With Highfield’s 2024 Line up announcement complete, let’s take a look at how 2023 went, and what might be on the cards for this years summer festival
It was gonna be a stupidly hot weekend, and I will be complaining about that throughout this review. Better stupidly hot than torrential rain though, so no hard feelings. We managed to find a small corner to pitch our tent, a sweat inducing activity. Neighbourly introductions were made followed by a quick trip to the merch stall because the best stuff always sells out quickly. There was a really good selection of designs this year, including tank tops, which were obviously going to be needed in good supply this weekend. To recover from all that very arduous work, we went to cool down in the lake, which was covered in weird grass balls this year for some reason. Luckily those balls made good throwing entertainment for the many many people also looking to cool down.
We caught Stand by Me from California punk band Pennywise on the way into the arena and made it to the stage just in time for Bro Hymn. Admittedly the only one of their songs I know, but I’m glad I made the effort. The energy from the crowd made it a great start to the weekend of live music, with the song’s chant lasting well past the finish of the set. The arena has isolated puddles in places and a brewing swamp on the way out of the front of stage area of the Green stage. Apparently, a heavy thunderstorm had passed over the area just before the festival, pretty fortunate timing.
We hoped to see Yaenniver on the Blue stage after, but there seemed to be some technical issues. About 20 minutes late, someone came to address the modest crowd, letting them know they’re still trying to figure things out. I got my Duolingo done for the day. At 25 minutes, there was a birthday celebration near the front of the crowd, with bubbles and every birthday song they could think of (two). This devolved into drinking songs and then a woman took charge from the shoulders of a friend, directing the chants and keeping us entertained. The act started just as Roy Bianco & Die Abbrunzati Boys started on the Green Stage, which sounded like a silly fun time, so I headed over there. It was a shame about Yaenniver, I was looking forward to seeing her solo stuff.
Von Wegen Lisbeth were going for a “padded cell but make it zesty” look this year, an inflatable orange cushion making up the majority of the backdrop. All instruments were in matching orange, it looked great once the sun set. They played Wenn du tanzt, one of their most famous ones, as second song in the set, mentioning that they might regret it. The crowd was clearly up for it, and after a hell of a lot of dancing and singing, still stuck around for the rest of the set. So, the bands worries were unfounded. I think more bands should play their big stuff sooner, it definitely gets the crowd going. For their song Bitch, the band declared they would no longer be singing that word as part of the chorus and invited the crowd to fill in their own single syllable word, preferable a non-discriminatory one. It’s a nice way of continuing to play older (I mean, is 2016 older now??) songs that you’ve grown past in one way or another, while avoiding the aspects that aren’t up to your standards anymore. The stage was bathed in a rainbow of lights for Meine Kneipe, which was followed by Elon at the end of the set. I don’t know if the latter was put in at short notice because there was time, it felt a little anti-climactic after the fun of the former. But the crowd seemed to disagree with me, so what do I know *shrug emoji*. Either way, great show, these guys have been steadily climbing the line-ups over the years, so we’re sure to see them again in future years.
On a personal note/complaint, there was a pair making their way through the crowd, giving people branded red baseball caps and then taking fake candid shots. Would have been fine, you know, live and let live. HOWEVER, they had a super bright light with them to illuminate the groups definitely candidly wearing their merch. Unnecessary and annoying. And the volunteers/victims didn’t even get to keep the hats.
The Dropkick Murphys set was a hearty combo of foot stomping, pyro and mosh pits. A four-man crab mosh pit had formed around one of the primordial soups that had become part of the arena as the day went on. I managed to dodge the mud puddles to get close enough to feel the extensive fire emanating from the stage. The stage set-up was fairly straightforward otherwise, no fancy screens, only a black backdrop with the and name on it, making it feel more intimate, like a pub with 35,000 patrons, and also fire. Lead singer, Ken Casey, came down into the crowd for Rose Tattoo while the crowd chanted along. The final part of the song was accompanied by a waterfall of sparks cascading down from the top of the stage, meeting the flames shooting from the bottom. It was beautiful and impressive to look at. I wanted to look up some of the song names and found that setlist.fm was being updated in real time, clearly some very dedicated fans in the crowd. The show finished with Shipping out to Boston with all the rambunctious moshing you would expect followed by the more emotional We’ll Meet Again which had people swaying arm in arm.
After grabbing dinner, it was back to the Green stage for tonight’s headliner K.I.Z. The hip hop trio came out all in white with the logo of a fictional psychiatric hospital in green on the back. The matching building on the stage was complete with ambulance. The sign and inside of the building changed throughout the set: from hospital to night club to liquor store to gun shop. Definitely more of a guilty pleasure band, the content is far from politically correct. But if you squint with a healthy dose of irony it’s really good fun. The show was high energy from start to finish, an insane amount of moshing and probably the most consistent crowd participation. It’s cathartic to sing inappropriate stuff sometimes. A superb start to the weekend.
Our tent was pretty much exactly between two late night DJ stages which made for an interesting lullaby by the time we finally got back, but to be fair, we were so spent that it didn’t matter.
To no one’s surprise the tent was stupid hot in the morning. Held together by spunk, moxie and ibuprofen I managed to get the desired liquids (coffee) in and the undesired liquid (pee) out of my body, ready for the day. First order of business as always: lake time. The shallows were mad busy so we swam out to the buoys and hung out for a bit. Kind Kaputt were playing on the Beach Stage so we lingered for a while because it was immediately too hot out of the water. Once we braved the sun, got back to the tent and showered the sand and lake gunck off we were ready for day two.
Querbeat were up first on the blue stage. The brass-pop band consists of 13 members, basically a marching band but with more pizzazz. It was so hot I was actually dripping with sweat from very mild swaying. The band had immaculate summer vibes, with giant inflatable flamingo races across the loose but committed crowd. The band wandered into the crowd for a great brass medley including Industry Baby, Hips Don’t Lie and Crazy in Love. Pride and Climate action flags dotted the crowd and the loose mosh pits were more akin to dance floors.
You Me At Six played on the Green stage to a modest crowd. Lead singer, Josh Franceschi, came on in a suit jacket over a white t-shirt. He was excellent at animating mosh pits. Last night’s swamps had been filled in with woodchips giving it a weird doughy texture, but that was better than the dry dust over at the blue stage. It was a good show, but the weather was clearly taking its toll, a lot of patrons stayed in the few remaining shade rather than braving the arena.
Sondaschule are a staple of German festivals and never disappoint. High energy ska-punk from the first note celebrating life and comradery. I managed to keep up for the first few songs, but the heat got to me, and I had to have a little sit down. The lady near me had no such qualms, dancing with gay abandon, not noticing or caring about her beer’s successful escape attempts. The circle pits had several wheelchair users joining in with the festivities. Endless crowd surfers were welcomed with open arms by the securities at the front. For the last song, Bist du Gluecklich?, the band asked everyone to wave their hats. The number that went up made me feel double stupid for forgetting mine at home.
Enter Shikari have steadily grown on me across several festivals. Starting off with a firelarm ringing into Set me on Fire. Juggernauts was accompanied with a slow count up of the years since the late 1800s to now, each year’s average temperature being represented by a colour from blue to dark red. I know it’s not a new image, but there’s something more threatening about seeing it slowly build up and get so red, so quickly. I’ve written myself into a bit of a downer here with no obvious way back, so denial it is: the lead singer had an ungodly amount of energy given he was wearing a leather jacket in this heat. He did some magic show shenanigans, taking his top off and pretending to jump into a cube of screens that made it look like he jumped into water, only for him to appear at the centre barrier with leather jacket and starting into Bloodshot. He stuck around for a while, walking around the crowd and climbing the media tower. His microphone cut out a couple of times but generally it was a really good show and I look forward to their inevitable return.
Tokio Hotel are the epitome of mid 2000s emo in Germany. I didn’t realise they still existed until I saw them on the line-up. They’ve actually kept releasing music semi-regularly since their debut in 2005 but this was their festival debut. Their hit from way back when, Durch den Monsoon, is a cornerstone of any German emo kid so clearly that one had to wait until later in the set. The stage was draped in gold, matching the high school prom vibe of what I was expecting. But instead of an emo band, I was greeted by Bill Kaulitz, the lead singer, in a purple and blue be-sequenced cowboy get up, complete with fringey tassels, hat and assless chaps. Consider me surprised but not disappointed. Bill had a platform filled with fans so that he could a) keep cool and b) give his blond curls the blowing in the wind aesthetic that frankly, we all need in our lives. The set included several outfit changes, all sparkly, all wonderful. The rest of the band stayed in their clothes and looked like a standard rock band. You know, like that Elton John carpool meme. You get it. The show was pretty good, but the new stuff didn’t really grab me which was a shame. The crowd seemed pretty lukewarm as well, also a shame. The actual show was good though, so maybe the music will grow on me.
I arrived over at Giant Rooks in time for Tom’s Diner. Everything was bathed in warm light and the stage felt so warm and inviting. The instruments and amps were all white against a black curtain backdrop. The band cancelled last year due to mental health struggles, so it was wonderful to see them back again. It looked like they were having a great time, smiling and dancing across the stage. The set included the new song Somebody Like You and was generally just a really nice indie show. The crowd sang along so so loud and cheered even louder. The lead singer came down into the crowd for Wild Stare and the set finished on Watershed with a beautiful crowd chorus.
The front of stage area was packed solid for SDP, even the photographers had to wrangle their way through security. The anticipation was building when the curtain finally dropped, revealing the number one party boys of the German festival circuit’s return to Highfield with all the expected energy and flare for hosting an ecstatic night of dancing, singing and jumping. The giant beach balls quickly came out, and by giant I mean giant. The accompanying inflatable ducks were quickly boarded and surfed across the jubilant crowd. Bela B of Die Ärzte (set to play an hour later on the green stage) came on for his feature on Das Lied. Really cool considering SDP grew up with Die Ärzte’s music, must have meant a lot to them. For some reason, as the set went on Vincent and Dag thought the crowd looked like an inviting place to be, not the hot sweaty mess we were. As they made their way through, they quickly realised. Luckily, they made it to the middle barrier unscathed and continued to play several songs from the middle to “the new front row”. A short break after returning to the stage, they ran back on to another set opening song (from previous tours) with all the same energy they had 45 minutes earlier when they first started. And they went on and on until the fireworks finale. Even if you don’t understand every word, or even any, I’d highly recommend these guys, always a highlight.
Die Ärzte are one of Germanys oldest punk rock bands, originating in 1982, they’ve thankfully been more active in recent years, with tours and festival sets. Definitely a more unique set up, the three band members were on equal ground at the front of the stage, Farin on guitar, Bela B on drums and Rod on bass. The stage backdrop was made up of deep red curtains with a giant A made of hexagonal lights. No strangers to self-deprecating humour the opening statement asked if we were ready for two hours of cringe. What followed was two hours of shit talking, missed drum intros and general tomfoolery. The trick to punk is not taking yourself too seriously and it’s clear these guys have decades of experience in that. I think it tried to rain at one point, but it felt like most drops evaporated before they hit the packed crowd. There was a little switch around for Rod to play guitar and sing while Farin took over bass and later in the set Bela B played a solo song. One song was stopped because something had happened in the crowd and the band saw people waving for attention, so they waited until things were sorted out. I didn’t see what was going on, but apparently one guy took a photo of the incidence, which was called out by Bela B and booed by the crowd, rightly so. With things sorted out, the barrage of silly punk continued. It was a long gig, two and a quarter hours, which was hard work for the end of a long, hot Saturday, but worth every second. If you want to put your German to the test, or just enjoy some catchy riffs and great energy, this is definitely the band for you.
Sunday morning was a little overcast hinting at a cooler day, but no such luck, the clouds cleared pretty quickly, and the relentless sunshine continued.
The sun was still low enough for the Blue Stage to cast a shadow as we arrived for Lostboi Lino. Festival goers perfectly filled every last remaining bit of shade as if the light was deadly (to be fair, it felt like it by Sunday). Lino came on stage, pink hair, pink puffer jacket, pink trainers, jean shorts. His voice was distorted as he launched into the opening of his 30 minute set. The coat quickly went, revealing a hand drawn white tank top with “Highfield Lino 2023” written on in in fluorescent pink. He was accompanied by a drummer and guitarist, both looking like they were having a great time. There were some technical problems with the microphone in the middle of the set, which Lino used to check we were all drinking enough water. His “lets hear it from the ladies, lets hear it from the gentlemen” calls went on to include those between and outside (the aforementioned categories) before launching into Maenner about defying gender stereotypes, while wearing a dress himself. The microphone issues came back so the set finished with him in a circle pit while the crowd sang the last choruses. It was a lot of jumping and moving for an opening act, really good fun.
Kaffkiez jumped onto the line-up last year after Giant Rooks no longer being able to make it led to some timetable re-arrangements that left a gap. Going from a last-minute opener to 1630 on a Sunday is a pretty good trajectory. The stage was set up like a rural bus stop, complete with bench, postbox and cigarette dispenser. During the indie set, the lead singer asked for whom this was their first festival. After a few people raised their hands, he explained the rules for the biggest declaration of love a group can make, the mosh pit. Hands to yourself, help each other up when someone falls. A little pit opened in front of me and in jumped a group of people who looked like they were still at school or just left. They were mainly women, and it was the softest, friendliest mosh pit I’d ever seen (affectionate). They were having such a good time and it was heart-warming to see this rite of passage for festival goers. Time to accept that I’m one generation in now, the youth are coming up and it’s wonderful to see.
While the overlap between Kaffkiez and Nothing But Thieves was a shame, there was a sweet spot between the two stage that meant I could catch the end of Nie Allein while waiting for Nothing But Thieves and could head straight down as Welcome to the DCC started playing. These guys have been growing on me the more I see them at festivals and I’m glad I made the time for a whole set this year. The lead singer, Conor Mason, was saying they had played some gigs in the area and had some more dates coming up, declaring his intention to win over anyone who wasn’t going yet. Going back to east Germany might be a bit of a trek, but I’ll definitely keep an eye out for UK dates in future, so his mission had a minimum success of one. It was a good pallet cleanser to have something more rock after a fairly relaxed start. There were some great mosh pits going on much to the Mr Mason’s delight. They finished on Amsterdam and it was great. Also, there was now a bit of wind, also nice.
I went to get a little sweat treat during Nina Chuba, my sugar levels were dipping, and we still had some high energy acts to go (gotta fuel correctly). Nina Chuba’s set had a wonderful tropical vibe to it in the light of the evening sun, the crowd was huge and really enjoying themselves. Light on her feet as she danced across the stage, she was chatting with the crowd, inviting them to sing along and generally having a fun time.
Swiss of Swiss und die Anderen expressed confusion as to why people were with them instead than over at Nina’s show. That felt like a sign of unironic, deep admiration coming from a rowdy, far left punk like Swiss. Their show started with a dramatic build up, but suddenly fell silent, prompting some roadies to come rushing on to stage and start pressing buttons. The band came on to unclimactic silence, acknowledged that their intro was epic and got straight to work. The line-up was generally less political this year compared to previous years, which was bought into sharp focus just by virtue of Swiss und die Anderen standing out through their political statements this year. Same with flags and flares in the crowd, looking back, those were more common in the past. Maybe security is tighter, maybe there’s still a post pandemic sleepiness to more dramatic behaviour. I think a good smoke flare is never out of place at a punk gig (as long as it’s outside and safe etc etc blah blah caveat caveat). I digress. The show was a raucous good time, with mosh pits and clear stances against the far right and pro refugee rescue. It included a cover of the anti-nazi song Schrei Nach Liebe by Die Aerzte and a dingy race between two women from the crowd (because guys always break the boats according to Swiss) across the crowd and then generally round in circles. Apparently, Bloodhound Gang had sued the band for copyright because they ripped off one of their songs (Swiss’s words) but luckily, committing crimes is more fun together and there will be a collection going round for the infringement fine later, so they played Vermisse dich anyway. Which, now they mentioned it, is very similar to Bloodhound Gang’s Foxtrot Uniform Charlie Kilo.
Heaven Shall Burn was the heaviest band on the line up. Complete with long haired headbanging, fire and death growls. Clearly it was time for the pros because this crowd had the fastest circle pit I’ve seen, complete with someone holding a roundabout road sign. Very German, all labelled correctly and probably (German) OSHA compliant. The securities were super into it too, jumping along as they were waiting to pull the crowd surfers across the bar. Having avoided a dust bath up until now, this crowd loosened up the ground to no end, partly obscuring themselves in the process.
Blue stage headliners Beatsteaks started strong, with lead singer coming down to the crowd after just one song. They asked phones to be put away so they could play a gig like the good old days. Surprisingly, people complied, to the point I felt bad for wanting to take a quick video of the ecstatic crowd and their dancing and singing. Maybe it was because the average age of the crowd seemed a little older. The set contained both English and German songs, both of which the crowd was singing along loudly. I could never get into the band when listening to studio recordings, so I was definitely enjoying them vicariously through the people around me. Maybe they’ll click more with me in the future, the live show was definitely great for fans.
Green stage headliner Marteria was definitely one of my highlights. Starting off with the trance-y Paradise Delay through the smoke and flares of Bengalische Tiger and the mesmerising Verstrahlt. As we were on the final straight of the festival I indulged in a little wall of death (as a treat) for Adrenalin. We were all equal parts sweaty and ecstatic from the weekend, a perfect chance to burn every last bit of energy. After having seen him at Southside earlier this year, it’s clear that he belongs in a headliner slot. Not sure if the crowd was watered down with people waiting for the subsequent headliner at Southside Festival, but there was definitely more energy here at Highfield. Marteria’s alter ego Marsimoto made a brief appearance on the screen, announcing his last album for the next year. The show (and thereby the whole festival) finished 10 minutes early, bit disappointing as the vibes were immaculate and the party could have gone on for a few more hours, no question. A fan in a Rostock football shirt (Marteria’s team) was invited to join on stage for the final celebration which was very sweet. For the crowning finish, Marteria dropped the mic aftergingerly asking if he was allowed given it was the end of the festival.
It feels like there’s more international bands returning the Highfield after the pandemic break and they’re all happy to be here. I get the impression that those bands have a dedicated followers in Germany, as well as having fans who will follow them anywhere. As always, it’s been a great festival, the swimming lake was up there as MVP of the weekend. A great line up with plenty to see and relatively light on having to compromise between acts. See you next year Highfield (Tickets went on sale the Monday after).