The European festival circuit is an entity unto itself. Any given weekend the green, continental countryside is dotted with massive gatherings of freaks. Enormous stages surrounded by booming sound, luminous lights, and thousands of flailing folks become flashpoints for now music. Last weekend I stopped into the Rock Werchter Festival in Belgium. Held in a remote, open field it fit the typical bill to the tee. Throngs of electric teens and wasted boozers filled the grounds for the momentous miracles of muddy musical overload.
Unlike the many thousands camping for the entire four days of the festival we swooped in and out like moths to momentarily bright lights. Luckily my pal Saul Williams was playing and scored us handy artist passes which allowed all access. While heavy rain turned the already gooey fields to a complete mess we lounged luxuriously backstage in a private dressing room sipping wine and nibbling snacks. When it came time for a performance we simply strolled along the raised wooden walkways to view the shows up close and personal. The cold ache of guilt did flow into my body as I gazed warm and dry into the pupils of performers whom the general public obviously adored. They had shelled out a small fortune and braved intense elements to hear their heroes while I simply knew a few folks. What right had I to be so spoiled?
All of these faulty feelings flashed out of mind the moment Kraftwerk reached my pupils and ears. I stood not fifteen feet from the musical robots as they whirled through their catalog of electronic pop blueprints. It was a moment of pure nostalgia and perfect present tense. Memories of my breakdancing youth flooded back as I pop-locked to the syncopated circuitry of â€œNumbersâ€ and chugging funk of â€œTrans Europe Express. I heard the essence of every electronic dance song resonate within the tones of â€œRadioactivityâ€ and swayed to the sexy swing of the â€œModel.â€ Watching the man machines on stage was an absolutely surreal experience: Ralf HÃ¼tter pressing his wireless mic close while half singing every seminal vocoded word, Henning Schmitz ever so slightly pumping his rigid pelvis to the beat, Fritz Hilpert faintly grinning as he checked out the girls, and Florian Schneider looking as always like an intense, futuristic Frankenstein. They played all the hits, turned into robots, and donned glowing body suits. While their middle-aged bellies threatened to burst the seams I was awash with how ultimately funky these German cats still are.
(from summer 2005)