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.
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.
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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!
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.
It was glorious on the inside too!
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.
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!
The first act we caught is Ibeyi, a pair of twins with amazing voices and soulful songs that gave me the chills.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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!
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.
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.