock and roll, especially rock and roll that reminds me of Queens of the Stone Age. It just goes nowhere for me; but fair play, they were the opening band at Haldern and they very gamely undertook the traditional task allotted to opening bands at festivals; getting the crowd going. And, (just as we thought at Metropolis when we saw them last), there’s the odd glimpse of something with more light and shade. A couple of the later tracks had an urgency that suggested the band have it in them to create something interesting.
Damian: Maybe so, but when the next band were introduced, the (far too chirpy for my liking) Cockney announcer said, “Hey, what did you all think of Baddies?” and the entire crowd just kind of shrugged their shoulders and said, “Well, they were alright I suppose” and I think that is more of a review than we could ever come up with.
Broken Records, however, were excellent. They came, they saw, they brought a fiddle, a saxophone and a bunch of beards and my word did they deliver.
Richard: Indeed, they set about the increasingly sweltering tent with a truly compelling show. As a live band, this lot seem on fire at present. The bravado and commitment is also backed by some pretty hefty tunes and a glorious melodic pay-off.
Damian: Where Baddies were boringly similar to a thousand other indie bands, Broken Records were refreshingly different – if only because they make you think of the Waterboys instead of Joy Division and I don’t mean that as an insult. Broken Records were bloody ace and I’m sure they’ll be back here again some day. We’ll be sure to return to watch them. Excellent stuff.
Richard: After the euphoria of Broken Records came something quite different. Wildbirds and Peacedrums are a duo from Sweden who made an excellent record earlier this year with The Snake. On record, their music is overwhelmingly rhythmic; at times acerbic, at times enchanting and mysterious. Live in the Spiegel Tent, however, it was (with just the very beguiling singer and a very committed drummer) a set that really didn’t go anywhere, sonically.
Damian: A new acquaintance of ours, a photographer, seemed to have some kind of spiritual moment akin to Saul on the road to Damascus down the front to these guys and they were certainly applauded loudly enough but sadly I did not share this enthusiasm either. Yes, she can sing. Yes, he can play drums but I thought they were an arty-farty Ting Tings, without any hooks or melodies to drag me in and to be honest, I’d rather watch Keane again than have to suffer through this pretentious twaddle one more time, and that is meant as an insult. To me, their set sounded like somebody from Stomp had smashed a bin lid into their toe and was hopping around moaning for half an hour. Or, as another person said to me afterwards, “I thought they were soundchecking and then they went off!”
Richard: Both are excellent musicians, and you feel both have an almost vicious sense of belief in their muse. But, in a pumped up tent, coming down off Broken Records, it fell short, way short.
Damian: There was just too much posturing, the whole time I felt like they, or the singer at least, was just going, “Look at me and how wonderful I am! Listen to what I can do with my voice, isn’t it wonderful?” Just fucking sing me a song woman! Stop warbling!
I tell you what, let’s just say they divided the crowd and be done with it. I’m certainly done with them.
Palm Springs, mercifully for me, were a lot more likeable.
Richard: They just got on and played what was a very pleasant set of guitar-based, thoughtful, slightly melancholy pop. Nothing I can remember mind, although I’m certainly not out to damn them. Palm Springs created an ambience that really struck home with the slightly hippy, happy-clappy crowd. I wouldn’t mind seeing them in a more bucolic, (and quieter) setting, that’s for sure.
Damian: Their well crafted, expansive sound planted the smile firmly back on my face and, along with the copious amounts of alt bier I was consuming, kept it there for the rest of the night.
Richard: They were followed by Wintersleep, who don’t really float my boat, but as a live act they are more of a proposition; their guitar rock boasting considerably more elasticity and verve. Their singer (who came over as quite a charmer), has one of those can/can’t sing voices that sometimes sound brilliant live. And they have one cracking song in Archaeologists, which bounced around the increasingly deranged Spiegel Tent like a bloody great firework let off in your granny’s bedroom.
Damian: Indeed, although it was somewhere during this set that I found myself outside talking to some members of iLiKETRAiNS (how annoying is that to type?) when our new photographer friend came along, grabbed singer David’s hand, shook it warmly and pronounced, full of pride and passion, “Oh thank you. I thought you guys were great. Really, truly wonderful.” At which point Dave smiled politely and said, simply, “Thank you so much but we haven’t played yet. We don’t play till Saturday.”
Our photographer friend turned white as a sheet and stood speechless, unable to say anything. The rest of us just creased up laughing.
Richard: One other thing to note: this year a big screen had been erected outside the Spiegel Tent, allowing those who couldn’t get in an opportunity to get a good (if not better) view of the bands. Add in the beautiful weather, the availability of beers and burgers and a veritable pleasure garden emerged, as if by magic. Some members of certain bands waltzed off in the hope of finding sylvan figures flitting through this Arcadian scene while others, simply stuffed full of wurst, snored gloriously throughout everything.
Damian: That’s one thing I love about Haldern. Every year it feels familiar and welcoming and yet each time we return they’ve added something, or tweaked something slightly, just to make things better for everybody there. A couple of years ago they, for want of a better word, turned the main stage slightly which resulted in their being better visibility for everybody as, even if you were at the very back of the market, you could still see the stage. This year, the screen was the big improvement and the fact that there were always as many people lounging around outside in the Biergarten as there were sweating it out in the Spiegeltent itself proves how well it worked.
Richard: And who was the guy dressed in the Velcro rabbit suit?
Damian: I have no idea, but he looked like he had a bad case of miximatosis.
Richard: As for The Irrepressibles, well we missed them. We’re nothing if not honest… All we can say is that, over ice-creams at the supermarket the following morning (yes, Germany is that civilized), we heard from a trusted source that the lead singer could best be described as a unicorn, or even, a “Queen Wizard”. Imagine that…
Day two is here,
Whilst day three is here.