Live Report: WOO HAH! Festival 2019

Live Report: WOO HAH! Festival 2019

A fantastic Dutch excursion into hip-hop culture...

As the sixth edition of WOO HAH! Festival approached my feelings leaned more towards anticipation than expectation. Having had very few festival experiences abroad, I didn’t have much expectation to go by. I knew from the countless other hip-hop festivals in the Netherlands - like Appelsap and OH MY! Festival - that rap music is heavily celebrated here, but to see it at this scale over a sold-out weekend was something special indeed.

While dusty conditions clouded some of last year’s performances due to the endless mosh pits kicking up sand into the air, there was no chance of that dampening the mood this year. Not only were sandy terrains well covered, but there was also an exciting buzz in the festival from the first moments to the last.

Every stage seemed to have an unmatched mutual energy between the crowd and artist, whether it be the smaller more intimate Samsung: House of Creation stage, or the enclosed immersive woodland area of the aptly named Forest Stage.

Without the Snipes Main Stage open for the first night, my attention was initially drawn to how avid fans would respond to the American hip-hop artists on the billing. As the sun began to fall under the tall trees surrounding the site, the stage-lighting progressively grew brighter. A short 30-minute break between American rappers Gunna and Pusha T meant fans waited patiently for any flicker of familiar lighting.

But as soon as the first flickers of visuals came on, the expectant crowd erupted into a frenzy, ushering Pusha T’s arrival. Pusha’s ‘Daytona’ project was Grammy-nominated for Best Rap Album last year, and Pusha’s performance exuded an astonishing level of confidence. With no backing vocals, I was impressed by his cadence and volume, as he opened his set with standout track ‘If You Know You Know’.

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One of the more surprising sets I stumbled across was booming from a huge tent next to the lake, known as the Waterfront Stage. I later learned from speaking to a fan familiar with the Dutch hip-hop scene, that he was swimsuit model turned music superstar Bizzey, known for his trap style flow, matched over reggaeton and club anthem-style productions. The exuberant energy he brought to the stage was contagious, with the crowd easily spilling out the tent.

Saturday offered the possibility of a full day experience, having enough time to get my bearings helped me find the smaller areas they had built in the festival site.

Desperado City became my go-to spot in between sets for big acts - fitting in only a few hundred people at full capacity, the venue could essentially be described as a nightclub, which surprisingly didn’t look out of place in the middle woods. Although it’s hard to be surprised by anything at a festival! Hosted by a number of Dutch DJs throughout the weekend, pumping a mix of R&B, to 90s hip-hop, to trap, it was easy to spend hours in Desperado City.

The cool inflatable White Cube stage gave a number of younger artists from the Netherlands and Belgium to make the leap forward to performing in front of a bigger crowd, which was encouraging to see, whilst the enclosed sitting Greenhouse Area presented a nice change of music tempo from the busy festival.

One quarter of the West Coast hip-hop group, Black Hippey and TDE favourite, Jay Rock was one of the first acts to grace the Snipes Main Stage. Playing a string of big tracks from what many hip-hop fans consider to be his best album to date – ‘Redemption’, with tracks like ‘Wow Freestyle’, and ‘WIN’ igniting the crowd to endless moshing, whilst, winding down to classic tracks like ‘Money Trees’ bringing a nice nostalgia to his great set.

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The influential UK artist Stormzy headlined on Saturday, and with nothing but praises from his headline set at Glastonbury like many other fans around the festival I couldn’t wait for his performance. Hearing Stormzy’s recent track, ‘Vossi Bop’ being recited by thousands of fans outside the UK was something incredible to witness at that scale and will definitely stick as a poignant memory from the festival.

GRM Daily continued to represent the UK sound at WOO HAH! Festival until the early hours by hosting ‘The Block’ venue, which doubled as a skating arena for competitions during the day and a focal rave spot at night. Emerging UK DJs such as Jay Dolce, P Montana, Amnotadj, and Jeremiah Asiamah collectively worked well to draw the tireless crowd after midnight, showing off the best in UK rap.

Day Three signalled another wave of exciting acts, with the inclusion of young Irish lyricist Kojaque on the line up catching my attention. Speaking to him shortly before is set about his expectations going into his first WOO HAH! festival, I learnt that this would be his first big show in the Netherlands.

“I haven’t got too much expectations to be honest,” he admitted. “I done something in Amsterdam a while back, but this will be my first big show in the Netherlands, which is exciting”.

With Irish hip-hop still emerging out of the underground scene as Kojaque was growing up, he pointed to people like “Odd Future, MF Doom, and Wu Tang” as influences growing up. As well as this he went on to show his respect for artists on the WOO HAH! line up like,“Jpegmafia, Jay Rock, Travis Scott, Saba, Rae Sremmurd, and Octavian”. And it wasn’t difficult to see the influences from the latter group of artists, as his flow and delivery is often straight-talking, and pensive, all the while displaying great stage presence.

One of the standout performances of the festival came from diverse hip-hop collective – Brockhampton. Each member seemed to bring something different to the stage, as they were cohesively able to combine their varying styles in music, keeping you engrossed throughout.

Made of up of six vocalists and dancers, the group appeared on stage in sliver reflective space suits, backed with visuals on screen to effortlessly create the setting for their alternative hip-hop, punk and rock fusion. Along with the noticeably choreographed dance and solo routines, their set constantly evolved and kept you anticipating what they were going to do next. 

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Travis Scott’s much-anticipated psychedelic, Astroworld experience lived up to the hype on Sunday evening, with his quick impulsive transactions between tracks, matching the pace and vigour he displayed dancing up and down the stage. Rarely changing tempo, he performed all his hit tracks from ‘Can’t Say’, to ‘Goosebumps’, to 'Butterfly Effect', to ‘Yosemite’.

Then, just when I thought his set was over as Travis began to walk off stage, the ringing opening to ‘Sicko Mode’ vibrated from the speakers to everyone’s elation, rounding off his set perfectly.

Having mostly been to festivals in the UK, it was amazing to see the hip-hop community come together in strong numbers at WOO HAH! Festival. The director, Rudd Lemmen sums up the experience rightly: “It was fantastic to see so many like-minded people in one place again. The enthusiasm, the joy and - above all else - the relentless energy from the WOO HAH! crowd is unprecedented”.

It’s difficult to fault the organisation and vibe throughout the festival, with a great balance of acts ranging from international to local highlighting how diverse and inclusive hip-hop culture has become. Honestly, we couldn’t recommend this festival enough!

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Words: Kofi Yeboah-Mensah

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