Rats on Rafts and Plus Instruments - De Duyker, Hoofdorp 27/4/12

...one thing Truus de Groot has is presence, and an awareness of how to use the stage.

 

Ah blissful fun! But in Hoofddorp? Well, yes… team Incendiary were there to see Rats on Rafts for the umpteenth time this year along with a more rare catch, Plus Instruments / Nsmk. In their current incarnation Plus Instruments / Nsmk is the legendary Truus de Groot and Toon Bressers, coupled with the very talented Younes Riad. We reckoned that we’d probably never see the band again - given Truus’ residency in the US – so there was no way we were going to miss them. Added to all of this, Gonzo/Vinyl deejay and all round good guy Oscar Smit was deejaying, which meant we’d get to hear a few loved ULTRA tracks, old and new.

A word about the venue is in order. De Duyker is a fine podium, very well equipped with great sound and an attractive set of stages and practise rooms (as well as a very nice bar indeed). It’s part of a massive arts complex which, by virtue of its very scale, could have been designed for a minor despot. That it’s bang in the middle of Hoofdorp must be a bone of contention with the locals, considering how few had bothered to turn up for the gig, a no-show made all the more remarkable given Rats on Rafts’ appearance. Maybe they just like Pizza Hut better.

Still, a small bunch of about 30 to 40 Heads had braved it, and settled back to watch Rats on Rafts kick off the evening with that fairly new slow burning track, (the one with the refrain, "sleep little child" in it, I’m sure some pedant will remind me of its name sometime), which then segues into their clarion call The Moon Is Big. Rats just keep getting better, the swagger we reported at Ekko is more evident now, the gaps between tracks is less, there’s no awkwardness and they seem to be learning a stagecraft that mixes the old and new elements of their sound very effectively indeed. Fire was its usual storming and belligerent self; this old/new number has so much punch and brimstone about it that it is beginning to sound more and more like a sure-fire hit whereas Emma Sofia is growing on us, losing a little of its sugariness and gawkiness to become a much tougher proposition.

There’s a game you can play at a Rats gig at present, and that is guessing the points and stages of audience abandon. It normally starts with Moneyman’s fried and ever escalating wig-out but the smart money is on the moment when God Is Dead punches through the ceiling with that adrenaline laden beat, setting up the sinister charge of Sailor and loosening limbs enough for the demented swing of Jazz. Tonight threw up further fun; a new track with plenty of strange noises and pulsating feedback, floating menacingly and slowly round the room like a deflating zeppelin, the crowd, high off the beat of Jazz were desperately trying to find a way to hook into this weird noise: David singing through two mics only reinforced the track’s elemental spirit; closer to Cluster or Throbbing Gristle than the Roses or the Sound…

So, triumphant yet again; the only downside to the whole gig was that the sound was so good: the PA’s quality meant that David’s guitar effects (which rely a lot on the gunky atmosphere created by dodgy old PAs) was scrubbed clean, meaning that a lot of the lovely tremolo washes he gives his lines were lost, but that was a minor consideration.

Incredibly by the time Toon & Younes set up and the clatter of the Nasmak Melody rang out the crowd had thinned again, but more fool them as the sounds emanating from the stage were nothing short of epic. Nasmak’s old numbers, these strident and sharp shards of memories lodged in the back of many an old punk mind were given fluidity and power, qualities that had the audience gasping. Bressers is a powerhouse of a drummer, but it’s not really obvious where he gets such a thump, his actions seem methodical, almost scholarly at times. Riad, bent over an amalgam of contraptions seemed to be intuitively aware of how to colour the incredible sonic framework set up by his partner. This was vaulting, steely music, ambitious as a skyscraper and hard as iron. The rhythms at times became merciless, akin to the sensual toughness of Afrobeat: once Truus stepped on stage the audience were pretty much battered into a submissive and receptive state.

But that’s not to intimate that she didn’t seek to work the audience; one thing Truus de Groot has is presence, and an awareness of how to use the stage. Despite using a whole host of articles on a table (including the famous “crackle box”) she is aware of the power of the smallest move, the subtlest inflection or attitude. It was quite weird seeing this brassy confident showmanship given full vent on a provincial Dutch platform. We got a whole host of new tracks from the latest LP, the brilliant Dance with Me (including a pulsating take on the title track) and Bored, not to mention the infuriatingly catchy Wrong Right (which my girlfriend insists on singing ad nauseum). Did we get Freundschaft and Git Along? Maybe we did, but at that point my head had dived into the tank of beer prepared for it. Sadly we had to cut half of the gig and run to get the train, missing any chance of seeing the band play Bodies (I just have to console myself that they probably didn’t do it). What a night, and what a waste only a handful of people saw it.