Even as the hype over Irish festival season fades and your wellies are dumped in the cupboard, it’s not that insane to start thinking about next year. After all, Electric Picnic tickets went on sale before you’d even got round to washing your mucky jeans.
And as the Picnic heads for another inevitable sellout in 2018, one alternative festival that stands out is Lowlands — one of Europe’s most famous weekenders that’s been a Dutch rite of passage since 1993.
I headed to the festival in August for its milestone 25th edition and found that it more than lives up to its OTT full name: A Campingflight To Lowlands Paradise.
Set in the northern rural area of Biddinghuizen (try saying that after a few) in mid-August, Lowlands is one of the easiest European festivals to plan logistically.
The site is 80km from Amsterdam Schipol airport, with eight daily flights from Dublin between Aer Lingus and Ryanair, that never stray much beyond €100 return if you book in good time. From Schipol, it’s then €12 for an hour-long train to Lelystad, with an endless supply of free shuttle buses to the festival site from Lelystad station.
At a 55,000 capacity, Lowlands is roughly the same size as the Picnic, and even though we boast about being the cliched good craic great bunch of lads party heads, you can’t beat the Dutch for good natured partying. There’s no visible messy drunkenness on the campsites (even from the lads flying a Jagermeister flag beside our tent), and there’s chilled vibes galore – maybe down to the not very strict limit of 5g of weed per person.
Holland is famous for its techno festivals, but Lowlands is a real all-rounder. This year among the dozens of acts we had indie standards (The xx, Alt-J ), punk and hardcore (At the Drive-In, Iggy Pop), hip-hop (Migos, Cypress Hill,), techno (Carl Craig, Robert Hood), soul (Sampha, Solange) and plenty of poetry, theatre, cinema, performance art and classical performances.
The well-worn cliche about the Dutch is their attention to detail and efficiency, and this extends to their festivals. Holland’s weather is as varied as ours, so all the stages are covered – from regular circus-type tents, to the tunnel structures for techno areas, the Bacardi Hacienda decked out like a Latin colonial building and the monstrous orange striped ‘Armadillo’ that’s the festival’s easiest fuelling stop and meeting point, with its food stalls, impromptu DJ sets and nooks and crannies to sit in and have some food or a beer.
The drink situation is another breeze. It’s a token system so there’s no cash at the bar – just buy Lowland-branded tokens from dozens of vending machines dotted around the site, and pay by cash or card. And maybe the Dutch don’t drink as much as us, but there was never more than a two-minute queue for a beer.
And sticking to the ‘Campingflight’ name, Lowlands doesn’t do single day tickets, to keep everyone on the same buzz. Over a glass of wine, organiser Eric van Eerdenberg tells us: “If you come to the Campingflight, you come in on Thursday and leave on Monday, there are no fresh virgin spirits coming in! On Sunday people may be going berzerk, but people are connected all over the field.
“The young people who are here for the first time, it’s hitting them like a slap in the face, but the older people, they feel a great loyalty as it has meant so much to them in their youth.”
- Published in Irish Daily Star travel section