Not Eurosonic: O’Ceallaigh’s, & Bar Pacific: Groningen 16 – 17/01/09
Friday 16/01: Subroutine SR020, O’Ceallaigh’s
Let me explain the title. We went up to the prestigious Eurosonic festival, hosted in the main in one of the best venues in Holland - namely Vera - without actually seeing any of the festival proper. Such is the town’s insatiable thirst for alternative music of any kind, however, that there’s no need for any hipster to panic as there are plenty of alternative festivals or showcases around. One of these, the Subroutine showcase SRO20 (at Irish pub O’Ceallaigh’s) was our first call on the Friday.
Sadly we walked into O’Ceallaigh’s just as the last number of opening act Eklin was being brought to a close. Eklin are the remnants of the brooding Adept, who were really on the verge of something special when they disbanded. Eklin deal in pulsating electronics, huge heartbeats of noise; coated in a monochrome shade. Or so it seemed, based on the 30 seconds we heard… Luckily your correspondent got the chance to make amends on the Saturday, but more of that later. Onto Accadians then, who were making their live debut in the upstairs bar. Accadians is Frank from Propellor’s new outfit; a three piece driven by his considerable guitar skills.
Last time I saw him, Frank held lead guitar duties in Vox von Braun, when he contrived to fall over an amp mid set. Since then he’s grown a beard a Confederate soldier would have been proud of. And formed a new band, who, on this showing had the marks of true greatness awaiting them. What I like about Accadians is the way the sheer bitterness of the guitar breaks (and Frank’s predilection to wreck anything around him) sits comfortably within quite complex, well thought out song structures. And nothing feels forced or linear. It’s as if they’ve tried to be as abstract and as direct as they can at the same time. At times Radiohead came to mind, as did a lo-fi Ash Ra Tempel. Truly exhilarating stuff, look out for them, you have been duly notified.
After the odd pint, it was time to go downstairs to watch the much touted AC Berkheimer, whose debut LP was favourably received by all and sundry in Holland’s alternative scene. AC Berkheimer are purveyors of shoegaze, albeit with a quiet, maudlin twist. Not for them the thick, unguent textures and vaguely ethereal stylings one normally associates with this genre, no; AC Berkheinmer seem more menacing, and more pastoral in their approach. I was surprised how quiet they were, how they put greater emphasis on the vocals (which were crystal clear, despite the fugginess of the atmosphere in the packed boozer; the lass who sings doesn’t half pronounce her lines), how they allowed space to work for them. I like their LP, though the record’s very much a case of re-ploughing managed land. If they were to explore their folksier, weirder, more acoustic side, then - Old Krautrock tart that I am - I couldn’t help thinking they had it in them to become a Dutch Amon Duul II; (though possibly without the communal living and bucket-loads of LSD).
After this we should have got Appie Kim, but sadly they pulled out. Instead it was straight in to Vox Von Braun, who, after spending years being ignored, now seem to be getting the attention they deserve. This is singer Wymer’s local so in many ways this was a homecoming gig for them, and plenty of people in the pub appreciated their fuzzy 60’s Garage stylings. As ever, (and following the feel of their cracking LP Something Ain’t Wrong) Vox started quietly, eventually building up a head of steam with great tracks like Julia and Get Real. Vox’s music is based on such a warm, humane proposition that it can only be a matter of time before they get accepted as indie bedrocks in a country that has previously dismissed them.
Upstairs again to see that fabulous duo, The Moi Non Plus, who sadly decided to split up after their weekend engagements in Groningen. They are an ear shattering proposition, and very much in the tradition of art noise, which may be working against them at the moment. But they were a quality proposition and hopefully they’ll get something together soon.
After that it was time to chat to all and sundry, and be driven to our hotel in a taxi that turned out to be a vintage Mercedes limousine. Ooofph…
Saturday 17/01: Bar Pacific
The following day could have been worse. After spending a King’s ransom on some unlistenable 60s Garage LPs (what else do you do in Groningen) and eating a decidedly poncey looking croquette (Dutch readers will now be questioning my sanity on reading this), it was time to stroll along to Bar Pacific, which had been thudding out beats since noon. The Saturday showcase was hosted by that other fine Groningen label, Wham! Wham!, whose tastes are more esoteric than Subroutines; this event had arch experimentalist, beard wearer, pipe smoker & Barrett fanatic Harmwierda filling in the interludes with his spacey, psychedelic imaginings. It can’t get much more out there than that, kids.
This time we were lucky to catch Elkin’s full set. As stated earlier Elkin have created music that is akin to a huge, beating metallic pulse. Losing of the guitar elements that sat in Adept has given them a concentration and determination which is made manifest in an almost medieval way. They also look the part with their hoods up, paying strict attention to their synths, they could be novice monks intent on prayer. It is true party music for fanatics; and if we can stretch the monastic comparison a little further, the thump of the beat doesn’t half put you in mind of huge cathedral bells tolling.
After Elkin, it was new Excelsior Records hope Daily Bread, who are best described as a poppy three piece, who (judging their appearance) could literally have walked out of a cartoon: (Gonzo drummer, fringed & skinny bass player, cute girl). Normally I don’t dig straight-ish teen indie pop (albeit with a considerable nod to Stereolab) and I’m getting a tad long in the tooth for those gadfly, teenage howls of frustration, but they are such a charming proposition that you will find that you can’t help but like them. And they have a mean collection of incredibly catchy songs, including a ‘new one’ (according to the singer) that had such a catchy chorus (which I can’t remember now, but hey that’s beer), that we all sang along. This lot could be hot stuff.
You can’t get enough AC Berkheimer. Yet again we witness a quiet, understated and menacing performance. If you want to draw MBV comparisons then you can. Though I’d say you have to be aware of the nuances in Berkheimner’s set. It’s more a pastoral take on Isn’t Anything than an e-d up Loveless song swirl anyone with hip pretensions is presently name-dropping. How the singer manages to propel her whisper to the back of the room is beyond me. And how does the guy on guitar and second vox duties manage to look like he wants to punch everyone’s lights out all gig? I like their decidedly un-starry “so wrong they look right” appearance (that is very much in the tradition of shoegaze) and continued to entertain Amon Duul II fantasies about them.
After this, more Guinness and time to see Eva Braun, a lady who has dyed her hair a fetching shade of grey and wears a very attractive kimono style outfit. I’ve seen this girl at parties but didn’t realise that she was in a band. More fool me. Her three piece band play rumbling, frayed, Neanderthal punk and Eva (to quote Julian Cope talking about Big in Japan’s Jayne Casey), opens her mouth and screams her bloody head off. There are definite Yoko stylings going on; especially in Eva’s facial expressions, and there is an implicit recognition by the audience that we are to treat this performance as punk theatre. Which we do. Eva has a following of mostly battered looking punks (which are a commonplace up in the North) and older guys. Unintentionally the international rugby (which appears on the Bar Pacific’s big screen behind the band) adds a unique backdrop to the gig. The moments where the music and the televised steaming, jousting man-flesh synchronise are what makes life worth living.
After this we stumble out to have a pint with Frank from Accadians, who is wearing bug-eyed sunglasses (he hasn’t been to bed for a day or so) and Pony Pack, who are also in town. Discussions about Ash Ra Tempel and the Skando – Keltic make up of the North of England’s population make way for a Mexican meal & Bedfordshire in our nice (but very weird) hotel.
A great weekend.
Words: Richard Foster
Pics: Richard Sottong