A text from High Priest John Doran alerted us to the Ekkopelkz/Emmplekz gig in NWE Vorst. Apparently there was this mad poet mouthing off about Yul Brynner and Ronnie Corbett. "He's just called George Peppard a cunt." That sealed it.
Beware the sun in Tilburg! It can make you want to sit in the pub and do nothing else. And the Saturday was one that threatened to unravel if plans went wrong. An incredible line up in Dudok (hosted by the ever heroic Bob Rusche) promised the delights of Skullflower and Datashock. Paradox looked like a total hang (it always is anyway) and those with "festival headliner complex" could dig Wovenhand and Goat in Midi. Incendiary decided that having no plan was easily the best thing to do.
Gigwise, matters kicked off with Naive Set in Studio. The usual promotion of Benelux bands (done in the past by labels like Narrominded, Snowstar and Subroutine) had been taken in house so to speak, expanded over 3 days and branded Incubate Zero, without any massively noticeable difference; except that the acts were shared out across a number of venues and not just in Studio. The acts seemed a bit more diffuse, and wide ranging in style (and it has to be said, quality) too. A bit more in the style of Popronde, where you really don't know what's coming. I just wished that they'd called it something that felt a bit more, well, positive. Le Mini Who, Incubate Zero, and the Live XS Locals Only feature. Tell me, are the Dutch embarrassed about their own music?
Previous to the Saturday programme, we'd seen Belgium's Shoeshine blaze through Cul de Sac with a very pleasing and spirited take on Polvo and Magazine, and Groningen's Vikings in Tibet serve up some of the most Godawful harmonies I've ever heard (ever) in Babbus. Luckily, Naive Set are pretty shit hot at harmonies. Naive Set are pretty shit hot full stop. Their LP is one of the highlights of 2014 in the Netherlands (not that many people have noticed) and their attitude and demeanour hints at something that could be quietly glorious; even if it is going to languish in 35 fellow losers' record collections until a chance discovery propels the by now gnarled bedsit benefit scroungers to a brief Indian Summer of low rent fame, being pawed at by plastics and finally being ripped off by the still all powerful and uncaring Hilversum orcs. Back to the present day. Live, they have three elements that immediately set them ahead of their peers. Firstly, the band are able to exploit the fragile, tensile element that underpins their collection of beautiful pop songs. It's as if they ramp up the brittle nature of the songs' structures; breaking them off in brutal manner just when the crowd's collective head begin to nod. As such it's momentarily frustrating (in that you want the fucking things to go on longer, especially Like That) but very rewarding as a whole. Secondly, these songs also have a wonderful melancholy and a quietness that can be stretched live to an emotional breaking point. They do emotions very, very well, Naive Set; it's a sort of gentle take on the emotional directness which the Dutch purport to have but rarely use in real life. Finally and gloriously, there's no banter and the entire thing lasts 18 minutes, tops. That modus operandi may sound gauche, and of course is the ultimate Kiss of Death in the Netherlands (where a band's function is to Entertain or be Dammed) but seeing Naive Set's previous attempts to be friendly and openly funny on stage (where they were met with the usual bovine incredulity) this silence shizzle is a secret weapon. It also stops the "Speeeeeluh!" fascisti. Yeah; listen to the songs, punks.
After Naive Set we decided to be brain damaged by Datashock and eat hot Indonesian curry. Having duly rent our innards and frontal lobes incapable of any further feeling we popped over to Paradox. I fucking love Paradox, in fact I think I'm going to buy it and live there. First up were Norway's Tusmørke
, (part of the festival's Norwegian showcase, unsurprisingly). We'd noticed in their soundcheck that there were smocks and face paints ready to be wielded. This, of course is - indisputably - a Good Thing. And despite Dame Paul Morley Telling Us All in the Guardian
that the future is classical, and rock is outdated (blah, yawn, meh) there's still a place for people to fall down the chasm into the serious-childish underworld known as Rock. Be Damned Ye Urban Arthole classicist bores!
Live, Tusmørke veered between knocking out some great and complex arrangements driven on by some pretty mental bass playing, and offering up passages that seemed - to these untutored ears at least - to be a tad confused as to where they were going. Or being too sure as to where they were going and not bothering to tell us novitiates. At times stuff their slipped into a blatantly obvious, 3rd gear/ 2 cylinder "musty carpet covered in roaches" take on the 'Tull, or the more punky elements of Gong. It's all about the mind-map you see. With a band like Tusmørke you need to tune in all the time, such is the strength of their crazy trip. There was a lot of Magicke talk both during and between the songs; the band clearly revelling in throwing out in-references and strange tales. Often in Norwegian. But that's fine. It was weird and awful and moreish in a way that listening to Green Pavane's Nymphs of Untwalumni Wood is weird and awful and moreish; and I could imagine if you could see past the pointy hats and face paint and costume changes - and given the mental stage banter, including dedications to 4 specific plants in Oslo's Botanical Gardens and mentions that the elite were leaving us to go to space - there is something going on here. As Daevid Allen once rightly said, life's too serious to be taken seriously. Up Yours, Paul Borely!
Off to Hippie Diktat in Cul De Sac who threw out some fabulous High Europa Academic jazz moves (man). Ach I may jest but they were great! You see, there was this appealing and very tough mid-range clatter to their sound, a compressed assault that had the feel of being very carefully built and thought through, but one that liked nothing better than to be thrown around the room with abandon. We settled into a game of catching the molten lumps of noise they sent our way until a text from High Priest John Doran alerted us to the Ekkopelkz/Emmplekz gig in NWE Vorst. Apparently there was this mad poet mouthing off about Yul Brynner and Ronnie Corbett. "He's just called George Peppard a cunt." That sealed it. Taking a reluctant leave of Hippie Diktat (note them kids!) we pegged it to another enclave of loons. John was on the money; two seated malcontents created this deranged audio-visual mix of British town planning films, gas-powered electro and suggestive shout-spaces. This was the sort of unwitting, ur-pagan, rough diamond genius that used to pour out of the gobs of proto Odinists sat in pubs the length and breadth of Albion. Front page headlines twisted and remade/remodelled after 20 pints and too many whelks; printed yelps misshapen into a verbal pebble-dash of half understood wisdoms. Mad Max appearing on Blue Jam; too porky for his bike, addled on mild and bitter. Did the poet fella just say "nob hats"? Incendiary bought the record.
Phew there's no rest for a girl addicted to underground music. Back to Paradox, for France's Le Seul Element
. The 'Element was there; albeit hidden behind a screen that changed colour in sympathy with the sounds. Musically it was very French Gothicke, with an electro sheen. Mediaeval electro; theatrical ambient. Cold Wave, Joan of Arc style. Alsp maybe a bit of a quieter take on 1-A Düsseldorf; a "classic" version of tracks like Olala
. The scene in the room was attentive, intense. As usual the place was packed with slightly older jazz groovers and the earnest aesthetic Young Types who appreciate this sort of highbrow thing. But then, watching a shadow is surprisingly addictive and (concomitantly) DOES make you concentrate on what's going on with the sounds. Best of all, when the ridiculously modest amount of dry ice pumped out set the smoke alarm off (adding an additional regimented, atonal edge) the Paradox Heads nodded along, throwing out some kind of sonic rope bridge between performance and interruption. Man, that was cool!
A quick blaste of Bardo Pond's unguent psyche at NWE Vorst pulled us round in time to take on Vin Blanc / White Wine; a duo boasting Joe Haege, one of the lads from the late, great Tuw Fawning and a Longhair from Leipzig. Man this was a funny set! Singer Haege was a live wire from the start; he crept and rolled around in the audience, imploring them to love him and his dippy songs, pulling off mock falls and doing some weird take on Harold Lloyd's clowning, Emo style. Mijn Heer Longhair patiently backed Haege all the way; providing a rock-steady backdrop and some pertinent musical counterpoints with his drums/keys/pedals set up. The songs were great too. No, they were really great; emotional, big-hearted, ever so slightly frazzled and frayed at the edges, but popular songs in the true sense of the word. This was micro-chipped music hall,Tin Pan Alley, David Byrne duetting with Dan Leno. If the Vin Blanc LP is as good as this gig, well... we've all got to give it a spin.
What next? Well, bugger the headliners. We heard that the queues for Goat and Wovenhand were long. Queues at Incubate? It's a shame 013 wasn't open as there'd have been room for all. Incubate cares a LOT about its visitors, in that the organisers know that its visitors set the agenda, they aren't "punters" who can be exploited because they "have" to see a headliner 'cos it's the "thing" to do. I do think that Incubate distances itself from the current festival war going on in NL pretty well; and I hope this policy continues for a long time. But it's a shame some couldn't get in to see what they wanted when they wanted this time round.
Anyway we were too busy grooving down to Poland's Innercity Ensemble in Head HQ, Paradox. Innercity Ensemble are a collective who boast members from other Polish bands (Hokei etc) and they seemingly have but one mission; to show the world just how mind-blowing the minimalist urban template can be. Possibly one of the best things we saw all weekend, Innercity Ensemble patiently built up an incredible wall of ever changing shapes and grooves; at times coming on like Church of Anthrax, then performing a smart about turn to explore some Gainsbourgian frippery or some patched up, Hillage-style run through. Fucking incredible. Incredible mainly because the whole thing was utterly without ego and focussed and psyche-powered. And driven by this vegetative, lo-fi, discount DIY punk attitude that refuses to be bought off by the latest smartphone offer. These Innercity people haven't got time for your approval; they are far too busy chopping up your musical expectations and serving them back to you, grilled. And, possibly because they could sense this lack of traditional contract between them and the band, the audience's reactions were also mixed; zone outs, sleeping, open-eyed trances, yelping and wild dancing happening next to each other. All that monolithic guff about "the correct audience appreciation" went out of the window. And after this there was no point doing anything, apart from go to rockers pub, Buitenbeentje. Another crazy day. Could we last?