Pukkelpop 2023 was a smashing success, bringing together glorious sunshine, diverse music, fun-filled activities, and delicious food. The lineup boasted big-name stars including Billie Eilish, Years & Years, Angèle, Anne-Marie, Yungblud, Limp Bizkit, and The Killers, all of whom thrilled the crowd.
Alongside hits and fresh releases that engaged the audience, there were virtual reality concerts, art shows, light installations, and comfortable facilities that enhanced the overall experience.
Frederik Luijten, the festival’s spokesperson, proudly proclaimed in an interview with VRT that this year’s Pukkelpop edition was the best one since the festival’s inception in 1985. The festival truly outdid itself, creating an unforgettable experience.
1. Celebrating diversity
The diversity of musical genres is what sets Pukkelpop apart from other festivals. Unlike Tomorrowland, which primarily focuses on electronic music, and Rock Werchter, which leans towards rock, Pukkelpop stands out by offering a mix of styles. The festival was created for music enthusiasts who appreciate a wide variety of genres, including indie, techno, hip-hop, punk, jazz, pop, rapping, funk and R&B.
Each performer had a distinct impact on the crowd. Take Yungblud made the audience buzz, even before stepping onto the stage. The video opening the concert showed him backstage, full of energy, jumping, screaming, and blowing kisses to the camera. As he sang the hits “Parents” and “The Funeral” and strummed guitar, he surprised everyone by asking for a spot right in the middle of the field. The concert had the crowd standing shoulder to shoulder, but after his request, the show transformed into a lively moshing spectacle. “Turn to someone you’ve never met and give ’em a big hello, mazafaka!” he encouraged, continuing, “Tell them “I absolutely love you, mate…” I love all of you!” He sparked euphoria among the audience at the end of his concert on the festival’s main stage.
Angolan-Portuguese singer Pongo offered a just as interactive show. She invited fans on stage and twerked with them while singing “Wegue Wegue”. The singer performed part of the concert with a young girl in a similar outfit so the show reminded me of Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. The audience was enthusiastic and “Funk motifs” made everyone groove to the beat.
A techno party led by popular DJs like Reinier Zonneveld, Chase & Status, Joyhauser, and Amelie Lens was made even more electrifying with a light show that had the crowd completely mesmerised. The Boiler stage, custom-built for electronic music parties, was set up in a spacious hall with two tents on the sides. The space in between was illuminated by striking beams of light. The techno tunes played were so diverse and catchy that even someone like me, who isn’t particularly into this type of music, found it irresistible and danced for half the night.
The rock band Nothing but Thieves created such excitement with their performance that the crowd spilled beyond the venue, and many people who couldn’t fit inside the tent watched them on a screen sitting on the grass. Even though the band is very popular in Belgium (they played five concerts here last year and even performed on the main stage at Pukkelpop 2022), this time they were slotted for the smaller tent. The group, however, didn’t seem bothered by it. Before singing their hit “Amsterdam”, lead vocalist Conor Mason mentioned that Pukkelpop is his favourite music festival.
Years & Years captured the audience’s attention with a mix of grand piano playing and energetic dancing, even on the grand piano itself. Lead singer Olly Alexander’s talent was evident in how effortlessly he pumped up the crowd with the songs “Desire” and “King,” which are perfect for a summer festival atmosphere. This combined with the dancers’ black leather outfits and daring moves made the band’s concert hypnotising.
2. Headliners’ messages
“You’ve made it my favourite festival of all time” declared singer Anne-Marie. She sang her hit “FRIENDS” as she made her way down to the crowd, and the audience couldn’t help but squeal in delight, trying to touch the pop music star. “I want to remind us that being a beautiful person has nothing to do with what we look like. It is about who you are inside,” announced the singer before performing the song “Perfect to Me”, while “I love you”s were constantly shouted from the crowd. This isn’t surprising, given the singer’s messages about unhealthy relationships, body positivity, the friendzone, and self-love.
Anne-Marie wasn’t the only singer who paid attention to connecting with the audience. Billie Eilish performed ‘Bossa Nova,’ proudly waving an LGBTQ+ flag that was thrown on stage. She treated everyone to a few gentle acoustic songs, singing alongside her brother and best friend Finneas, silencing the rowdy audience. During her performance, the words “No music on a dead planet” appeared on the screen. Billie Eilish used her time on stage to talk about environmental issues. In the background, there was an animated display urging everyone to protect nature, getting a positive reaction from the crowd that screamed and clapped in support.
3. Beyond music
Music was not the only source of inspiration at the festival. A glowing Sky Wheel illuminated the night and allowed visitors to grasp the enormity of the event. From up there, they could see the impressive site hosting 66,000 music lovers.
The evening came alive with colourful balloons, aqua makeup, interactive games, and bright light installations. Stilt-walking girls in luminous dresses added a magical touch. Spectators admired the event every minute as Boulevard Bizar presented a non-stop array of contests, performances, and games.
The food court, “Food Wood”, had something to suit everyone’s taste: Korean chicken, Indian wraps, Mexican tacos, and pizzas are just a few of the many options. Around the food court and seating areas, people were tightly packed on benches, hammocks, and grass, but it didn’t seem to stop anyone from enjoying the festival vibe.
Pukkelpop 2023 had it all: a basketball court, a skateboarding area, and even an e-rena where they hosted a virtual reality concert for the very first time in the festival’s history. 17-year-old performer ISE took the spotlight as the first headliner on the virtual stage.
Pukkelpop went the extra mile to provide facilities for people with disabilities, making the festival more inclusive. Another noticeable change in the 2023 edition was the increased focus on feminism. Around 40% of the headliners were women, marking a positive shift from earlier years when men largely dominated the lineup. Pukkelpop reflects society by responding to its demands and trends. At the same time, the festival also has the power to influence mass culture by promoting social movements like gender equality.