Music to our ears: your guide to Flanders’ summer festivals

Summary

Whatever your tastes, make one of Flanders’ many music festivals the soundtrack to your summer

Crowd-pleasers

From folk to death metal, month-long extravaganzas to family-friendly days out, Flanders has a music festival to suit everyone’s tastes. Let our experts guide you through the summer festival landscape.

Critic’s choice: Sjock Fest
Deep in the woods of Antwerp province lurks Sjock, the unabashed “rock’n’roll highlight of the year”. Leather, tattoos, Cramps T-shirts and bull fiddles abound. And just a hint of pomade. Sjock is 40 this year and will be kicking out the jams with three nights and two days of rockabilly, garage, punk and old school maximum r’n’r. Imelda May, Reverend Horton Heat and The Hives are headlining. Other treats include Heavy Trash (with Jon Spencer), Bloodshot Bill, Powersolo, The Fleshtones and Keith Morris’s (ex-Black Flag/Circle Jerks) “hardcore supergroup” OFF! Get ready to rumble. \ Mark Andrews
10-12 July, Gierle, Antwerp province

Critic’s choice: Feeërieën
The archaic Dutch word feeërie gave its name to tongue twister Feeërieën, the free festival in Brussels’ Warande Park, next to the royal palace. Luckily, the music Feeërieën serves up is anything but obsolete. The festival, where the concerts start when the sun is caressing the horizon, is always looking for cutting-edge artists in musical genres that eschew the mainstream as if it were a deadly disease. This year there’s – to name but a few – a classical interpretation of Nordic black metal, a symbiosis of Angolan tradition and electronic beats, and urban jazz with bewitching parlando vocals. Fairies included. \ Christophe Verbiest
24-28 August, Warande Park, Brussels

Critic’s choice: Openluchttheater Rivierenhof
If you want to add some picturesque scenery on top of your festival listening experience, there’s nothing to beat the open-air theatre in the Borgerhout Rivierenhof park, especially when darkness sets in. Since the organisers are not restricted to weekend days, they can offer a quality line-up. Be especially sparing with your Tuesdays and Wednesdays this summer, since highlights include the opulent crooning of Rufus Wainwright (7 July, pictured), the minimal keys of Wim Mertens (22 July), the cosmic trip-hop musings of Lamb (29 July) and the haunting country rock balladry of My Morning Jacket (1 September). Not in a melancholic mood? Check out hip-hop titans Public Enemy (14 July). During the second half of August the same organisers present the birth of Rivierenhof’s little brother in Ostend, mainly focusing on national artists. \ Tom Peeters
All summer, Rivierenhof Open-Air Theatre, Deurne & Maria-Hendrikapark, Ostend

Critic’s choice: Boomtown
This year will be a big one for Boomtown (pictured below). After the bankruptcy and subsequent cancellation of Ten Days Off, Boomtown remains a precious haven for alternative-minded music geeks during the Gentse Feesten. Now in its 13th edition, it’s already becoming one of the Feesten’s pillars. The small city festival provides a platform for wayward singer-songwriters, innovative electronic artists and loads of local talent. Initially, it was an initiative of the proprietors of Café Video, at the Oude Beestenmarkt, but after six editions, the festival became too big for the venue and had to move. Eventually, the Kouter area was chosen and two stages were introduced. This year’s line-up features candid singer-songwriter Mark Kozelek, performing as Sun Kil Moon. His stream-of-consciousness lyrics and stripped-down style have earned him much praise from indie critics. His music has been called “sadcore”, and that description is not entirely inaccurate. If you have a melancholic soul, check him out. Also highly recommended: Andy Stott, an avant-garde techno producer who creates achingly beautiful soundscapes from hell. \ Laurens Bouckaert
21-26 July, Kouter & Handelbeurs, Ghent

Best of the rest

Rock Werchter (pictured)
At the time of writing, it’s still unclear whether alt-rock-giants Foo Fighters will be able to play the festival’s first day or not. After all, only a week ago frontman Dave Grohl broke his leg in a failed attempt to stage-dive at a Swedish festival. The band’s Pinkpop appearance was subsequently cancelled. As usual, though, the line-up offers many other chart titans (Pharrell Williams and Mumford and Sons, anyone?) for people to get psyched about, but we’d recommend Ryan Adams. The singer-songwriter returned to form with a lovely self-titled album last year, and his live performances are always interesting. Don’t put in a request for “Summer of 69”, though. He’s grown tired of that joke (and who can blame him?). 25-28 June, Werchter (Flemish Brabant)

Gooikoorts
This festival for folkies and their kids focuses on English folk this year, while also featuring bands from Sweden, Hungary, Austria, the Basque country and even Flanders. Located in the heart of the Pajottenland, the bucolic west side of the Brussels-Capital Region, Gooikoorts can provide a cleansing break from city life. Artists include The Hut People, Andy May Trio, The Chair and Het Ukologisch Museum. 3-5 July, Gooik (Flemish Brabant)

Couleur Café
Over the years, Couleur Café has been rapidly climbing the ranks of the festival hierarchy, while affirming its status as Brussels’ biggest festival treasure. The city-fest has long been considered the unofficial start to Brussels’ summer. The line-up is traditionally big on hip-hop, reggae and world music, and this edition is no exception: The headliners are New York rap ensemble Wu Tang Clan, best known for their 1993 album Enter The Wu Tang (36 Chambers), which hasn’t aged a bit.  3-5 July, Tour & Taxis, Brussels

Cactus Festival
As one of the most stunning settings in Flanders’ festival landscape, Bruges’ Minnewaterpark is as much a protagonist as the artists who play there. Year after year, the festival increases its European appeal, while staying firmly rooted in its city’s tradition. Add to that the combination of cutting-edge acts (Anna Calvi! Perfume Genius! Thurston Moore!) and international stars (Grace Jones! John Hiatt!), and you’re probably praying there are a few tickets left. 10-12 July, Minnewaterpark, Bruges

Gent Jazz
Gent Jazz has always been the most open-minded of Flanders’ jazz-fests when it comes to programming. Its line-ups consist of “true” jazz artists (Abdullah Ibrahim Mukashi Trio, Gregory Porter), and artists who are seen as “inspired by” the genre. This year, Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga, among others, fall into the latter category. Also keep an eye out for the legendary drummer Ginger Baker (Cream) and his new project, Jazz Confusion. Gent Jazz’s final two days overlap with the Gentse Feesten programming. 10-18 July, Bijloke, Ghent

Gentse Feesten
The largest combined music and street theatre festival in the world, Gentse Feesten draws more than a million visitors to the centre of Ghent each July for the 10-day outdoor bash that never sleeps (quite literally). Every square is a stage, and the biggest are the Korenmarkt stage featuring a variety of acts, the Trefpunt stage of world music at Sint-Jacobsplein and the appropriately named Boomtown, with mostly local rock bands in the Kouter (see Critic’s Choice). Ten Days Off is, well, off and has been replaced by Klankfest, a 10 day-festival at the legendary Vooruit building, consisting of all kinds of party music (from rock to techno). Next to the music and theatre there are, as usual, lots of activities for the youngest. A sad note: these are the first Feesten without “father” Walter De Buck and party animal Luc De Vos (the two singers died last year), so expect big tributes to these iconic figures. 17-26 July, across Ghent

 

Sfinks Mixed
It’s the 40th edition of this free multicultural music festival. Spread out over four stages, Sfinks Mixed 2015 crosses cultural boundaries with Cheikh Lô (Senegal), Bunny Wailer (Jamaica), Bossa Negra (Brazil) and Flemish performers such as Bart Peeters and Slongs Dievanongs. Loads of activities for the kids as well. 23-26 July, Boechout (Antwerp)

Bruksellive

Bruksellive is a free festival organised by the youth clubs of Brussels. The site is right at the foot of the Atomium, and the bill leanstowards electronica, with a huge number of DJs book on four stages. This year also features local electronic duo Oaktree & Avondlicht and the Youngblood Brass Band from the US, putting a hip groove into a New Orleans tradition. 25 July, Groentheater, Brussels

Suikerrock
This sweet-as-sugar festival features many Flemish acts and traditionally blurs the line between mainstream and alternative (labels are so 90s, man). Clouseau, Yevgueni, K3, Oscar and the Wolf, Magnus and gothic rockers the Sisters of Mercy are among the names. 31 July-2 August, Tienen (Flemish Brabant)

Reggae Geel
Inhale the tunes of dancehall, ska and reggae artists such as Christopher Ellis, Andy Mittoo & Derrick Morgan, Spragga Benz and 90s-hit-wonder Shaggy. 31 July-1 August, Geel (Limburg)

Lokerse Feesten
Although Lokerse Feesten can’t compete with their Ghent equivalents in terms of magnitude, they do give them a run for their money when it comes to attracting big names. This year, the main stage at De Grote Kaai hosts Italian disco-pioneer Giorgio Moroder, Scottish shoe-gazers The Jesus and Mary Chain, lovely indie-rockers Belle and Sebastian, cornflake girl Tori Amos and many others. And if you prefer underground electronic music, there’s always the option to party in the Red Bull Elektropedia Room. Lovely stuff. 31 July to 9 August, Lokeren (East Flanders)

Festival Dranouter
Still known as Folk Dranouter among the more hardened and experienced festivalgoers, Dranouter prides itself on programming more diversely every year. There’s even a place on the bill for sludge metal-heads AmenRa, albeit in an acoustic capacity. Other names include The Magic Numbers, Calexico, Triggerfinger, Jan De Wilde and Irish punk-rockers Flogging Molly. 7-9 August, Dranouter (West Flanders)

Antilliaanse Feesten
This is actually the biggest Caribbean music festival in the world. If the likes of Farruko, Grupo Niche, Mr Vegas and Henry Mendez ring a bell, then I’ll gladly tell you these people will perform there. As I haven’t heard of any of these names, I’ll be there for the general atmosphere and, of course, the cocktails. 7 & 8 August, Hoogstraten (Antwerp)

Feest in het Park
Belgian acts (dEUS, TLP aka Troubleman, Pete Howl, Starflam, Willow) and dance (Surgeon & Lady Starlight, Buraka Som Sistema, Drumsound Bassline Smith) are the main ingredients of this charming little festival. The already decent line-up wasn’t complete at the time of writing, but headliners Band of Skulls are highly recommended. 13-16 August, Oudenaarde (East Flanders)

Pukkelpop
Flanders’ second biggest festival has sold out all its day tickets, but there are still combi-tickets available (be quick though). As usual, the line-up is pretty spectacular – too spectacular and comprehensive to have an extensive pick – so I’ll just leave you with a few of my favourites: Four Tet, Evil Superstars, Hudson Mohawke, John Talabot, The Neon Judgement, Pissed Jeans, The Soft Moon and Strand of Oaks. 20-22 August, Kiewit-Hasselt 

Leffingeleuren
This friendly annual festival by the coast is considered the official swansong to Flanders’ festival season. Leffinge is a small town near Ostend that has the legendary rock club De Zwerver on its territory. The club’s bookers are, not coincidentally, the organisation behind Leffingeleuren, as the two have, spiritually, a lot in common: experimental booking and alternative rock. Names that have already been confirmed are The Skints, Raketkanon and Flemish blues legend Roland Van Campenhout among others. 18-20 September, Leffinge (Ostend)

By Laurens Bouckaert unless otherwise named

Photo top © Joris Bulckens for Rock Werchter

Summer music festivals

Offering everything from folk to techno, Flanders’ summer music festivals draw star performers and devout music fans from around the world. The most popular festivals are Rock Werchter, Pukkelpop and Tomorrowland.
Start - The summer festival season traditionally kicks off with the world and urban music festival Couleur Café in Brussels.
Number one - Flanders reportedly has more music festivals per capita than any other region in Europe.
Awards - Rock Werchter has won the ILMC Arthur industry award for “Best Festival” five times.
280

summer festivals in Flanders

13 500

square kilometres of total festival area

5

million ticket buyers