With a supersize, diverse line-up, Belgium’s second largest weekender – which took place from Thursday 17 to Saturday 19 of August – boasted The Flaming Lips’s Wayne Coyne riding a unicorn, The XX’s Romy Madley Croft celebrating her birthday, and Stormzy trying to incite the weekend’s biggest most-pit.
On a Thursday bill where the monochrome influence of Interpol’s Turn On The Bright Lights could be seen in both the xx and Editors, the NYC band performed their seminal 2002 debut in its entirety, swathed in moody lighting. After opening with two wild-cards from second long-player Antics (‘Not Even Jail’ and ‘Evil’), they then rolled up their (immaculately tailored) sleeves and glowered their way through Turn On, from the grandiose ‘Untitled’ to ‘Leif Erikson’. Rarely-played cuts ‘Roland’ and ‘Obstacle 2’ received a live airing, while frontman Paul Banks’s brooding baritone remains undiminished by age.
Patriotically flying the flag for UK grime, charisma-machine Stormzy makes good on his pledge to “Turn this place upside down!”, with a blistering 40-minute set with more energy levels than a Duracell Bunny on Red Bull. Before a raucous ‘Big For Your Boots’, he attempts to orchestrate the biggest mosh-pit Pukkelpop has ever witnessed, while when fights erupt in the audience during his remix of Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape Of You’, he wins even more adulation by calling out the “bad vibes crew.” Bare-chested, he incites bedlam with the finale of ‘Know Me From’ and ‘Shut Up’.
The former Boy Division go for main stage giganticism, unleashing enough pyrotechnics during ‘Papillon’ to singe eyebrows in the front row.
“Today is extra special,” declares Oliver Sim towards the final furlong of the xx’s mesmeric headline main stage performance. “It’s past midnight, which means it’s Romy’s birthday.” His comrade is ushered to the front and presented with an oversized card, while the sprawling crowd serenade her with ‘Happy Birthday’. Endearingly, he hails her as “My sister. My queen. My Beyoncé,” As the set (which pulls off the high-wire act of being both intimate and epic) winds to an end, it seems the trio are already in the mood to party. Usually their aesthetic is blacker than Mark E Smith’s liver, but Skittle-bright rainbow visuals greet Jamie XX’s euphoric Romy team-up ‘Loud Places’, which dovetails into the Hall and Oates-sampling ‘Hold On’. When Romy signs off after closer ‘Angels’ by beaming: “There’s nowhere else I’d rather be”, the feeling from the field is mutual.
“Are you fucked yet?” enquires Tove Lo, effortlessly stoking a party atmosphere, Bearer of flawless pop hooks, she carpet-bombs her early Friday set with stone-cold Scandi-pop bangers and sex-positive messages – such as her Flume-collab ‘Say It’ and ‘Cool Girl’ – which culminates in her breakthrough hit ‘Habits (Stay High)’. During ‘Talking Body’, the 29-year-old pulls up her Britney Spears T-shirt to flash her nipples.
Showcasing material from glorious latest album No Shape, Mike Handreas vogues and slut drops his way round the stage. When he tears through closing number, the anti-homophobia sucker-punch of ‘Queen’, he forcibly spits out the lyrics: “Don’t you know your queen/cracked, peeling, riddled with disease/no family is safe when I sashay!” like broken teeth.
In the audience of The Flaming Lips, a smattering of students are passing round a blow-up doll dressed in a sun-dress and various accessories. But //nobody// beats Wayne Coyne when it comes to inflatables and bizarre outfits. Resplendent in a natty red suit, eye-patch and daubed in glitter, he opens with ‘The Race For The Prize’, in a blitz of balloons and confetti. During ‘There Should Be Unicorns’, he ups the WTF ante by fittingly riding a unicorn through the tent, with rainbow angel wings attached to his back. As is his regular party trick, he rolls over the crowd in a translucent bubble while covering David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’. There’s dancing eyeballs, massive pink robots and by the time of transcendent, life-affirming closer ‘Do You Realize??’, the whole thing joyously resembles CBeebies’ Mr Tumble having an acid trip.
On the Friday, headliners Bastille brought their politically-woke ‘Wild Wild World’ tour to Belgium, home of the European Union headquarters. Which gives the images the band project of an exaggerated Theresa ‘Brexit Means Brexit’ May-lookalike on the screens behind them extra resonance. Opening with ‘Send Them Off!’, they immediately barrel into ‘Laura Palmer’. Introducing ‘Warmth’ – about the anxiety caused by helplessly watching 24-hour news coverage – frontman Dan Smith references the terror attack in Spain that claimed 13 lives the day before. “This weekend has been another very sad time and our love goes out to everybody in Barcelona at the moment,” he said. The group’s titan-sized choruses were designed to be belted out by the masses: ‘Of the Night’, ‘Icarus’ and closer ‘Pompeii’ duly see them nearly drowned out by the communal choir.
“You are a beautiful audience but next time, don’t take quaaludes!” advises regrouped (again) post-hardcore outfit At The Drive In live-wire frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala at the end of a thrillingly visceral set, which sees him ricochet off speaker stacks, and at one point performs with his trousers round his ankles. Kicking off with ‘Arcarsenal’ – from third album, 2000’s Relationship Of Command, they joyride their way through a frentic set airs material from in•ter a•li•a, released in May – their first album in 17 years.
“There’s no place I’d rather be. You feel like family….And that rhymes” concluded Marcus Mumford, as he surveyed the audience for Saturday’s headline slot. The motorik War On Drugs-esque ‘Snake Eyes’ from third album Wilder Mind kick-started proceedings, before the banjo-brandishing ‘Little Lion Man’ turns Pukkelpop into a campsite hoedown. Halfway through, Marcus asked: “How do you feel about some lovely ladies?”, before Stockholm sisters First Aid Kid arrive onstage to give ‘Awake’ and harmony leg-up. During ‘Dust Bowl Dance’, he snaked his way through the crowd, pressing the flesh with fans holding banners adorned with the wordplay-tastic likes of ‘MUMFORD, WILL YOU BE THE FATHER OF MY SON?’. “We’re going to have a little dance now, aren’t we?” he questioned rhetorically, before climaxing with ‘The Wolf’.
Crowd-surfers and a vortex of circle pits greeted veteran Chicago hardcore-merchants Rise Against at their twilight set in the Marquee tent, while sermon-favouring frontman Tim McIlrath addressed the recent problems of Trump and neo-Nazi riots in Charlottesville, commenting “We’ve been in Europe for a whole now and I see our nation going through an identity crisis. The violence, hate, envy, we need to learn a lot of lessons in the United States. But when I look at you, I see hope for the future.”