Dour Festival: One of the Most Genuine, Laidback Festival Experiences Of The Summer

The bag on my back feels like it’s filled with breeze blocks, and the mixture of extreme heat and humidity is making me secrete gallons of sweat per minute, but I don’t care because after my tedious trip up to Belgium I’m finally at the site of Dour 2013.

After asking five different people where to pick up my press wristband, I’m eventually pointed in the right direction and I’m in! The wait is over, the 25th instalment of the aptly named Dour festival, in the town of Dour, Belgium has begun. This weekend of festivities is already considered to be if not the best, one of the best in Belgium, and definitely the most diverse, and with this year being such an important anniversary, they’ve really managed to outdo themselves with the line-up. I set up my tent in the already packed campsite and prepare myself for the four days of amazing music I’ve got ahead of me.

Day one and the heat hasn’t died down, this doesn’t stop the atmosphere from being electric straight off the bat. East London reggae/ska quartet, The Skints are one of the first to take to main stage and give the crowd a great set that ties in perfectly with the weather as tufts of weed smoke rise up from the masses of people basking in the sun. Next up, over to the “Dance Hall” for soul superstar Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires, who give a performance worthy of their reputation with Charles’s piercing voice powering through hits such as “The Wold (Is Going Up In Flames)”. Over at the “Boom Box” stage, Riff Raff brings the comic appeal, sporting so much bling that it seems as though the man himself is encrusted with diamonds. He is swiftly followed by the far more credible Action Bronson, who’s throwback vibes give Dour’s hip hop heads the first (but far from last) performance to be happy with. I then excitedly make my way over to Bonobo, who provides easily one of the performances of the festival with something between a DJ set and a live set. As he opens up with a prolonged version of his new track “Cirrus”, the crowd goes quiet in awe. The live drums give his tracks a certain depth, not to mention the moments when the man himself whips out his bass guitar and fiddles it from behind the decks. The sun has set as The Yeah Yeah Yeahs take to the main stage to unleash a performance full of harmonious energy upon the buzzing crowd. Afterwards, I take a little break and refuel on Jupiler (Belgium’s national brew) before getting ready for the legendary Wu-Tang. With all of the controversy around missing members at their previous gigs, the crowd seems ecstatic to see that all of the gang are here. They continue by blasting on through a set that, despite some overly powerful bass, is full of every track the avid Wu fan would want to hear, from “C.R.E.A.M.” to “Gravel Pit” and even “Tearz”. The crowd are so into it, as the clan delve into “Da Mystery of Chessboxin’”, I don’t think there’s one person in earshot who doesn’t also know every single lyric.

Slovenian born producer Gramatik, having been hyped up to me by so many festival goers, turns out to be an unfortunate disappointment, with his set failing to live up the standards of his studio tracks. Afterwards, it’s to the other side of the festival to see Skream wrap up day one in style, with an intense yet bouncy set. The night is young, however, for anyone who still has energy (natural or chemical) as funky house beats blast through a sound system in the campsite all night long.

I emerge from my tent, day two, covered in sweat, but still ready for today’s healthy dose of great music. Rap supergroup La Coka Nostra take to the main stage mid-afternoon to give festival goers an injection of old skool hip hop. Then, Fritz Kalkbrenner, the younger of the two prodigal brothers tears up the red bull stage with an hour of techy deep house. Back over to the boombox for some more hip hop, as Freddie Gibbs’ replacement Chuck Inglish, one half of The Cool Kids, gives Dour an unexpectedly good dose of trappy beats and precise bars. I head over to the Cannibal stage, preparing my body for Massachusetts hardcore legends Converge, whose presence on stage is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Next stop, Ben UFO, my body absolutely battered, to enjoy a solid set from the Hessle Audio DJ. He’s followed by Four Tet, whose performance is decent but doesn’t live up to the expectations of the celebrated producer. I then make Rusko my last stop of the night, due to physical exhaustion, but the man still has a knack for keeping a Dubstep set interesting, against all odds.

It’s day number three and festival life is beginning to take effect on some. Several people are swanning around the campsite, looking like zombies, desperately looking for somewhere to brush their teeth. Regardless, the majority are still up for it and I make my way to the festival site under the boiling sun. Today marks the opening of the Dub Corner, a nicely secluded grassy area with four speaker stacks, hosted by Blackboard Jungle Sound System. It definitely makes a nice place to relax among the cheerful white rastas and clear my head before the day ahead. Pretty similar vibes as I head over to the main stage for ERM & Lee Scratch Perry. This man is so essential to reggae and dub history that he’s pretty much a myth, but unfortunately time has taken its toll on him and he can barely hold down the hour that he has been allotted, how sad. Devendra Banhart is another disappointment, with a performance lacking in energy and emotion. Afterwards, there’s a mass exodus to the main stage for the triumphant return of Jurassic 5. Their show is near perfect, with what seems to be choreographed movements, and pinpoint precision with their verses. Chali 2na’s deep, baritone voice on tracks like “What’s Golden” and “Concrete Schoolyard”, almost sounds better in person than on their studio tracks. I wave goodbye to those mellow sounds as Venetian Snares unleashes hell on me and my fellow festival goers. Joy Orbison, followed by Giles Peterson, finish up the night in style.

There always seems to be an unspoken but ubiquitous feeling of depression on the last day of a festival. Everyone is stoically dreading the trip home, but often this makes people go all out and turns the last night in to the most memorable one. The dub corner is packed as usual, as Aba Shanti I lays down gut-trembling bass lines for four hours straight. I haven’t got time to stay though, as I need to head over to see San Francisco rap prodigy Watsky. The young man manages to hypnotize the crowd with his goofy yet poignant lyrical content. Shortly after, Swedish industrial punk outfit Holograms offer an hour of solid, synth-punk influenced tracks. Marseille hip hop legends IAM are next to shuffle out onto the main stage. Despite their performance being rather static, they manage to pull off an incredibly powerful show. Folk rock duo Two Gallants provide some awesome tunes to get the people of Dour ready for the headliners. I met several people at the festival who, when I asked if they would be seeing Smashing Pumpkins, they simply replied with: “Who?” Regardless, the Chicago bred rockers probably manage to pull the biggest crowd of the festival, and their performance lives up to expectations. Starting their set with their hit “Tonight, Tonight”, the crowd instantly goes into hysterics, with Baldy Billy Corgan later sporting a heartfelt smile as the band performs “1979”. I wrap up day four with DJ Shadow and The Bug, who both provide enough bass to rattle my brain as I watch fireworks light up the Dour sky in celebration of the final night.

Satisfied, I head to the campsite for a few more hours of awful sleep before packing up my heavy, smelly bag and hopping back in the sweatbox that was my coach. Two thumbs up to all the artists, volunteers and organizers behind this awesome festival. Thank you for giving us what was one of the most genuine, laidback festival experiences of the summer. Bring on Dour 26!

Words by Ian Treanor