Highfield Festival is one of the smaller festivals in Germany holding up to 25.000 visitors and has established itself as one of the most important rock festivals in east Germany since its debut in 1998. The fest got its name from its original location Hohenfelden in Saxony which roughly translates to high field. For 6 years now, the festival is located on a peninsula at Lake Störmtalher near Leipzig. Said lake was a lifesaver at this year’s installment as the temperature reached up to 37 degrees.
I had the opportunity to spend a weekend at Highfield with sets by Augustines, DMA’s, The Wombats, Rob Lynch, The Galight Anthem, The Subways, Interpol and many more.
First band of the day were German punk rock act Adam Angst. There is more than just a cool band name to these guys even if you don’t speak any German. There is a certain degree of angst in the vocals that border on shouts and if you do know the language, the lyrics are quite clever. On top of that, and that goes for the entire festival, the sound was really good on both stages.
To be honest, I had never heard of John Coffey prior to a viral video from Pinkpop Festival where their lead singer David caught a cup of bear that was thrown at him while he was crowd-walking and drank the whole thing. I’m pretty sure the incident increased the Dutch band’s popularity significantly. There was no beer stunt this time but lots of crowd surfing and moshing to their noisy hardcore punk.
As the temperature kept climbing, Brooklyn based alternative rock band Augustines took the main stage. Easily one of my favourite bands and certainly one of the best live bands on the planet, they played a set containing some of their best known songs (Chapel Song, Cruel City) and a few new ones. To my surprise, they did not attract as many people as I though they would (their club shows usually sell out) but then again they are more of a club band than a festival act.
As the sun set, The Kooks took over the main stage. While they delivered a solid performance, I didn’t quite enjoy them as much as I used to. When I saw them last year the show seemed more vivid and the music was funkier. I felt like it all dragged on a bit during the middle of the show. Either way, the delivered all the hits you’d expect before German hip hop act Marteria rounded off the night.
Despite the rain that had come down at night the heat lingered on. So the first logical thing to do in the morning was taking a dip in the lake. I got there early so there was still plenty of room and free air mattresses that were handed out by the staff. There was also a beach volleyball field, a banana boat and grill boats to keep people entertained. Pretty nice set up.
In terms of music, Saturday was all about punk rock on the main stage and hip hop on the blue stage. While I was still having some BBQ for breakfast at our camp, Apologies, I Have None kickstarted the day followed by skate punks Satanic Surfers. In the meantime, I went to see Rob Lynch, the only none hip hop act on blue stage that day. Lynch’s music is probably best described as acoustic punk and is not so unlike that of Frank Turner. It was the perfect start for another sunny afternoon.
Back at the main stage, a crowd had gathered to see Philadelphia punk rockers The Menzingers. I only recently discovered my love for this band and their show did not disappoint. I was particularly amazed by their dual vocals.
Even though I usually don’t like hip hop, I didn’t want to miss Aussie duo Hilltop Hoods. My friend who just spent a year in Australia introduced me to their easy going hip hop with songs like The Nosebleed Section or Cosby Sweater. The Nosebleed Section actually is about getting a nosebleed in the mosh pit. Seriously, I had no idea people moshed to hip hop but they did as the two rappers bounced around the stage. Good times.
Since that was about as much hip hop as I’m willing to listen to in one day, I needed a few more doses of punk rock. Back to the main stage it was for Millencolin and The Gaslight Anthem. To be fair, Gaslight have been one of my favourite bands for years, although I prefer their earlier work, but this was by far their weakest show I have ever seen. The performance seemed lacklustre and Brian Fallon kept skipping over several lines of lyrics. It was nowhere near that fantastic show they played in Berlin two months ago. Although it would be a shame if that was the last we saw of them, TGA seriously need that break they recently announced (if they don’t split altogether).
The Offspring headlined Saturday night. To be honest, the California punk rock band were one of the main reasons I went to Highfield. Back in the 90s, Self Esteem was my musical awakening. This band took me through some tough times (puberty…) and that night, I got to be 14 again – the only difference being that I was happy and able to drink legally. I had no idea how old the guys in The Offspring are, each of them could be my Dad. I almost forgot that it’s been 20 years since their breakthrough record Smash was released. They played a bunch of tunes from that record as well as the equally awesome American and Ixney On The Hombre and some newer ones. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one who got to be young again. People around me were dancing and bawling along to All I Want, Bad Habit, Pretty Fly For A White Guy, The Kid’s Aren’t Alright and of course, Self Esteem. The only downside was that they only played for about 70 minutes rather than the 90 minutes they were booked for. I wasn’t really surprised as I had heard before that they usually don’t play any longer, maybe because their songs are so short? Either way, their set made me a very happy camper.
Highfield saved some of the best for last, it seems. On Sunday, the temperature had finally dropped and the music started as early as 1:30 with Sidney’s DMA’s. Sunday afternoon is the most unrewarding festival slot because everyone is tired and about to pack their things but DMA’s didn’t care. In fact, they didn’t seem to care about anything or maybe they were drunk, or high, or both. The Aussie trio is frequently likened to Oasis and while I’m not keen on comparing bands, there is an undeniable truth to that statement. It’s not just their Manchester-esque sound but their whole demeanor and stage appearance – just look at the guitarist’s Liam Gallagher glasses. DMA’s are going through the roof these days. Already huge in Australia, where they play to 11.000 people at festivals, they have just finished a string of festival appearances across the US und the UK with only one mini album under their belt (check out our review). This 30 minute slot at Highfield was their first ever show in Germany and hopefully not their last because these guys delivered. They played a few tracks from their self-titled mini album as well as a few yet unreleased ones. Songs such as Delete and Your Low were rewarded with sing-alongs and raised cups.
I spent most of the afternoon packing my stuff so I missed most of Against Me!‘s set. By the time The Subways played, it had started to rain which didn’t stop anyone from seeing their show because the blue stage area was packed. The Subways are such a fun live act and they are extremely popular in Germany. In my opinion, they could have easily taken a later slot on the main stage with the same response. Anyway, the trio delivered as usual.
Next up were The Wombats. Unfortunately, their latest album Glitterbug never really clicked with me and neither did its live rendition. I was a huge fan of their first record that featured indie rock classics such as Let’s Dance To Joy Division, Moving To New York, and Kill The Director and marked the few highlights of their set (the latter wasn’t played). Their newer songs are too electronic for my taste and most of the music was playback. An additional musician could have saved the day but at least bouncy bass player Tord Øverland-Knudsen made up for some of the energy that most of the show lacked.
While I took shelter from the increasing rain, Interpol played a dark and brooding set that was a perfect match for that rainy Sunday night.
All in all, Highfield was a great festival that was well organised and had lots of things to do beside seeing acts. Aside the lakeside activities, there was a ferris wheel and bungee jumping as well as the usual activities provided by promotional partners. Food catering was also pretty good with a variety of things to chose from. Since there were only two stages and they took turns, it would have been possible to actually see all bands.