Spilt Milk and Mere at the Kunstroute Aalmaarkt, Leiden 23/9/2012

At one point Marc went out for a fag mid song, walking back in past some bemused members of the crowd who’d obviously be happier hanging out at Hema. And almost trying to outdo himself, Marc finishes things off in true entertainer’s style by jumping into the drumkit.

A Sunday afternoon, in Leiden and all team Incendiary have to do is stroll down to the Aalmarkt (the new approved area for squat/ underground artistic activities) and take on board two cracking bands. One we know and love: Spilt Milk, promoting their superb 10” EP. The other, Mere is one we’ve heard a lot about; the lads and lasses from Samling have come down from Groningen to check matters out too: Mere will be releasing a tape on their label anytime soon. Everything is nice and cosy; we walk in to see a record player (playing Su Ra, even better) and a table with surprising and obviously “artistic” objets trouvé; (it’s the weekend where all the artists’ studios are open to the public meaning the gig will be punctuated by well-appointed people wandering in and out of the complex – sometimes comically appearing from through the velvet curtain behind the stage). We sympathise: normally these good burghers would be ambling round Ikea looking for some small decoration to jolly up their window displays, but feeling their civic duty is to be seen supporting art - if only once a year - they wander round, looking with disbelief at the cultural activities practised by those lower down the social scale. It’s a hard life…

So everything is nice and cosy, but well, cramped… the last time we were in this venue was when Gul Night Out wrecked it and it seemed palatial then. I turn to Wotnxt’s Marcel and remark that the room has shrunk considerably; I mean, there are less of Spilt Milk than Gul Night Out but the Milk can’t fit onto the small raised area that doubles as a stage. Blaming this transformation on the voodoo qualities of Gul, we settle back and watch the Milk play an absolute blinder of a set: Marc van der Holst is more of a loose cannon than normal on this day; he struts and paces about, leaving a lot of the vocal responsibilities to Brenda who, as ever, is the magnet around which the rest of the band gravitate. They thrive in situations like this; a quiet intimate gig needing only basic amplification and a nice, interested and funny crowd, willing to join in with the quips and asides, but also happy to listen in on this beautiful, wistful music. Spilt Milk are a band of the moment – they do what suits them, and they are remarkably good at assessing the situation in front of them - and given Brenda’s genial but “iron fist in a velvet glove” style control and Marc’s impishness their gigs are often a kind of impromptu theatre in themselves. At one point Marc went out for a fag mid song, walking back in past some bemused members of the crowd who’d obviously be happier hanging out at Hema. And almost trying to outdo himself, Marc finishes things off in true entertainer’s style by jumping into the drumkit.

After that we have a change in tempo, a ratcheting up of the intensity. Mere are a serious proposition, a trio comprising of a very serious looking bass clarinettist, a guitarist and ex Julie Mittens drummer Leo. Mere are something else: they immediately look to hit some elemental chord with the audience, less interactive than Spilt Milk in terms of bonding with the crowd but just as able to create an impression. Their music is elemental in the extreme, raw in parts, and pleasingly abstract in others: and you can feel that they are certainly not afraid to rock out, (the opening track had a sort of all-enveloping intensity to it that was as heavy as any metal act), but on this grey autumnal afternoon in Leiden, Mere mostly looked to put their audience in a mild state of trance. Their power is obvious; their sense of theatre is well tuned and with Leo able to set up the sort of rhythmical backdrop that makes a whole host of things possible the band created a mood that was hard to break out of. To say I sat there, increasingly entranced doesn’t really do it justice, the day slipped by, the band somehow stepped out of the frame and started to inform everything within radius. It was extraordinary, exquisite. Somehow having tea afterwards didn’t feel right, or appropriate. A magical afternoon.