Off we went in the Bumblebee, a 1985 brown and yellow VW van. Colin, the sole driver of our gang, with his chief navigator, Liz up front. Grant and I were the kids in the back. Our end destination was Eurockeennes, a music festival for ‘purists’ (so says a French fashion/gossip mag we were reading), located just outside of Belfort, France. The forecast for the weekend was hot, scorching, caliente temperatures (35+). We departed from Amsterdam at about 6:30pm on Wednesday night. The plan was to drive to the La Roche-en-Ardennes and camp overnight before finishing the trip on Thursday morning.
We successfully got as far as Luxembourg (province) before stress, tiredness and doubt about the route kicked in. Uh oh, the gas gauge has dipped suddenly. Why aren’t the headlights that bright? Construction. Road diversions. Shit, shit, shit. After a stressful hour cranking that old van up hilly residential areas in god-knows-where looking for a gas station (Grant can’t remember what day it is, but he remembers what French he learned 10 years ago, weird), we finally made our way back to the highway at 10:30pm. Colin, what a machine, had been at the wheel after a stressful day of work for 6 hours before we finally got to our campground…which was gated and closed. Exhausted, we pulled out our tent and pitched it in the parking lot. I fell asleep with delirious exhausted thoughts of some bad 90s teen horror movie and wondered if some masked lumberjack would be plunging his axe through my skull at some point in the night.
We all woke up at the crack of dawn, our bladders all screaming for relief. The night before, I had tried out my SheWee and my stage-fright (the thought of peeing standing up was freaking me out) meant I just ended up squatting anyways.
I was determined to try again though, and I did at a cafe in the beautiful town of La Roche. Standing and peeing, imagine! I came back to the table with a huge grin on my face – achievement! We walked around La Roche for an hour in the scorching late morning sun, scoffed a pastry, admired some motorcycle tank relics in the window of the Ardennes War Museum and stood mouths-gaping at a Belgian bottle shop, stupefied over the incredibly low prices of champagne-sized bottles of Leffe.
We stocked Bumblebee with beer, fruit, juice, sausages, and water and continued on to France with some much-needed enthusiasm.
We arrived in Belfort easily enough by following signage once we got to Belfort. The camping area was a giant mowed-down hay field 3km away from the festival entrance. The area for camper vans was separated from the rest of the lowly tenters, so we had our pick of the land and settled on a corner of an intersection of caution tape. We had lots of space, were close to the portaloos/portapotties/shit shacks, but too far from the water, showers and food. We met up with Rhys, visiting from Australia, and Matt and Jenny, two intrepid friends of Liz & Colin’s that were cycling through Europe. Very cool. Once all settled with tents pitched, we fired up the BBQ and feasted on merquez sausages and salad. PARTY.
I ventured to the portaloo again, eager to master the art of peeing standing up using my new, hot pink SheWee. Standing in front of the least offensive ‘toilet’ I could find, I carefully got out the SheWee and positioned it accordingly, and then got paranoid that I was peeing on myself, panicked, and fumble-flung the thing right into the abyss of Koolaid blue sanitizer mixed with feces, gut gunk and piss. Glorp, glorp, glorp. Down it went and that was the end of SheWee. I’d resigned myself to a weekend of squatting. Ehn.
Friday morning, all of us (Liz and Colin in the Bumblebee, Rhys in his 2-man fart-box tent, and Grant and I in our 6-man tent) busted out from our giant, nylon ovens at 8am, gasping for air and a cool breeze. Tent broiling supreme, it was HOT out there. We had some breakfast (muesli, berries and warm yoghurt and/or rice milk), some surprisingly tasty instant coffee, and managed to drag ourselves to the shower queue in 35 degree heat for a painful ice-cold shower. I don’t care how bloody hot it is, the idea of standing under ice-cold water on PURPOSE makes me cringe. We got through most of the day chasing the shade around the van, downing water.
The festival didn’t open until 3:30pm, but we figured we’d head over early to take a dip in the lake that surrounded the festival site. A treacherous 3km walk down railway tracks in sweltering heat ended in heart-breaking disappointment upon discovering burly security men stationed in front of every goddamned entrance to the lake. NO SWIMMING FOR US.
Defeated and wilting in the heat, we were faced with two not-so-appealing options: continue walking past the festival and see what we find, or turn around and walk back to the camping area. We reached a consensus on the latter option, but thankfully came across a road-side stall that a local resident set up with cold beer, sausage sandwiches and more importantly, a HOSE. Thank fuck. The police trucks rolling by seemed to approve of our impromptu lawn drench.
So, now the shit part. We got back to the camp site and chilled out for a couple more hours. As we were leaving, Jenny suggested that everyone brings their tickets even though we already had on our wrist bands (just in case). Grant can’t find his, and Liz had thrown her and Colin’s out (we had a wristband, why would we need the tickets?) and Rhys couldn’t be bothered. Surely, it would be fine. So, we headed 3km (on a shuttle bus this time) back to the festival entrance only to be denied entry.
WHAT.THE.EFFFFFFFFFFF. After 40 minutes of bouncing around from one dumbfounded staff member to another, a helpful gal was finally able to bring us to the right person to re-print our tickets. Future Eurockeennes goers take note: keep that paper ticket.
THEN WE WERE IN THE FESTIVAL–> PARTY!
Day 1 was fun, but exhausting. I caught the last song of Suicidal Tendencies, as well as sets by Foals, The Black Keys, The Dead Weather and Jay Z. The Dead Weather were awesome, Liz and I both developed a mad girl-crush/envy for singer Allison Mosshart (man, she made smoking look cool). The Black Keys were impressive as usual, and we loved their set even though we’d seen them 4 days earlier in Amsterdam. Grant pooped out for Jay Z and headed back to the tent, so it was just Liz, Colin and I bouncing around, throwing up our diamonds. Fucking grand set, with a killer live band. Liz is a mega-fan and belted out pretty much every single word to every single song. I only know a few tracks well, but loved it nonetheless. I bailed after Jay Z, my knees and feet buckling from the strain of 16+ hours of standing and walking in the heat. I missed Hot Chip and Missy Elliot (who went on at 2am and was apparently horrendous to watch/hear).
Day 2, still scorching but the very slight breeze proved to be our saving grace in getting through the day while the sun was at its highest point.
Grant and Rhys and Matt and Jenny all jumped on bikes to cycle into town, so Liz, Colin and I layed about the campsite reading before heading to the festival to check out Broken Social Scene (Liz and I were bored, Colin loved it). After that, it was Airbourne, a very popular Aussie metal band whose stage was piled wide and high with 20 Marshall stack amps. It was like watching an AC/DC cover band, only not playing AC/DC tunes.
Comedy gold. And some sexy festival-goer attire, too:
Matt was so into the rock that he stripped off his shirt and threw it on the ground…Jenny’s got that classic video on her camera. Then we saw the impressive The XX, had a bit of a dance session watching Memory Tapes on one of the small stages, and had to take cover and then capped the night watching the highlight of the festival, Janelle Monae. Seriously epic stuff, this girl’s going to be huge. Hadn’t heard of her before, Liz recommended we check it out. She played at the beach stage along the lake (which we couldn’t swim in) with a looming thunderstorm kicking off behind us. Andre 3000, with a long glossy black mane, played guitar in her band (he’s unmistakable). Best show, and really, nothing we could see after that would top it, so we retreated back to the abode for chocolate chip cookies, crisps, and vodka.
Day 3, Sunday. We slept a bit better because it was an overcast morning, so we poached a little less than the previous days. It was so cool, that Liz and I opted to skip the ice shower and just sponge bath instead. Enh, it was the last day and we were all a bit gross anyways. I was pretty keen to have a low-key day, so we ditched Julian Casablancas at the big stage, and sat down in the shade to see post-punk French band, Rien…and they were pretty damn good. We caught the melancholic pop ballads of Australia’s The Middle East, and after that, we watched Gallows ignite a massive audience into the biggest circle pit I’d ever seen.
‘Highlights’ included front-man Frank Carter heckle an audience member with an ‘I anal sexed yer mum’ joke and a mimed wank session that culminated in a loogie spat into the crowd. Proper punk shit, eh? It was a brilliant set though, and though I was grossed out by the spitting, I do love how Carter makes a point of thanking the crew and insisting on a safe and respectful circle pit. Sadly, the call for a human pyramid was lost in translation by the French crowd, and our sad 5 person pyramid at stage right went unnoticed. We tried. We continued the day with an epic dance party watching LCD Soundsystem. After filling our empty stomachs with tagine (and, by the way, the day before we had Ethiopian), we caught the ear-shattering Health. At that point, the leery drunks started appearing and I made my exit back to the tent, opting out on Massive Attack (who I’d seen twice already). I slept like a baby.
Got up bright and early at 7:30 the next morning to disassemble camp and pack the van up. We said our goodbyes to Matt and Jenny, who were continuing on to Switzerland on their European bike trip. We drove into Belfort to drop Rhys off at the station and got a bit lost coming out, but eventually made our way through a few beautiful French villages. And then we passed a lake. Liz, Grant and I had our eyes glued to the window, whimpering like excited puppies. Hoping, hoping, hoping. Then Colin, our ring leader, capitulated with a ‘oh, yeah, I guess we could stop for a quick swim’, to which we all belted YES!!!!
Seriously giddy with excitement, we pulled up, got our swimmers on and plunged into the placid, warm lake. I think we all felt like we were 8-years-old again. We got back into the van 20 minutes later, feeling like a million bucks. We had 12 hours in the van ahead of us. We didn’t get lost once, didn’t run out of gas, didn’t get stressed at all. We stopped at a roadside pull-off to pee and stretch our legs. Colin came out of the bushes with a look of horror on his face. “I look down and saw all these condom wrappers and thought ‘hmmm’ and then looked at the ground near my feet and saw all these used condoms!’. Sure enough, we looked around and realized that all the cars parked ahead of us and behind us all had single male drivers. They went into the bushes, but they never came out. Pulling out of the stop and giving a honk-honk as we drove by startled the circle-jerk of 6 or so dudes with their pants around their ankles, and two guys behind them doing…well, I’ll let you have a guess. Belgium!
All went well for the rest of the ride until the temperature gauge lit up near Tilburg, about 80km away from Amsterdam. We were forced to pull off the road to let the Bumblebee catch its breath and rehydrate. Colin picked up a cum cup on the side of the road (it was actually an empty cup, but after the scene in Belgium, we were a bit delirious with pottie humour)…we had an hour to kill, so what were we to do? How about, watch True Blood on the laptop!?!!! So we did. Nothing like watching raunchy vampire sexy times to de-stress a roadside situation.
We arrived in Amsterdam at about midnight, absolutely shattered. I felt like shit, my back was in knots…I can’t even imagine what Colin felt like. We made it home on our bikes and I had a warm shower(!) before collapsing in bed.
and bitter-sweet ’cause I love Liz & Colin and they’re moving back to Australia in August. Mega sadness.