Wally, as if performing an act of ablution to rid his soul of the "demons" of 30 years standing, decides to empty a whole bottle of water over himself, visibly scaring his band into believing they’re about to get fried alive.
“Have you got any string? Go and find a shop that sells string as soon as you can. And while you’re out find an extension lead…”
It’s been a fairly stressful afternoon at Roodkapje, what with these last minute panics to negotiate all the while wondering how in hell we’re going to successfully accommodate five sets into three hours - all due from artists who could, if the mood takes them, overrun in no uncertain manner... For light relief there’s always a nervous member of Minny Pops to talk to: “Do you think anyone’s going to come?” “Yes, Wally, I’m sure they will”, (without, of course being sure at all).
Still, once show time comes there is a respectable crowd coming through the doors at Roodkapje, a multi-purpose space on de Meent in Rotterdam that is used for nights like this – as well as art shows and other indescribable creative events. And there's plenty of art on show tonight; from Zward Rotterdam, Jelmer Noordeman, Anke van den Berg, Rob Mientjes and Viktor Hachmang. It wouldn't be an ULTRA night if there wasn't frankly... Incendiary and artist friend Paul Overdijk are “tasked” with drawing large UltraNieuwe images on the spot (no we weren’t sure either), a task that gets harder to finish after every band ‘s performance.
A quick word about the crowd, in that it’s startling in its age mix and doesn’t seem to be a crowd that is here just to attend an event, even though to all intents and purposes it IS an event… No: this bunch are out to have a good time, and that’s a fact. As you would expect for the first gig in 30 years and 21 days from a legendary Dutch band, there are quite a few of Minny Pops’ contemporaries in the house. Peter Bruyn from the Haarlemmer Dagblad told us he was moved enough to play Minny Pops’ Poste Restante LP in preparation for this evening, and was visibly happy at seeing so many old friends. In contrast the small legions of noisy youth that follow Rats on Rafts around are noticeable by their colour, incurious nature and vivaciousness. It’s time to unleash Gul Night Out.
Now, Gul Night Out isn’t the easiest of opening acts to negotiate. Frontman Jacco is something of a show man, that is, if you buy his idea that “show time” should consist of plenty of confrontational screaming and wailing and the banging of dustbin lids. Gul do four tracks, each a barely negotiable swamp of guitar squall, doomy sounding bass and clumpy keyboards. Jacco’s slightly surreal, slightly unfocused anger becomes increasingly angst ridden, and the audience reaction is mixed to say the least. Some run from the room as the yelling starts, some seem to cower before the assault whereas other braver souls cheer this masquerade on, loving the tension and the comic anger. Some are merely dumbfounded: “fuck me its “Gerard Reve on vox” was one classic remark from the back of the hall. Jacco himself weighed in to this love-fest for Dutch eccentrics with an ode to Robert Jasper Grootveld. When he started banging dustbin lids and wondering openly what Satan had done with his girlfriend some of the audience decided a soothing drink was just what they needed. A magnificent and extraordinary spectacle.
Following this is what many have come to see: Minny Pops, playing a brief set taken entirely from their soundtrack LP, Poste Restante. Before the gig starts Wally gives a sort of blessing for the whole ULTRA / Minny Pops rebirth ( there are gigs and events throughout the early part of 2012), accompanied only by Mecano’s leader Dirk Polack, who was sitting in on accordion. It’s well received but Minny Pops are nervous there’s no doubting that. Still, once they get going, their beautiful and elegant Euro-soundscapes grow in stature. Koel is great, a menacing whisper that spreads through the audience like a slow frost. On this showing their music doesn’t sound dated at all: you could easily compare this to a lot of trendy electronica coming out of say Germany or Sweden. It’s quiet stuff, but tense and with a very brittle edge, though it really could be a hell of a lot louder. And, after a cool considered version of Raag – where you can feel really the grip this band and its reserved, "calculating" vibe has on the audience - it’s over. Wally, as if performing an act of ablution to rid his soul of the "demons" of 30 years standing, decides to empty a whole bottle of water over himself; visibly scaring his band into believing they’re about to get fried alive.
And now, for something completely different. What with Gul Night Out and the closing act Spoelstra, Leiden’s underground is out in force both on and off stage. Danny Ramirez is another extension of this small but fertile scene. Danny is normally a genial and unassuming presence, wrapped in black leather and hiding behind shades he looks like he’s been teleported from a Hawkwind concert and left his stash behind… but what the audience don’t know is that once on stage he transforms into a preacher man, a raconteur, an evangelist replete with a brilliant set of warped songs - murder ballads, Christmas numbers and mini punk arias up his sleeve. Ramirez’s act involves a lot of waving a beer bottle about and belting out the product of his Muse in a gravelly voice. It could be seen as an unholy ménage of a pissed Joe Meek, a wannabe Lemmy fan and Rubberen Robbie. It’s quite brilliant, deserves at least three encores and allows the audience to thaw out after the elegance of Minny Pops.
After Danny has finished, a further mopping of wet pedals is frantically carried out (Wally's waterfall had permeated everywhere) and Rats on Rafts are ready to play to a packed out hall.
Of course referencing this particular band is mot du jour for the Gilded Youth amongst us. And it would be very easy for them to go through the motions and do their standard set - you know play along with all of that miserable unimaginative stuff so prevalent in Judge-Mental Holland about cementing their presence, establishing themselves "in the scheme of things", winning fans etc., etc… No. That’s not what they’re about. What is quite brilliant about Rats is their refusal to kowtow to what is expected. Especially kowtowing to stuff that doesn’t appeal to them. The band start with the short instrumental track that opens their LP, Nr 22, and then straight into the track normally ends their live set, Jazz - which on this showing is a blast. Though a surprising beginning it’s a brilliant move; in that the pace of Jazz creates an instant groove, and a deadly groove whcih they never let go of throughout their set. Topping that even, we get a brilliant segue between a new track (the shuffling Soft Boys style one that they did at dB’s I think) and Ghost Rider by Suicide, which is very menacing indeed and unlocks their true collective spirit. The band has a thunder and a presence about them at this gig: there’s less of the stop-start adrenaline pop rush and more meat, more backbone. They finish with an extempore of sorts on The Moneyman and The Moon Is Big - sounding much better, much more confident and – well – sexy - than when they use it as their set opener. They are utterly magnificent and everyone, from Minny Pops to stumbling artist types like us, is dancing.
How to beat that? Well, despite playing to a rapidly emptying room (due mainly to people anxious about getting trains); Spoelstra gives a performance of wit and bravura, drawing from his great LP The Almighty Internet, as well as snatches from his EP and recent cassette release (a work which is encased in a strange book about his obsession with pallets). Those who hung around were smitten with both his music – a heady mix of glitchcore and bastardised alt.country - and his showmanship. This is a gregarious man who grins through his gigs, and expects you to as well; and he has a happy knack of making his act (which is really just a great deal of delay pedal pressing) look a lot of fun. Maybe it’s his silly crab-like walk which breaks out every time he uses his guitar. Whatever, what’s left of the crowd gives him a great and deserved reception.
All too soon it’s time for last drinks and packing up whilst tramping off to get the night train to Leiden, we’re elated, but wondering what the hell has been set in motion…