2009 TNT Travel Writing Awards entrant

Author: Ben McCulloch


I love music. I may not live for it and unfortunately, I do not have a single musical bone in my body, but not a single day passes where I do not pump out some tunes to serve as my very own soundtrack to get me through an otherwise tedious day. And I don’t limit myself to one particular band or genre. I like to think that I have an open mind when it comes to music. I’m willing to give anything a listen at least once. In these times of file sharing, MySpace and live-streaming, I feel I owe it to the bands out there striving to make a living to at least do them the honour of listening to their music before passing judgement. After all, that is what these innovations are for. Yes, more people than ever before are listening to their favourite bands without any remuneration for said bands, much to the chagrin of James, Kirk and Lars (and currently Robert Trujillo), yet it is for this very reason that more and more bands are finding themselves whisked from obscurity (and their parents’ garages) to begin living their lives in studios and tour buses, something that they have no doubt dreamed about since the first time they saw Almost Famous, much in the same way I have dreamed about living the life of the young William Miller. And it is also for this reason that these bands are able to play to throngs of jumping, sweaty crowds who have saved, sacrificed, planned, travelled and queued to see them play even just one of their favourite songs. 

I love music. This I have already stated. To be more specific though, I should state more unequivocally that I love live music. There is no substitute to standing in a crowd with other sweaty, sunburnt, like-minded fans and feeling the bass line reverberate through your bones as those ‘golden gods’ take to the stage and proceed to ‘melt your face off.’ And the best way to see live music is undoubtedly at a music festival. Maybe the acoustics and sound production will not be as solid as in an arena or theatre, depending on the festival in question, but there is no doubt that the atmosphere at a festival more than makes up for any inferiority (which is debateable anyway) in sound quality. Add to this the number of bands you are likely to see in a day (or several days) and the value of your ticket increases substantially. Add to this, the time spent away from home, camping with friends, waiting for your cherished band to take to the stage after months of patiently waiting and your enjoyment reaches a point that you will be forever chasing again thereafter.

Now, I am by no means a veteran when it comes to the festival scene. In fact, with the exception of several Australian Big Day Outs under my belt, this summer was my first chance to experience the fun firsthand. With so many festivals littering the summer from Isle of Wight to Glastonbury to Leeds and Reading as well as international festivals such as Grasspop and Exit, there is no shortage for choice. And so with a sadly limited and forlorn budget allowing for only one festival and one festival only, and after some extensive research into the line-ups (both potential and confirmed) as well as destinations that my friends approve of, the winning festival for the summer for 2009 was Rock Werchter.

Located near Leuven, approximately 30 kilometres to the east of Brussels, Belgium, Werchter is the home of a festival that has run since 1974. In 2009, Rock Werchter ran from the 2nd of July to the 5th and was headlined by such artists as Oasis, The Prodigy, The Killers, Coldplay, Kings of Leon, 2ManyDJ’s, Nine Inch Nails and Metallica to name but a few. While rain was forecast for the first three days, ‘Mother Nature’ and her infinite wisdom decided to serve up four days of perfect 28ºC+ weather, punctuated only by a 25 minute shower on the final day during an otherwise energetic and chaotic set by The Mars Volta. Serving to cool the masses congregating before the metaphorical storm that took form in the shape of Metallica, the rain proved to be a blessing. After three days in the sun, it is fair to say that my skin was starting to feel that all too familiar sting before the soothing arrival of the rain. The timing could not have been more perfect for a refreshing shower as, after three and a half days, I was beginning to feel a little drained. In addition to this, being the final day of the festival, there was no concern over the grounds turning to mud. Save your wellies for Glastonbury!

Despite being known as the longest running music festival in Europe, Rock Werchter still operates under relative obscurity. This statement may seem fanciful when you bear witness to the near 100,000 people that crammed through the gates to immerse themselves in the work of Chris Martin, Brendan Flowers, Fred Durst, the Gallaghers and co. over four glorious days but the fact is that the majority of these people are Flemish, with the rest of the population being divided between continental Europeans, Scandinavians, Brits and finally, the UK-based Antipodeans. And despite the seemingly large number of All Black and Aussie flags flying amongst the crowd, it would be fair to say that none of those people heard about Werchter from advertising in London, simply because it is non-existent, certainly not within the confines of TNT. The majority of these people, I dare to put forward, only learnt about this extraordinary festival through word of mouth and/or through the official website. Certainly after my experiences there this year, all of my friends, family, peers and, in fact, anyone who stands still long enough to listen, will hear about the brilliance that is Rock Werchter.