Over two decades ago, Rock Herk was one of the very first festivals I've ever visited. I remember seeing bands like The Paranoiacs, Therapy?, Belgian Asociality and Noordkaap there. Back then festivals were different from now. There was close to no merchandise, no second stage so you had to wait and listen to soundchecks and for food you could choose between fries and burgers. But the music was fine, brilliant at times and the atmosphere was always friendly. I loved going to that festival, especially since it was free at the time.
Now Rock Herk isn't free anymore. There's more food and drinks available than bands and they even host a semi-professional merchandise booth. However, some things remain. Children are still welcome. They even provided a cleaning service by picking up empty cups and exchanging them for red hats which would probably immediately turn into trash themselves. Personally I wasn't really fond of the presence of those children. Not that I hate the presence of children on festivals but mainly because there was simply no room for them and it was a dangerous place to be for kids.
I don't know why, but Rock Herk moved from the beautiful 'Olmenhof' park to the sports ground next to the park. Because of this, the festival seemed a lot smaller and there was only a narrow passage between the two tents where the stages were placed. This didn't only make the festival seem extremely crowded but it was also very dangerous for the little children, constantly bending over to pick up cups. Many times collisions were barely avoided and I can only imagine the filth and bacteria these kids touched and ate (because they constantly put their fingers in their mouths), not to mention the traces of drugs. So parents, please leave your kids at home when you go to a festival, especially little babies in carriages.
Since I've started this review whining about stuff that has nothing to do with music, let's continue for a while. This area was not dirty, it was filthy. By eight in the evening there was no spot left on the grass to sit. Everywhere were cups, food leftovers, trash of all sorts, carelessly thrown away without any regard for safety or ecology. There were trash bins all around the terrain but they were barely used. The street outside the area was disgusting, loaded with empty bottles, beercans, barbeques and unidentified fluids. I wonder whether we were the only ones who got depressed by that sight?
Toilets, another aspect Rock Herk should clearly reconsider. For 2.50 euro you could pee and poo all day. Result: many guys were too stingy to pay and peed pretty much everywhere. Goodbye final shady places to have a nice sit down on the grass. Maybe a tip: add 2.50 euros to the ticketprice and let people's excrements flow freely in a controlled condition. This literally stunk.
Is that it? No more complaints?
Yep, let's move on to the music.
But before we start, let's praise Rock Herk a bit more. I almost feel guilty for the rant above but fact remains that Rock Herk is not just a festival. It's a happening. Like many festivals they faced their ups and downs and they were saved by crowdfunding. This event is older than half of its visitors with over thirty years of experience. The result is quite visible: great sound, lots of variation in the line-up, nice light shows, a friendly atmosphere and decent food, a guarantee for a nice day in the park...
I can't tell you anything about the bands that played Friday because we didn't go that day and on Saturday we missed a few bands because of the strike of some train drivers. About that, kudos to NMBS for solving that problem quickly. At first we were only hoping to get to the festival but our trip went pretty smooth without too much delay. Besides, I had an interesting book to read about someone with locked-in syndrome.
The Sha-La-Lee's (with members from Evil Superstars, El Guapo Stuntteam and some other well known Belgian bands) also did a very good job with their uplifting bluesy rock, complete with harmonica. They managed to get a little party started but somehow it wasn't memorable enough to get stuck in my head. Maybe because I almost fell over a hearing protected six-year-old with a pile of empty beer cups.
Back at the main stage, The Afterpartees tried to get the crowd dancing to their seventies inspired pop rock, which worked quite well. It was the first band that I enjoyed for quite a while and I can see a decent future for these Dutch guys. Yet again, after a while I had enough of it and at this time I was starting to wonder what the hell was happening. Was this day turning into a disappointment?
In my CD searches on festivals and shops, I often encounter an album by Belgian sludge doomers Briqueville. I never bought it until this day, immediately after their gig. This was, yes I'm going to say it, the best sludge band I have ever seen in my entire life. The music was brilliant and the highly original and clean, almost Gregorian-like chants were mesmerizing. Briqueville saved Rock Herk, that's for sure.
From a decent distance I heard Landscapes opening their set and once again it was hardcore so we decided to grab something to eat and have another little walk. At this point in the review it might be good to mention that I've been ill for over a week, including headaches, sore muscles and other discomforts. Most of it was healed by Saturday but my body reached the state of exhaustion earlier than usual. So we sat down and ate a pretty decent hamburger and fries, for old time’s sake.
Like we did with Landscapes earlier, we completely turned our backs on White Jazz because of hardcore and we did the same with Expire and Comeback Kid. I think some of my colleagues here would have loved these bands and they were probably all fantastic if you're into that kind of music. However, I would like to mention that hardcore bands have always been a huge part of Rock Herk and that should indeed continue. Hardcore is a decent genre to cope with the problems the youth of today faces and an excellent exhaust-valve for feelings of aggression and violence. So indeed, long live hardcore. I just don't feel that violent anymore...
Eagulls sounded great, a bit like a hyperactive version of Joy Division. However, after a few songs it struck me how one-sided the vocals were. While browsing the market area and surroundings, we were often pulled back into their decent post-punk but I never had the feeling that I listened to more than two different songs. Eagulls might be a promising band but a bit more variation couldn't hurt.
Raketkanon brought more decent sludge and we quite enjoyed the majority of their set. Of course this is yet another very promising Belgian act, able to get very far with their cumbersome, twisted sound. For a while I was shaking my head along with the music and I continued to feel a lot better about this festival.
Many years ago I almost hit him in the face or kicked him in the nuts. Me and a friend were at a local bar, De Link. It was our usual hangout. At one point, my friend had to go pee and I went to get some drinks and nachos. Man, those were good nachos. When I turned around to go back to our table, I noticed Stijn Meuris sitting at it, along with some of his friends. I, politely, told him this was our table and pointed towards my jacket which was draped over the chair he was sitting on and towards my cigarettes on the table. He simply told me to get lost. I'm not going into details but let's just say there were five of them and two of us. It wouldn't have been a fair fight so we found a spot at the bar and developed a silent grudge against Meuris.
I don't know why exactly I wanted to see this concert. Maybe I was hoping he would fall off stage and break his glasses or I could write a pretty stingy review about his performance. Yet, fact remains, Meuris has written some Flemish rock classics with 'Een Heel Klein Beetje Oorlog' , 'Gigant', 'Wat Is Kunst' and the awesome Will Tura cover 'Arme Joe'. All of these are damn good songs and even though I've hated him personally for about twenty years, some of these songs had truly inspired me on my own rock journeys.
So when the band got on stage and Stijn joined in seconds later, I was ready, but so was he. All the songs I mentioned before were played, along with several other hits. Everywhere around me the audience was moving and loudly singing along and the atmosphere was dazzling. Suddenly, out of nowhere I was back at Rock Herk 199something, enjoying the warmth and comfort of a perfect summer evening with thousands of others. And although Meuris still 'dances' like he suffers from epileptic seizures, he's a true entertainer and he was victorious all the way. This was a fantastic concert in every aspect of the word.
About an hour after his gig, Stijn Meuris passed me quickly to go to I don't know where. Suddenly, I pulled his arm and made him stop. Maybe I was ready to fire that punch to the face after all but I didn't. Instead I said 'great job' and 'it is ok now'. He looked at me, smiled a bit weird (I don't think he remembers that bar-scene) and said thanks for the kind words before disappearing into the dark. Actually, I don't know if he disappeared or I did but it doesn't matter. I decided to no longer hate Stijn Meuris, how awesome is that.
By the time Slowdive was about to end their gig, my body decided it had been enough for this day. So we missed Helmet but I'm sure they did an amazing job like they always do. I've seen Helmet several times in the past and they're always good. So I don't think they will mind us not being there.
In all, Rock Herk was a decent festival experience with, for us, some highlights in Slowdive, Meuris and Briqueville. I only hope they will have the chance to move back to the park because this area was clearly inadequate and way too small for the amount of visitors. I quite enjoyed the festival, along with a few thousands of others and even through those little flaws it showed, Rock Herk still is a festival to be proud of when you come from Limburg.
Serge & Eline