I am very well aware that after nightfall people in this region turn into werewolves. So where is the fucking venue?
Okay it’s pissing down, I’m on my bike cycling against a head wind through some of the most depressing countryside I know in Holland (outside of Drenthe). It’s also just starting to go dark. The sky lowers ominously with more rain and my waterproofs have reached that uncomfortable stage where the sweat on the inside is matching the moisture levels on the outside. I’m wet and out of breath and I’m near a new housing estate in Voorhout. Believe me when I say, this is shit. This is the pits. I’m here because apparently there’s a gig in a studio I’ve never been to (though I must point out I’ve often been cordially invited over by owner, and Space Siren leader Corno Zwetsloot). The studio is on a road full of bulb factories. Oh bollocks, bulb factories are ten a penny round this neck of the woods… There are no signs. Living in foppish Leiden and having worked in the bulbs for eight years previous to my present job, I am very well aware that after nightfall people in this region turn into werewolves. So where is the fucking venue?
After about twenty minutes of frantic searches and phone calls I find a road past some greenhouses that leads me to a small enclosed set of houses and sheds. Finally. Marc Van der Holst from Spilt Milk genially greets me with a New York style “How Yoo Doooin?”, (he’s excused as he’s been in NYC with the Hospital Bombers). As does the mighty Mr Zwetsloot, carrying two small children over each shoulder, looking for all the world like some Viking rampaging through a 7th century Saxon village. Christ alone knows what I look like. I’ve had very little sleep these last few days due to hanging out with British Sea Power and Wymer from Vox Von Braun, (hardly people you’d expect to find at the local health farm), and my waterproofs are now beginning to steam like a boiling kettle.
But enough of me, let’s talk of music. Next to Jaap studios is a cosy and ordered place, with lots of wooden beams and a very well kept relax area. The gig space is alike a mini Inner Space studios, glittery tresses hang down from the ceiling and odd bits of ornamentation punctuate the warm log cabin vibe. (Let me tell you that there are some very odd nick-nacks in the Bollenstreek… if I had the temerity I would go round photographing all the window ornaments round here & publish it as some sort of kitsch homage to boredom and the taste of the farming community). Corno controls the mix front of house and the mixing room carries out other duties. There’s beer at one euro and a well ordered toilet. And we have a decent crowd in to see Przewalski who Marc drummed with, way back when he was a lad. Przewalski are a two synth, one guitar, one drum line up and their Muse draws from that gloopy, warm and fuzzy sound so reminiscent of the early/mid-nineties: Lemonheads, Sleeper, that kind of thing. The lads in the band – who look like backwoodsmen it has to be said - are having fun too, despite the odd wry remark about depressing weather. In fact their songs are not always the most upbeat, subject-wise, as at times there are songs about autumn, depression and worse. But it’s always honest and heartfelt music. Now and again (especially with the last track) there’s an insistence and drive to the music that gets into Stereolab territory. But the laid back nature of the band and the overriding warmth of the sound mean that it’s never going to leave a prescribed comfort zone. It’s actually a very nice easy going gig played by solid musicians. It’s warmed me up at any rate.
A break and then we have Svetkoff Lamps, who do look like a band. The act is a threepiece consisting of drums and two guitarists, and a lot of pedals. The male guitarist has the kind of cheekbones that comes of undergoing a self-starvation regime in order to buy a new amp. They have a fair number of guitars and proceed to swap instruments at regular intervals, seemingly to find a textural nuance that is essential to a particular song. Fair enough I suppose… The girl guitarist happily hammers her instruments, chugging the sound along and looking for chances for pedal trickery. At times it’s all a bit formulaic or academic; but the band is actually very, very good also: especially when there’s an idea to explore and when they let rip and push their sound towards a song or a melody or a burn out. At other times I could accuse them of rigidly regurgitating the chord patterns and the sonic battles of textures and tone that are found on Daydream Nation.
The Svetkoff Lamps gig gets me thinking about Sonic Youth; that Sonic Youth circa 1987-88 created an un-improvable template, which loads of bands find beguiling and near impossible to do anything with. A musical equivalent of a treacherous slope on K2… that kind of thing. But there you go.
Another break, the odd cool tune (most notably Qu’ran by Byrne and Eno) and then we have the New YX, a bunch of young and rumbustious kids who dance about with abandon before going on stage. Love that or hate that, it’s noticeable. The girl guitarist also lies on her back on stage at one point, muttering to herself whilst waiting for her band mates to get into place. This is a funny band, interesting, irritating maybe, but - as I said - noticeable. There’s something about their music too despite the considerable rough edges and self-centred gawkishness they possess. The sound is poppy, rigid in its determination and pretty one paced at times. They definitely need more light and shade; they need to balance out the swagger and hormones with something more brittle or daring. Still bits remind me yet again (as it did at Incubate) of Throwing Muses or Babes in Toyland. The guitarist is pretty damned good and drives the sound along with an astute selection of choppy rhythms, snaky melody lines and the odd blurt of aggressive white noise: all the while keeping her hoodie up. The girl singer pulls the sort of doll-like shapes that Donnelly & Hersch did back when I was young and impressionable, whilst the lad on bass glides around in a manner that is at once asking for a punch and enjoyably cheeky. And the drummer grins determinedly throughout the set. Now that is unnerving.
Afterwards the bike breaks down so yours truly gets the late train back to civilisation. Grand, wet, tired, a bit confused, but I’m there next week.