At one point Incendiary turned to John Robb, who was also present, and blurted out “it’s like Margaret Thatcher on vocals”.
Sunday began with Incendiary checking out the Open Source Expo at the Faxx Building: Open Source’s game-plan was apparently to gather a random set of artists and thrown them together in a jumbled but sometimes inspiring way. At times the way the work was displayed did remind this sarcastic soul of walking round the Kringloop but in other parts of the building, especially the basement there was some inspiring and well thought out work. Mention must go to a contraption called (I think) Lung Flowers: where a set of luminous inflating bags pulsated and throbbed, Triffid-like in a darkened room. Roland Maas’ humanoid / robot forms (I really can’t describe them any better sorry) also caught the eye.
We’re no art critics, and this pleasant divertissement was only there to set up the day’s music for us, a programme which would consist mainly of the acts making up the Subroutine Cares showcase at Café ’t Buitenbeentje. Still, before that there was just enough time to dodge the rain and take in two tracks from marvellous German noise duo Schnaak, who played in the Sounds record store.
Schnaak are one of our favourite acts. A messy, silly and inspiring band; their speciality is to throw out gobbets of white noise and math rock - all the while interspersed with some nods to Dada. You may think this proposition could turn very serious, but there’s always a strong slacker vibe that informs all they do. They are like two affable professors who happen to play shifting collages of white noise between lectures, and they get the emotional and spiritual balance (so crucial to this kind of music) just right. A shame we had to leave so early, but after irrigating our souls with this quick blast from Schnaak it was time to run through the pelting rain, back in time to see Spilt Milk, albeit a Spilt Milk without leader Marc (who was in the States with Hospital Bombers), play a surprisingly powerful set. I say “surprisingly” because what with the weather and early stage time and all, the odds were stacked against them to a degree. Brenda’s voice is their secret weapon though, and there’s a sincerity about it that drives their music and there’s an emotional force that counterbalances eth genial vibe: it’s hard to deny them.
So, the band displayed their backwoodsman sound and knocked through their set at a steady trot, and a bridgehead of sorts was secured for the following acts: it at least took our minds off the filthy, glowering weather. Before Henk Koorn and his new band played at Buitenbeentje we scuttled two doors down to Weemoed, to check out Moon and Sun, who are a Scandinavian psych-folk act. Based on appearances, it did seem as if the band were all fresh from a lecture course or a field trip to the Tundra. Their percussion-based psychedelic mantras were great if low key and very, very reminiscent of the landscapes of the frozen North. So, this was a fine gig but one that was pretty intense, and the place was rammed - maybe too much - to see the archetypal Nordic hippy White Goddess figure in the shape of Monica Tormell. Her floppy hat though at times it her presence reminded us of Penelope Keith (yes, it was definitely the hat that did it).
There’s no rest for wicked music reporters let me assure you all. After taking in the paradigm of Nordic hippy, we scuttled over the road to Cul de Sac to watch Mueran Humanos, an act who were described to us as “Argentine Goth”, which is an intriguing and exciting proposition. Argentina has a considerable artistic pedigree when it comes to this sort of thing, and quite frankly, the band was a revelation. The stage presence of the duo, (deadpan, scuzzy lad and scowling girl with seemingly very little under her 1940s/Austerity/French Resistance- style coat) was electrifying. Their music was a powerful trip, long drawn out grooves with a low grade metallic sheen. Think of ridiculously underpowered Swans, or a destructively morbid Soft Cell if you want to have an instant musical reference. And the girl. That girl… she struck a note of fear and wonder into all present. I am guessing but I think she wanted to string up the sound guy and would happily have done so given 5 minutes and access to rope and a beam. Always on the point of booting over her keyboards and marching off, she carried on; dragging her audience through ever greater swirls and eddies of electronic noise.
At one point Incendiary turned to John Robb, who was also present, and blurted out “it’s like Margaret Thatcher on vocals”. With hindsight this was an extremely tactless and unfortunate metaphor to use – and I’m sorry to have said it - but something was unlocked in Incendiary’s mind, something in the metallic, Gothic No Man’s Land of the music set a personal counterpoint off. Something in the girl singer’s hostile, prowling dominance on the stage: something sent us racing back mentally to the barren, charred wastelands of feeling and self-worth that the Thatcher governments inspired and engendered with their emotional slash and burn policies. But enough of that particular Godless White Goddess in her destructive Hag form. As I’ve just said, this music was truly a disco set up in No Man’s Land, a howl from the moors outside. We bought the album. Check the cover out if you have time. It might inform you further about this band.
Back to Henk Koorn and Melle de Boer in Buitenbeentje, playing only their second gig together. It took a while to adjust to the gentle agrarian feel of the band’s music after the imperious nature of the gig we’d just witness but we’re glad we stuck around. Koorn is a master craftsman and his warm presence allied to de Boers’s intelligent playing soon delivered enough musical balm to share around. The band promote a laid back and rustic vibe, there’s something very interesting there if they can find a Dutch focus and identity to develop around this set and avoid the lazy labelling of “Americana” that their music may get. It also seemed a little funny to see Natasha van Waardenburg on bass but of course she’s an astute musician and she pulled the role off with considerable aplomb.
We stuck around to see New YX, whose EP is okay in parts, though in others a bit lumpy gravy, a case of trying to make a “good” record. When seen live, the band is much more exciting and fluid. The combination of two small (for Dutch at least) teenage girls on vox and guitars adds a certain frisson it must be said; and no I don’t mean that observation lecherously here, I mean there’s that particular creative, uninhibited and open energy that young women can bring to rock music. The band had an echo of Throwing Muses, especially in the more delicate tracks, and if they could just add some light and shade at times, and lead the audience down one or two melodic or harmonic paths they could become a fine band indeed.
Rats on Rafts were up next. The band, at this point on the cusp of releasing their splendid and exciting LP were playing what, in retrospect, can be seen as a game changing gig. Not because the place was overly crowded, there were many familiar faces here; (Rats have a small, colourful and devoted bunch of followers who stand in a line and dance like loons at each gig), but because the word had got out that this band were special. The band sensed that, in amongst the regulars, the cream of the Dutch musical press was watching on, standing like pups waiting for their new master to whistle. So, funnily enough there was a hint of nerves. For a bunch normally so assured, (they have the same self-belief the Stone Roses had – they do, trust me - I can testify to that after seeing the Roses swagger through late 1988 and that magical spring tour of 1989) the band seemed on edge. They fluffed their gigantic opening track The Moon is Big a bit, but started to sort themselves out and by their snaky take on KIEM’s The Moneyman they had hit a groove they refused to let go. God Is Dead and new song Ema Sophia were pounding affirmations and Jazz, swathed in white noise and a righteous thunder from the rhythm section burnt a hole in the roof. Fuck me they were good by the end.
Rats play “on the one”, albeit at a frenetic and unrelenting pace. They’ve got a black groove to them, for all their white boy 80s guitar sound. Their music is based on heart surges, the feeling that rhythm as an element can make you feel good, that you can funk your thang, that jumping around and losing yourself in music is an ennobling and therapeutic experience. And also that singing honestly about commonplace things, (rather than trying to be clever) can move people. Rats allowed their audience to share in their all-encompassing big choruses, their pounding beat allowed old gits like me to think they saw lines back to the Teardrop or the Wild Swans, or Crocodiles-era Bunnymen. They are a moving proposition, make no mistake, don’t listen to any reactionary arthole moaning backlash. They will make you forget your troubles and feel good about yourself. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen them over this year, but I’ve never ever been let down. A tonic for the times.
Buzzing, Incendiary went to take in the marvellous EMA at 013’s Klein Zaal, her Goth/pop/slacker vibe being given the critical once over by a bunch of Fall fans… Ouch. And to be fair to the gig was possibly too quiet and reflective and I felt that she should have mixed up her rockier numbers a bit earlier in the set… but there was also the feeling that regardless of what she did, certain elements just didn’t want to get her vibe. A shame. Her voice is vibrant and honeyed, her music is precious and moving and her artistic stance is Righteous. Make no mistake, EMA is also a force for the good and her work is a powerful emotional defining point for people. Butterfly Knife rocked out too. Then it was time for a packed Main Hall to see The Fall, our review of which can be read here, on Righteous mag, Louder than War!
Incubate is a fine, fine thing. We all need things like this honest, open and welcoming festival to keep our collective peckers up. Top marks from us.