Whilst London mourns, I’m traversing the Dutch countryside, counting cyclists, to leapfrog someone else’s World Cup euphoria. We arrive to a party in full swing – but thankfully, the Dutch crowd is a welcoming one, even for the speccy, beard British bloke who brought a suitcase out with him.
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On the radar as Band To Watch for 2014 (and probably 2015,2016 and beyond), Montreal-based Elephant Stone brought their mind-melting magic to this years Best Kept Secret Festival. The current state of affairs with bands like Temples, Jagwar Ma, Tame Impala, Unknown Mortal Orchestra and a bunch of others, is a clear indication the groundwork set up by bands from Manchester in the 90s continues with their own take on things.
Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email. After a flight-time that would cause a seasoned commuter to ruffle his Telegraph in jealousy and an attempt to quaff the bafflement of an Amsterdam taxi driver that there’s a young Brit who hasn’t time for a local ‘coffee’ (“I will wait for you! Within half an hour, I’ve picked up a copy of Souvlaki and Two Dancers from a pop-up record store on the beach, been invited skinny dipping, checked out a tomato greenhouse adorned with impressively relevant quotes from Alice Cooper about the moral benefits of gardening, utilised the festival’s Pee Tree facilities (use your imagination) and caught the tail end of Caribou, returned to us, with live band in hand, after a turn in the darker throes of techno. Whilst my three hundred mile cross country sprint didn’t quite pack the personal best required to shed any light on the sound of Snaith’s forthcoming record, it’s hard to complain when treated with the final triple brace of “Odessa”, brooding single “Can’t Do Without You” and “Sun”.

I ran them earlier this year in a session setting, and even though it was an enjoyable set, in a concert setting they are a different story. It’s one of the band’s very first sets on this tour, and after their time away serves as a wonderful reminder that there are few live acts that tread the line between organic and electronic quite so thrillingly – as songs explode from their tautly rhythmic cores into the full-blown, richly saturated Technicolor of their conclusions. Paul perfectly times his drop of the song everyone’s just heard, but didn’t want to finish – and promptly packs out the circular, Despacio style dance transept with another round of “Sun! With the cover of darkness lifted, Saturday morning dissolves the festival’s shadowy intrigue with a shot of pretty spectacular scenery. Turns out last night’s swimming invitation wasn’t just the ramblings of someone who had made time to sample one of the country’s leading cultural exports – the festival’s centerpiece is the vast beauty of a giant lake, an idyll plonked in the back garden of the Beekse Bergen safari park.
Not only does this give the festival a backdrop to rival any, but it’s probably the only one where if someone were to shout, “Is that Slowdive looking at a corps of giraffes in the distance?” then the answer could legitimately be yes. The festival packs a daily capacity of around 15,000, and conjures up the magical atmosphere of havens such as Best Fit favourite End of the Road – blending quality, varied billing with a boutique, off-beat feel, where you can gobble down gourmet grub somewhere you’d actually like to go on holiday, rather than surrounded by thousands of shirtless, lobster-pink Brits necking Carling and socking each other to the Libertines.
The festival’s founder describes his vision to me as aiming to create “something that we’d like to go to ourselves” – and after a year of soil searching, they’ve called this home since September 2012. Despite the festival still being only a relative toddler, its richly rendered identity makes it appear well beyond its years. They worry about the little things – mixing a dash of homespun tradition (such as the kapsalon, named after the carb-o-licious fantasy of a Rotterdam hairdresser) with a healthy wodge of forward thinking (cashless wristbands that keeps crime on a short leash, and queues even shorter) and a proper budget to make all five stages look and sound spectacular.

And with its environmentally sound cup exchange system, the festival doesn’t just look green, but commits right through to its roots.
Although, arguably, the biggest benefit of this is the amusement caused when the Dutch hipster next to you at the bar pulls out a hefty tower of hard-won pint glasses (this weekend’s record: 23) to exchange for his virtual top-up.
With some very canny programming, there is very little clashing between acts, so you’re not left playing schedule Tetris all weekend. Another interesting result of this is the way that the crowd feels for the festival – rather than five discrete sets of people, it feels like one fluid wave rolling through the festival. Small bands that might get lost in a tiny stage on another festival’s outskirts here have a chance to earn their crowd – whilst some do fare better than others, it makes attendance a much more valid alternative measure of a set’s success than usual.
Teaming with the overwhelmingly more positive attitude of the Dutch audience in comparison to a gloomy UK one, the music-heavy priorities of the general festival-goer here are pretty refreshing. The sum of the above hints at the appeal of the small but perfectly formed boutique affair – and keeping it secret much longer will be a challenge.

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