night beatsDutch festival ‘Best Kept Secret’ is the twee-est musical happening I’ve ever been to, ever. As I wend my way to the stages through the forest, sunlight dapples the branches of the trees in a way formerly only witnessed in Disney movies. There is a lake, in which paddlers are splashing about in vintage swimming costumes. There is vegan food and crepes and fondue. There is a packed out tent of suspiciously hearty looking people watching NILS FRAHM on the second morning at hangover o’clock. Even when THE PIXIES thrash about on the main stage, somehow it is all good clean fun.

A Dutch manchild with an 18th century haircut woos me via the medium of balloon animals. We share a chaste kiss and nothing even close to sex happens, but if it had, it would have consisted of a good deal of gentle rocking, interspersed with dream diaries, shared secrets, hand holding. We skip to the good stuff instead: he surpasses all limitations I’ve projected onto the art of balloon animal construction and handcrafts me a unicorn horn hat, and then a balloon dog, which he welds onto the unicorn horn via his white magic. Incomprehensibly, he somehow magicks up a tiny puppy balloon dog inside the belly of the larger balloon dog. ‘Look!’ he’ll say. ‘It’s pregnant!’

It’s testimony to the safe space the festival provides that this seems charming at the time.

This seems the most unlikely of places to watch Washington based psych band, NIGHT BEATS for the first time.NIGHT BEATS are full of testosterone and make fuzzy psychedelic rock with dark violent undertones. The festival promo say: ‘You’d best make sure that your brain is properly saturated with all the strong stuff you can find, if you want to get the most out of this live-experience.’

And maybe all the crowd’s taken insufficient quantities of drugs (aside from alcohol) because everyone seems intensely focused on the music in a way I haven’t seen in the two days before and, despite the apparent absence of chemical uppers and downers, there’s a sudden electric tension throbbing in the air between these most gentle of souls – Dutch beekeepers and graphic designers and independent bookstore proprietors.

All this can be attributed to the appearance of the lead singer, Lee Blackwell. Blackwell looks doughy and unremarkable in photos, but in person gives off a Marlon Brando level of sexual charisma. He swaggers about the stage like a pirate and from the first note, suddenly every straight female and gay male in the audience is throwing themselves about and headbanging against the rails in tribute to him.

When he finally opens his mouth to speak, not sing, the spell’s broken. He channels a disappointingly doofus-y Cali boy vibe. He pushes his matted hair out of his face with his wrist and talks about how DRUNK they are and how you guys are WILD TONIGHT and makes monosyllabic unremarkable statements between the songs. He doesn’t seem to realise that the energy in the room is not the result of a few too many beers, but a violent pagan sex ritual laid reverently at the foot of the stage.

Luckily, the music is more than worth showing up for. They thrash their way through three minutes after 3 minutes of perfect, energetic garage rock, psych music that has people throwing themselves off the stage and into the thrashing waves of other people to crowd surf.

It’s surprising, given the infinitely sensible vibe of the festival, these crowd surfers aren’t smart about it. Instead of running fast, jumping slow, they’re barrelling themselves off the tip of the stage with abandon and falling roughly onto the crowd and people start getting a little jittery. After seven or so songs, the audience is bruised and wary, so when one too many people leap, suddenly there’s not enough people to support him and he falls with a sickening thud and before you know it, the security guards are hauling him up by the armpits and physically dragging him over the metal railings and off out of the tent, roughly, so it’ll hurt more.

Suddenly, Blackwell is all focus and fight. Less Brando, more Dylan.

Hey,’ he shouts and the guards ignore him and carry on dragging the injured party out of the tent.

He stands, arms crossed, and waits for them to return to their stations at the front of the stage.

Hey,’ he says, with a certain menace. ‘I was talking to you guys.’

They stare straight ahead like the Beefeaters at Buckingham Palace do.

Tarek Wagner of NIGHT BEATS: “I want you to apologize…”

I want you to apologise.’

He sticks his microphone under the first guard’s nose. The first guard is eyeballing the middle distance like he’s watching TV. Do they give festival security guards classes in appearing unreadable and impassive under pressure?

Seriously, how hard can it be? Just say sorry.’

He changes things up, moves the microphone to the other guy, who is looking distinctly nervous.

C’mon. It’s just two words.’

The crowd is booing the guards now and all I can think about is how much it would suck to be in their position. If they apologise they’ll get in trouble with their bosses and if they don’t apologise, they’re pantomime villains.

He ducks his head right close to the first guard and tries to stare him out for a good minute, saying stuff to him quieter now, into his ear and the room is giving off a weird energy that wasn’t there before. It makes me think of a statement I once heard – that history is only present when really bad things happen and as such, that we live in singularly ahistorical times and I wonder if this, when whatever dark thing the fracas seems to be escalating towards, happens, will count as history.

It feels like if Blackwell so much as clicked his fingers, the audience would burn the whole place down. It doesn’t help that the audience are jittery, that these gentle electro musicians are so worked up and eager to take a swing at someone that they’ll do it at the least provocation.

As suddenly as it started, the stand –off is over. He shrugs, picks up his guitar again and says something blurry into the mike that I miss but which seems to be along the lines of ‘Let’s really show these guy’” and suddenly everyone’s headbanging with renewed vigour, with a sense of self-righteousness and after the show there’s a certain weird post-coital feeling in the air which reinforces all my J.G Ballard-fuelled paranoia about humans feeling in some way satisfied by violence or the threat of it.

I find a Dutch girl as we’re making our way back out into the night and I ask her what she thought of it all. Her hair’s come down out of its braids and is tangled all the way down her back now and I can see the beginnings of a bruise blooming on her left cheekbone and I think of her wearing it like a badge of honour around university in Amsterdam the next few days.

She nods, deep in thought, like someone solving an algebra equation. ‘Interesting,’ she says, ‘Very interesting.’

by Sophie Atkinson