Every year, in the tiny Belgian village of Gestel, thousands of dudes and dudettes gather at one jaw-dropping hell-of-a-billed festival for two simple reasons; to get wasted and to get rockin’. With the title holders for punk rock NOFX and the recently reformed hugely influential The Get Up Kids on the flyer, Notes From The Underground had no other choice but to get in line for the leg-breaking circle pits and fist-in-the-air singalongs.
Bigger than ever before, 30,000 ticket holders (with a weekend ‘combi’ ticket costing €78), 55 bands and three stages made up Groezrock festival this year, held over two days in overcast mid-April.
Groez’ doubled in size since last year, making it the fastest growing alternative music festival in the whole of Europe. Fans from the heel of Italy to the summit of Norway made the journey this year to participate in this year’s fun, which included the addition of a new, third stage. Despite the sharp edge of this sword being that the larger the festival grows, the less the sense of community within it (something which is arguably a previous main attraction to the fest), this rise in popularity allows more bands and better bands to come to provide the soundtrack to an ace alcohol fuelled weekend in the middle-of-nowhere.
‘Community’, however, seems to remain a vital aspect of the fest, the kind of type that you can almost see, hear and smell. Where the village is literally loomed over by the tips of the fluorescent coloured tents, homeowners open up stands in their front gardens to sell burgers and drinks – almost as if they are part of the buzzing atmosphere which is infected by any soul who enters the village gates of Gestel that weekend.
The recently attached 3rd stage – the Etnies Back To Basics tent – saw through much of the antics during the weekend. Sets, namely from French ska/punk rockers PO Box and the ferociously technical Canadian guitar heroes (note: not of the multi-coloured button and strum-barred kind, got it?!) This Is A Standoff smashed through the glass ceiling of absurdness. With the lack of any gap between the waist-high stage and the sweaty crowd of punk rockers, stagedives were whole-heartedly encouraged… oh, how this liberty was abused; at any one given point there were at least half a dozen punk rockers from the pit joining each of those bands onstage, keen to jump as high as they can off the stage monitors, arms and legs flailing, on to some unsuspecting, shitty-grinned dude’s head.
Apart from brief blasts of awesomeness at the Eastpak stage from the likes of Bane (who managed to get the pits going at a headachey 10am), Comeback Kid and Epitaph Records new boys The Ghost Of A Thousand, it was up to the main stage to spit out the real goods.
Catch 22 proved that Streetlight Manifesto aren’t the only top rate ska/punk orchestra in the universe, despite inevitably not living up to their heyday of ‘Keasbey Nights’ with original singer/guitarist Tomas Kalnoky, while The Flatliners pulled gravelly voiced punk rock’n’roll injected set out of the Epi-Fat laced bag taking much from their epic Fat Wreck record ‘The Great Awake’.
The Vandals sped through their back catalogue of straight-up humorous snotty ’90s pop punk tunes fast enough to get the pogoers pogoing despite their geriatric aesthetics, but there was no doubt that it was up to the likes of Rise Against as well as headliners The Get Up Kids and NOFX to get the pulses racing.
Rise Against delivered as expected, showcasing their recently released most agitated, heaviest record yet, ‘Appeal To Reason’, and playing favourites such as ‘Give It All’ and ‘Ready To Fall’. But maybe it was the lack of the acoustic uplifting offering of ‘Swing Life Away’, or having to literally climb up the risers of the tent for a breath of fresh air and the inability to lift your arms (that’s if you made it through the sea of heads into the tent) that made this particular performance underwhelming and distant.
The Get Up Kids showed up to play their first European date since their reformation earlier this year with an all-star setlist with them that could only make you stand firmly on your heels with your hands by your sides in awe. Rocking much of 1999’s Fall Out Boy and Blink-182-inspiring flawless album ‘Something To Write Home About’, with the addition of stand-out tunes including hollow tear-jerker ‘Walking On A Wire’, TGUK showed you why you fell in love with them in the first place and, most importantly, showed that there is a future for them… and a fucking good one at that.
The final duty was left up to NOFX, back in the spotlight once again with the sardonically titled album ‘Coaster’ (with the vinyl variation titled ‘Frisbee’), to get the fists in the air and the legs kicking. Coming on at midnight (primetime to have a plastic cup of Belgium’s finest beer in hand) with the opener of ‘Linoleum’, it’s genuinely hard to see where you can go wrong with an hour of punk rock anthems that you know, love and probably hung out drinking your parents’ top shelf bottles to at some point in your life. For an hour, the inspiration was there to drink, fuck and fight to hits such as ‘The Brews’, ‘Murder The Government’ and the intro to ‘Bob’ (before Fat Mike forgot the lyrics to sink that fan-favourite ship, set fire to it, and then throw a few kerosene cylinders in there for good measure). After a tear-laughing West End-style onstage rendition of Avenue Q’s ‘Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist’ including dialogue starring crew members, Groez’ 2009 sadly came to an end. Now for a 12 month rest until next year…
Did you go to Groez’ this year and enjoy it? Would you consider going next year, even if the festival got more popular (with ticket prices inflating along with that)?