Oceans of ink were spent in newspapers and media sites, reporting about the disastrous events at the Eurorock festival in Neerpelt. One the one side, the festival organizers, arguing that a severe case of money theft compromised the normal festival course. On the other side, so-called experts and insiders claiming deceit and even financial fraud by the organizers. Bands pulling out at the last minute and refusing to play, other bands embracing the fans with excellent performances, for the love of music. Among this quarrel, you would almost forget the real mission of the Eurorock festival: an ultimate celebration of gothic, old school new wave, industrial and EBM music with special focus on local Belgian acts. Our report represents the unbiased, ordinary festivalgoer who simply expects having a good time and enjoying his favorite music.
The days before
Excitement was rising when reading on the official Eurorock website that the festival was sold out. Apparently, 6000 tickets were sold and 2000 extra day tickets were made available. Information on the website was sparse, it wasn't even clear if this festival is indoors or outdoors. The previous incarnation of Eurorock was back in 2003 in event hall 'De Souverein' in Lommel. Luckily some photos on the Facebook page of the festival unveiled that it's an outdoor event, and all bands would play in a huge two-stage tent that would even be heated in case of cold temperatures. This couldn't be better, and made us decide to leave umbrellas and warm clothing at home or at least in the car. No band had pulled out at the last minute, another good sign of a magnificent weekend to come.
Our 2 hour drive to Neerpelt and the festival site already unveiled its first surprise. Signage was trivial and only appeared in the close neighborhood of the festival. Ten years ago that would have been a major issue, but our navigation unit guided us perfectly to the festival site. But... no heavy traffic, no queues at all. Ah great at first site, but slightly disturbing when you park your car in an enormous field that can easily hold ten times the current occupancy.
Arriving at the festival entrance, it became obvious that the venue was designed for much larger crowds. Several entrances, but only one was open. Our press accreditations were accepted without any issue, and nobody even bothered to inspect my backpack containing camera equipment and some spare clothing. Smooth and easy going the way we like it, but unusual compared to other festivals.
The first thought that came to mind when entering the festival site around 13pm was: “where the hell is everybody?”. Judging from the festival's website announcements, it's supposed to be sold out. But the festival ground wasn't crowded, there was plenty of space. As a music fan, you love this. No long queues at the food and drinks booths, no queues at the toilets, you could easily get to the front rows while bands were playing. Excellent! But at the same time, disturbing. There should have been more people here today, right?
The first artist we saw performing was Luc Van Acker, a local celebrity among insiders, who played in Arbeid Adelt, Red Zebra, Revolting Cocks and Ministry, to name a few. This was no typical Eurorock act at all – it sounded happy, it rocked at a few times, and mr Van Acker was evidently enjoying himself on the stage, especially when kissing his female background singer. Personal musical fun assured, but the majority of the audience didn't care.
A Split Second was the first Belgian EBM band on the podium, celebrating their 30th anniversary with a sublime, faultless performance if you're into old school eighties new wave. My younger friends/colleagues were just spending time sunbathing and wondering why old farts like me were enjoying this band so much. It's in the vibe and atmosphere, my friends.
Next up was a far more legendary Belgian band, Arbeid Adelt. Essentially part of the eighties, they distinguished themselves by a good dose of absurdity and staggers, both musically and lyrically. The band officially broke up in 1992 and has been doing a few reunion gigs ever since, including this one. Band leader and singer Marcel Vanthilt, a Belgian tv celebrity in the meantime, looked splendidly sharp and sexy in his white striped two-piece suit while Luc Van Acker adorned himself with yet another funny hat. Good show, good old fun! But only for old farts who knew their history. One of the most striking facts of this festival was the lack of youngsters. Yes there were a few, but the majority of the audience was in their forties and fifties. Either this musical genre is dying, or the organizers failed to select real people magnets?
The Honeymoon Cowboys were a complete surprise to me. Never heard of them, although the participants of former Siglo XX members ran a very distant bell (yeah even for an old fart). But man oh man, this band proved what all those festivals are about: discovery. If you let yourself engulfed by the morose, brooding atmosphere of this surprising Belgian act, you discovered a set of serene, well performed, intimate songs that conveyed emotion like in the good old days of Joy Division. Several people told the same afterwards, and consensus doesn't lie. Watch out for these guys in the future, they deserve it.
Probably the most commercial band on the bill, Customs played a solid rock 'n roll set that didn't please everybody (especially the poor guy that gave his beer to the singer, who didn't swallow it down as expected) and so this band caused mixed feelings, accentuated by the ugly and unfitting garb of the band – these slick suits have certainly offended a part of the audience that may have otherwise embraced the band. Nevertheless, killer songs like 'Justine' and 'The Matador' really have international potential and therefore we love this technically skilled Belgian band!
Germans Diary Of Dreams have built up a solid reputation based on the morose singing style and musical genius of Adrian Hates, lead singer and band leader. 'depressive electronic rock' I would call this, as it combines the hopeless let-down atmosphere of the eighties new wave era with contemporary tunes and electronics. A combination that cannot fail. As expected, Diary of Dreams came, saw, and conquered. The first bands that got massive audience support and eagerness in the front rows. Well deserved for one of the highlights of Eurorock 2015!
Next up were The Crüxshadows, a visually appealing American band that cleverly exploits attractive girls (two blonde dancers, two background musicians and an eye-catching violinist) accompanying singer/band leader Rogue. This man suffers from ADHD, it seems. As if effortless, he climbs the stage towers, jumps into the front stage area and evidently wants to come as close to the audience as possible. Such enthusiasm can only be adored, but the main issue with this band is their shallowness. Sure, it's catchy, it's sexy and entertaining, but musically it doesn't cause orgasms.
Suicide Commando on the other hand, was the hard wakeup kick-in-the-butt we all needed on this festival. At last, a band that could hit really hard and relentlessly! Opener “Bind, Torture, Kill” set the stage for a raw, bleak and wrecking set where frontman Johan van Roy screamed and vomited piles of frustration, disgust and bile over the audience, supported by a super tight backline and nauseating visual projections. As the years pass, we've come to love Suicide Commando more and more for their uncompromising attitude and lovely sense of blackened humor. An absolute festival highlight, this one.
Vive La Fete, another Belgian act (from my hometown Olsene), were more or less playing on routine – their catchy tunes and sexy female singer Else Pynoo as main trump cards. Sure it was fun and the audience drank it deeply, but we can't help but feel that band leader Danny Mommens would rather play in some heavier guitar-based format that this light electropop.
German band Oomph! hadn't been playing in Belgium for many years, and even before the first note was played, this was obviously going to be a special occasion. The whole stage was set like an old shipwreck and the band members wore sailor outfits – vocalist Dero Goi even a red rain cape and diving goggles.... Never take this industrial rock/metal band seriously, they're here for the fun and entertainment! We all simply loved the exciting and enslaving sound of “Labyrinth”, “Das weisse licht” or “Mein Herz”, culminating in public favorites “Seemansrose” (the band succeeding to let the whole audience sing along and wave hands in unity), “Gott ist ein Popstar” and “Augen auf”. Cooldown after such an overdosis of musical fun: Monthy Python's “Always look on the bright side of life”. Thank you Oomph! That was a marvelous end to festival day one, as fatigue made us skip headliners ASP and Apoptygma Berzerk unfortunately.
Physical recovery from day 1 took longer than expected, as we reached the festival area again in the middle of the afternoon. The parking area was luckily more crowded than the day before, but still, on our way to the entrance, the sea of open space on the terrain was again disturbing. Some part of the catering areas was even closed down, including the coffee booth (unforgivable for a festival organizer who own a coffee company!). Another ill omen was the Xandria backdrop on stage, while we thought that they should have played at least two hours ago. Then the word came to us: the festival was shut down apparently, due to financial reasons. The official explanation was that a large sum of money was stolen and that the organization was unable to pay the remaining bands.
Under these circumstances, not much you can do as photographer but sit down and relax, have a beer and some chats with friends. And that's how most people were actually taking it. No one went home, we all waited for news. It came scarce but in a friendly way – the festival organization was now in the hands of volunteers and the catering company; a new sound backline had to be found, and heaven and earth were moved to let the festival continue. The whole schedule was blown to smithereens and it was a guess at which band would be playing next.
Not surprisingly, the bands with metal roots showed the best attitude: Lacrimas Profundere, Xandria and Anathema were the first confirmed names. Unfortunately we missed the set of Lacrimas Profundere, who nevertheless played an excellent show, if word of mouth can be believed. Xandria from Germany, the only real metal band on the bill, played an enthusiastic set of melodic female fronted metal and was rewarded with much clapping and shouting in the audience. The contrast with Portion Control from London couldn't be bigger – two middle aged, grey men playing dull, monotonous music without variety or dynamics. Yes they're legendary in the underground scene, but that doesn't save them from one of the most boring festival performances.
The same can be said of gothic rockers Whispers in the Shadows from Austria – nice for a few songs but unable to grasp our attention for a complete set.
Back to the Belgians then. Dirk Ivens is a legendary name in our local EBM scene, renowned for acts like Dive, Sonar and The Klinik, but Absolute Body Control may be the name that rings most bells if you have lived in the glorious eighties. Pure electronics, beats and samples full of nostalgia were bringing back memories of a teenage era in the new wave scene. “We must be getting really old” was the feeling when we saw that young kid (Iven's son, supposedly?) jumping to the beat and having the time of his life on stage.
Given the exceptional circumstances, rumor spread that Peter Hook would not play tonight. Yet there he was, the bassist who played with legendary Joy Division so many years ago. Celebrating 35 years since the death of frontman Ian Curtis, and dedicating the set to the recently deceased BB King, the Brit took us on a memorable ride through the legacy of Joy Division. 14 legendary songs of love, frustration, demise and depression came our way, some obvious classics like “Isolation”, “Shadowplay”, “She's Lost Control” and “Disorder” but also some excitingly obscure material like “Atmosphere”, “No Love Lost” and “Ceremony” (marking the start of New Order later on). Critics may claim that Hook thrives on the past and that is on the one hand true, but on the other hand, better music was composed in the past than nowadays. The unique post-punk of Joy Division has touched so many souls that it was heartwarming to hear all those classics live again, by a band that didn't overact but paid homage to this beautiful musical legacy. Peaking with the evergreen “Love Will Tears Us Apart”, Peter Hook's performance was the ultimate highlight of Eurorock 2015.
For the majority of people, this was the first time they saw Anathema play live, and they all loved it. Granted, the Cavanagh brothers are excellent musicians who express true feelings of longing, melancholy and atmosphere through music, and they do it very well. The whole set took inspiration from their latest albums since 2001. But what most people don't know, is that the band has a previous incarnation in the nineties, also called Anathema coincidentally, who released 5 great classic albums of supreme melancholic doom metal. All of that was totally ignored at Eurorock. And will ever be, because Anathema today is not in any way connected to Anathema of the past. You may have love the set, but for the fan of the older albums it was a rude slap in the face. Anathema version 1 is truly dead, yet they were so much better than this totally boring version 2.
Luckily there was a Tanzwut to lift our spirits again. Originally a spin-off of Corvus Corax, these German medieval warriors took the stage by storm with their bagpipes, horns and electric guitars combined! Instantly all our thoughts about festival troubles and cold weather had vanished and we immersed ourselves in a joyous tanzfest among friends and soulmates. The band played fresh, sharp and powerful and frontman Teufel known how to excite an audience. Splendid performance!
And then started the long wait. Was it the end of the festival? Or would there be more to come? Another official announcement stated that Killing Joke, Therion and Legend would still play, but not Fields of the Nephilim, The Neon Judgement, Front 242 and Praga Kahn. Three of those were Belgian bands – can you believe that? No judgement should be made without understanding the entire truth about bands being paid whole, partially or not, but nevertheless it's striking to see that foreign bands who traveled hundreds of miles would still play on this chaotic day for the love of music, while local musicians who live nearby don't give a rat's ass about the true festivalgoer who paid a ticket for seeing some Belgian heroes of the past. From here on, choose your heroes wisely, dear friends.
But forget the chaos and trouble. Killing Joke went on stage and Eurorock exploded! Almost literally, because after the legendary evergreen opener “Love Like Blood”, the band started the show with “Wardance”, supported by a magnificent fire breather who stole the show. The splendid aspect of Killing Joke is their candid profile, meaning that you would expect a lame commercial band that lives off success long gone but no, this Killing Joke still kills! In a fascinating rush of light, smoke and sound, 35 years of musical genius took control of our minds and souls, absorbing the contrariness of vocalist Jaz Coleman (who looks more and more like a sinister nightman in his overall) and his companions. This musical ode to non-conformism, only topped by the brilliant Peter Hook, took our hearts and left us with eternal praise for the great finale: “Primitive” and “Pandemonium”!
Switching bands took eternally longer because of the new backline and reliance on volunteers, it was far past midnight when Killing Joke completed their set, and there was no coffee (unforgivable), and so your dutiful photographer had no energy left to report on Therion and Legend.
The days after
The fried eggs on Sunday morning were not even cold when local newspapers and websites reported about the “Eurorock disaster” with juicy, sensational details about how poorly the festival was organized, how awful the experience was, blahblahblah. Some sources claimed having in-depth information on the financial fraud, rumors were going around the world and everyone had a personal opinion on social media. It must have been a terrible awakening for all those engaged volunteers who kept the festival going on day 2. We cannot thank these people enough though.
Retrospectively, this organization has made mistakes – there's no way to deny that. All of you who were present at the festival area could see with your own eyes that there were not enough people to be sustainable. The “sold out” messages on the official Eurorock website were a scam. It was an over-ambitious idea, yet we truly loved the idea. Belgium needs a gothic/EBM festival like this – a true underground music lover's fest that can take its course every year. But this is an underground scene, don't expect big crowds like on the popular summer fests. It's a set of dark and disturbing genres that appealed to us in the previous century, but with some exceptions (thankfully!) it doesn't appeal to the current generation of happy teenagers who think that the world turns around games, sun, parties and fun only. Dark musical styles are no longer popular these days, let's face it.
Despite the financial and organizational problems, we all enjoyed Eurorock 2015 pretty much, and that's all that matters for the true music lover. We've seen memorable acts who outdid themselves, and took pictures for eternity. But the lack of coffee on day two remains unforgivable.
Complete festival picture gallery: http://luckifer.smugmug.com/Concerts/Eurorock-2015/