Cruising the net one day I came across the below video randomly on YouTube.
What was to follow became an obsession that lead to an unbelievable four days in Flemish Belgium. These four days not only included all the dance music, dj’s beer, fireworks and lasers you could ever hope for. But also somehow being mistaken for a prize winner and getting treated to a VIP experience for the entire festival! Read on to find more.
Did you watch the video? I’m pretty sure I could show it to a classical music loving, tea drinking grandmother and she would want to go to Tomorrowland after watching that. Can you see the imagination and effort put into every single aspect? It was clear this was not just a festival, it was an experience beyond what could be experienced anywhere else.
Amazed by what I had just seen (about 50 times in a row) I shared the video to Facebook with the announcement “I think I’ve found my Euro Summer Festival, who wants to come?” It wasn’t long before a few potential Tomorrowland teammates emerged, mostly based in Australia and willing to pay a small fortune to be part of that experience (the power of YouTube at work). In the end it was just one. Krissy an old friend and one that will not take a back seat when it comes to partying!
Flash-forward to Brussels Centraal / Bruxelles-Central station, 4 months later. I meet up with Krissy after not seeing her for over 2 years. We are loaded with tents, sleeping bags and backpacks and ready to make our way towards the unsuspecting yet fittingly named small town of Boom.
First sign that this is an epic festival? It has it’s own train!
A bit of messing about meant we were an hour later getting to Tomorrowland than we would’ve liked, and this meant that the best camping places are likely gone. With rain starting to fall I was desperate to avoid sleeping in mud. But somehow being late ended up working remarkably in our favour. As we scoured the meadow (now muddy) the only area with free spots was about half full with tents, all of which had various national flags hanging around their campsite.
I had seen online there was a special international area, and being Australian we assumed it was set aside for people like us who had travelled from far away. We headed in and began to set up. It wasn’t long after that we saw people also trying to enter the same area and get turned away by security guards who were now blocking the path of anyone entering this area. “Must be locals trying to get into the international area” I thought.
After settling down and meeting our neighbours they all started to ask things like “how we won the competition?” and “wasn’t it great to win!”. I had NO idea what they were talking about, but just played along. By now it was clear we weren’t where we supposed to be. But with the campsite now full up and the only spots left being 6 inch deep puddles, there was no way we were going to move. We had to fudge it for another 4 days that we also won this competition, a competition that we had no idea how we supposedly entered, or what else we had done to win.
Where is Team Australia?” A Flemish accent cried out across the campsite. By now we knew the whole campsite, and they knew us as the Aussies and the quickly pointed us out to the stunningly beautiful Tomorrowland staff member who was looking for us.
“Which one of you is Ben, the team captain?” She enquired. Without much time to think I began some of the best bullshitting I’ve ever done in such a short amount of time.
“He’s not here yet, “I replied, “we think he’s having trouble with this international roaming on his phone, we can’t call him, but he should be here soon”.
OK”, she said, “tell him to come see me at the ticket office when he arrives, I have the welcome pack waiting for him, but only the captain can pick it up”
I looked at Krissy and tried not to smile. This was either going to go awesome or so bad…. but we had the camp ground pre-party to contend with first. This is a party that is held in the camp ground (known as Dreamville), and is just as big as a normal festival would be. I have no idea who played, but it coincided with the national day of Belgium so the locals where in a mood to celebrate. The stage was made up with tents with lights inside them so they all glowed in a pattern.
This was also a great time to explore the centre of the camping village which we found out included a Supermarket which baked it’s own bread onsite, a Laundromat (free courtesy of Samsung) and our media needs were looked after with our own radio station and daily newspaper.
“Australia, Wake Up”. It was the sweet Flemish voice again, I had dreamt of this voice waking me up, but not like this. Our tent was shaking and I quickly jumped outside to meet our visitor. “Is the captain here yet?”
“No”, I said “We still haven’t heard from Ben” – I dropped in the name she mentioned yesterday to try and sound more authentic.
“Ok, well at least you know his name. I can’t wait for him anymore, so I’ll give this to you. It’s your welcome kit, inside are some Australian flags to decorate your campsite, a few drink tokens and wristbands that get you entry into the International Party tomorrow in the Skydeck VIP lounge (I can’t remember if that’s what it’s name was, but it was up high and had the best view of main stage, so let’s call it that for now)
I calmly said thanks and threw the pack into the tent so that Krissy, who was inside, could check it out. As the staff member walked away, I found it very hard to control my excitement. After all I had to pretend that this was all coming and that I knew all about it. Once she was I out sight, I popped my head inside the tent. Krissy’s jaw had dropped in disbelief of how lucky we were. We did a few fist pumps and said a few “Oh My Gods”. The best festival ever just got better.
The first full festival day was upon us, and after what was meant to be a quick trip back into Antwerp to grab some alcohol and wellies for Krissy, (learn from our mistake here, do not go to Tomorrowland without first getting your alcohol – the “quick” trip was 40min on the bus each way and about a 20min walk from the campground to the bus stop).
I spent most of this time out of the festival grounds stressing that the real competition winners will have showed up and our tent will have been ripped down and thrown into a muddy puddle by the time we got back. The good news was…. there was still no sign of them upon our return.
A few warm beers and vodka Sprites later we where ready to pop our Tomorrowland cherry – off to the festival we went. First thoughts as we entered the giant gates into the festival were actually not that impressive. We were disappointed to find our drink tokens that we had brought in the campsite didn’t work in the festival, and our first look at the main stage left me feeling a bit like “is that it??” But keep in mind this was in the middle of the day, the “tree of life” which was the dominant feature of the main stage hadn’t woken up yet and the festival was only 10% full. It was not until it took as about 40 minutes to walk to the other side of the festival that the enormity of this place began to talk hold. We are talking stages constructed on piers over water, stages that had their own fun rides built into them, stages that had flames and fountains spurt out of them from several points. If there was such a thing as Disneyland for adults – then we were smack-bang in the middle of it, and then some!
With so much huge stages around us, it was ironic that we ended up spending time in the smallest one Literally a bunker under a pathway. The history buff in me, likes to think it was used in WW2. Even if it wasn’t, the foundations were shaking as if a bomb had landed on top of it.
The day continued along with more dancing, stage exploring and meeting Flemish and other visitors from abroad. It’s harder to imagine a better day, and finishing off with Faithless and Swedish House Mafia one after the other with fireworks synced to their sets exploding above us. At 1am we called it a night with huge grins all around. Satisfied that we had the best day we had no desire to stay up and rage some more (very unusual for me!). It seemed like the whole campsite had the same idea. Everyone was well behaved and was asleep before 2am.
Day 2 couldn’t have started any worse…
We were now adorned with our national flags ready to go the competition winners International Party, when the boys from Israel camping next to us offered me a tequila shot (at 10:00am). The first one went down no problems. (Shots are a great way to make friends by the way). The second.. that’s a different story. In my defence it was really cheap tequila and it was about 75ml (so really that’s 3 Australian shots). But as it hit the back of my throat, it was met with a more than equal and opposite reaction of vomit coming the other way. I spewed up my previous shot and half a baguette whilst wearing my Australian flag in front of the now teasing Israeli “friends” plus our Swiss, Austrian and South African neighbours. This is no way to do your country proud, especially on foreign soil. Luckily we all had to leave shortly to the party so we couldn’t dwell on it for too long.
Welcomed with French Champagne to the “Skydeck” I probably should’ve been feeling guilty that I really wasn’t supposed to be here. But it was actually the last thought on my mind. I was more thinking “this lasts 2 hours, let’s drink as much beer as possible so we don’t have to pay for any outside”. The VIP was decked out nicely. Perched on the hill above the back right side of the main arena there was a 20m long balcony that overlooked all the action. Inside it was decorated like a garden party, complete with fake grass, white picket fences, and a swing hanging from the ceiling. On the back wall was a map of the world, and some permanent markers where we were asked to sign our names showing where we had come from. Not hard to guess that coming from Australia it was us who had travelled the furthest, which instantly made us celebrity like with the other guests and the organisers. The food was plentiful and the drinks free flowing. This was also a great chance to make friends, and we seemed to get on great with the Swiss, Brazilians, Mexicans and Portuguese, and of course the Brits.
The celebrity status continued when we were interviewed by the Tomorrowland radio station, and the newspaper. A new tradition began when all nationalities hung our flags up along the long balcony facing the stage. This was great as it attracted many people who wanted to see what was going on, including 2 Australians. We had 2 wristbands to the party left over, so we decided to share our good fortune with these guys and let them in to the party.
The afternoon continued, with one of the best cultural exchanges I could imagine has ever taken place all to the sounds and sights of Steve Aoki champagne and stage diving into the crowd. But before too long the party was over and Tomorrowland needed their deck back for the real VIP’s. It was time once again to head out into festival madness. This time Australian flag worn as a cape in possession and a belly full of cherry beer and chips with mayo.
I’m normally against overt displays of nationalism, especially at European festivals given events around the 1940′s, but my current state of mind made me forget that, and it ended up being a good thing. We met loads of people, many because they had not met Australians before and wanted to do so, and just about every Australian at the festival came up and said “G’day”. Really a great way to finish off the afternoon.
Highlight set of day 2 was Above and Beyond Their set dedicated to a member’s recently deceased brother as well as Amy Winehouse who had passed away the day before. The emotions behind this set saw many in the crowd shed a tear, both of sadness and happiness. I became a fan of theirs for life after those couple of ours in that tent.
Tiesto finished off the night on the main stage. A very uneventful set of “trouse” I really feel like he has sold out in the last couple of years. However there was some great moments, the highlight being this stint here of classics
CAPTURED: Silence, Traffic and Adagio for Strings captured by YouTuber nickwell
There is a whole other day of the festival I can tell you about, but really nothing will compare to what I’ve told you so far. To the fellow Aussie who never showed up to claim their prize, we thank you for letting us take your place. Of course I’m not a total jerk. If they had shown up, then I would have handed it over (or at least tried to convince them to let us stay in the mud-free camping site). To our new Tomorrowland friends we made from all over the world. I hope you enjoyed reading this and relieving a truly magic few days in the Belgian countryside.Related