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Things Learned At: Best Kept Secret
Richard Foster , June 25th, 2014 09:53

Richard Foster takes a trip to the Netherlands to report on sets by Fat White Family, Franz Ferdinand, Slowdive and more. Photos by Melanie Mersman, Matthias Engels and Chris Stessens.

There's a brave new world of home comfort outdoors

It feels a bit weird to report on a music festival and start raving about the food and the organisation. But Best Kept Secret is held in the Netherlands, a place where festivals such as Incubate have a track record in sorting "the comfort stuff" out to the nth degree. For one, the location was marvellous; with five open air stages set in the Beekse Bergen safari park, just south of Tilburg. Three tents erected in Sylvan glades vied with two others plonked down on a beach next to a large lake. The sound in each was excellent. You paid your way using a mini chip card attached to your wristband; which means getting booze and grub is a hell of a lot quicker, and nicer, for all concerned. Everything was about three minutes from everywhere else and there were loads of food options in between. Further, there was no - as in NO – litter; anywhere. Those of a zoological bent could also go on safari and look at giraffes, and the like. Slowdive did.

Even the smells were different at Best Kept Secret. Or rather, there were none; Best Kept Secret is the only festival that this correspondent has attended that didn't actually smell of anything at all. Best Kept Secret was almost, almost like some Arcadian version of a shopping mall, for those about to rock. I can hear you dropping your mascara and grinding your Cuban heels into the floor at this point; but however bad that sounds, experiencing it wasn't bad at all. Quite the opposite in fact. You should give it a whirl.

Gourmet food at festivals is not to be sniffed at

The food options at Best Kept Secret were akin to the spoils of a Viking raid; albeit the potential for gourmandising pagan style was kept in check by that 21st century conceit for ethical eating. You should all know the drill by now. You don't have any old burger; rather you have burgers made from the meat of a cow that, just after completing an MA in business studies, volunteered its own body up for slaughter; to negate its own methane hoof print. We consumers can inspect the death certificate at our convenience. Highpoints were Kapsalon (a carbtastic assault on the belly named after a Rotterdam hairdresser's favourite snack) vegan gyros, Belgian 'bio' chips, all day breakfasts, and pancakes.

Rock is a sylvan thing

Given the location, and the beautiful weather, the Quietus averted their eyes and mopped their brow whilst radiantly healthy twentysomethings lolled about in the woods or skinny dipped in midsummer frenzy. The Quietus needed darkness. The Quietus needed to feel that the Skando-Keltic power of the woods. After all, as any fule kno, axe wielding has mutated from stringing up Roman legionaries in sacrifice to Tiw to electrified abandon courtesy of Longhairs. Luckily, the Quietus got lots of the latter with some snarling, pagan gigs from Fucked Up, Night Beats, The Horrors, Mogwai, Fat White Family, Together Pangea, and PINs. To whit; Mogwai sandblasted, PINs screeched and cajoled, Pangea let loose an almighty brat squeal, and Night Beats sneered and preened whilst slamming down a fistful of sleaze. For their part, The Horrors (who clearly seemed out to prove a point or two) knocked out a fabulous set that was propelled by a rapier-like intensity. Sharp, violent, vicious, they were hot to the touch; and they cut through the audience like a chainsaw, excoriating the senses. It was them woods that did it, M'Lud. Maybe it was also the presence of the lions in the safari park; or the joy of scoring dope in a Tilburg coffee shop. Pink Eyes from Fucked Up certainly thought the latter. In between eulogising about the benefits of medicinal marijuana, he charged through both the audience and his set; cheerleader for his band's upbeat, hardwired takes on Stiff Little Fingers. Goofiness of a different dimension was served up by Connan Mockasin, who was clearly off his nut. Wearing some camp Cossack hat, Mr M asked the audience to join him in chanting for more dope, only to bamboozle them with splurges of guitar as his warped, time shifting doodle-funk fried senses. Dark emanations also poured from Fat White Family and the mysterious, "Barrett-esque" Rats On Rafts on the broiling hot Sunday (more on those two later).

The art of pissing and sub-Orwellian dystopian fantasies

Best Kept Secret unveiled a new way of urinating in the open air. This was called the Pee Tree.* Simply put, one pointed the Old Chap at a bucket-like repository attached to a tree trunk. Your effluvium was then pumped away to Lord Knows Where by a series of coyly hidden pipes. I think the deal is to savour a freedom of slashing in the open, whilst not causing any beetles or woodlice to drown. All of this could be a sort of sub-Orwellian marketing fantasy; your sensations of freedom are complicit in the business of keeping things clean. Every action was managed; hell even your piss has been managed, it has a purpose. This correspondent started to have dark fantasies about the festival monetising his piss. There is an old nickname for Tilburgers; "kruikenzeikers", one that is traced back to when the workers' urine was saved to wash the wool in the old weaving and clothing industries. Did our piss go to wash the wool for future tweed wearers?

*For able-bodied Gentlemen only, sadly. True innovation and forward thinking would allow every angle of dangle to be catered for. We live in hope.

Fat White Family are the best rock band on the planet

They really are. Somehow they've quickly developed from a bunch of smart hawkers who had a brilliant take on being feckless, to being a rock band of genuine substance and style. Make no mistake, they're the real deal; and to miss out on this feral celebration during the summer and autumn of 2014 is a crime. I tell you, it is a crime against the senses. Totally wired, right now The Fat White Family can do and say the maddest, most gonzo things, and knock out the simplest, catchiest songs; and no one can get close to them. Knowing this, and still not giving a shit, they completely subvert the crowd pleasing antics of stadium bands and present it in a manner that only wide eyed, whey faced loons howling at the gates of Rome can do. On the Sunday evening, Fat Whites toyed with Best Kept Secret like some evil Cheshire cat with a baby mouse. It's the way they milk their songs; it may have gone unnoticed in all the hullaballoo of their wild gigs, but Fat Whites have a bunch of killer melodies. They place everything on the hooks, they know when to drop and pick up an audience. The crowd went wobble eyed to tracks like 'Touch The Leather' and a savage version of 'Bomb Disneyland'. There's something in the way they mix these anthemic songs with utter, atavistic abandon that reminds you about speaking your mind and standing up for yourselves in these timid, placid, times.

Fack! Slowdive in better than ever shocker

Back in the day, your correspondent didn't dig Slowdive. It was the whiff of joss sticks, an overload of bowlcuts and Breton tops and dreamy takes on places like Reading that did it; all wrapped up in the haziest of pleasing noise. At Best Kept Secret, however, they were sensational; sensational. The cover of 'Golden Hair' was something of wonder; Rachel Goswell quickly sketching out Barrett's lines and then waiting for the slow thunder of the band to take the track into the sunlit uplands. Slowdive's elegant melancholy took over the tent completely; their mix of gentleness and Baroque noise a perfect mind-map for the festival. Maybe they've just found their time as a band.

The Dutch have some great bands and you should all start taking notice

There are so many good Dutch acts about at the moment.** And it's great to see these acts begin to get equal billing with their foreign counterpoints, in their own back yard. Three Dutch bands stood out at Best Kept Secret. Firstly, I Am Oak. Normally a skillful purveyor of contemplative and minimalist balladry, singer Thijs Kuijken welded his Zen-like calm onto a live band that was concerned with grabbing any opportunity to rock hard. At times the I Am Oak gig could have been Zep getting their Led out. Kuijken gently responded to this fact and calmly directed the maelstrom, causing the audience to sway like a field of ripe corn, bending to a warm summer breeze. It's the woods again, M'Lud. Blame the woods. Secondly, Afterpartees. This bunch are fun, fun and more fun, Buddy Holly style. Best experienced live, Afterpartees showed off their fresh, buzzy take on The Ramones and Dr. Feelgood; singer Niek Nellen pulled off the most outrageously corny poses and his band collapsed about him like the provincial sixth formers they actually are. And we got two tremendous covers; the Undertones' 'Get Over You' and Johnny Thunders' 'One Track Mind' sealed a great performance that was equal parts flashiness and provincial hop. Crutches were thrown, (really, some divot hoyed his crutches at the band) and Nellen exhorted his audience to smoke fags and have a good time. 'Cigaretten, cigaretten, cigaretten!' Jajaja!

Finally, Rats On Rafts. This band are on the cusp of being truly special. Balancing a crystalline pop sensibility against walls of driving pulsating rhythm, the Rats thrive on contrast; dipping and swaying through the sort of shimmering racket that Pale Saints or the Bunnymen used to smash out. Rats on Rafts pounded through their beautifully strange music on the roasting Sunday afternoon; at turns abstract scally pop or howling 'Pinkwind' jams. The tent was at melting point, people stood and gawped; dazed by the assault, grinding along to these scorched passages of sound and holding their breath at moments of brittle gaucheness. Rats on Rafts are the antithesis of anything planned; there is something about them that screams out 'Syd Barrett'. Maybe it's the refusal to do anything remotely showbiz, the feeling that it might all go up in smoke on day; and, with fate often up against their will, there is this feeling of tragedy about them. Or maybe it's that screeching Telecaster assault and tick, tick, tick of the drums.

**Just have a trawl through these labels' websites and see what racket takes your fancy: Narrominded, Subroutine, WOTNXT, Blowpipe, Shaky Maracas, Snowstar, Smikkelbaard, ESCREC, Katzwijm, Atomnation, Excelsior, Geertruida, Samling, Korm Plastics and Drvg Cvltvre.

The Belgians are everywhere

There were a lot of Belgians at Best Kept Secret. You could tell that through two easy signifiers. Firstly there were more Unknown Pleasures* t-shirts in one place than I've ever seen before and most of the wearers had that familiar singsong Flemish accent. And then, on the day of their match with the Russians in the World Cup, the festival site seemed to change colour, courtesy of a sea of red, gold and black football tops. Them Belgians, eh; they corralled themselves in the camping area to watch their football team beat Russia, they ate and drank as if they would never eat again, and then they all went to watch Belle and Sebastian. My, they were a happy bunch. They even got a cheer from the Dutch when they came back after the match.

*Belgians, I find, tend to like Joy Division.

Franz Ferdinand have the art of crowd pleasing down to a T

Big festival bands have a job to do. It's a miserable prospect – often for the bands as well - but it is true. People go to festivals to be entertained and hear things they know. Normally, these kinds of contracts between crowd and band leave me cold. But not if Franz Ferdinand are on the bill. Say what you like, but Franz Ferdinand are a truly great festival band. Like some expert team of plumbers who can unblock the most difficult of pipes, they get in there, set up, crack on and Bob's your uncle; joyful release.

I have a theory about this; what makes Franz Ferdinand great is their complete lack of ego. Yes, Alex Kapranos indulges in a routine of kicks, asides and exhortations to have a good time that walk the tightrope over a gaping chasm named Annoyance. But they are an indestructible, remarkably positive pop band; one blessed with the gift of giving. Franz Ferdinand give people what they want, when they want it. 'Take Me Out'? It's yours. 'Michael', 'Right Action', 'The Fallen', 'Oh You Girls', yours too, to do what you want with. Music to make girls dance to? Ach, everyone danced on this midsummer's night. Your correspondent was drenched in beer thrown by pogoing ad execs, groovers, mothers, artists, boys and girls alike. A stunning, rabble rousing take on 'This Fire' threw the crowd into a final exultation, and that was that. The beach shuddered, punters traipsed away content, the sand settled. And somewhere in the gloaming, from over the lake, the animals settled down for the night.

You can laugh all you want at boutique festivals...

…but remember this. Back in the day, you'd go to a festival and end up dying of food poisoning/malnutrition/gangrene/bad acid (delete where appropriate) whilst watching The Wonder Stuff. The sound was invariably shit (like fireworks going off in a bucket) and you were surrounded either by antisocial twits on day release looking for someone to punch, or people who made their clothes out of dog skin. The corporate festivals that replaced them gave you the additional option of spending your life savings on a litre of branded sugar water (normally from a ten year old at some "authorised vendor point"); as well as the joy of experiencing security men who still felt bad about failing their Basic Training in HM Forces. Do you still want that? Frying pan or fire, the choice is yours.