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Belgium

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Rivierenhof park in Antwerp

I’ve been in and out of Antwerp for almost 2 months, and I don’t have a single post on it! Shame on me. But it’s also mainly because we just do normal family stuff here — birthday parties, simple meals out, shopping, and running errands. But today, mum and I went on a mini excursion to one of the largest parks in Antwerp.

We wanted to do a day trip to Bruges, but the return train tickets are a whopping €29 each. So we stayed in Antwerp, and took a straight De Lijn public bus (€1.40 per trip) from Sis’ home to Rivierenhof park.

Belgian weather is pretty erratic. It started drizzling heavily when we arrived even though the weather app indicated otherwise when we checked it a couple of hours ago. So we took shelter in the lovely Rivierenhof castle.

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The interiors were beautiful, but the restaurant’s cappuccino and chocolate ice cream weren’t great though.

After that, we took our time and spent the entire afternoon exploring the enormous park on foot.

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Creepy little house.
Creepy little house.
There are few things in this world my mum loves more than flowers.
There are few things in this world my mum loves more than flowers.

Rock Werchter & Leuven

The great thing about Singapore is that you meet people from all over the world there. Pietr is a friend whom I met back home who grew up in Leuven, a town that’s 30km from Brussels. And as soon as we learned that we’d both be in Belgium this summer, we started to make plans. As I’m a sucker for music festivals, Rock Werchter became the obvious choice as the festival site is only a “short” (says Pietr) bicycle ride from his parents’ place in Leuven.

Shame on us for procrastinating on buying the tickets though, as only the Friday day pass (€97) was left for the 4-day event when we finally decided to put our money where our mouths were.

The journey starts from Antwerp Central Station, where I had to catch an hour-long train ride to Leuven. It was a really nice gesture on Rock Werchter’s part to give free return train rides to festival goers, for us to get from any Belgian city to Leuven.

Antwerp Central Station
Antwerp Central Station

Arrived early to explore the city, and ended up at the Grote Markt and joined many others for a pre-dinner drink at the square. Leuven is a university town, so I expected the prices to be a little bit lower. But it wasn’t that much different from eating out in Antwerp. But for drinks, I guess it’s still not too bad when compared to Singapore. A Somersby cider at one of the many bars at Grote Markt cost €3.80, and tacos with guacamole from another casual joint was €8.45.

When we got to Pietr’s place, I quickly got acquainted with his parents’ beautiful and superbly-maintained garden, which had cherry, raspberry, and cranberry trees, as well as chickens and a vegetable patch.

Leuven
We headed out again to a nearby bar, and passed by some lovely fields of crop.

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[stag_dropcap font_size=”88px” style=”squared”]B[/stag_dropcap]reakfast the next morning was so wholesome it could’ve made it into the pages of Cereal magazine. Pietr brought out apple juice that’s extracted from apples harvested from their own backyard and juiced by a farmer in the neighbourhood. No preservatives were added, and it tasted so sweet!

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And that’s not all. The slice of bread you see right there? It’s homemade too. Pietr’s parents are the ultimate hipsters — so cool without even realising.

Before we headed to Rock Werchter, we decided to swing by the city centre to see the famed KU Leuven university’s grand library.

Leuven University's grand old library
Leuven University’s central library

It was glorious on the inside too!

De Werf
And then we had lunch at De Werf, which is a short walk away. The tomato soup I had was pretty good!

The cycle from Leuven’s centre to the Rock Werchter site took about an hour, and I’m glad it was flat all the way. When we got there, we were pleased to find a very systematic parking system for bicycles, and it was free of charge! They also attach matching numbered tags to your wrist and bicycle to ensure that everyone leaves with their own bikes.

Parking our bikes.

Unlike Tomorrowland, the largest EDM festival in the world that’s held in Belgium, Rock Werchter is more unassuming and matured. The Belgians mostly kept to themselves, and there was no idiotic shouting from drunk imbeciles that infested Tomorrowland. Friday was the only day that wasn’t sold out; so I was surprised at how crowded it got!

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The first act we caught is Ibeyi, a pair of twins with amazing voices and soulful songs that gave me the chills.

John Newman
John Newman “working it”.

Somehow, I had the impression that John Newman’s songs were sappy and that the live performance was going to be emo and mellow. So when he finally stormed out on stage in a pimp get up (white suit and a gold chain, really?) and a high-energy song, I was caught off guard. And then he started busting some serious douchey dance moves, and Pietr and I just lost it and couldn’t stop laughing. I couldn’t believe how idiotic he looked on stage, acting like he’s the hottest shit on earth with a protruding tummy. It was like watching an annoying drunk white expat on Club Street. His on-stage ego was so inflated that it got less funny and more unappetising to witness after 2 songs.

 

So we headed out to try and forget what we just saw, and people watch.

We also saw Damian Marley (Bob Marley’s son) at the main stage, who was basically a bunch of cliches with his Jamaican flag, dreadlocks, and raggae riffs.

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Kwabs, unlike unfortunate Mr Newman, had the right amount of swag. He sauntered to his mike, owned the stage without trying too hard, grooved along to his songs, and delivered a pitch perfect performance. Amazing for a young artist.

Of Monsters & Men
Of Monsters and Men at the main stage

The Icelandic band’s newer songs fell rather flat, so their set didn’t have the same magic it had at Laneway 2 years ago. But Little Talks still got the crowd moving on their feet and shouting “Hey!”

A common sight as dusk approaches.
A common sight as dusk approaches.

 

Tried to take a selfie but a good looking and nice lady offered to snap this for us!
Me with Ray Charles at Balthazar’s set. Apparently they’re a cocaine-fueled Belgian band.

The half pint beers and other small bottled drinks cost €2.50. That plate of noodles with spring rolls from a stall called “Wok & Roll” cost me a hefty €10, and it was the shittiest noodles I’ve ever had. The spring rolls were all right though. My sis said I should’ve “wok-ed away”. But I didn’t. Maybe because I was lured in by the cute cook.

So were my noodles.
So were my noodles.

We also managed to catch the last bit of Death Cab for Cutie‘s set, where they played the songs that mattered: Soul Meets Body and Transatlanticism. So, so good. And I involuntarily saw FKA Twigs for the third fucking time even though I don’t like her music at all. Pietr didn’t know who she was, but said he had to see her after I said she was hot and had sexy moves. Alt-J‘s gig was scarily crowded. It was practically a mosh pit before they even came on stage. I don’t like their music at all, and was done with being chest-to-back with their hipster teenage fans after 1 song.

Mumford & Sons
Mumford & Sons

Mumford & Sons completely won me over 5 years ago at T in the Park, and although I was disappointed at their newest releases, it was still amazing to hear them live again. Their songs are pretty intimate, which was a waste at such a big setting. We were standing towards the back of the field, where everyone was talking, so I couldn’t really connect with their heartfelt songs.

Roisin Murphy
Roisin Murphy

I didn’t have much expectations for Roisin Murphy (Moloko’s lead vocalist) as I heard a couple of her songs and weren’t impressed. But I thoroughly enjoyed her set! I love it when artists transcend their studio recordings during their live performances. She even had different bizarre outfits for each song. The music was all very subtle and sexy. Definitely the second most danceable set of the day. The one that got me dancing the entire set was Pharrell Williams!

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Pharrell Williams

He was the closing act, so we decided to get up close to the stage. His performance was like a greatest hits album, with newer songs interspersed with mashups of old RnB songs that he produced such as Drop it like it’s hot and Hot in here. It really got the party going, and reminded me of my clubbing days a decade ago. The best part of the set  for me wasn’t when he did the wayyyyyy overplayed minion anthem, but when he slayed N.E.R.D’s She wants to move. I fucking love that song. He got a line of ladies from the audience to join him on stage for that song, and somehow he managed to single out the most awkward one of the bunch to dirty dance with. It was painful yet hilarious to watch the girl try to move sexily while he sang “she wants to move…”. It was truly THE moment of Rock Werchter for me… Aside from John Newman.

After the entire day out, I thought that cycling back would be painful. But the air was cool, the ground was flat, and there was no traffic, so it was the perfect way to end the day.

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[stag_dropcap font_size=”88px” style=”squared”]S[/stag_dropcap]lept in the next morning, and felt very appreciative and lucky to be in Europe to experience all its amazing summer music festivals. I was in a good mood when I went down to the kitchen to get some breakfast, but someone wasn’t sharing my morning chirpiness.

Tommy is the family’s cat who’s actually very affectionate, despite its permanent bitch face.

Popped by Leuven’s picturesque Groot Begijnhof, a well-preserved old town built in the 13th century as a safe haven for religious women. It’s now owned by the university, and some of its apartments now house students. Pietr said that it’s also one of the most popular spots in Leuven for cheesy wedding photographs.

From there, I took a stroll down Munstraat, where all the shopping was, and headed towards the train station.

Pretty decent hazelnut gelato for €2.
Pretty decent hazelnut gelato for €2.
Love that this doggie was celebrating gay pride too!
It was the start of gay pride parades, and I love that this doggie was celebrating too!

 

Recalling Tomorrow

I wish I could say that Tomorrowland in Belgium was the biggest and best music festival I’ve ever been to. I also wish that statement didn’t cost €272.02. Of course I had heaps of fun. But the heap was not as high as I expected.

It was the festival’s 2012 after movie that sold me the fantasy of attending it one day. I got chills watching it. The scale was mind-blowing, and so were the stages, props, and lasers. The video portrayed the euphoria of being at a music festival perfectly with a list of uplifting, catchy electro tracks, and I was determined to get my ass there soon enough.

The plan for a Europe trip with my best friends came up casually over dinner at Ghim Moh market, but it didn’t become concrete until we actually managed to get our hands on 4 Full Madness Tomorrowland Passes and Dreamville camping in February (after several heart-stopping moments and waves of cold sweat in front of our laptops).

We were shitting in our pants with excitement, and the plan, come July, was to congregate at my sister’s home in Antwerp, which is pretty near (only if you’re driving, we realised later) to Boom, where the festival grounds were. Team Singapore consisted of Priya and I, and team England was made up of the scissor sister pair, also known as Ade and Steph.

Us at Changi airport. We lugged our bagpacks to work so that we could leave on the 9:15pm flight.
After about 14 hours, we arrived at London’s St Pancras. From here we took a train to Brussels, and my brother-in-law picked us up.
After more than 24 hours of travelling, we were SO HAPPY to have homecooked mussels for dinner. We had 5 kg of it between the 4 of us.
Priya and my sis’ fat cat Coquin.

Had a good long sleep that night, and planned to hit town for some lunch and shopping while waiting for team England to arrive. They were setting out on a morning bus, and would arrive in the late afternoon. But, alas, we got a shocking text from Ade saying that her bus doesn’t exist (she figured it was a scam ticket that she bought online), and all the other subsequent buses were full. We panicked on Whatsapp, but Priya managed to secure them seats on the Eurostar from London to Brussels in the end.

So we went about our shopping in town, and team England managed to make their way straight to the festival smoother and quicker than expected. They got a connecting train from Brussels to Boom, then a shuttle bus to the camp site. They arrived while we were only halfway back home from town.

My niece Lily-Ann disapproving of the heat and strong sunlight.
Priya and I outside my sister’s place, setting out for Boom.

I’ve only been to 1 other music festival before, and that was the amazing T in the Park in Scotland. It was fantastic and I had such high hopes to re-live the magic of festivals at Tomorrowland. TITP also taught me to pack as much food for breakfast as possible (to fill up your tummy in your tent before heading to the main arena where you’d have no choice but to spend on over-priced meals), and be equipped with lots of wet wipes (you always need them somehow).

All this while, I thought Boom was “30 minutes from home”, according to Sis. Half an hour by car, that is. But we took the public transport (tram then bus), and it took us almost 3 fucking hours to finally set foot at the campsite. Well at least we didn’t have to help team England pitch the tent. Muah hahaha.

And so… WE ARE FINALLY AT TOMORROWLAND GUYS. Sorry for the lengthy prologue.

Entrance to Dreamville, our home for the next 3 days and 4 nights.
Was impressed at the scale and detail put into the The Gathering stage at the campsite.
The first meal on site was impressive! Very yummy for festival-type food.
Night came and people started to let their hair down. But I still don’t feel a connection with the crowd.

So here’s what we gathered even before the festival really began. 1) The median age is 18. 2) The look for Tomorrowland is “half naked buff prepubescent white boy not blessed with a nice face”. 3) The pre-party’s awesome music and props were great teasers for the main event, and it got us all extremely excited for tomorrow(land) to commence.

We were extremely let down, however, when we discovered that showers close at 10pm, even when the last act ends around 1am. We had to resort to wet wipes and crawl into our sleeping bags feeling sticky and dirty. It was seriously the worst part of this festival.

Day 1

Crawled out of our tents at 6:30am to catch the happy hour showers. It cost 1 token instead of 2 if you shower between 6am to 8am (it cost €10 for 7 tokens). The shower cubicles were nice and clean, and the mirrors had power points beside it — a big plus for style-conscious beauties like us. We went back to sleep after that, and it started to rain quite heavily during our nap. My side of the tent leaked, but it was no biggie.

Ade and I are Dr Martens fans, and we convinced Priya that it’s THE only footwear for this festival. (Dr Martens Singapore please sponsor me.)
The boardwalk dining/shopping/groceries area at the start of Dreamville.
Waiting to make our way into the main arena. (Had to give Ade sunglasses because she had her eyes shut for this shot.)

When we got onto the festival grounds, we did a quick walk-through of it to orientate ourselves. It was spread across a huge area, and I was constantly in awe of the effort needed to create this completely self-contained pop-up town.

The way the main stage unveiled itself to us was pretty dramatic. A short walk from the entrance, you go past some lockers, food stalls, and toilets, and you can start to see the tip of the main stage. We first commented that it doesn’t look big at all. But as we approached it, we realised that we were standing on an elevated plateau, and the main stage sat at the foot of it.

The main stage from the top of the hill.
View of the main stage from the top of a stadium-like arena.
The main stage.
The main stage from ground level.

Tomorrowland’s main stage is its highlight, and this year’s was pretty impressive up close. It was filled with entwining magical foilage, windows framed with vines, and Victorian balconies. The volcano spouted steam (and fire towards the night) and there was also built-in waterfalls lit with tacking coloured lights. Too bad the whole stage was done in shades of mossy green, making it unphotogenic.

And the rest of the festival grounds looked like this…

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Hanging plants that reminded me of wedding decorations.
Hanging plants that reminded me of wedding decorations.
The chillest tent in the whole of Tomorrowland, which we termed the "old folks corner" (in a positive way) because there were no young punks here.
The chillest tent in the whole of Tomorrowland, which we termed the “old folks corner” (in a positive way) because there were no young punks here.

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The prettiest stage in my opinion.
The prettiest stage in my opinion.
Scrap metal scorpion for the hardest, dumbest, craziest stage.
Scrap metal scorpion for the hardest, dumbest, craziest stage.
I was intrigued by this hole-in-wall gathering until I heard aggressive electro rap emanating from within.
I was intrigued by this hole-in-wall gathering until I heard aggressive electro rap emanating from within.

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After the walk-about, we settled down for lunch. The heat was enervating, and we were extremely put off that water cost 2 tokens for a small bottle (around 330ml). And they took the caps off before handing it to us so that we couldn’t refill it with tap water after. It’s a lousy way to handle the water situation at a rave — especially when temperatures in the day hovered around 30°C. Complaints aside, I had a really good giant ham and leek meatball with stew-like insides (4 tokens).

Now, on to the music. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of dance music because even though I enjoy a good hard rave, I don’t keep tabs on the newest songs or DJs in this genre, and Tiesto, Laidback Luke, or Swedish House Mafia are not part of my daily playlist. So why did I come? I just couldn’t miss the “biggest dance festival in Europe”. So unlike other music festivals where I’d be stressing out over which bands to see, I just went with the flow at this one. My friends are better dance music fans than me, so they made the decisions.

First up was Nervo. Their full Tomorrowland set can be found here, and I highly recommend it as the background music while you scroll through the rest of this post. We went out into the blistering 3pm sun, took a spot on the slope, gathered all our tolerance for the heat, and started to party. The view of the massive crowd moving to the same beat remains one my best memories of Tomorrowland.

The feeling of partying with this many people is quite indescribable.
The feeling of partying with this many people is quite indescribable.

It took a lot out of me to dance in the insane heat (umbrellas make a huge difference), but there were moments of euphoria that made the Nervo set really special. It was during this set that made me think, DAMN I FUCKING MADE IT TO TOMORROWLAND AND NOW THE EPICNESS BEGINS!!! It was bliss. A huge part of that was due to Nervo’s happy tunes, which made it impossible not to smile while you moved to their music.

The rest of the day’s acts were a blur. We saw Digitalism, Steve Aoki, Sebastian Ingrosso.

The crowd grew over the day, this is everyone at Hardwell.
The crowd grew over the day, and this is Hardwell with every one else. I was disappointed that there were no performers on the main stage this year.

There was a massive downpour in the evening, and it really felt like we brought Singapore’s weather here. We were praying very hard for our tent to survive the rain. Then God realised that Tiesto was about to play, and cleared the skies. I’m a big fan because he knows how to work the crowd and never fails to make us dance so brutally hard. His sets are always brilliant.

The king has landed!!! Ah!!!
The king has landed!!! Ah!!!

They went all out on the theatrics, and I loved every second of it. I’ve never raved to so much lasers and lights and smoke and fireworks. It was truly a wonderful celebration of the love that music brings to all of us.

It was such a pity that Tiesto’s set came with a bloody idiotic crowd that spoilt the entire experience. We were surrounded by douchebags who didn’t understand how to rave, and kept trying to chat us up. It’s fucking irritating when you want to lose yourself in the music, and a creep comes up to you and says, “Where are you from?”, or tries to dance with you. Priya said after the set that she should have worn a “Fuck off, I’m raving.” sign.

My thoughts about Tomorrowland after day 1 revolved around the lack of a connection with the crowd. It was made up mainly of loud dumb jocks, who were obviously not very fun to be around. The festival was also a little too big to have an identity — it felt nothing like the lovey-dovey euphoria as portrayed in the previous years’ after movies. Everyone kept mostly to themselves.

Day 2

Good morning Tomorrowland!
Good morning Tomorrowland!

It started off with a mighty thunderstorm in the morning, so we slept in and munched on the snacks we brought. These included Belgian waffles, Nutella, strawberries, sausages, and grapes. We only headed out at around 4pm in order to escape the afternoon sun.

The gross walk to the festival grounds.
The gross, muddy walk to the festival grounds.

Took the ferris wheel ride to see the view from above.

The best act of the day went to Laidback Luke, whose 1.5h set got us so pumped up. It was so, so hard and good. The crowd, thankfully, was also a lot older today, and every one around us was politely raving.

Hey... Ho... Hey... Ho...
Hey… Ho… Hey… Ho…

We returned after dinner for more Laidback Luke, joined this time by his Superhero friends. And the butterfly stage looks even more gorgeous at night!

Butterfly confetti at Ferry Corsten.
Butterfly confetti at Ferry Corsten.

The festival took on a very different mood after sunset.

Gotta love the guys and their coordinated outfits.

We soon positioned ourselves once again at the main stage, and got ready for Armin van Buuren. Apparently the skies were getting ready too, and decided to pour mercilessly on the defenceless crowd a few minutes into the set. It drizzled, then rained, then poured. At first I huddled under the umbrella Steph and I shared. But I decided to put my faith in the cheap H&M poncho and braved the rain to rave properly (the poncho worked well!). You simply can’t not jump around during Armin! It was extremely liberating to splash about the wet floor even though I could feel my drenched socks going squish squish squish in my Dr Martens.

Can you imagine how gross it was to not shower after getting drenched in the rain? Well it wasn’t so bad actually. Since we were already showered on.

Review after Day 2? Very thankful for the older crowd that permeated the festival. It made the energy so much more relaxed and better looking. One very odd thing that we experienced throughout the festival so far was how ignorant the white people here were. They looked at us as if they’ve never seen Asians, and one guy even told Priya she had a nice tan. She’s Indian, you stupid boy. One idiot even insisted on taking a picture with us together with his Japanese flag. And when we told him that we’re Singaporeans and that it was the wrong flag, he pulled the slitty eye look on us and said, “All the same.” Way to go, Tomorrowland. I’ll never talk about my Tomorrowland experience without bringing up the ignorant fools in it.

Day 3

And just like that, we’re on to our last day.

Because our shoes got soaked last night and didn’t dry by morning, we resorted to lining it with plastic bags.
Slutty nuns at the Church of Love.
Slutty nuns at the Church of Love.

It started with Joachim Garraud, the only DJ we caught that played an instrument live. Plus points for bringing out that keyboard guitar! But more minus points for Tomorrowland because during this set someone ran past me and pulled my bikini string loose. It’s OK because I always have it double knotted. But I wanted to bring this up to show what kind of fucktards there were at this festival. Before you think I’m a stuck up high-strung conservative Singaporean, let me explain that I love crazy people. I love people who do silly things at festivals for a laugh. But this is just not funny.

Steve Angello's set doubled up as a tanning session.
Tanning session.

Steve Angello’s set was fun, but by this point we were extremely sick of hearing songs by Swedish House Mafia because every other big DJ we saw remixed their tunes. They have great songs, but it was way overplayed, making them the Black Eyed Peas of the electro music genre.

When will I party with this many people again?
When will I party with this many people again?

The best show today was by Showtek, no competition. Firstly, it was in the shade. Second, it was fierce! Unapologetically loud and fun, it was damn shiok to dance to. Then we moved on to the hippie tent for Richie Hawtin. I always think it’s not easy to do a minimal set without boring the crowd, and he nailed it. It was deep, dark, calm, and sexy. The sound system was great too, and I loved the vibrations in my stomach. I want to see him again!

We left his set halfway to catch the closing shows at the main stage. I don’t know what’s the big deal about David Guetta, honestly. His slot, including special guests, stretched from 8:30pm to 10:45pm. I guess this is evident of how radio-friendly Tomorrowland is. The set was boring as expected, but as we were standing very high up the slope, we could properly appreciate the spectacular light show. We also stayed on for Steve Aoki‘s set, which was so much better than Guetta’s. And we were so damn appreciative that it wasn’t a rainy night.

Basically, all 3 days went down like the song Eat, Sleep, Rave, Repeat. Just add the word “sweat” in that chant. All the memories mashed up into one very very long party in my head. That’s the thing with me and raves. It’s all in the moment, and once it’s over I can’t recall most of the songs that was played. Haha. Sounds like I wasted a ton of money right? Well, I had a blast but I’m definitely not travelling across the globe for another dance music festival. My heart and soul belongs to “proper” live bands, and the next festival I’m buying tickets to has to have a good mix of dance, rock, pop, and indie music. Bigger really doesn’t mean better, and I believe that there are many other better festivals out there.

Day 4

Woke up damn early to pack up the tent, and headed out of the camp site without showering. My brother-in-law was so kind enough to pick us up at Boom station, and it only took us half an hour to get back to my sis’ place. OMG the feeling of a long shower in a nice bathroom was such bliss.

It felt as beautiful as this picture of Coquin sitting pretty out in the backyard.

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Next stop, idyllic Amsterdam!

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