Bands seem to have a bit more lip in Holland, and not the sort of attitude that feels stereotyped or hyped, or false. They just seem more cheeky, bored of being told what a band “should” do by the apparatchiks in Hilversum, more up for having their own brand of having “a laugh and a say”.
It’s raining and the pub where we are supposed to be interviewing the bands is rammed to the rafters with the Hip and Comfortable of Amsterdam. It’s a truly great pub but if you ever have a burning desire to see the results of exfoliation on a giant scale, go to de Zotte. New YX are on the scene first, two tall ladsname of Jilis and Jaap and two spiky, breezy girls: Liú, and Lili. The band’s gang mentality and sheer energy is evident from the moment they walk in. After deciding that we’ll pop over to the Melkweg café, we wait for April outside. April - known to their mothers as Jorn and Julia stroll up, their singular, angular forms silhouetted against the gloaming, you can’t miss them really, a duo of striking appearance, beamed in from Berlin 1977 or London. 1966.
Despite the superficial differences in manner and appearance, the two acts get on very well and are touring together through the month of April 2012. And they share a spirit that is gradually more evident over here: bands seem to have a bit more lip in Holland, and not the sort of attitude that feels stereotyped or hyped, or false. They just seem more cheeky, bored of being told what a band “should” do by the apparatchiks in Hilversum, more up for having their own brand of having “a laugh and a say”.
The rules of rock journalism demands I try to set my own pithy agenda.
IN: I was thinking about my questions for you on the train, trying to find some catchword that could encapsulate both acts, because you know each other very well and the one thing that immediately popped into my mind was “witty, you’re both funny, witty bands…
…erm hang on you’re not drinking that out of the bottle are you?
Liú: (who is drinking Ij Natte straight from the bottle against all beer snob regulations) Why not? I like it (laughs). Should I erm be drinking it in a different way then? Eh?
Jorn: Working class…
IN: Anyway you are cheeky… I’ve seen you (looking at Liú) rolling around on the floor before a gig, making funny noises…
Jillis: It’s not a conscious choice; it’s just the way we react to a situation, just a natural reaction. It’s been like that from the start, when we got together…
Jaap: And we felt comfortable there to behave like that at that gig you mentioned - we have recorded there, at Corno’s studio (Next to Jaap, Voorhout).
Lili: We are – we’re a bunch of kids and we are like that, that’s what happens when we get together. Seriously it’s completely natural it’s a different state also I only feel this way when I’m with the rest of them.
Jillis: A permanent form of teenage angst (laughs).
IN: Same with April, the first time I saw you, you were very much "on the attack" too...
Jorn: Yeah that’s true, but that gig was a big deal with interviews and everything and we were really shouting in these interviews – we were in our home town and we had to prove ourselves, and with the bands we played with that night we felt we had to make a point. I’m sure they’re nice people but I don’t really like music from bands like Go Back to the Zoo – and they were all in the room too, and we felt we had to make a stand for our way of doing things. It was our second gig. Also it’s natural to be the way we are… we don’t really look to be something we’re not in terms of personality - I move a lot on stage and Julia doesn’t That’s just our chemistry. I am aggressive and she’s much quieter.
IN: Go Back to the Zoo were there? Ah the band with the inflatable gorilla? I thought “this is Iron Maiden…”
Jillis: Ah I think that’s ok, what’s the alternative for them? It’s part of their show - I mean the theatre element -they just have a thing for large inflatables…
IN: You are both gangs and you both have a fire that is very new, you are open about not giving a shit.
Lili: I guess we don’t! I know you guys don’t (looking at April)…
Jorn: No that’s true I mean we’re bored! Bored... Bored of the scene from six or seven years ago where people were standing there playing, just doing nothing and being happy being like everyone else. And what is so bad about being on the front line? That’s how it feels – playing and being different and proving you can be different in the Netherlands and show that yes you can really do something.
IN: You are both very much “now” in your attitude to your music. Which is a contract to Dutch bands from a while ago. You knew that when you spoke to the bands back in 2003, 2004, about how they saw their music… you knew that they’d be doing the same thing in seven or eight years’ time.
Lili: It’s strange I can’t see how… I think it’s very unnatural if you say to yourself. If we said that as a band, people would look at us like we’re crazy. If that’s your attitude in life then… What the hell you do next?? (laughs)
Liú: That’s the worst thing to say ever, to say “what if I do this and people laugh at me”? (Relapses into a silence)
Jillis: It’s like Liú said earlier, we have a really strong connection with the short term and we find that totally fine. When you’re on stage doing the songs you are concerned with the world, you are concerned with everything in that short duration of the song, after that, well…
Anyway, I want to know how you see us… as a gang or a band?
IN: To me you seem very much a gang – which is a dual thing that I was brought up accepting in the UK, a good band is often a kind of gang. And with that you treat the audience as an element to take on to win over. Bands in Holland didn’t used to do that much. They never seemed to bother with the audience as an ingredient in a show…
Jaap: In Holland a lot of people do that differently it’s true; a lot of bands say the just don’t care about the audience they just want to do their own thing and they don’t give a shit about who they play to.
Jillis: I agree with Jaap.
Jorn: A lot of Dutch bands just to try to please the audience too much, try to make things comfortable, make sure they play the songs really well in the correct order… it’s okay, but…
Jaap: If a band shows they do the same at every show, I think it makes them feel stable it shows in their eyes that they’re fine, they’re professional.
IN: This idea of cabaret, which is in some ways the big curse in Holland for bands. Act like a cabaret act…
Liú: I think that’s interesting because we don’t try to hide how we feel. And the audience can see that. If we feel like shit or feel scruffy we show that and I personally don’t mind and… erm… I might be a little more outgoing on the stage, but I don’t I’ll go and stand in the corner so that’s just the way I do it.
Lili: Whatever feels real for you (laughs)… For us if people want to see the same thing over and over you know that’s fine…People appreciate seeing a consistent thing in Holland, that’s cool for them but for us that is impossible because we can’t ever do the same thing twice.
IN: In terms of creating things at a time and place, the idea that you can just go into a room and turn it on like a tap is impossible. There are vast arrays of natural chemical equations going on in the room you’re in, in your head; in other people’s heads… the very idea that you can control this beforehand is ridiculous, impossible. I always found it strange that people not connected with bands say “well they’ve got to do things like this, like that then it’s fine” is crazy artistically. Why not get a job in banking?
Jillis: What do you care for, then? What do you want to ask us about this then? That we are a gang because we care as a band about doing things differently?
IN: (Flummoxed) Well, yes...
Jorn: An attitude of “let’s do it” I guess.
Jillis: Then yes, we care, we want to do it and we’re happy saying “fuck you” to anyone.
IN: To change tack, in terms of music you both make… you know there are two sides to any art made the public and private sides, the creation and the performance. We have an idea about your collective stance on performance, which is of the moment. So what do you think when you create? Do you think the stuff you make is long lasting?
Jillis: You can look ahead…
Jorn: Probably in 10 years’ time we’ll be hip again (laughs) but that’s just the way it goes, like in fashion it always comes back…we do try to make songs that as are as good as we can make them, and we hope they are not temporary but we just don’t know. You can bring out a record and we’re getting there on that but when it’s done, in a year it’s lost and we can just hope that its quality will last in the memory longer than a year… our music is made with a lot of passion and energy and yes it’s made in private with just the two of us and we don’t want what we do to fade away. And you can fade away so quickly.
Lili: I think it’s always like a process I think it is vital not to have too many expectations and thinking too much about what it could be kills the whole creative process… because you cannot say “I want it to be this, because then it will be good”…
Jorn: It has to be pure, if you try to add other people’s ideas it will be shit I guarantee.
Lili: I want to be free to move creatively anyway…
(Liú starts singing Queen’s megalomaniac slab of rock I Want to Break Free and starts laughing)
IN: A punk quality, get it down. I think that’s the right way.
Jillis: So what do the others do? Tell me!
IN: Good question! I believe that a lot of Dutch bands (and also people in record companies) make music for an audience they’ve never played to, and then they start creating rules based on these imaginary audiences and situations, and then they impose this stuff on both their own performance and their actual audience… And does that work in front of 20 people in, say Gouda? I think not.
Lili: But this is child-like behaviour, it’s mad, we don’t do it.
IN: You both mention war in your songs…
Lili: Do we? Oh yeah we do! (starts giggling)
Jorn: For us, that’s just a metaphor for people who go to work every day and do the same stuff and feel shit about their lives (Marching Song)
IN: No songs about girls (laughs)
Jaap: We care about a lot of things you know? We are angry a lot of the time…
Jillis: I think about what matters but I don’t know what to care about (laughs).
Lili: I don’t really agree with the idea that we’re just angry - we are in an enormous huge universe of emotions that we deal with personally, just like you… just like anyone: I don’t think it’s just that we’re angry. We care and we have an aesthetic that allows us to show things openly
Jorn: When you think about what you do, you care.
Jaap: More an energy that is diverse and we want to push that.
Lili: But of course a lot of the time you ARE angry…
Liú: But when we sing about fighting or war, it’s about fighting for yourself and about what you think and in that sense it’s written from an individualistic point of view more internal, that’s the idea I get from us as a group.
Lili: And in a more positive way than really angry Just having a go is just well… silly.
Jorn: It’s a case of energy, it gives you drive to accomplish the goals you want to achieve. We care about simple, beautiful things - it’s easy. No-one cares about simple and beautiful things; everybody’s just on Facebook or watching the fucking “Voice of Holland”...
Jillis: Like we all are (everyone laughs)
Jorn: Yeah (laughs) most of the time I’m just like the rest, blogging away for the band
Jillis: And there are also simple beautiful things online!
IN: Speaking as the old man here I don’t want to go back to 1985 when you’re just sitting there wondering who the fucking else feels like this? Online in one respect is very liberating, it’s good! You can do things now; you can get it down now and find out what people think quickly. But I do have to say that you are pushed towards certain conformity of action, simply down to the levelling, aggregating aspect that technology brings to actions… Everyone is behaving and thinking like these advanced secretaries which I don’t think is good creatively…
Jillis: It’s just a development - you have to work around things – glitch aesthetics, fucking about with the user interface that is the way to fuck things up. That is punk, now. It’s part of the world and you have to do things with that.
IN: So the artisan behaviour not the artist?
Jorn: Like a dress maker? (laughs)
IN: Changing tack again… you both love guitars, you are both in love with guitar sounds. They’ve had a bad press recently but now they’re coming back a multi-faceted instrument. And sensual. And both bands have a liking for sensual sounds. True?
Liú: That comes with standing there on stage and you’re like giving a lot of energy for what you’re doing and people see it and it comes together
IN: So you react to the audience? That informs your playing?
Liú: I dunno no I go and hide and put my hood up (laughs).
IN: And girl guitar players…
Jorn: How cool is it to be in a band with a girl guitar player who sounds like Julia? Because in Holland when you see girls play guitar they don’t play like Liú or Julia.
Liú: That’s SO dull, that kind of thinking about girls in a way that they can’t play guitar unless they’re “like this” (pulls weird pose with facial gestures)… And there’s the shit about looking in a certain way like the shit you get (looking over to Jorn) for looking feminine or I hear “oh you’re acting masculine you’re playing like a dude”, but FUCK THAT.
Lili: I LOVE you right now
Jorn: When I see us I think we’ve nearly perfected the way that someone who is watching us is going to think, what is that? And when I see Julia play I think shit that is not a girly way of playing a guitar
Lili: What is a girly way of playing a guitar then?
Jorn: From the perspective of the audience!
IN: I think you (Liú) play guitar like a cheeky monkey.
Liú: (Laughs) I can get really uncomfortable on stage so I focus on what I’m doing and then after a while it’s fine. I start off trying to be invisible but that’s fine.
IN: But the way both bands play and use guitars is very different – maybe outside of Space Siren, Rats on Rafts and Appie Kim – to the vast majority of Dutch “guitar bands”. You like sounds, you aren’t trying to tell a story or entertain, and you like noises. You deal with metaphors.
Jorn: We (April) started as an indie band like Arctic Monkeys you know just bashing away and we stopped and then we really, I mean really got into My Bloody Valentine which is very different and we started to learn about the Shoegaze scene in England. You know the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard coming from a guitar is the reverse reverb on My Bloody Valentine, the opener on Loveless... I can’t believe that sound and we thought, that’s it, we have to get involved in that.
IN: It’s a sexual record – in fact both Isn’t Anything and Loveless are. That’s the last time that kind of sound was so brazen in being out in the open, they weren’t a fey band and, moreover, a band that split the jobs equally between the sexes
Lili: That’s cool, that’s great.
Jillis: In general I mean we don’t think about it as a band… I mean who are you to be determined by your sex, get out there, “dick person”…
(Both bands laugh)
IN: Get out there dick person maybe you should use that for your tour headlines…
Jaap: Ach it’s something you do with yourself you know? What you are comfortable with (laughs).
IN: You (New YX) are Amsterdammers and April are from Utrecht… any similarities in your opinion between the two cities?
Jaap: There are no similarities (laughs).
Jorn: No there are. Utrecht is a middle aged town grown to a city and there are a lot of students but there’s not much of a scene except a pub scene and yes, there are some great venues, but everything that starts in Utrecht… it never really gets off the ground because there are just so many more people here in Amsterdam. When we played in Wilhelmina Pakhuis it was great because a lot of people came for that but we played Bitterzoet last week and it was just full of hipsters who were just really busy with themselves, tweeting away and lifting their noses when you walked by… so I think Utrecht is more honest but people in Utrecht are much more reserved and when you finish a show they don’t walk up to you and say they enjoyed the show, but in Amsterdam they do…
IN: The thing that drives me mad about Amsterdam gigs is the massive use of mobile phones at gigs here.
Jillis: There’s a whole film about this the film is about using phones to keep your sanity is the Blair Witch Project. She keeps filming to keep away the evil… She keeps sane because she thinks that filming it means she’s not there... No one is experiencing anything…
After all that philosophy the bands needed a drink and decamped to De Kring to meet up with some of Minny Pops and The Tapes (as you do). Matters continued late into the night (as they do). Interesting. They are on tour in April 2012, yuo should check them both out.